A trio of Calgary artists thrive in their businesses by offering unique services, despite competition in their respective fields.
The artists discuss their creative work, different aspects of competition and how they deal with it in their distinctive industries including target, mindset and approach. They also offer advice to those who may want to get into an art business.
Seema Khan: Henna art
Seema Khan poses in her home in front of a wall of mandala art she created herself. Photo by Anosha Khan
Seema Khan has been practicing professional henna body art for over 10 years now, under her business Carefully Crafted.
Along with hands and feet, she practices on pregnant bellies, does henna crowns for cancer patients, creates mandala stones and designs on mirrors; practicing art in a lot of places people may not think of.
“[These are] things that a lot of traditional bridal henna artists don’t explore,” she says.
While the rest of the henna artists in Calgary are focused on Indian and Pakistani weddings or cultural events, Khan focuses on a different side of clientele.
“Henna artists in Calgary were not offering birthday parties back then, 10 years ago when I started. So I thought maybe I should focus on the Canadian side of the clientele who would really like this as birthday party ideas.”
She started her business practicing outside of the cultural norm — at bridal showers, baby showers, corporate events such as Christmas parties, even Opera events.
Along with targeting a diverse clientele, Khan also created her own distinct style of applying henna compared to the other, what she calls “traditional” artists.
“You will notice that an artist would only do Indian style art or they would do just a Moroccan style, it doesn't appeal to a wide variety of people,” she says.
Khan combines different design elements and began doing custom pieces, which is rare to find for a henna artist, even today. Combining elements allows her to be confident in freehanding her art.
“When I teach my workshops, I teach people to plan their design to do it a certain way which I don't follow personally because it doesn't work for me.”
While expanding the horizons for accessibility to henna, she also focuses on the benefits of the plant itself. Henna is a healing plant, with cooling aspects and relaxing effects. It is also a natural sunscreen with antiviral and antibacterial properties and can calm down anxiety.
Khan makes her own henna to use on her clients with all-natural ingredients involving plants and essential oils. The process is long and time-consuming, the right ingredients are needed, and the mix needs to be prepared differently according to the weather.
“Which is why I dont fear competition, she says. You really have to be a geek to really get in there and figure things out”
Unlike a lot of other henna artists, Khan wants to be able to give it time, not only with the craft itself but to really connect with her clients.
“If I have a client who comes over and they're going through a tough time whether it is health-wise or divorce or they lost a job, I enjoy being able to heal through henna.. laughing it off, having some fun togethr in the process.“
A lot of people don’t give it the respect it deserves, even among the henna community. According to Khan, it’s more than just a little design or tattoo.
“I think it goes way deeper.”
Debbie Wong: Watercolour calligraphy
Wong practicing calligraphy, focusing on writing an address on an envelope. Photo by Anosha Khan
“A lot of us think that it's easy to pick up a pen and run with it right away but it honestly takes time and practice,” she says. “A lot of us probably give up easily at the very beginning.”
There’s a certain mindset that one should have when starting something and learning something new, to not be intimidated by others pursuing the craft.
“It's something that really you have to put in the time to get to that certain level.”
Wong says we tend to forget that there’s a process involved before we see a final product of someone else’s work.
“We do have to remember what people see on the website or Instagram, it's the end result. We don't see what goes on behind the scene. And I think it's really easy to forget about that.”
Calligraphy is special to Wong because there are no digital aspects to it.
“Sometimes I feel so overloaded with all the digital devices, it's nice to just sit down with a pen and ink and no distractions.”
Tiffany Goerzen: Rustic signs and wall decor
Goerzen works on painting one of her signature wood pieces: the Canada map. Other works by her are also on the table. Photo by Anosha Khan
Tiffany Goerzen is the owner and designer of Rural Creative, a business that makes hand-painted reclaimed wood signs for decor. She has been running her company for four years. Her designs are locally focused — the majority of her work has Canadian-specific designs, such as maps and coordinates.
She takes old palettes from industrial sites, reassembles them into sign sizes and uses natural stains to darken them or whitewash them. She does hand-drawn designs along with hand-drawn typography, so nothing is made by a template.
“[It’s about] how you use that material to the best of its ability to create a sign that would work for somebody,” says Goerzen.
She talks about the growth of the industry over the last few years. There has been an increase in artists, markets and vendors.
“I find that there's a lot of sign makers [...] when I started four years ago there wasn't that many in Calgary, over probably the past year to year and a half there's just been like an explosion in the maker community.”
Even though there’s been an increase in the competition, Goerzen has a style that is distinctive from others.
“I've tried to really focus on creating pieces that are unique to me, and to discover what’s local in Calgary and create that into art [...] when I first started doing it there wasn't as much pride of Calgary as there is now.”
She has an ethical standard and doesn’t create anything where the phrase is copyrighted, such as song lyrics.
She worked for a signage company in Edmonton and discusses how larger companies approach sign-making as well.
“That was interesting because [...] you took your very conceptual ideas from university and it made it very practical. So [for example], the idea that [...] a sheet of plywood comes in a four foot by eight-foot sheet.”
While there may be others who are also creating signs or doing the same thing, makers — as Goerzen puts them — are conscious of what other people are doing, and rarely is there ever any overlap.
“You never try to replicate what they're doing because that's their style, look, and feel like it's like a mutual respect," she says. "Their style is completely different than my style.”
Advice from the artists
The artists give some comments to those who may want to get into the art industry.
Khan emphasizes the importance of getting help if you want to learn something new or improve.
“if you actually go and find an expert and say, 'hey, I want to learn better'- It will really help you and you'll grow faster and go further faster."
Goerzen mentions that opportunities can come anyone’s way, it’s unpredictable.
“You never really know where things will come from, or who you meet at a market or who picks up your business card or who sees your stuff in a store and approaches you to do stuff for them.”
Wong suggests that patience is key in starting anything.
“You just have to keep reminding yourself it’s not a race.”
- By Anosha Khan