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Wolf Women Spotlight: Q&A with the Artist & Auto Ace

By Renée Francoeur - Comments

We’re changing things up this week and I’m revealing a sliver of my journalist side to my WIPC readers.

I have been so fortunate in my life to be surrounded by some extremely empowering, wall-busting, inspiring women—women who are busy carving out their own, unique life paths in an increasingly complicated world. They are smashing stereotypes, being bold, being vulnerable and being generous. They have held me when I couldn’t do so myself, boosted me on their shoulders, blew life into my art, soothed aches and breaks across the miles with soups and cards and quotes, challenged me to push harder, shaped the way I view the world and its injustices, and reminded me of who I am and who I want to keep growing into.

I’d like to introduce you to one of these wild wolf warrior souls: Tiffany Harkes, age 27.

Harkes and I hail from the same small hometown and she actually grew up in the farmhouse my great grandmother, Hilda Harris (Kew), was born in.

We were in Girl Guides’ Sparks together as children but didn’t “meet” until our first day of high school when we discovered our lockers were side by side.

We went on to experience what we call our “emo” days together (we both donned big cross necklaces to school and tried to head-bang to that crazy My Chemical Romance and The Used concert we went to—my first), wore real high heels for the first time together and both were sent to detention (our only experience with this) after the art teacher found us whispering during the national anthem (we like to say we’re not big fans of colonial borders anyways). Funny to think, that same art teacher is probably part of the reason we both still paint to this day…

We lost touch for a few years while we were exploring higher educations and travelling to new cities for work, but reconnected when we found ourselves in the same region again about two years ago.

Harkes’ journey in self-expression and her willingness to cultivate a fluid identity has always fascinated me and I love her personal “re-inventions”. She is a woman in the trades—which we all know I am a passionate advocate for from my previous blog—and can troubleshoot transmission issues covered in grease, lug big tires, pick and quote the right part, and who has stood up to sexism in her industry.

Moreover, I love how she has always corrected me whenever I get overly excited about showing off her mechanic certificate and title. She is not just a mechanic. That is only a small part of her story. She is also a dancer, yogi, river-dweller, experimental artist and I wish to introduce her to you here in my first Wolf Women Spotlight: Q&A.

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The artist in her Mississauga studio.

I hope you will find her story as inspiring as I do. Let me know what you think in the comments and if you like it, we just may make Wolf Women Spotlight a series!

1.) Who are you?

I would say I am a quiet person. A thoughtful person. I prefer listening and encouraging people’s inner strengths. A cat person! A nurturer—spending a day in the kitchen cooking and baking for others completes me. A little zany and bold with a touch of fearlessness. A hopeless romantic with a tough exterior, though cheery and easy going. Adventurous but grounded. Some people say I’m an ‘old soul’. Optimistic, open-minded and always reaching for the next rung.

2.) What do you do?

I am licensed as an automotive mechanic and currently work in the parts department of a car dealership. But painting is my passion.

3.) How did you start painting and when?

I was born into an artistic household and can’t recall a time that I wasn’t making arts and crafts, dancing or imagining another world in games with my brother. Art was always a favourite subject of mine throughout school and painting really spoke to me at about 14 or 15. I was always referred to as ‘weird’ in school and painting allowed me to make sense of my ‘weird’ and open up to people and see that ‘weird’ isn’t all that bad.

4.) What lead you to your current career?

I was living and working in a small city and had a very abundant life full of friends, family, community and success but felt like I wanted a change. I started the process by leaving my very successful career (as a mechanic) and spent some time more focused on myself, during which time I took up dance as a hobby (not just around the kitchen) and began to feel like there was somewhere bigger for me. The jump out of the comforts of the small city started with me feeling my way through opportunities that I found until I established my current situation. I feel really positive about my creative opportunities in this space and have established a nice sense of balance.

5.) How do you make time for your art?

Late nights and easy Sundays! Art demands my time—if I don’t slot time for myself to be free for art I am not a very happy person. Art for me takes the forms of dance, crafts and painting as well as allowing myself time to be inspired, whether it be a walk in a park, an afternoon in a gallery or a performance. I have a pretty good balance between working and letting the art happen these days.

6.) Where do you glean inspiration from?

Nature is my main source of inspiration. I find bodies of water particularly calming and centering; they provide me with a sense of connectedness—that we are all in this together—that I use as the basis for any of my projects. Art is a powerful avenue meant to be shared, enjoyed and discussed, creating bonds and connections between people.

7.) How does work and art intersect for you?

I work in a car dealership in the parts department—somewhere between working in an automotive workshop and a retail store. It is a nice balance between using my trade and getting some creativity flowing. Work isn’t so demanding on my life so I am able to lead a fairly stress-free life, which translates into me feeling free to happily create. My creative endeavours at work are valued and praised, which I find encourages me to share my personal creative projects.

8.) How do you battle sexism in the workforce?

I battle sexism in the workforce by being strong, confident and direct. I’m generally very quiet, cheery and avoid conflict, but I have had instances where I had to call co-workers out on their behaviour, accept the apologies and move forward. I build respectful relationships with my co-workers and if I am in an uncomfortable situation with a customer, I always have my allies who will step in if I need any support. Sexism in the workplace is definitely a battle and I have wagered may wars. I have learned over time that it is best to pick your battles as some people are just too close-minded to see any other way.

