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Artist Interviews - Cathy Fairs

3T Art Blog Guest Artist

Cathy Fairs – Observational Painter Working in Oil

I’d like to introduce you to a very talented oil painter who has a style all her own. Her name is Cathy Fairs. If you don’t know her work, it’s time you did. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Cathy for many years. Her creativity and skill have only grown over that time and I so happy to be sharing Cathy and her work with you.


Cathy, like many artists, has always been creative and has had an affinity toward art. In her teens, she enjoyed art classes at school and has always been a doodler. As is the case with many artists, Cathy’s life took on more responsibility, leaving her with less time for her art. Making a happy home life with her husband for their two sons became her focus. But Cathy continued to find creative outlets. She took pride in decorating her home, she learned to quilt, and she began to garden. Her gardens became her canvas, giving her colour, form, shape and textures to work with and the results are breathtaking.

When Cathy’s life became less scheduled, she decided she needed to get art back into her life. She’d found an advertisement for art classes in the local newspaper years earlier and finally decided to call. The next day she was at Sherman J. Studio, ready for her first art class under instructor Judy Sherman.

‘When I started, the 2-3 hours I spent in class were like an escape from what was in my head. Like a mini-holiday. It proved that I could concentrate on other things, not just the kids, my husband or what had to be done at home. It was my time.’

Cathy started by learning to reproduce Bargue drawings. This way of drawing focuses on observation, measuring and shading. With these skills under her belt, Cathy transitioned over to painting.

Cathy’s early Bargue drawings

‘I enjoyed drawing but I found painting to be even more relaxing. It’s not as mathematical as drawing. It’s freer and more intuitive.’

Cathy has also been a student at the Dundas Valley Art School in Dundas, Ontario. She studied under instructor Jody Joseph in Dundas and also in Monte Castillo di Vibio in Italy at the International Center for the Arts (previously known as The International School of Art and Sculpture).

'Umbrian Valley'

Cathy has taken regular trips to Monte Castillo di Vibio to learn and hone her skills as an artist. On one occasion, she had the opportunity to learn figure drawing from instructor Alan Feltus, an American figurative painter who lives in Italy. It was the first time she drew the figure. In 2019, Cathy attended a 2-week plein air painting workshop from American artist Lucy McGillis.

Cathy painting at the school in Monte Castello di Vibio

Modern Masters like Morandi, Cezanne, Braque, Picasso and Bernard are among the many contemporaries who have influenced Cathy and her work.

‘I think it is important to always look at other artists’ work. Ask why it works and why it keeps you looking.’

Cathy prefers to work in a limited palette of oil paints on canvas, wood panel and paper. She is drawn to earth colours and uses combinations such as burnt umber, yellow ochre and ultramarine blue and white, or Payne’s grey, burnt sienna, raw umber, cadmium red light and white. Sometimes, she included Naples yellow, or lemon yellow, or cadmium orange.

‘My palette varies, although it is usually a limited palette. I start with an earth palette and add other colours if needed. A limited palette helps me to create a constant throughout a painting. I also try to use large brushes.’

Cathy’s paint palette – earth tones and greys with a touch of yellow

Cathy considers herself an observational/perceptual painter. She studies what she sees and always paints from life. Her process is based on the teachings of the Old Masters.

‘I always start with a ground (paint thinned with some turpentine) all over my surface and left to dry. Then, I do a grisaille underpainting of what I’m observing using thinned paint. I never draw with pencil. I don’t want my edges to exact and drawing it would push me in a tight direction. I want to stay loose, which is hard for me.’

Cathy’s grisaille underpaintings can be as simple or as detailed as she wants them to be. At this stage of her painting, she makes sure to get her darkest darks and lightest lights in. This is something she needs to do quickly when indoors in her studio, she mostly paints by natural light, and outdoors when working on a plein air painting.

Grisaille underpainting – Italian Studio

When this is done, Cathy begins to lay in colour. Ultimately, she wants each stroke she puts onto her work surface to be side by side of each other, not blended. This gives her the opportunity to make adjustments and corrections as she continues to work on her painting.

Grisaille underpainting with first stages of colour – Barriefield, Ontario

‘One of the hardest things to decide is: will this stroke make for a better painting? And, when to stop! It is easy to take a painting too far.’

Her work surfaces and sizes vary according to the subject of her painting. For plein air, Cathy likes to use smaller sizes and she may recreate the painting on a larger size canvas later. Her go-to sizes are 14x18”, 16x20” and 20x24” because they can be easily framed.

Since Cathy started her painting career, she has been in many shows and exhibitions, both here and abroad, and has won awards for her work.

‘Umbrian Hill Town’ received Best in Show Awards at the Society of York Region Artists Curious Minds show.

Juror’s comments:

‘This painting shows a mastery of composition and repetition. Cathy’s subtle colour palette is sophisticated and underscores her reference to Braque. The artist’s use of simplicity shows great maturity in her ability to maintain a dynamic surface that keeps the eye engaged.’

Here are a few more examples of Cathy’s beautiful paintings.

‘Winter Light’ - SOLD

This painting of Cathy’s was so loved by the client it inspired them to write this to her:

My home has just lightened. ‘Winter Light’, for me, is representative of endless possibilities, infinite hope, breath, the calm that comes when one allows themselves to, just for a moment, bask in the beauty of dancing sunlight that lands on the hardwood floor. The now in the foreground can be more enjoyed and tempered by all the vastness and depth beyond each successive door right through the glass to the wonders that lay beyond the edge of the painting. Thank you so much.’

‘Mulock Farm’ - SOLD

This piece was painted en plein air at Mulock Farm in Newmarket. Cathy was one of only a few Society of York Region Artists who were permitted on the property by the Mulock family. They had recently sold their long owned family property to the Town of Newmarket and is being turned into a park for all to enjoy. Cathy’s painting, ‘Mulock Farm’, was purchased by the Town of Newmarket for their permanent collection and the other artists’ paintings were all purchased by the Mulock family for their private collection.

‘The Cabin’ – SOLD

Cathy’s Home Studio

Cathy’s home studio, a well-organized small space.

Natural light to paint by in Cathy’s home studio

Cathy accepts commissions from clients who share her choice of subject matter, those being Landscape, Still Life and Interiors.

‘I always paint something I love. I need to have a connection to what I’m painting whether it’s a place or an object.

You can contact Cathy at or at (905) 727-0658

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