By Nick Fonda
It’s quite a few miles (and even more kilometers) from the village of Densole, nestled in the quiet countryside of Kent, to the town of Sutton in the Appalachian foothills. For multi-faceted visual artist Tiffany Monk, the trip was that much longer as she came to the Eastern Townships via Vancouver.
“I came to Canada in 2016 on a working holiday visa,” she says. “I was quite lucky. Canada offers 2,500 – 5,000 working holiday visas annually to U.K. citizens and they’re awarded by a lottery system. There’s an application and vetting process to go through, but your name has to be picked to get the visa.”
There were several reasons that prompted her to skip over the pond. “I felt like a change in scenery,” she says. “I wanted to appease my sense of adventure. I was between projects, so I had no work constraints. If I was going to see what it was like in Canada, it was the right time.”
She landed in Vancouver with no job prospects in her field, albeit with a degree from the University of Hertfordshire and a CV that included work on a Disney film. Regardless her credentials, she spent the summer wwoofing on Vancouver Island and on the Sunshine Coast.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an organization that pairs organic farmers in need of seasonal workers with young people willing to work their way to their next destination. (The registration fee to become a wwoofer is a modest $40 and the travel opportunities are global.)
“My first summer I worked on four different organic farms,” she says. “That winter I found work at the X-country ski shop on Cypress Mountain, just outside of Vancouver.”
All the while, Tiffany Monk was looking for work in the rather specialized field of model making for stop motion animation. (The films of Nick Parks are a good example of this technique which involves creating three-dimensional figures rather than two-dimensional cartoons.)
Given the penchant she showed when young, it’s perhaps not surprising that her career path led her to animation.
“I think I started drawing the moment I could hold a pencil,” she says. “As I child I was always asking my parents, what shall I draw now? In secondary school I got the bug for painting. I might have done Fine Arts at university, but I chose to study Character Creation and Technical Effects. It was learning to make models and puppets, but also all the backdrops and props that are needed establish the setting.”
“Part of my second year was a three-month work placement,” she continues. “By chance, I ended up doing prop work on a Disney film. U.K. film studios are in considerable demand, and some notable films, including Star Wars, have come out of British studios.”
Tiffany found work, first at the Longcross Studio (where Steven Spielberg filmed War Horse) and then at the Astrid Goldsmith Mock Duck Studio where the focus was short films. She also found that film is a difficult business in which to stay gainfully employed. Jobs are project-based so that employment means going from one contract to the next without ever being sure how long it might be between the two.
Finding work in film turned out to be challenging on this side of the Atlantic as well.
“The way it works in the industry,” she explains, “is that in many cases, to get hired, you have to belong to the union. Still, I was fortunate, and I found work in Vancouver as a model maker in stop-motion animation for independent film maker, Alicia Eisen.”
Tiffany’s visa permitted her to work in Canada for only two years, but that was long enough to know she wanted to stay, especially since she’d met someone. She applied for permanent residency, a first step towards citizenship.
By the summer of 2019 she was married and on her way to the Eastern Townships in a battered old Dodge Caravan.
“There were a few things that prompted us to move,” she says. “Housing in Vancouver was very expensive, and it wasn’t getting any easier to find a place to stay. When my partner was offered a position in Cowansville, I was once again between projects, and we said, let’s go. We sold everything that we could, packed what we could into our van, and drove across the country.”
“One thing that made the move easier,” she adds, “is that, thanks to a friend of my spouse, we had an apartment already rented in Sutton before we got here.”
“Still,” she says, “it was a move that caused me some trepidation. There’s a film industry in Montreal, but Sutton is an hour and a half away. In terms of finding work the distance was a bit of a worry.”
She continues, “Whatever concerns I felt evaporated completely a week or so after we arrived, and we went around the Tour des arts. I was so surprised and amazed that there was so much vibrant work being done by people out here. Somehow it made me feel much more at home, and much more optimistic.”
Just as Tiffany had earlier put down her paint brushes to start fabricating puppets, she adjusted to her new surroundings and went back to drawing a painting.
“We’re still in an apartment and my studio space is a small corner next to the washing machine,” she says. “I certainly don’t have the space to do the sculpting I sometimes dream of. But I am painting. I’d worked in acrylics back when I was in school, and I’m now developing an appreciation for painting in oil, which allows me to work more slowly and make changes when I wish.”
“I also joined Mardi Croquis,” she continues. “The group varies in size from one outing to the next, but we’re all people who like to draw and we go to a different place each week and spend a couple of hours drawing. It’s been a good way to meet people, and a great way to see the villages in the area.”
In December of 2019, just a few months after arriving in the Townships, her work was part of a group exhibition at Arts Sutton, as she was again this past summer.
To see more of Tiffany Monk’s work, go to her web site at tiffanymonk.com.
This project has been made possible by the Community Media Strategic Support Fund offered jointly by the Official Language Minority Community Media Consortium and the Government of Canada.