9.) How would you describe your painting techniques?

I paint mainly with acrylic paints. I like the versatility and variety they offer. Playing with texture whether it be layering, dry-brushing, diluting, mixing with other mediums etc. really allows for me to explore my creativity. I create to evoke emotion—it doesn’t have to make sense in a conventional way. I just want people to feel something. I have an ever-growing collection of abstract works as well as finely detailed works inspired by nature.

10.) What is something people find surprising about you?

Haha. People are so surprised when they find out I am a mechanic!

 

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“Yes, driving around in convertibles is part of my job from time to time!” says Harkes.

11.) Who are some female role models /female artists you look to?

Women who move things, shake things, women who make me proud to be a woman and who inspire me to trust myself and take control of my life:

• Michelle Obama
• Eleanor Roosevelt
• Stevie Nicks
• Emily Carr
• Janis Joplin
• Georgia O’Keefe
• Ginger Rogers

12.) Tell me about your dreams?

I want to be continuously learning, strive to do my best, push the boundaries and experience life to the fullest. I believe that hope, truth, acceptance, kindness and understanding should be the ideals passed on to create a better world. I’m really looking forward to continuing to share my art—I feel like I just began the process of being an “artist”, so the future is wide open for me. I do have a couple sculpture ideas brewing, inspired by my days working in the shop. I hope to encourage women to be strong, bold, beautiful and just exactly who they are.

13.) Where do you call home?

I live in a cozy studio on the outskirts of two large cities, all connected as part of the ‘GTA’ in Ontario. Location has a big impact on my art; I need a certain amount of freedom and solitude in order to be happily creating, mixed with splashes of nature’s beauty and city adventures to keep me inspired and striving to be better. I grew up in a small town with a close family and I find being a distance from my roots makes me appreciate and value them that much more. Nothing feels better than being able to spoil my mom with a day trip and let the city inspire her.

14.) Tell me about a recent experience that influenced your work/art?

A friend of mine really encouraged me to begin sharing my art. I share my finished stuff with him and one painting brought him so much joy, he started telling me of a time when he was younger and had similar artwork in his room. It felt so nice that my piece had reminded him of a fond memory and brought some warmth to his day that I felt inspired to create a new, more intricate piece for the eye balls to puzzle over.

15.) What is it like working in a male-dominated industry?

Well I am very fortunate to currently have a female boss, which is nearly unheard of in the auto industry. It’s generally a very light atmosphere with everyone just focusing on work, which is actually what drew me to the trade in the first place—it suits my laid back personality. But working in a male-dominated industry definitely has its challenges. It has made me tough. I have learned to not take crap from anyone, to stand firm and believe in myself. Conversation is very boring as a general rule—the men I work with usually talk about seemingly meaningless and superficial topics. It’s pretty imperative to have a female co-worker to vent the frustrations and annoyances of simply listening to such nonsense all day. I think overall I value my female friendships that much more and really appreciate having someone to relate to, because of my career choice.

16.) Do you have any advice for other young females in the trades? And any advice for artists?

Never give up, be brave, push your limits, trust yourself.

17.) What are you currently working on?

I have a couple projects on the go. I am currently working on improving my detailing skills. I enjoy the challenges that come with finely detailing a painting. I find my patience, determination, and artistic skill is improved with every piece I finish. My subject is a male peacock. I love the rich, deep colouring and you can add so many delicate details to birds.

I discovered Kasimir Malevich when I first began painting and really connected with his style of painting and ideas about art. I find creating art in the abstract form is an amazing way for me to meditate and clear my mind.

18.) Future plans for your art?

I am looking forward to continuing to share and grow my art. I have plans to evolve my art into something more tactile—I do miss working with my hands.

Thank you so much to Harkes for opening this window into her room for us (and for the photos)!

 

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7 Comments

  • Peter Cass says:

    Now I know why I was so drawn to her. Would like to see her artwork.

  • Peter Cass says:

    I met the big T at the dealership today. So drawn to her, and now I know why!
    I would like to see her art work.

  • Renée Francoeur says:

    YES!!! Thanks so much T. Harkes for being involved in this blog and inspiring those around you. Great things are a comin’! ;)

  • Tiffany says:

    A big thank you to Reneè for featuring me in her blog this week! At times this journey has been really challenging but I always have my great friends who support me and make it much easier to keep moving forward! I loved sharing a little about myself with the world! Go and conquer your worlds, ladies!

  • It’s a great band name, and I really like the message in their songs and their look, as well. I just was never drawn to the music. Don’t hate it, but you know how it is. I would still consider myself fan-adjacent of MCR. :)

  • Renée Francoeur says:

    Thanks Ellen! It is a good band name, eh?

  • Ellen says:

    Love how you mixed it up with this blog. It was so much fun to learn about Tiffany and her pushing the boundaries by working within the automotive world, while still painting and creating. This is so inspiring. Also, you mentioned My Chemical Romance. :) I’m not their biggest fan, but I love their name and I always felt a twinge of a connection to them, even though we’re worlds apart. Love this blog!

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