EDMONTON – Rachel Nickerson combines sport and art at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
She’s as tired as the curlers at night because she spends each day painting their likenesses on a broad canvas with an energetic technique.
The Canadian Curling Association commissioned the 36-year-old from Calgary to choose one photo from several taken each day by a staff photographer and then paint it on a large mural the following day.
After Nickerson makes her choice each evening, her underpainter Dawna Mark prepares the canvas overnight and Nickerson goes to work in the morning.
They’ll produce 10 oil paintings for a legacy collection of the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier. The art will be auctioned off this weekend by the CCA.
Nickerson’s studio is located on the Rexall Place concourse, so spectators can stop by to inspect her latest creation as it’s being produced.
“If they’ve been watching these curlers all week, they let you know if you’ve made a mistake right off the bat,” Nickerson said. “One of the biggest ones is bald spots. I get asked if I’ve missed a spot. The fans keep you on your toes and they let you know what’s wrong.”
Trained at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Nickerson works quickly. Singing under breath to the music coming from her headphones, she darts between her paints and canvas with the photograph in hand for reference.
She says moving quickly prevents her from overthinking her piece.
“You really thrive on the energy of the event itself and the excitement,” Nickerson said. “For me, personally as an artist, I’m so happy to be here and be part of it. That fuels my fire. Loud music in my (headphones) helps too.”
Curling as her subject is a first for Nickerson, but she’s painted murals from photographs at both the 2003 world junior hockey championship in Halifax and the 2012 world junior hockey championship in Edmonton and Calgary.
“In hockey, you’re often painting a mask or there is a face but it’s behind a shield and kind of set back and not so detailed,” she explained. “On these ones, it is fun and exciting to capture the intensity of the curlers, and then just different facial expressions.”
Mounties flanking the Brier Tankard trophy, Ontario’s front end sweeping furiously in front of skip Glenn Howard, and members of Quebec and Alberta staring intently down the ice are among her works so far at the Brier. Today, she’s working on an image of all the teams’ provincial and territorial flags grouped together.
“This piece behind me was my idea,” Nickerson said. “I just mentioned how much fun and how well-received the Canadian flag was that we did at the world juniors.
“I said we don’t have enough time to do all the players and all the teams because there’s only nine days. I said ‘Let’s do something to really show and give tribute to all the teams that are here.’”
Her creations range between a metre wide or almost two metres high. Their size and Nickerson’s physical painting style takes a toll on her body over a multi-day sports event.
“My legs are pretty tired and sore and my dominant hand, I actually stretch it and by the end of the week, it start becoming a little bit of a flipper,” Nickerson said. “I’ve got a little carpal tunnel from painting so much. In the mornings sometimes I have to smack it to get up.”