Overcoming Isolation through Art: Heather’s Story

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Heather Wodhams is a part-time retail employee with a full-time passion for art and photography. “When it comes to art,” explains Heather, “nothing about it feels like a job!  It is my essence and something that brings me so much fulfillment.”

“Art and photography are an outlet for me, a way of expressing who I am as a person and what I believe in without having to really explain myself. It is a way of reaching out to the world to see how people from all walks of life respond to me and my creations.  In this way, even though I would categorize myself as an introvert, I am still able to relate to the world and feel connected so that I don’t feel isolated.”

Heather was born in Georgetown and raised in Tara, Ontario with “an incredibly active imagination”. She has always had a love for reading fiction and being out in nature, which is often reflected in her work today: “I believed, and still do, that all life is precious and that there is importance and strength even in the smallest things, maybe because I’m so small myself!  I realized that I could help other people see what I saw by recreating or documenting things that inspired me.... It becomes quite obvious from looking at my work that nature is a prevalent and recurring theme in anything that I do.  It is ever-changing and provides endless inspiration.”

Nature is something that Heather has become quite at ease with, but that doesn’t mean she is a one-trick pony. Wodhams has created a diverse body of work using a variety of methods including, but not limited to: photography, collages, painting, illustrations, digital art and more. She is always willing to work outside of her comfort zone and to try something new:

“In recent months, I have started photographing people and families, something entirely new and challenging to me.  But I don’t limit myself to any one subject-- the same way I don’t constrain myself to any one medium.  People make requests for things I’ve never done, most recently photographing cars, and I love the challenge!  Still, lately I do have an affinity for watercolour, ink, and of course any type of photography.... I work in a variety of mediums because I never want to become complacent, or comfortable with what I am doing.  There is a vulnerability and an excitement that comes from working with a material that you haven’t yet mastered.  For me, art is not about flaunting my abilities. It’s about constantly learning and growing.“

 Although being an artist can be a solitary occupation, Heather is open to collaborations. One of her earliest collaborations was in Grade 12 at Chesley District High School (now Chesley District Community School) where, at the time, the entire student body consisted of  only 300 people. Heather was chosen to create a mural that would be on display in one of the school’s hallways. She painted the Chesley Cougar mascot in front of several yellow and black bricks. Then each brick was filled in with a unique design created by the equally unique individuals in Heather’s graduating class. She recalls the experience as follows:

“Back at CDHS, I felt so strongly that the school was very special in that we were a tight-knit group of students.  So when I had the opportunity to create the mural I knew I wanted it to represent the students and the bond we shared, to be a lasting tribute to the positive aspects of high school. I absolutely loved to see the people filling in their own section of brick on the mural, because they were the building blocks of the school community and it helped to show their diversity and individualism.  I was warned that vandalism may happen to the piece later on and I thought ‘well, if I give these students the opportunity to be a part of this mural they will be much less likely to want to deface something they helped create’.  It was a way of working with my peers instead of isolating myself from them.”

Today, Heather continues to collaborate through commissioning her work, which gives her the chance to create something that she would not have necessarily thought of on her own. She has a connected with others from around the world through her Facebook page and  Instagram account which allow her to display and sell her work without being in “a traditional gallery setting”.

Even though she excels at what she does, Heather’s journey into the art world has not always been easy and has taken some unexpected turns. Before working with a variety of mediums, Wodhams mostly focussed on painting in college. This ended up depleting her creativity instead of increasing it. She admits that she was at a point where she didn’t paint for “over a year” after she graduated from Fanshawe. However, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it opened her eyes to other creative and work-related opportunities:

“After high school I made the difficult decision of going to post-secondary to study art.  It made sense to my friends and family, but to me there was always a fear a failure, and of coming out the other side with nothing but debt and a useless diploma.  I graduated in 2010 from the Fanshawe Fine Arts program and immediately got a job at Fotoart (a camera and photography store).  From there my passion for photography grew exponentially. I was then offered a job at Lens Rentals Canada (LRC) and jumped at the opportunity to connect with photographers from all across Canada, and to use gear that I could have normally only dreamed of using.  These jobs helped me gain a confidence and a drive to want to be my own boss, focus on my own business and see if I could apply the things I learned to my career as a freelance artist.  So with some hesitancy, I left LRC in October 2014 to start my own venture, which of course leads us to the here and now!”

Currently, Wodhams’ struggles with art are more positive because her mind is now over-run with ideas and it is difficult “to bring them all to reality!” For Heather, each new idea leads to another, “so that the thrill of a new creation never fades.” In the future, she would like to continue learning the video editing process as well as working with stained glass and jewelry-making!

In the words of the beloved “Ms. Frizzle” from The Magic School Bus, Heather Wodhams would advise her younger-self to “Take chances, make mistakes and get messy.” She emphasizes, “If there is one thing I could tell my young artist-self, it would be to not feel pressure from anyone to alter the way you create art.  We all have our own process and even though some may not understand yours, the important thing is that you do.  Even if you can’t explain why you create, there is an instinct within you that leads you in completing a piece. Trying to fit yourself into a mold of what an artist is will quickly drain any joy and passion you had for art.  Trust your instincts....  After all, art can be an incredibly personal and intimate creation, and to others it is simply a whimsical outlet, so just try to maintain a truth with yourself and that way no matter what anyone thinks, you will feel confident in your work knowing that you love it.”