Story and photos by Max Foley
Amy Webber’s relationship to art is fairly archetypal. Her natural talent – discovered at a young age – combined with conflicting aspirations, experimenting with mediums, and a healthy amount of serendipity, has resulted in an aesthetic that is equal parts unique and approachable.
What sets her apart, then, is her love of physical media and her gravitation towards subtlety in a world obsessed with the bright impermanence of digital.
“My mom always tells the story of how when I was a toddler and she gave me a pencil, instead of scribbling like everyone else, I’d draw these intricate little circles,” Webber explains, cracking a subtle smile.
“I’ve always been into art – it’s come naturally to me. But I’ve also been into science and psychology, and so I’ve been pulled in two different directions.”
Webber wrestled with her career aspirations before following her love of psychology, graduating from the University of Calgary with first-class honours and working as a behavioural therapist for children with autism.
“My art kind of fell by the wayside. I’d make random pieces of artwork here and there but never took it seriously and took my talent for granted, I guess,” Webber describes pensively.
“At some point, I realized that I owed it to myself to dedicate more time to it.”
Webber’s propensity for realism meant she would often have to make use of photo references.
“I didn’t like working off of other people’s photos. It made me feel like the finished product was never really my own.”
However, a fateful and prolific brush with landscape photography allowed her to develop a sizeable suite of original content.
“From there, it was just a matter of finding the medium that I liked. I was all over the place. Watercolour, oil, drawing, acrylic – I didn’t feel like I was getting good at one in particular.”
But then Webber discovered pastels and everything fell into place.
Offering her the fine detail and immediacy of pencil and the blending of more conventional media, pastels were the perfect relief from her artistic frustrations.
“You don’t have to wait for paint to dry, which is great, because I’m impatient,” she clarifies.
“And pastels have this luminosity – the light bounces off the dust particles. You can’t capture that on camera. It feels closer to reality.”
Webber’s work is both a product of and a statement against the social media pandemic, opting to realize her work in the physical space and putting her own spin on the #moodygrams aesthetic.
“People are more drawn to sunsets and bright colors, but I’m personally more interested in stormy days. They have a different kind of beauty to them.
“The idea of beauty in sadness and pain really appeals to me.”
Nowadays, Webber is undertaking research at the University of Calgary, while rediscovering – and reaffirming – her affinity for art. Since January of last year – when she completed her first photorealistic pastel piece – she’s haphazardly balancing her left-brain and right-brain commitments and daydreaming about the future.
“We get so used to scrolling through our phones – I’d like to get into a physical space. And do some storm chasing on the West Coast,” she describes. You can almost see the inspiration smoldering behind her eyes. And for a brief moment, she turns deeply philosophical.
“I feel like I get in my own way a lot. It’s only been a year and everything feels very trial and error, and sometimes I think I lost valuable time when I was in school.
“But so far, it’s been working. I always have my art to turn to, and it keeps me grounded no matter how stressed I am or how things are going,” Webber says, perking up again.
“Don’t get in your own way, and create as much as possible.”