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Lynda Lynn – Life Experiences are the Muse for the Creativity of Muskoka Artist

Article by Meghan Smith/Photography by Kelly Holinshead

Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time.

The view from a window, the notes of a song, the words from a radio broadcast or even viewing the organisms living in Muskoka’s lakes under a microscope. For Lynda Lynn, her curiosity and a lifelong dedication to learning new things and embracing ideas has helped her forge her own path through multiple careers.

“It’s curiosity,” shares Lynn. “Painting teaches you so much, or it can, about all kinds of things.”

Lynn’s body of artistic work is as varied as her own experiences. From circuit layout and design to lab technician to retail shop co-owner to real estate agent, every role continues to kindle Lynn’s talent for innovation. 

One of Lynn’s first jobs in Toronto as an adult was completing circuit layout and design for special services engineering with Bell Canada. She was in charge of putting together specialized equipment for radio and television broadcasting and ship-to-shore communication. 

“This was before all of the broadcasting was by air,” explains Lynn. “There would be a broadcast at 7 p.m. and everything had to plug in. You had to have all of the wires and everything connected to the telephone system in order to broadcast, so you had to design what they needed and get the order to them in time. It was hectic.”

Lynn also worked for Corning Glass when it was located in Bracebridge, starting off in their engineering department, completing the lab setup, including the mechanical drawings of parts and pieces of equipment, and then becoming a lab technician. 

As a chemical lab technician in a state-of-the-art laboratory, double the size of her current home studio, Lynn would run tests on raw materials to ensure the integrity of the crystal structure and that there were no contaminants. However, while the tests were running, Lynn had little to do, other than wait. 

“You couldn’t leave but you couldn’t do anything else,” recalls Lynn. “But I had an electron microscope there, so I looked at everything – spit, dust, bug wings, whatever I could find.”

As she made the most of her time in the lab, she began bringing her sketchbook to work with her. Sketching the magnified images helped Lynn engage her creativity during an otherwise uneventful day at work. 

“I’ve done some interesting things,” laughs Lynn. “It’s interesting when I look back at it. Art relates to almost everything.”

Some of her early artistic endeavours focussed on sketching and using oil-based paints, as she studied at the Ontario College of Art. As she had a family, when and how she could create had to change. In a small apartment with young children, oils took much longer to dry and Lynn didn’t want to expose her children to the fumes. Rather than give up her creative pursuits, Lynn switched to watercolour paints. Watercolours dry faster, with little to no odour, allowing her to clean up quickly and focus on her family when necessary. 

“I really like watercolour. I like oils. I work a lot in acrylic and mixed media. Pastels,” says Lynn. “I really enjoy the back and forth with the different medias. I think one medium gives ideas for the other. I like the switch up. Whatever I’m doing at the time is my favourite, really.”

Raising her family, Lynn continued to pursue art in whatever form she could. Lynn took on freelance work, completing sketches for businesses that could be taken in to a printer for offset printing. She designed brochures, calendar and Christmas cards, as it was relatively easy to find a sitter when she had short meetings or needed to complete a rough sketch and could then do the rest of the work at home. Depictions of local churches, people’s homes and cottages and many of the large resorts, such as Paignton House and Tamwood Lodge, are among Lynn’s portfolio. 

“This was before you could really print photographs, because it was so expensive,” says Lynn. “Those sketches captured an essence of the places at a moment in time.”
Much of Lynn’s work is representational, like her depiction of Manitoba Street in Bracebridge during the annual Fire and Ice Festival. Using this style captures the overall picture but allows the artist to manipulate specific parts to create a more balanced composition for the art piece. 

“There’s no fine detail,” explains Lynn. “You notice the buildings. You have the shape and the major components of the scene but not all of the details. People don’t notice all of those small details when they’re walking around anyway.”

However, Lynn’s work varies across styles, from representational to non-representational to abstract. Non-representational art can start with nothing more than a mark on the page and develop from that into a piece interpreted differently by every individual who views it, based on their own life experiences. 

“I like to start with a sense of place, or a sense of feeling about a place,” explains Lynn. 

From incorporating the words of a CBC broadcast to remembering a feeling while visiting her aunt in California, Lynn’s ability to utilize the principles of colour and design allows her to shift between artistic styles, using the techniques that best capture the feel of the subject matter. 

Commissions she receives are often places or landscapes, similar to the first prints she did for cards. While she can work from photographs, her process and her ability to truly capture the feeling of a place is best when she visits in person and can complete her own sketch, from various vantage points. 

“I prefer to see the place myself, because when you look at something real versus a photograph, it changes the perspective totally,” says Lynn. 

Over her artistic journey, Lynn has attended courses at the Ontario College of Art, Nipissing University, University of Waterloo, Fleming College, Haliburton School of the Arts and spent countless hours working with and among other artists, collaborating and sharing. 

Her mastery of colour and colour theory has led Lynn to teach classes across Ontario, for colleges, universities, high schools and to individuals. In 1995, Lynn was a founding member, and a driving force, in the creation of Muskoka Arts and Crafts’ Muskoka School of Art. 

In 1997, during a painting exhibition held at Scott’s of Muskoka, Lynn paired up with artist Pam Wong of Windsor to complete a piece of artwork. The work inspired Lynn and Wong to “paint in tandem,” working together on one canvas at the same time. Not an easy task for many artists. The resulting paintings are unique, completely different in style from Lynn or Wong’s individual work. 

Her fearless pursuit of new ideas and techniques led Lynn, along with fellow artists Janice Feist, Wendie Donabie and Pat Whittle, to work with acrylic skins, taking home the most innovative award at the spring Muskoka Arts and Crafts show that year. 

Most recently, in collaboration with Dr. Norman Yan, also from Bracebridge, Lynn has learned the science of the local lakes and waterways. Below the Surface is Lynn’s artistic exploration of the many creatures within Muskoka’s watershed, keeping the lakes and rivers healthy. Daphnia, diatoms, glass worms, hydra and jellyfish all play a role in Muskoka’s aquatic ecosystems. 

“I don’t think that people will pay much attention to keeping the water healthy unless they have some idea of what the issue is or why they should do something about it,” explains Lynn. “There is a general lack of respect for the environment by a lot of people.”

Growing up in Muskoka, living in the area for most of her adult life, and working as a real estate agent, Lynn has observed the significant changes in Muskoka’s lakes. The way the lakes are used and the shift in the cottages being built on the lakes, including the mandatory changes from the building code, created a visible difference in the local environment that drove Lynn to want to know more. 

“As I was growing up, the way people cottaged changed,” shares Lynn. “I was seeing the changes, how quickly and how much it’s changed, not just a little bit. That’s what got me started on water.”

Being an avid reader, which Lynn credits to her mother, has led her to her next adventure – becoming an author and illustrator. Growing up on the prairies, the only book Lynn’s mother owned was an Encyclopedia Britannica, which she read from cover to cover. A gifted writer and poet, her mother always made sure Lynn and her siblings had many books to read growing up. 

“My mother could think up these poems while at the kitchen sink doing dishes,” says Lynn. “She had such a way with words. I would love to illustrate poems that she wrote.”

Having wanted to write a book or illustrate a story for years, Lynn is currently working with a writer to develop a children’s book, using her newfound knowledge of daphnia and other aquatic life. 

“Every time I do something, I learn more,” says Lynn, of her artistic journey. It’s an exploration of colour and composition that has many admiring followers.

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