An Interview with Caroline Nevin, Artist of Garnet and Ashes

Glasses CarolineI’ve known Caroline Nevin for over ten years. She’s a good friend and an invaluable member of my creative support system, particularly this summer when we’ve spent a few afternoons creating together.  Over the years, she’s explored many forms and I have always loved hearing her talk about her creative process.

Caroline’s recently started a new business, Garnet and Ashes, “Vintage inspired fine art for modern swanky people,” which seems to have some very interesting links to character creation and some of the things that I have been thinking about this summer. Given she’s going to have a booth at Artfest in Toronto, this week seemed like a wonderful opportunity for you to get to know Caroline and Garnet and Ashes.

In her Artist Statement, Caroline says the following:

“Alchemy is a power or process that changes or transforms. Garnet & Ashes intends to create a merging between past and present, infusing an essence of timelessness and transformation. History reveals secrets and treasures that influence and spill out into contemporary ideas. Because history reminds us where we come from and is an essential compass to figuring out what direction we ought to travel in, a merging of both is paramount for transformations to occur.

With this in mind, Garnet & Ashes explores the spaces between time by integrating vintage imagery, fabrics, ephemera and memorabilia to create vintage inspired fine art with a proper dose of contemporary panache.”

After obtaining a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, QC, Caroline Nevin has1014072_10151505143251129_860883438_n-1 lived and travelled from coast to coast in North America, creating, showing, and selling her work. While Caroline’s past work mainly focused on the human body through figurative painting and drawing, she is now focused on her current venture, Garnet & Ashes utilizing mixed media to produce a fusion of vintage and contemporary compositions. She works and resides in Toronto.

Mel: Where does the name Garnet & Ashes come from? How did the idea for it emerge?

Caroline: I have always been fascinated by cycles of transformation – life cycles, emotional cycles, seasonal cycles – in addition to being enamoured by the idea of life as a journey inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. This is in alignment with my art, whereby I am equally as focused on the process rather than solely the finished piece. Garnet & Ashes fuses the idea of time & transformation, and it encompasses the notion that you cannot have one present without the other. In this way, the mixed media pieces are depictions of the past tied to the present in a symbiotic union. The idea emerged while I was experiencing a creative block. I started experimenting with different materials including pieces of a vintage map, lace in combination with paint. At the same time I discovered a treasure trove of memorabilia belonging to my father. I was creating abstract compositions and started merging vintage photos and imagery with the map, lace & paint and voila, Garnet & Ashes was born.

long pic Caroline.jpg

Mel: What medium are you most comfortable working with?

Caroline: I’m a purist and will always feel akin to painting and drawing with classical mediums such as oil paint and conté – these feel like second nature to me. The mixed media has helped me to push myself outside of my comfort zone and open myself up to other creative possibilities, focusing on the unfolding of surprises during the process.

Mel: Your work actually has many different characters, the queens, Ted, etc. How did you discover these particular characters? Is there something that often surprises you while you are working with them?

Caroline: The beloved Ted character also happens to be my father.  There are so many gaps inTed.jpg my own personal family history and memory that I felt it was time to fill them with a voice and story using the mountain of photos and ephemera my father left behind stretching back to the 1920s. I called the series ‘Ted’ to bring some humour to it and personalize it. Everyone knows a Ted – that person who is able to find the absurdity in any situation, push the limits despite the odds, create magic in every moment, and generally stand out as an example of how to live life well.


The pieces that have navigational/travelling/adventure aspects to them appeared as a direct inspiration from my father’s memorabilia. He was a navigator for the RAF in WWII and I have evidence of this as well as boxes of photos taken from around the world. I’ve always been driven to make my own life a journey and adventure, and hope to inspire others to do the same.



I’ve never restricted myself to one theme. Each series stems from personal experiences, theories, or memories I’m either working through emotionally or intellectually that I want to bring light to or honour. The queens came out of an extension of an ongoing older series that I started when I was in university about contemporary depictions of gods, goddesses, heroes and saints using people I knew as models. My work has often been influenced by sociological, feminist and psychological theories that aim to turn archaic ways of functioning upside down.

Queens.jpgWith the queens, I am drawing parallels and using symbolism between flappers and honeybees (in particular queen bees), in order to bring light to Colony Collapse Disorder and the crucial symbiotic nurturing necessary in nature. Nurturing, organizing and inspiring a sense of community through hard work and determination is something that tends to come naturally to women so I don’t find the parallel is that far off from the role of queen bees. In addition I’m appropriating titles (goddesses, queens, heroes) that are normally depictions of entitlement and crowning every day royalty – the common person.

Surprises occur all the time as I’m creating. I tend to have a departure point when starting a new piece that is initiated by an inspiration. This can be as simple as a colour, a texture, a discovered photograph, or by something I am reading. I will have an initial composition in mind, but I tend to let things happen organically. I find when I am open to a process that is less linear, my pieces are far more successful than when I overthink something to the point of rigidity. One element of a piece can often lead to new ideas, including an entirely new series such as happened with the navigational pieces after creating the Ted series.

Mel: Are there particular colours or styles that seem to emerge with a particular series of characters?

Caroline: I’ve always used variations of red and blue repetitively as a representation of dualities in my work for years and as it just so happens red and blue are also known as the colours often depicted for passion and serenity. My palate has been evolving with the mixed media; yellows, oranges, and variants of green have permeated much of the bee themed series to be naturally reflective of nature in a bees world. Burnt sienna is a personal favourite and provides a moody vintage-y feel to the Ted pieces .


Mel: Where can people find your work?

Caroline: Garnet & Ashes will be participating in Artfest at the Distillery Fine Art & Craft Show  in Toronto from August 29-September 1, 2014.

My work can also be found online:


Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Melanie!

And thanks to Caroline for talking about her artistic process.

About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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