Valerie Fulford — Loving Valerie - theHumm December 2018
Valerie Fulford — Loving Valerie - theHumm December 2018
By Sally Hansen
Art… and Soul
A few weeks ago an artist friend of mine in Ottawa called to tell me we had to feature artist/animator Valerie Fulford in theHumm. Fulford had just spoken at her art club, and so impressed them with her art, her story and her personality that my friend couldn’t wait to tell me about her. After brief online research, we needed no further encouragement.
Valerie Fulford is an accomplished artist/animator/teacher who, at the stage of life when most of us are taking down our shingles, embarked on the biggest challenge of her life. In April of 2016 Val noticed a Facebook posting recruiting artists to realize a novel film concept. As the 2019 Guinness Book of Records testifies, the Oscar-winning film Loving Vincent became the world’s “First fully oil-painted feature film.” Each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas rendered by 124 artists in Vincent van Gogh’s iconic broad-stroke painting style, based on 85 of the master’s original oil paintings.
The selection process was nerve-wracking. After applying online, Valerie sent in her portfolio and was contacted for a Skype interview. She was rewarded with a grueling, three-day-long painting and technique test at the project’s main studio in Gdansk, Poland. Her reward for passing with flying colours was three weeks of intense training to prove she could master the animation software and the subtleties of fully painted animation, colour and style matching needed to work on the film.
As an “older woman,” her selection from among some 5,000 applicants, almost all of whom were younger, was an incomparable triumph after years of increasing invisibility in other aspects of her life and artistic career. The greater triumph was going the course. Working with a dedicated team at a small studio near Athens, Greece, she survived and eventually celebrated the fruits of five months of a heavy workload under intense pressure in difficult working conditions. Valerie estimates that she invested approximately 1000 hours towards the film, averaging about 60 hours a week and more towards the end.
On her website at valfulford.com she writes, “…(we) were fuelled by a strong desire for the film to succeed. We all understood we had a staggering amount of work to get finished if we wanted the film to succeed. We were a team in every sense of the word and close friendships were made… with such a looming deadline and the stress of getting the work done, we pulled together.” Fulford is still feeling some physical discomfort from the experience (shoulder, hands, neck), but she has no regrets. She looked radiantly happy as she told me, “it was the ultimate ‘taking-me-seriously’ moment of my life.”
The film’s US Facebook page claims: “It took 6,500 tubes (265 gallons) of Royal Talens oil paint to bring Loving Vincent’s 94 minutes of hand-painted animation to the screen.” Loving Vincent was the brainchild of Polish director and painter Dorota Kobiela, who writes this in praise of her painters: “…and it wasn’t just me that had to love Vincent. Our team of painters were painstakingly painting 65,000 frames of oil painting, spending up to ten days painting a second of film, moving each brush-stroke frame by frame. That takes a lot of commitment, a lot of respect for his work… I am proud of my painters (over 60% of whom were women), my actors and my crew. They believed in an undertaking that many considered crazy — to paint an entire film in oil-paints on canvas by hand.” There is a marvelous 22-minute video on the process at youtube.com/watch?v=ec4DCgn4Gt8 .
Trial and Tribulation
It wasn’t always a team effort for Fulford. She overcame a challenging upbringing. As the only child of parents who were eighteen when she was born, she was left to fend for herself a great deal of the time. Her art became her way to cope with life. It gave her a way to explore her emotional landscape, and her mother both encouraged and challenged her. She remembers vividly how she practiced her drawing skills after her mother critiqued an early effort as “very childish, Val.” By the time she attended Brookfield High School in Ottawa, she was the go-to artist for posters, yearbooks and stage sets.
Her father’s disciplined rise from high school dropout to entry-level clerk in the Public Service to Assistant Deputy Minister of Revenue Canada inadvertently resulted in an educational experience she never anticipated. A naïve Valerie was only seventeen when her dad took the family to London to study England’s Value-Added Tax in preparation for his Governor General Award-winning role in implementing Canada’s GST. Because she had decided to apply to OCA (Ottawa College of Art), Valerie already had an art portfolio that secured her immediate acceptance at the well-reputed Hornsey College of Art in London. In spite of a difficult male-dominated environment, she graduated in 1975 with a BA Honours in Graphic Design. She remembers with gratitude a special tutor, Roger Law, who taught, encouraged and inspired her. Law went on to become co-creator of the satirical TV puppet show Spitting Image, and he is still inspiring artists: “If you can draw, you can steal from anywhere; you can do anything you want; be anything you want… the sky is the limit.”
Fulford returned to Ottawa and became a scientific illustrator, doing contract work for the National Museum of Canada. Two weeks before her first son was born she was working from specimens at the Experimental Farm. Her painstakingly beautiful watercolours appear in Freshwater Molluscs of Canada by Dr. Arthur Clarke and in a book about ferns and the flora of the Yukon by Dr. William Cody.
In Toronto she and her first husband owned and operated a gift store, but eventually sought a simpler life and moved to Picton where she became involved with the local arts community. Since 1992 her paintings have been shown and collected in Canada and the U.S. and her portraits have been commissioned by corporations and for personal collections.
Luck Be a Lady
By the time she landed in Cape Breton she had become a very accomplished landscape artist in chalk pastels and oils. In 2009 she was selected as one of Nova Scotia’s “Contemporary Landscape Artists” for the book titled From Land to Sea by Dee Appleby. She worked as a nighttime call centre operator to make it possible to paint by day. Another major factor in her happiness today is that she then reconnected with the first love of her life — the “boy she had a crush on in high school.”
Dennis Paul moved to Sydney from Vancouver to join her, and Valerie’s luck continued. Due to an unexpected opening, she received an invitation to teach Art Fundamentals as a member of Sheridan College’s Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design, and the couple moved to Hamilton. When Fulford was accepted for the Loving Vincent project, the College enthusiastically supported her by finding others to teach her classes.
Yet again Lady Luck smiled, and about a year ago Valerie received an inheritance from her paternal grandmother. It did not take long for Dennis and her to start planning to indulge their mutual disinclination towards regular work. As she happily quoted to me: “working doesn’t really work for me.” That said, she has done a heck of a lot of it. Now settled in a quaint house on the bank of the Clyde River south of Calabogie, she is near to her sons and her father. Dennis and she have just invested in a small camper and plan on seeing more of the world from close quarters with her equally adaptable, long-time canine companion Betty. And after years of excelling at and teaching representational art, she is blithely experimenting with painting abstracts. Watch for it, and visit her website to learn more about her and the fascinating Loving Vincent success story.
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