I think every ruralist has a little bit of whimsy in their heart. Surrounded by lush fields and forests it’s hard not to be captured by the magic of the land. Perhaps that’s why Pixie Hill artist Nichola Battilana’s work resonates with me. Nichola has captured what my whimsical heart wants to see, the possibility that magic really is all around us. Pixie Hill is located on a rustic farm surrounded by enchanted forests in Brighton, Ontario, in the heart of Northumberland County.
Wanting to get a peek behind the scenes, I asked Nichola to tell me more about Pixie Hill and what inspires her to create her charming and delightful work. Here is what I learned:
Tell us a little about Pixie Hill, how do you describe your work?
My business cards says I’m a maker of messes and believer in fairies and I think that sums up what I do nicely. I’m an artist and designer and operate a studio dubbed “Pixie Hill” in Brighton, Ontario. The things I make range from miniature houses, transforming old photographs, tiny gardens in thimbles, paper crafts and even a bit of painting. It may sound a little scatterbrained but my work has a running theme of magic, joy and whimsicality.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Just one thing? Impossible! I love the actual making and creating. If I don’t create on a daily basis I get very grumpy. I never get tired of it. Making a mess in the studio keeps me sane. Also, I’m fairly awkward socially, so my work speaks for me. When I show my work an amazing connection takes place. There is a this look that some people get when they look at my work. They revert to being 10 years old, then sigh and gush. Seeing that reaction is one of the best things in life.
Each one of your pieces is so unique and individual, what inspires your creativity?
My biggest inspiration is this place. I can walk our property every single day and find a new little treasure. It is a constant source of amazement. I walk out my back door to blankets of moss, trails of toadstools and swarms of fireflies. Last summer, just as the sun was setting, you could see the silouettes hundreds of huge dragonflies zooming this way and that way in front of a sky the colour of mango sorbet. How could you not be inspired by that? Truthfully, and this may sound silly, almost everything inspires me in some way. It’s the way you look at the things that are right in front of you, and recognizing their worth (real or imagined). Lost buttons and smooth pebbles can have a great deal to say if you don’t take them for granted.
How did Pixie Hill get started?
Pixie Hill took seed the day we moved into this old house. We had endured a very difficult year and this place immediately became our sanctuary. I soon took notice of magical things happening all around. Seeing stars actually twinkle at night, frogs peeking into second story windows to listen to bedtime stories, the end of the rainbow appearing on our front lawn, pumpkins sprouting where none had been planted, all of these things swept me away. For a girl from the city these things were a wonder and absolute inspiration. My work began to reflect the enchantment of this place, the goodness it made me feel toward the world, and Pixie Hill was born.
Have you always been an artist?
I have foundation fine arts training and am a graduate of the Sheridan Collage graphic design program. Living in the city, I worked two jobs: production coordinator for a weekly entertainment publication and graphic designer for a non-profit media arts organization. It was a strange mix. Designing for musicians, bars and escorts one day, then curating an exhibit of photography by street youth, and designing annual reports for charitable organizations the next. I was a much different person then, tense and usually rushing for something. There’s a wonderful calm, a slower pace that comes with living in a rural area. It’s not for everyone, and it does take getting used to, but I can’t imagine living any other way now.
Any special things happening at Pixie Hill this summer?
My studio has always been available for visitors by appointment, but beginning in May the doors will be open for snooping every Friday. The biggest thing I’m working on is “The Fairy Tour”. Last year I created several vinettes (including a troll hole, a hobbit door and a fairy houses) for visitors to discover while wandering about the property. It was great fun and this year I’m expanding, adding more stops, and including creative thinking workshops to co-inside with the exhibit. The installation will run at Pixie Hill from June 22nd through July, before it migrating to our local arts centre, The Gates, in August.
What do you wish people knew about Pixie Hill?
I think it is important to know that Pixie Hill didn’t just spout out of a brainstorming session. It has grown organically. The stories are 100% true, and not just imaginative marketing. I don’t think that many people realize that I do everything for Pixie Hill. I make the items, do the photography, design and maintain the website, design all of the print materials. My whole heart is in it.
What are some other unique aspects of what you do?
I think the emotional response that people have to my work is quite unique. Beyond being pretty little things, my work can stir up childhood memories and revive real sense of wonder. I don’t really have a demographic either. My customers range from cheeky children and fabulous old ladies, to fellow creative types and high profile CEO’s. I cannot place an age, education or income range on my customer base. There’s a sweet inner quality that my visitors possess that goes beyond demographics. I can never ever tell who my next customer is going to be.
How do you like to spend your free time?
My husband is a winemaker in Prince Edward County, but a hobby farmer at heart. My 10 year old son is a budding photographer. There’s also our dog, Padfoot, and several laying hens. We’re a foodie family so a great deal of time is spent in the kitchen or garden. In three short years we’ve gone from a small plot in the city to growing almost all of our own vegetables, raising our own chickens, collecting fresh eggs from our hens, and preparing and preserving much of our food from scratch. It’s a dream.
What other local businesses in the Brighton area do you recommend?
End of the Thread Café is brilliant! It’s this really eclectic café and antique shop… a wonderful, quirky place to be.
The Gates is Brighton’s new art centre, operated by the Brighton Arts Council. Years ago, it was a driving range so it sits on this amazing 8 acre property. There’s an overgrown mini-put course with unbelievable mossy carpets, which will be home to some of my fairy houses come this August.
Dragonfly is a fantastic clothing and accessory store. They carry some exceptional not-so-ordinary items.
Impresario Artisan Market – An amazing hip shop filled with handmade treasures. Rebecca showcases loads of local talent. It’s located in the heart of Cobourg which is a great place to walk about.