In the first 24 hours of the pandemic last year, Whistler painter Meg O’Hara watched as four of her corporate contracts disappeared into thin air.
“I was definitely freaking out a little bit. I poured myself a nice glass of wine, and then I decided to re-evaluate,” says the 29-year-old.
Then, slowly, something unexpected started to happen. As borders closed, and ski resorts along with it, dedicated ski bums longed for a taste of their favourite mountains, and without the ability to actually, you know, ski them, they decided on the next best thing.
“All of these individual skiers wanted artwork for their homes or their ski chalet … or they were stuck in the States and couldn’t come to Whistler to ski, so they wanted paintings of Whistler for the house in Florida,” she says. “It was basically six weeks of nothing and then this huge exponential growth from there of skiers or mountain enthusiasts who wanted these pieces for their home. It was pretty wild.”
A native of Toronto, O’Hara grew up in a family of lawyers and judges who, “despite being very serious in a lot of ways,” engendered a love of the art early on. In fact, it was O’Hara’s grandma, who stoked her creative flames the most.
“My granny was an artist,” O’Hara says. “She was the one I was named after and she was a single mom with five kids who loved to paint. That was her therapy. Then when I showed up, she taught me how to paint.”
An avid skier, O’Hara draws from her time in the mountains as inspiration for her heavily stylized ski landscapes—and, contrary to the common perception of the young, starving artist, she’s managed to carve out quite a successful niche for herself in a part of the world teeming with talented landscape painters.
“There is a huge stereotype of the starving artist, and based on my experience, it’s incredibly inaccurate,” she says. “I don’t fall into that category of the starving artist at all. I also have an aptitude for business and an interest in business.”
Along with her finely honed art skills, O’Hara believes what separates her is her emphasis on building relationships with her clients. She won’t hesitate to turn down a commission if it doesn’t align with her style and values, and she takes the time and effort to give her clients a piece that they will value for years to come.
“I see the value and the trust that these families have in me to create a piece for them, so I value that relationship,” she explains. “Definitely everyone I’ve sold a painting to I’m still in touch with, and many are friends or we have a relationship.
“The referrals and word of mouth from client to client, and the importance I place on building relationships with the people I create work for, is what distinguishes me.”
That effort has evidently paid off. Since she was asked to do a piece for Sunshine Village in Banff in 2018, her private and corporate commissions have taken off, painting works for a number of heli-ski lodges, architectural firm HOK International and the Vancouver Golf Club. Just this year, she was named as one of BC Business’s 30 Under 30, and in spite of the initial quiet period at the start of the pandemic, the past year has seen her double her revenue.
“That was a pretty interesting outcome that I wouldn’t have seen coming in the last week of March last year,” she says.
Learn more at megoharacreative.com.