Painting a Different Path

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador 

Self-employed artist Alicia Wishart always knew her career path would be one that accented her creativity. Her original interest was Animation, so she started her journey with the Art Fundamentals program at Sheridan College, in order to prepare. After finding that the program wasn't for her after all, she took time to re-evaluate, and then pursued Graphic Design.

Though Graphic Design is not a main focus, Alicia says the techniques taught are still very useful: "I can do many of the things that cost people a lot of money. Steve (her husband), designed my website, but I maintain it and do any changes. I do all my own promotional materials, can scan and prepare all my art for reproduction for many other products. I am also able to layout large projects like my book and make it print ready. I tend to follow colour trends that I think people would enjoy in their art."

Alicia had never really considered turning her love for art into a profession, in spite of loving it since high school. She recalls being told that making a living as an artist was an impossible feat,  but she decided to take a chance and try it after she knew her position at the time,  in graphics, was coming to a close.

For Alicia, there are two types of work days - days at home and days at art shows. Days at home usually involve being fully immersed in painting, with a current show of interest playing in the background. Up to 7 to 8 hours can be spent painting; and the process can get so intense, that needs like showering can easily be forgotten.

Alicia described the various elements of a show day: "When I'm at a show, I have to drive to the show and set up my tent. Good situation will mean I can drive up to my spot and unload there. Bad situation means I have to find a parking spot, unload my stuff into my wagon, drag it two blocks and then down a ravine to my spot. Repeat about 5-6 times until all is unloaded and then set up the tent. Takes about two hours to make the tent nice. On show day, I get up and put on comfy clothes that are also decent looking. I'm usually set up in my tent in a park so I have to consider the weather will I be cold, is it raining, will I be sweating like a pig and likely get heat stroke again? It's not much different than working retail I talk to tons of people and sell my gear. When the show is done, I have to take everything down, pack it up and drive to wherever I'm sleeping. It can be a very tiring end to an already long and tiring day."

When asked what she found most rewarding about being an artist, Alicia had this to say: "The most rewarding thing is seeing how much I can accomplish. I did 6 paintings in a 6 month period for school and I thought that was insane. I worked so hard! Now I have done somewhere around 225 paintings in 7 years and feel like I need to work harder. I've made some really great friends from being on the show circuit and feel like I've gained an extended family. Everyone wants to help each other succeed so having that community is very helpful when you need advice. Most people have no idea what our life is like other than fellow show people. I have also had opportunities to do things that I wouldn't have had the chance to do if not for meeting my fans. They treat me well and send me greetings or come to see me whenever I'm in town. I got a behind the scenes tour at the Calgary Zoo and got to pet my favourite hippo, Sparky."

Although Alicia is happy in her work, she admits she does well when the economy does. She will continue painting, but also hopes to expand her artistic talent with cake making. Aside from artwork, Alicia has a fur/shell family, consisting of two dogs, a cat, and two tortoises. They keep her life just as colourful and busy as painting does; and she hopes to one day establish a tortoise sanctuary.

For those interested in the world of art, Alicia stresses the importance of being able to adapt. Art is always evolving and, if you can't evolve with it, it will be hard to last. If you plan to be a self-employed artist, Alicia recommends taking some marketing and business courses, as they will teach you how to sell the art you produce. She also has some advice on art in particular: "As for producing art, go with your own voice and not what others tell you. You have to make it, not them. Art doesn't have to be overly introspective and deep. It can be fun or beautiful or just something awesome. When you follow your own voice, it will show in your work and others will see your passion too.

Check out Alicia Wisharts work here:

Meet Waffles & Mango






Retail Associate Reaches for the Stars

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Danielle Smelko is a Retail Associate at Maurices (stylized by the company as “maurices”).

She spends most of her time at the women’s clothing store, located in the Seaway Mall in Welland, Ontario and she wouldn’t have it any other way!  Not only is fashion her passion, it’s her job! Danielle says her position enables her to be “so much more than a retail associate” and describes her role at Maurices as “a customer and community focused fashion advisor”.

When asked why she loves to work for this company, Danielle  mentioned that it is “fun and exciting” and there are many reasons why.  As she put it, her work “allows me to get to know the women in my community,  as well as get involved with charities, fundraisers, and the like, all while expressing my passion for clothing, trends, and personal style.”  Danielle  also finds Maurices to be an inspiring place to work. She feels motivated in many ways to keep “reaching for the stars” and believes that the sky truly is the limit at Maurices.

 Like many people trying to find their way in the world of work, Danielle took a “confusing and unexpected path” in terms of how she got to where she is today.

 “I have always been in customer service. I started with call centre work and bounced from business to business finding my niche. As time went on, I decided I wanted to go to school and start a business, preferably in the nail lacquer industry or [something] fashion related.  So, off I went to Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake to study business.”

