When an image as recognizable as a face is distorted and coloured in unusual ways, the viewer is given permission to interpret the expression and personality as they wish. Imagination is allowed to run wild and when personal experience and beliefs are added in, each unique interpretation can result in an exhilarating experience. Such is the adventure Sonia Wilkinson goes on each time she creates her quirky face art.
Wilkinson follows a design process that includes sketching and exploring various colour combinations. As the image develops, the expression and personality emerges and is often as surprising to her as it is to others. The sense of play is evident, and likely stems from the long history of experimenting, both as a child and teen artist and as an accomplished designer.
One of Wilkinson’s first memories as a young child was of scribbling rebelliously all over every page of a colouring book after being told to “stay within the lines”. Another early memory was her discovery of two foam heads. “I remember seeing them high up on a shelf, and I’m sure I knew they were meant for my parent’s aviation shop to display headphones”, Wilkinson recalls. “But I didn’t care, brat that I was. I just had to paint and draw on them. I just couldn’t resist!” Young Wilkinson gave each head a personality with crazy colours, much to her parent’s chagrin. These experiences, along with many art lessons in public school and at a local art school, shaped her love for creating art.
Wilkinson briefly contemplated working with horses, but upon discovering graphic design, she realised that would be her ultimate career choice. After graduating from Sheridan College in 1995 she embarked on what would become a 22–year career. Art and horses were put aside.
Graphic design is all about gleaning what is needed and wanted for the client; the message, the look and feel, and branding. Success happens when the numerous pieces are combined in an attractive way with effective market results. Designing is the art of figuring out what the puzzle will look like and piecing it together all at the same time. Wilkinson found the challenges were interesting and sometimes mind boggling, and in the end making clients happy was the ultimate reward. About 10 years into her graphic design career, Wilkinson started to have an itch for growth and bigger challenges. Her hunt would last for 10 years until 2015 when she found her next passion from an unlikely source.
“Some girls at work asked me one day if I’d like to participate in a Paint Party at a local bar with them.” Wilkinson said. “I never really enjoyed painting that much, but I figured why not. It had been a long time since I had dabbled in anything art related, like that.” To her utter surprise, she had a blast! “After spending 10 years trying different things, I learned to act on what tweaked my interest. This one night, it’s like I met up with an old fling and a long forgotten romance was rekindled. I felt like I was coming home after a long journey. Which of course, I was.”
Shortly after Wilkinson discovered her love for painting, she stumbled across a video of someone doing graffiti art using acrylics on canvas. “He started with quirky eyes at odd angles, and my fond memory of those foam heads came flooding in.” Wilkinson recalled. That night, pencil, paper and a glass of wine in hand, Wilkinson started with those quirky eyes and followed the adventure of “what would happen if…” as she curved lines up, down and around. “Morning Person” was born.
The process starts with sketches. “I find it’s like stretching my artistic muscles. I’m not usually thrilled with the first few, but then I start to see interesting results emerge: balanced, unique…weird.” From there Wilkinson often puts the sketch into Photoshop to play with colours. “During my 22 years of designing, I was always playing with colours. I feel like that was my thing.” Wilkinson explains. “Combining complimentary colours, and colours that sit close to each other on the colour wheel, and matching gray tones with bright tones, the effect can really be quite magical.
After all the years of putting those pieces of puzzles together for other people, Wilkinson feels great being able to let loose on her own creations. “This is now pure intuition. I have thought about deciding on an emotion or personality before creating an image, but I honestly get such a kick out of deciphering the emotion/personality/mood once it’s done. It’s kind of like people watching at a mall. But in this case I can do it without having to be inconspicuous!” Wilkinson laughs.
Every artist wanting to make a living needs to create a branded look; a recognizable, consistent style and subject matter. Some may think it would get boring focusing on one theme, but the reality is quite the opposite. As Wilkinson works on her face paintings, she finds freedom in being able to explore textures, metals, colours, and shapes at will while maintaining the cubism-style face theme. Each result becomes very unique, but continues to follow the general brand of her existing art. She is enchanted by the results, and hearing how others interpret them makes the experience even more fascinating to her! “This circle of creation, study and joy I get continues to feed my desire to keep working with these ridiculous faces.”
Art can be perceived as a petty thing to do. It’s something that Wilkinson herself has struggled with many times over the years. “Every day I read about the crazy things going on in the World; shootings, arson, theft of possessions and identities, and of course the numerous ailments that plague us…it can be hard to think there’s any need for art. But then I remember a conversation I had with a nurse I met some years ago. I shared with her my, then, opinion that making a pretty picture seemed so unnecessary compared to the service those like her provide to society. She turned to me with stern eyes and said ‘but we need things like music and art to make the rest of us feel better!’”
The reason for creating her often silly art is now very clear to Wilkinson. She truly believes the world needs more happiness. Her mission is to lighten things up, even for just a moment, with humour, charm and personality. “I often add that spirit to whatever I’m doing, wherever I am. I want to give people a break from stress and heartache.” Wilkinson is sure it started as a way to encourage people to like her. But over the years she has to come to realize it’s more to do with seeing that most people need a smile. For her, art isn’t so petty after all.
Wilkinson was born in the little town of Galt, Ontario, Canada and now lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario, with her very patient husband, Rob, their mischievous son, Kyle, and their indifferent bearded dragon, Fi (short for “Fire”). They love to travel, work on their house, eat interesting food, and listen to music.