The Groovy Arts display at the Fall Home Show is eye-catching and may even stop you dead in your tracks.
The 17th annual Fall Home Show is full of practical and luxurious home renovating possibilities. The Automotive Building in Toronto’s Exhibition Place is packed with displays, and after a while, things blur and look very similar. But with its unique style of colourful art, Groovy Arts definitely does not fall into that category.
Tucked away in the far south-east corner on the top level are Karen and Steve Couillard, the husband and wife team behind Groovy Arts. Karen handles most of the artistic side of the business by painting the originals, while Steve takes care of getting the original images into more affordable pieces. She’s used to it now, but the sudden success of the business shocked Karen at first.
“I never thought, in school, that I would do this, so that’s why it’s kind of weird to me,” Karen said. “Now it’s sunk in, but it took a while, like, ‘Really, I’m selling paintings? I can paint?!’”
The Art of Business
This is their first time at the Fall Home Show and they are here because it is a great way for them to get people’s feedback on the paintings. When they know which paintings sell, the Couillards then go to wholesalers with full confidence in their products.
Karen’s paintings start at $500 and can go up to $6,000, which not everyone can afford. So the Couillards started printing copies of the paintings on canvas and mounted on a plaque and those start at around $45-$68. If one of the medium sized paintings costs $1,200, the reprinted version will be a fraction of the price at $125.
Even more affordable pieces are available, too. This is where Steve comes in. He takes parts of Karen’s paintings and manipulates the images by changing the background and adding a slogan, which go on a variety of products. These include deco laminates, greeting cards, lipstick holders and even magnets, in prices ranging from about $3 to $25.
“The freedom, that’s what I enjoy the most,” Steve said. “It’s such a good feeling to be able to create something that you like. And this is what I like, you take something and you can give different faces to a painting.”
They started this business six years ago when Karen decided to paint something for her own house. She is influenced by fashion and travel, getting inspiration from her own travels and magazines. And if she hasn’t been somewhere, she paints what she thinks it looks like.
“One night, I said ‘I’ll do a painting and have fun with it.’ So I had some wine and then started to paint,” Karen said.
The next day she added a final touch that now distinguishes a Karen Couillard original – she outlined parts of the image using an 18K gold pen.
A friend of Karen’s who is an interior designer saw the painting and knew of clients who would be interested in them, so she commissioned Karen to paint six for her. Then, her work was displayed an a Toronto art gallery and one in Kansas city, and with the help of the Internet and trade shows, she now has costumers from all over the world including Japan, Australia, Ireland, Scotland and France.
“As soon as people start seeing the paintings, I became full time,” said Karen. “It didn’t even start as a hobby, it started just as a business right away, which is really rare, especially when you’re an artist.”
The Meaning Behind the Brush Stroke
At first Karen said she didn’t understand why people were connecting to her paints so much, but customers helped her understand that they can relate to paintings.
An Edmonton man once bought a very feminine painting, and it intrigued the Couillard’s why this man was interested in that particular piece of art. He contacted them and explained that he lost his wife the previous Christmas to breast cancer, and that the painting looked just like his wife who loved New York City and shopping. She had wanted to start a collection of paintings and the style was something the man knew his wife would have liked, so he bought two more of Karen’s originals.
“When you hear stories like that, it makes it very special, and you understand why people are drawn to these paintings, and why they have so much power,” Steve said.