 Unfortunately, the stunning campus and all of Danielle’s amazing professors and peers were not enough to keep her there:

 “I hated it. It was so hit-and-miss for me and I ended up finding myself down-right miserable.... Business wasn't for me, so I decided to continue obtaining work experience. I stayed with customer service, seeing as my strongest quality is dealing with the public. I bounced around between the food industry and the fashion industry and found myself more drawn to fashion.”

 Danielle faced a few “gruelling years with some very unappealing, unorganized, and ethically awful companies”.   Eventually she found herself at a turning point in her career and knew that making a change was essential to maintain her positive outlook on life. Although she cannot name where she worked at the time, Danielle explains that the difficulties she had in the past led her to a job she loves at Maurices as well as a better life in general.

 “There was a point after a certain company where I realized I would never again tolerate being miserable at work. I have no room in my positive mentality to not feel valued or appreciated in my work place. Growth within is important to me.”   Looking back on these experiences, Danielle would now like to thank the unmentionable companies for the hardships she went through, “because if it wasn't for them, I would never know just what I stand for in my career!”   She has also learned that there are things she has no tolerance for in her life as well. She concluded the interview by saying, “Now that I’ve found Maurices, I couldn’t be happier!”

 If you are interested in an internship, a career opportunity,  or a new outfit from Maurices,  here’s the link .

“Because I love working with the kids”: A Supply Teacher’s Story

As told to Abigail Kong, WorkStory Ambassador

My name is Karen Kong.  I am currently working as a supply teacher with the Toronto District School Board in the Elementary panel. Some people may think that being a supply teacher is an easy job, going into different classrooms everyday with no major responsibilities. I can tell you now, it can be tough job, especially if you want to be good at your job! A typical day starts at 6:00 a.m., when the dispatcher system starts calling teachers to fill in jobs. Once you receive the call, you have to get ready as quickly as possible and dash out of the house. Since you are sent to a new place almost every time, it is important to leave early in to find where it is and arrive before school starts and to get prepared. Once you arrive at the school, you will receive your assignment at the office.  If you are lucky, the teacher has left a day plan for you to follow, but if you are not, you need to have back-up lessons to engage the students for the whole day. The toughest part about this job is classroom management. Some students take this as the perfect opportunity to rebel and not do their work. But, if you're willing to side with them, there is always a group of students in the class that loves to offer tips about their daily drills and to help out. I tend to remind them that I will leave a note for their teacher and I pretend to put names down when they are not on-task or are being disruptive, which usually works. No matter if the class went well or not, as a substitute teacher, you should always leave a note letting the homeroom teacher know what happened during the day.    

To become a teacher, besides getting a degree in education, it is very important to do lots of volunteering, especially in the classroom. Not only do you get first-hand experience in teaching, you get to network and get resources and tips from working teachers. I started volunteering back in my first year of university, at my former high school, and I really did enjoy working with students. I applied to the Concurrent Education program in my second year and got in during third year, when I started doing my placements. It was very exciting and daunting at the same time to handle a class on my own. The teaching part was the best part, but besides what you actually see, I learned that there is a lot of additional work behind the scenes - writing lesson plans, supervising extracurricular activities, marking assignments/tests, and so on. Taking the full load of a teacher, while attending university, wasn't exactly a fun experience. It was very difficult to balance both course work from school and work from my placement. In terms of school, in addition to the education courses, I also had to take courses from my first degree - double major in visual arts and mathematics. It was almost triple the work. It is amazing that I survived when I think about it now.

Doing well school was only part of the struggle, the real challenge was finding work after I graduated. Like most recent graduates, I didn't find a job right away, and I didn't expect to after talking to some alumni and friends in the same field. However, I didn't lose hope. I continued to volunteer, but I widened my scope a little bit. I had tons of experience working with high school students, but I also wanted a taste of what it would be like working with younger students, so I volunteered with both a high school and elementary school for about a year. I enjoyed both my experiences, so I decided to apply for teaching in the high school and elementary level. Another thing I believed that helped me get the job was my dedication to learning. During that year, I also enrolled in graduate studies (Masters of Math for Teachers) and took additional qualifications (Special Education, Part 1 & Junior Basic). These courses continued to fuel me with theoretical and practical knowledge to work with a wide range students in the classroom.

It was a long road getting to where I am today, but hard work really does pay off. Although the road of a supply teacher is still slippery and tough, I will persevere because I love working with the kids! 

Doing What Comes Naturally

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

Developmental Service Worker Amber Whayman was introduced to helping disabled children through an elementary school co-op program.  With the original goal of being a teacher, all it took was one question to change her mind: "An EA in the class asked me if I wanted to learn about autism. I of course said yes, and if it wasn't for her asking me, I don't know what I would be doing now. I fell in love with working with the students as an EA and learning about disabilities and how to support people".

