Sharon Nowlan and Holidays in Pictou

DEMDACO launched the nature-inspired artwork of Sharon Nowlan in 2018, and since then, she’s become a top-seller. Hailing from the coastal Nova Scotian town of Pictou, much of her work is reminiscent of the natural materials one might find by the sea—from sea glass accents to the smooth pebbles that began her journey in this style when similar pebbles were given to her by her son out on a beach walk one day.

handful of pebbles
Sharon Nowlan with a handful of pebbles.

Her first compositions for DEMDACO depicted family, relationships and peaceful scenes. In the past few years, hew work has evolved to include new materials and subject matter from pets to the new holiday work that will be available in 2020. Here, Sharon discusses the new holiday collection, as well as what the holidays are like in her native Pictou.

What’s it like in Pictou during the holidays? 

The holidays in Pictou are probably pretty similar to holidays in any small town. Christmas lights, bake sales, school concerts, skating parties and craft sales. It’s busy, but not so busy that the community doesn’t take the time to come together to celebrate and visit each other in as many ways as possible.

Does the town have any old traditions?

One of the biggest traditions in Pictou is the annual tree lighting in the center of town. A few of the largest trees near the town gazebo are lit with thousands of white lights. Everyone comes together in the chilly air to drink hot chocolate, sing and watch the trees light up for the first time of the holidays.

Does your family follow any holiday traditions? If so, what is your favorite?

The time leading up to the holidays tends to be quite busy for any working artist. So once the holidays arrive in earnest it’s very much focused on family time. Meals are shared and gifts are exchanged, and stockings are hung, but the biggest event in my little family is board game time. Usually several new games are given as gifts over the holidays and we spend hours and even days playing them together. Sometimes it’s necessary to eat in the living room so as not to disturb the game in progress on the table. While perhaps not a typical kind of holiday tradition, this time spent with my children is most certainly my favorite, as well theirs.

Do you decorate your home and/or studio during the holidays? If so, what are your favorite decorations?

I like to keep my decorations fairly natural and simple. Green garland, pine cones, strings of red wooden beads and white twinkle lights make up the most of it. I have a few decorations with sentimental value that are probably my favorite. The stockings we use are the ones my mother made for us when I was a child. The angel on top of my tree was a gift from my sister many years ago. While they are simple objects, one can’t help but be filled with memories of all the holidays past when you see them again each year.

When creating holiday-themed artwork, what is your inspiration?

Holidays mean different things to different people. I receive a lot of requests leading up to the holidays and so a great deal of my inspiration comes from these requests. Winter themes, featuring different family activities are always fun to make. Special moments sledding, building snowmen or just being outdoors in the winter is a big part of the holiday season for many people. Another holiday theme often requested is the Nativity. It’s another special symbol that people relate to in different ways and for different reasons. For me it brings up memories of setting up the Crèche (a model representing the scene of Jesus Christ’s birth, displayed in homes at Christmas) as a child. I think it was one of my favorite pieces of Christmas to unpack from the boxes. I loved unpacking the figures and placing each one of them in their special spots.

Nowlan Holiday Art
Child Is Born Wall Art

How does your holiday work fit alongside your other work (as far as subjects, topics, etc.)?

The main focus of my work is about capturing the little moments of everyday life. Nature, relationships and small snapshots of life are the themes I visit and revisit. The holiday themes are no exception to that. Even though there’s a bit of holiday thrown in, my holiday designs are still most often about the small moments. A small child collecting the mail with her dog in a snowy wonderland or children sledding between the trees or building a snowman. A simple evergreen tree with a star above is one of my favorite holiday designs.

Are there any specific materials you use just for holiday pieces?

I try to stay as consistent as I can when it comes to materials, even when working with different themes. Holiday decor is often bright and colorful, but my artwork tends to stay fairly neutral. The materials I use, the small pebbles, bits of weathered wood, and white shell are all very soft, natural, and earthy in color and so my holiday designs have that feeling as well. The only exceptions would be the tiny splash of color I get with the sea glass used.

Are there any things you try not to do when creating holiday art?

When I create my holiday pieces, I think it’s even more important to keep things as minimal as possible. The holidays are such a busy time for most people. I try to make sure the holiday designs stay focused on the simple yet beautiful moments that are sometimes lost in the rush of the holiday season. So, I guess I’m careful not to fill my holiday designs with extra things that take away from the little moments I’m trying to showcase.

Had you done much holiday work prior to DEMDACO?

I’ve been working on my artwork for many years now, and there hasn’t been a year go by that I didn’t make at least a few different holiday pieces. It’s part of my own holiday tradition, I suppose. From the very first Holiday until the most recent passed, I doubt there is an exception. Families under Christmas trees, angels, Santa Claus and even a couple kissing under the mistletoe. Quite a few spring to mind when I stop to think about it.  There are a number of designs I have in mind for DEMDACO, and I look forward to sharing them in the future.

Do you have a favorite holiday memory?

I have so many special holiday memories it’s hard to pick just one. Christmas was my mother’s favorite time of year and it was always a busy time in our home growing up. It felt like we were preparing for months to get ready and it involved a lot of baking. There would be trays and trays of cookies and squares we’d store away in the freezer to pull out when the inevitable company would pop in to visit. I think perhaps one of my favorite memories would be the yearly Christmas Carol sing-along we would host as a family. Everyone we knew would come to spend the evening playing music and singing Christmas carols, and maybe to eat a bit of that Christmas baking. Aside from cookies and caroling one of the biggest family events in my family was the hunt for the Christmas tree. Each year we’d put on our winter clothes and take a trip out into the countryside to visit a tree farm, where we’d walk the woods in search of the perfect one. It always took a while for the five of us to finally agree on which one it would be. Or at least to a little girl it felt like a while.

Since Canadians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in late November, when do you feel that the holidays begin in Nova Scotia?

Thanksgiving in Canada happens around the middle of October. It’s very much a celebration of autumn and the end of all the harvests. It is indeed just a wee bit early to start thinking of the holidays. There are no written rules of course, but for the most part the passing of Remembrance Day on November 11th usually marks the full-on beginning of the holidays in Canada. As soon as we pay our respects to the Veterans, you’ll see the decorations start to pop up everywhere and carols will start to play on the radio. This is often right around the time we get the first little snow flurry.

What is winter weather like in Pictou? How cold does it get and how long does the freezing/snow last?

Pictou gets its fair share of winter weather, but because we are right on the ocean it comes a little bit later and ends just a little earlier than some parts of Nova Scotia. It can be unpredictable, but we usually get a few little snowflakes in the air around the beginning of November or early October and it will stay until sometime in April. We often have a thaw or two sometime in there but for the most part once winter hits it stays around. The ocean also helps us stay a little warmer than a good part of Canada. Temperatures in the winter are usually between -10 and 0 degrees Celsius with swings in either direction.

Be sure to look out for Sharon’s DEMDACO line of holiday-themed art in 2020, and you’ll now know how winter in Pictou inspires her work.