Artist combines a love of animals and art to create whimsical pieces
After working as a veterinarian in Newfoundland for many years, Kimberly Clarke decided to pursue her love of art. She enrolled in an art-and-craft-based textiles program at the College of the North Atlantic in 2016.
“I’ve always made art, mostly illustrations,” says Clarke. “I studied pattern making and I was interested in making soft toys.”
After completing the program, Clarke returned to her veterinarian work. But when COVID-19 hit, she decided to take some time to learn another craft. This time: ceramics.
“I taught myself by following different artists on Instagram, joining Facebook groups, asking questions and watching YouTube videos,” she says. “It took an entire year because there is so much trial and error with ceramics. If you make a mistake early on in your process, you’re going to doom your piece to have flaws. It was frustrating at some points and discouraging, but I stayed with it.”
From there, she merged her love for nature and animals into her art.
“There’s such a variety of different shapes and colours — it’s endless,” she says. “Even when I worked with animals, I always sketched and drew them. Animals and nature inspire me, and I think that will always be what I focus on. When I was a child, you could get these little porcelain animal figurines in boxes of Tetley Tea. For some reason, they’ve always stuck with me.”
Clarke now makes art full time and started her own business, Soft Pony, which promises “cute stuff for cute people.” Her pieces include plush toys, ceramics and jewelry.
A royal visit
After being accepted in April at the Quidi Vidi Village Artisan Studios — an incubator for craftspeople — Clarke’s work has been growing in popularity.
When Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited Newfoundland in May, they came to her studio. The duchess bought a puffin and two chickadees from the artist.
While Clarke is still getting over the shock of having her work in a royal residence in Britain, she hopes everyone is happy when they see her creations.
Iconic Newfoundland imagery
One of her popular items is the iceberg and dory sets. Clarke wanted something in her studio that was interactive for people and inexpensive.
“I knew it would be easy to make icebergs because they’re just a lump of clay, and they’re abstract,” she says. “There are two separate pieces, and I love the idea that people come into my studio, and they’re lined up on the shelves. I like to watch people mix and match the boat with whatever iceberg they’re drawn to. I get a lot of tourists who have seen icebergs here. Some have photographs and try to match one of my sculptures with an actual iceberg they’ve seen.”
Clarke wanted to create other tourist-friendly pieces representing iconic Newfoundland imagery and made some unique pieces, such as orcas or narwhals with golden horns, unicorns and pigeons carrying doughnuts on their backs.
She also encourages custom orders as she enjoys bringing people’s ideas to life. Earlier in the season, she made a customer a special engagement gift. It was a ring holder made to look like the couple’s dog, with its tail up to hold the engagement ring. On the dog’s belly is an inscription of their engagement date in gold.
“My art makes me happy, and that’s my main motivator. I do it for myself, and I’m happy other people enjoy it.”