However, it wasn't just a question that inspired Amber's path: "I also believe that my dad had an influence on my career. When I was 8 he was in a car accident that left him with an acquired brain injury. I watched supports come into the house to help him recover, and I took on the role of helping him from a very young age. Helping people is just my nature! It's what I have always done."

Amber followed her natural instincts by going into Fanshawe College's DSW program. When asked what she found most useful about the program, Amber says that she took a little bit of knowledge from every course, but the most useful were the stories of first-hand experiences shared by the professors, because they  provided insight on what to do and what not to do in important situations.

Amber recalls that in school she was shy and reserved. Now that she is working with Forward House, and has gained more experience, being shy is a thing of the past.  When asked what a typical day on the job would look like, Amber had this to say: "Well it depends on the day. I work in  supported living houses where there are at max two people living in each location. I assist people with the activities of daily living such as showering, dressing, meal prep, feeding, and medications. Basically anything you do for yourself in the day, I assist people with those things.We go to medical appointments, grocery shopping, and fun stuff like hockey games, the fair, and festivals."

Amber is unsure of where the road will take her, but says she is happy where she is now. She shared the best part of her job: "Just being able to do what I love every day and seeing the people I support being happy. Knowing that by helping the people I support complete the daily activities that most people take for granted every day is so rewarding."

Finally, these words of advice were shared for those interested in the field: "VOLUNTEER. Get a volunteer position working with people who have disabilities. I volunteered at a day program in my hometown before I started at Fanshawe. I also think it is very important to keep an open mind. With this career there are many places you can work. For example, a group home, the school board, or a day program; and you may be surprised where you like and don't like to work."

Marketing Assistant Makes it in Music Industry

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Kendra Sauder is a Marketing Assistant for Audio Blood, an artist and brand development company based out of Toronto, Ontario. With the Audio Blood team, Kendra is able to work in her “dream field”, which is the Music Industry. Kendra has worked very hard to be where she is today. Coming from the small town of St. Jacobs, she moved to the big city of London, Ontario where she spent seven years. She currently lives in St. Catharine’s and commutes to the even bigger city of Toronto. She says it’s been difficult, but “hands down, [it was] worth it!” Something that has helped Kendra on her journey is the support she receives from the people she works with:

“My co-workers and the Audio Blood team are all amazing individuals and work together amazingly! They are always supportive of each other and willing to help anyone else out on the team in any way they can. I love that the Audio Blood team is more like a family!” (She even has a furry co-worker, “Dug the Pug” and he gives out advice to bands on the Audio Blood blog!)

Sauder is not only enthusiastic about her immediate “family” of co-workers, but she also loves helping the entertainers that Audio Blood promotes: “I get to work with artists and musicians and help them accomplish their goals.”  Kendra is also “making it easier and more accessible for music fans to reach amazing artists like HIGHS, Amos the Transparent, Royal Tusk and Jeremy Fisher (just to name a few.)” Audio Blood has also worked with Pat Maloney as well as big-name brands/events like The Juno Awards.

It’s clear that Kendra loves her team but she also loves the job itself: “I love so many things about my job! It’s hard to fit it all into one answer…. I also love the fact that my job is different every day, and that no matter what I am working on, I’m contributing to a larger goal and bigger picture. No two days are the same, and I am constantly learning. It keeps me on my toes and I couldn’t be happier about it.”

Kendra Sauder’s path to the music industry began at Fanshawe College in London, where she was enrolled in the Music Industry Arts Program. While she was in school, she was heavily involved in Student Government and event planning, among other things in order to succeed in her career: “I took part in as many music, branding and industry conferences as I could (which is where I first heard about Audio Blood) and was constantly trying to improve my craft while at school. I took time to learn about different companies and positions within the music industry to hone my skills.”

Once she graduated from the program, Kendra had planned to start her own company with some friends in St. Catharine’s, however she was offered a position with Audio Blood and she “couldn’t turn it down!” Sauder was able to assist them with their work at the events for Canadian Music Week. This opportunity proved to be valuable work experience for Kendra as it lead her to her current position as a Marketing Assistant for the company: “During my one-month contract, I pushed myself to go in early, stay late and do whatever was needed to get the job done. After my contract was up, I was asked to stay on. I guess the short version is, ‘I fought for it.’”

Finally, when asked what advice she had for those interested in working in this field, Kendra Sauder answered, “Play hard. Work harder! The music industry is an amazing place, but it takes determination, drive and a lot of gusto to make it. Work your connections, and fight for your goals.”

If you would like to learn more about Audio Blood, you can visit their website at