Nanaimo artist Melissa Partee holds an untitled acrylic piece at Neck Point Park.

Nanaimo artist Melissa Partee holds an untitled acrylic piece at Neck Point Park.

Artist painting her way through the industry

Melissa Partee balancing life as a recent art graduate.

For Vancouver Island University visual arts graduate Melissa Partee, 23, and many other art graduates, the reality of being an artist is often filled with financial challenges and endless possibilities.

“I could do anything,” Partee told the News Bulletin. “But on the other hand I can’t.”

Earlier this year, Partee graduated from the university’s visual arts program and is now balancing a full-time retail job with life as an artist.

“There will always be some level of creativity going on in my life,” Partee said. “I’ll never not have that.”

Partee’s pathway into art began at an early age.

“I’ve always been interested in arts,” Partee said. “I have been drawing since I was little.”

The VIU grad was born in Nanaimo and attended Wellington Secondary School, where she not only became heavily interested in art, but also excelled in music.

Despite her musical ability, Partee said knew she would become an artist rather than a musician.

“It’s my one passion. It’s something that has always made me happy,” she said.

As an artist, Partee works with variety of different mediums such as watercolours, oils and charcoal. Her work has appeared in various exhibits including the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Explorations and Ornament3.

As is the case with many recent art graduates, Partee has struggled to find full-time employment in her industry and the thought of surviving on just her own art is merely an idea.

“Making a living off my own art at this age and in this time is not viable,” she said.

Partee is not alone. According to a Statistics Canada study released last year, approximately 33 per cent of university graduates between the ages of 25 to 34 held occupations that required a high school diploma or less in 2011.

The study also found that in 2011 roughly 22 per cent of male graduates and 28 per cent of female graduates from visual and performing arts and communications technologies programs held positions that required a high school education or less.

“From everybody that I know and still keep in touch with from school, no body is making a living just by selling their stuff,” she said. “They’ve all got other side things on the go that help to fund them essentially.”

Finding the time to focus on art while balancing a full-time retail job can be extremely difficult. However, despite being unable to find full-time work in her field, Partee is one of the few graduates to land an arts related part-time paying job.

Partee currently works as the art education assistant at the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Art Lab Saturday Studio.

“Being in with the art gallery is really great,” she said.

Image Credit: Nicholas Pescod

Nanaimo-based artist Melissa Partee holds her painting, Untitled, at Neck Point Park.

There are also options for younger artists to have their work featured in various exhibits within Nanaimo. Organizations such as Art 10 offer artists the chance to become a member, but it comes with a cost and substantial artistic requirements.

“It’s hard to get in,” Partee said. “That’s why student-run-type shows are great because there are no entry fees that a lot of professional shows will have.”

With a surplus of older and more experienced artists living in the city, Partee would love to see a connection made between the two groups.

“It would be great having that connection,” she said.

One of the other challenges for young artists is striking a balance between what people want artistically and what she wants to create.

“It feels like there is a lot of pressure to make stuff that everybody is going to like,” Partee said. “I know as an artist it’s very much do what makes you happy but that is not always the stuff that sells.”

The Nanaimo native noted that obscure abstract pieces don’t typically sell as well as others.

“There is a very small market for very weird abstract art,” she said. “Generally people like pictures of landscapes.”

Regardless of the challenges that lie ahead, Partee has big goals.

“I want to be working in a creative field, like being a curator for example,” she said. “I want to be able to have my own studio and to be able to sell things on my own and to have a decent amount of school under my belt, such as getting my masters degree.”

For more information about Melissa Partee, visit or

arts@nanaimobulletin.comTwitter: @npescod