Photos provided by Anya Toelle.
Throughout 2022, the Northern Center has had the pleasure of hosting Anya Toelle as our featured artist. Anya’s breathtaking artwork has been featured at our events, on tshirts, stickers, and patches, and two of her original acrylic paintings will soon be auctioned off at Nights for the North. Below, take a look at our conversation with Anya about how this experience has been for her and what recommendations she has for other independent artists.
When did you first start working with acrylic paint? How did you land on acrylic paint as your preferred medium?
I first started working with acrylic paint in high school art classes. In college, I found that I really liked working with acrylic because it dries much faster than oils and I like how you can water down the paint to use it almost like watercolor. I enjoy using different acrylic mediums to create texture and really build up the paint.
Who are some of your biggest artistic influences?
I’m just constantly inspired by and in awe of the incredible artists that we have in Fairbanks. I’m just blown away by how the subjects that we are used to in Fairbanks can be interpreted in so many different ways.
What’s it like working on commissioned pieces compared to pieces that are entirely of your own design?
I really like the collaborative aspect of it. I enjoy the feedback and that most clients are flexible with the ideas I throw at them. I spend much more time working on my own pieces whereas with commissions I really try to keep the timeframe short but allow myself enough time to not get burnt out on them.
Is there anything you’d like to say about your relationship with these sacred Indigenous lands?
I feel so incredibly lucky and thankful that my family has taken me out on the land starting at such a young age. My grandparents have a cabin in the Brooks Range about 30 miles north of Bettles, located on Inupiat, Koyukon, Kuuvuan KaNianiq, and Dënéndeh lands. I talk about Wild Lake often and it’s what inspires me to paint my winter landscapes. We go out snow machining at 20 below, take walks on the frozen tundra, watch the northern lights dance and take in all of the stars. I grew up experiencing the vastness and abundance of the arctic. It puts in perspective how important it is to not to take and take from land. As an adult, I understand the importance of connecting with nature whether that’s taking a walk through our boreal forests, traveling to a remote place and living minimally for a period of time, or simply taking a few deep breaths in the frigid air.
What attracted you to the opportunity to be Northern Center’s Featured Artist for 2022?
My brother‘s partner, Katie McClellan, who works at the Northern Center, sent me the link to the application. I had recently quit my job to do art full time and was looking for opportunities. I’ve been wanting to incorporate environmental conservation into my art beyond donating and painting Alaskan themes.
What has been the most fun part of this experience?
One of the most fun parts of this experience has been getting to know all the wonderful people that work at the Northern Center, and getting closer with a community that is working hard to protect the arctic. I really enjoyed attending Arctic Fest! It was an uplifting experience and gave me hope for the future of the Arctic. I also feel incredibly honored to be among the group of artists that have worked with the Northern Center in years past.
Do you have advice for other artists looking for opportunities like this?
My advice is to just go for it! I think after this experience I have taken on more opportunities and learned more of my boundaries. It was a great way to start out my first year as a self employed artist. Figuring out exactly what we want out of our jobs can be so overwhelming as artists and the best way to figure it out is to take on the opportunities that are available to us.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Northern Center community?
I feel so grateful for this opportunity. When talking about conservation and policies, I find it can feel intimidating and like I don’t know enough to be within this space. The Northern Center does such a beautiful job of getting the community involved, dissecting serious issues, and being a kind group of people to work with.
We are beginning to accept applications for our 2023 featured artist. Each year, The Northern Alaska Environmental Center chooses an artist whose work embodies the spirit of Northern Alaska, and features an original work on publicity materials. We look for an original piece by an Alaska artist to be featured on our event publicity and fundraising materials throughout the year, with the original piece being auctioned in the fall/winter. The featured artist will be compensated and a contract will be negotiated individually with the selected artist. If you are a visual artist interested in contributing an original work this year, please send your CV and links to your website and social media to Alex Petkanas at firstname.lastname@example.org by December 20. Feel free to contact us with any questions.