Wooden Masterpieces: Artist Olga Oreshyna
Story by Katie Ryalen | Photos by Kirstin McGoey
Are you tired of the same old, mass-produced artwork sold in big box stores nationwide? Do you want a piece of artwork for your home or office that means something, and which has a story behind it? Meet Durham artist Olga Oreshyna. She creates unique and non-traditional artwork from reclaimed wood, and each piece is shaped by both nature and the wood’s unique properties.
Ten years ago, Olga and her husband were conducting renovations in the living room of their newly-purchased home. What began as a one-off project for the couple—creating a wall mosaic of small wooden chucks—turned out to be not only a masterpiece, but also the key to Olga’s meaning and purpose in life. “I suddenly realized I couldn’t stop at this one project,” she recalls. “I absolutely fell in love with wood.”
Since that time, Olga has endeavoured to refine her skills, and has moved from creating larger, affixed mosaics to smaller, transportable wall hangings.
As can be guessed, Olga is entirely self-taught. There is no school to attend or certification to be earned for this type of artistry. “I like to experiment and break rules which I didn’t even know existed,” she explains. “Being spontaneous and unpredictable is a large part of my creative process.” Through this experimentation and her eye for art, Olga seeks to capture balance, rhythm and soul in her work, creating from the heart in a way that is entirely instinctual.
Where does her inspiration come from? How does she envision what her end piece will be? “Much of my inspiration comes from the wood itself,” she tells. “Collecting wood simply for its natural beauty is the start of many of my works.” Olga especially enjoys the specific challenge that working with recycled wood presents. To her, every piece of raw material is like a person. It has its own unique character, its own limitations and its own strengths. She says, “I appreciate the ability to transform a discarded resource into a timeless piece of art.”
Of course, being an artist is not the easiest way to make a living, as Olga herself admits. But one day she asked herself, “If not now, then when?” With the full support of her husband, she left her job to pursue her art full-time. “My husband created a website and encouraged me to exhibit my work,” she recalls.
For Olga, the best part about pursuing a career in a creative field is the connections that one makes with like-minded people. “They help you grow tremendously,” she states. “The first step in building a career in art is putting yourself out there and learning how to market yourself as an artist. Basically, networking is the key, as it is in any profession.”
Along her journey, Olga has met many different artists who have helped her progress. “An art career is all about the journey and making the most of the opportunities that come your way,” she says. “The biggest challenge is how difficult it is to become successful commercially.”
Thanks to the power of the Internet, Olga is able to sell and ship her works all over the continent, and social media has been a great tool to help her sell and market her work. “Usually, people email me directly or through my website with inquiries about availability and pricing,” she explains. “I also make custom pieces. I have had great experiences working for art consultants, designers and corporations.”
Today, Olga is adept at woodworking techniques such as sawing, scrubbing, sanding, staining and finishing. Yet still, she remembers the first time she tested out a mitre saw and made her husband nervous. “When I’m in hardware stores, men still try to explain wood sanding to me,” she laughs. Woodworking, she has learned, still remains a time-consuming process that is often chaotic and messy. But she is proud of herself that she has been able to master her own unique process and technique.
Some of the non-traditional artwork that Olga produces is made from recycled wood which has been abandoned by industrial companies. “I collect it all around the Greater Toronto Area,” she says. “Then I dry and sort it in my home studio. There is a great pleasure in giving wood a second life.” This, she identifies, is what gives her a deeper sense of purpose, rather than simply creating a new piece of furniture or modern art made of new materials.
It’s a reflection of where she has grown up. “In Russia, where one ecological disaster is followed by another, it made me realize the importance of nature,” Olga says. “The reason why I do what I do is to save something precious. So many people take these resources for granted. For me, making a piece of beautiful artwork from an abandoned piece of wood makes me feel like these trees have not been lost or cut down for no reason.”
For Olga, making attractive pieces of contemporary art—literally turning wood trash into creative treasures—is a way to remind people that these simple wood cubes were once part of a majestic forests. These forests, she points out, can be wiped out if we continue to perpetuate our “use once and destroy” culture.
Her work has been recognized nationally. In October of 2010 Olga was awarded the Gold Award in the art category for excellence and commitment to a sustainable environment. The award was presented at the Recycling Council of Ontario’s 2010 Waste Minimization Ceremony, which was attended by Mr. John Wilkinson, then Minister of Environment. “This acknowledgment made me feel so much pride and joy over what I was doing on a daily basis,” she recalls.
In 2011, Olga earned a Newmarket Art Grant, which she used to create her public art project called Beauty of Abandoned Nature. Today, three panels of her wooden blocks, made entirely from recycled materials, is on permanent display in public facilities within Newmarket.
Though she is proud of all of her masterpieces, Olga does have her favourites. One such piece is called Contemplation. “It was created under the influence of the Wabi Sabi philosophy,” she explains. “This philosophy accepts and appreciates that there is beauty in an object being imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.” Contemplation represents the beauty of the old and the mystical, where the presence of cracks and scratches are considered to be symbolic of the passing of time. Olga says, “The concept of Wabi Sabi reminds me that we are all transient beings on this planet. That our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust.”
