Bringing New Meaning to “Language Arts”

An Interview with Cristina Petersen

by Alyssa Laube

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About: After returning to her home town of Vancouver after 14 years, Cristina Petersen now works as a painter and ESL instructor at the University of British Columbia. She is new to showing her work, and looks forward to developing and improving as an artist.

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As a newcomer to the Art World Expo, what are you expecting?

 

I am expecting to talk and connect with a lot of like-minded people, and to have fun being involved in such a great and vibrant event! I hope to sell some work, but I think that just being there is a step towards even considering myself as a real artist.

 

You are new to showing your art. How did you decide to do that, and what was your experience like?

 

I was encouraged by Monika to do more art and to get it out there, but also met a local artist in my neighbourhood named Marty Andaluz. I worked with him to have my first art show, along with two of my friends, who are also new to art. We had fun organizing it together at a local café, Room for Cream on Kingsway. It also helped to have encouragement from my fiancé, Tom, as well as family and friends who support this new adventure of mine.

 

You’re juggling two jobs – as an artist, of course, but also as an instructor at UBC! What is that like for you?

 

It’s very difficult to find time sometimes to paint, as teaching is a very demanding job. I love teaching and it is my priority of course, but I try to paint on weekends or when I feel inspired.

 

You’ve mentioned that you love to write. What do you enjoy writing? Have you ever considered this as a career?

 

I like to write blogs sometimes for my work. They are about teaching. Writing is just a fun way to express myself about things I’m passionate about. I have toyed with the idea of going into editing as I have a keen eye for errors, having taught ESL for about 13 years now. But ultimately, I am very social and think that being a writer might be too isolated for me…perhaps something later in life! I am always open to trying new things.

 

Do you think being in Ecuador will be an artistic inspiration for you?

 

Yes of course, traveling is always an inspiration. New experiences are what keep things fresh.

 

How has working as an artist affected your work as an instructor, and vice versa?

 

I am not sure that it has affected my work as an instructor, but sometimes I feel like teaching language is a very creative job. When I am in the classroom, I can create a mood or focus on certain things, much like painting. Although with my job, there are administrative duties that sometimes zap my creative side and make me wish I were just able to paint!

 

What subject(s) do you teach?

 

I teach English as an additional language. I teach in different programs all the time, so sometimes I teach in the Intensive English Program, (IEP) or the English for Academic Purposes (EAP), the English for the Global Citizen (EGC) or Explore (with French Canadians). I teach all the skills, but if teaching IEP or EAP I usually try to pick the Speaking and Listening classes or writing courses. I like teaching Speaking because I like to facilitate discussions, teach presentation skills etc. Writing essays is a bit of an art form too. I have always loved to write as well.

 

You work in acrylics. What makes you choose it?

 

Mostly because they are forgiving and easy to clean, as I usually paint in my apartment, so I have to set up everything and take it all down at the end. Cleaning brushes etc. is way easier. I also like to add water or Gesso, sometimes crackle paste for variety as they mix well. I can add oil on top if I want more texture later.

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What are the most important things in your life?

 

Things or people? *laughs* My fiancé, my family, my friends, my dog… but aside from that, being a given, I love horseback riding and skiing; those are the two hobbies that I am passionate about. I try to stay healthy by exercising and eating healthy, delicious food. I enjoy a good glass of red wine, living a simple life, and travelling when I can to explore the world – particularly foreign places where I don’t speak the language. I’ve been studying Spanish off an on for about 10 years.

 

Do you have any significant goals for the future?

 

Well, I am getting married next June, so my fiancé and I are planning our wedding. We are saving money right now and also hoping to take our honeymoon in Ecuador. Hopefully sell more art to help fundraise.

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Can you think of a particular moment or person that inspired you to become an artist?

 

My half-sister Dana loves to paint and is really quite talented. I think she will surpass my skills! I bought her a painting lesson almost 3 years ago with Monika and went with her. This was my first painting lesson too, and ever since then, with Monika’s encouragement, I have kept painting. I have always loved art and art galleries too. I think it was always in me, but it was a matter of being in the right head space to pull it out. And to have that initial “ah ha!” moment, like “Wow, that was really fun, I want to do more of that!” Now I am older and have found my path as an instructor, so I feel like expanding my horizons and trying new things. Learn new skills. Be creative. Always grow as a person.

 

Do you find that, on a bad day, painting can make you feel better?

 

Yes, of course. It is very calming and therapeutic. You can lose yourself in the art and not worry about anything else. Although I have to tell myself sometimes not to be a perfectionist. I like to paint with bigger brush strokes and more abstract style on days where I need a release.

 

Is there a specific technique that you like to use or find interesting?

 

I love work by Dali, it’s so weird and crazy, as well as work by the Group of Seven. I really like abstract scenery and more free flowing brush strokes. Not really schooled in art, so not sure of any specific techniques, but I know I am still experimenting and learning a lot.

 

How do you hope to improve as an artist?

 

I hope to improve my ability to draw or paint specific features like eyes, noses and mouths. I also hope to let go of my own criticism of my own work. I have to accept that not all pieces turn out quite how I envision them, but sometimes that is the beauty of it.

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