For more information about Olga Oreshyna’s wooden works of art, or to enquire about which of her pieces are available for purchase, visit her website.
Olga Oreshyna, Artist
Bringing creativity to life with PINK LEMON DECOR
Story by Erin Elliott | Photos by Kirsten McGoey
Among the busy tents and tables at a recent Whitby street festival, Cherries on the Promenade, vendor Pink Lemon Decor is hard to miss: a petal pink 1975 Scamper trailer gleams like a Pinterest board brought to life. Outside sits a vintage bistro set, wire crates of artwork, and a wild green wreath on the open door. Inside the trailer is an immersion of airy pink and jungle green walls, fuzzy pillows, bleached wood flooring and rows of motivational sayings resting on neat photo rails. Behind the bright white counter is Bowmanville’s Amber Ross, the business and creative genius behind Pink Lemon Decor. A maker of inspirational wall-art, she sells her creations to eager fans through her online store and at select markets across Ontario.
Pink Lemon’s signs embody one of the biggest interior trends of the moment: words as decor. Affirmative phrases stencilled on wood plaques is a key ingredient in the ubiquitous “modern farmhouse” formula popularized by designers Joanna and Chip Gaines and their Magnolia Home empire. Ross describes her take on this trend as “simple modern.” “Everything is just really clean, really crisp, lots of bright, light airy colours,” she says. Ross makes everything by hand. She sources Canadian wood from local lumber yards, builds the frames, designs the stencils digitally, and does all the painting herself. “I’m completely self-taught.”
Her finished products are so fresh and high-quality they will meld with just about any contemporary aesthetic. Choose a roughed-up frame and it can fit vintage modern farmhouse or rustic shabby chic. Frame in bold black and you have graphic modern. Group five or ten sayings to create a maximalist gallery wall. Regardless of visual style, the common draw is the personal connection to the message: what it says about the spirit of the home. Some prefer messages to be cheeky: “Any friend of wine is a friend of mine;” others faith-based: “Blessed”; still others more poetic: “Live the story you want to tell;” or affirming of family: “This is us.” The sayings can express deeply personal hopes, dreams and values. Ross too has a strong connection to her work. “Anything I create is something that I would put into my own home. It’s truly a reflection of myself, the things that I like and just an expression of me as a person as well.”
Business is booming at Pink Lemon, but according to Ross, running a dream-come-true creative company happened by accident. Long before her two boys were born, she was driven to creative hobbies as a contrast to her high-pressure corporate job. “I started out painting furniture, doing little DIY projects around my home.” Drawn to graphic design and typography, she then started making inspirational signs for her own home. Soon, her friends and family were asking for signs, and then friends of friends were placing orders as well. “That is where it kind of became a business by accident. I thought, okay maybe this project needs an identity. Maybe this needs a name. My brain is programmed to work in a business sense. So I put it into place.” She began to run Pink Lemon as a hobby business in her spare time.
But then in 2016, Ross and her husband needed a big change. At that time, their two boys were ages 3 and 5, and career demands were robbing them of the family time they craved. “We just felt like something had to give,” Ross says. She was drawn to a simpler, warmer lifestyle where she could be more centred in her family life. “And the way I was going to gain that balance was going to be stepping away from something else that I loved: my corporate job of a decade.” So, after some thought, Ross traded the long hours of her commuter job to be the “boss” of the home, as she puts it. “I enjoyed the first three weeks,” she says “but then Pink Lemon got busier and busier and it became a full-time thing on its own.”
While she still has time to attend her sons’ sports games and create her own hours, the business is demanding. She no longer has the capacity to take custom orders, instead focusing on her ready-made collections and she is gearing up for a hectic summer season of weekend markets and pop-up shops. Like many busy artisans, her Christmas production prep starts in July.
The vintage camper, dubbed The Wildflower for its ability to pop-up and thrive at fairs and markets, was a business decision that has become a character in its own right. Co-designed with Katelyn Mitchell of K. Mitchell Design Studio in Bowmanville, the camper has a dedicated instagram account (@pinklemonwildflower) and fawning fan base. “We have two boys and aren’t having any more kids so The Wildflower is our girl,” Ross jokes. The camper offers Pink Lemon customers a memorable immersion during market season. “It’s what I refer to as a vintage boutique shopping experience.”
Although inspirational sign art is available in many mass market home decor shops, Ross says her customers would rather support her business and her family. “It has to do with it being hand made. The people who are buying these signs and this type of home decor like to give back to the brand, the people, the story behind the sign.” Where is this trend headed? Ross doesn’t see the desire for signs subsiding any time soon. “People love to be inspired by words. We all love to surround ourselves with things that bring us joy.”
Pink Lemon Decor
@pink_lemon_decor on Instagram
How to Choose Your own Sign Art
- Measure your space, then use newspaper and tape to mock up a frame that occupies the wall nicely.
- Choose a frame colour that complements other items within the space. Remember: a white frame on a white wall can get lost.
- Group signs together. Collect 2 or 3 or more for a high-impact gallery wall.
- Read the sayings and notice how they make you feel. Choose the sign that gives you the most positive emotional response.
- Hang it up! Enjoy what it says and what it means.