For Yellowknife artist Nicole Loubert, inspiration comes from the least likely places. Her latest source? A 30-year-old collection of NWT licence plates.
“I like to explore, so I’m always trying to find new ideas,” said Loubert, a Québec native who moved to Yellowknife 25 years ago.
Loubert is an artist and teacher who works primarily with oil paint. The idea to start painting licence plates came from her husband, who had amassed a collection of them over the years.
She started researching how to effectively paint on metal, but to no avail.
“I just decided, ‘Ah, let’s go for it. I’m trying it.’ And yes, it worked. I could varnish it at the end to perfect them, so they could even be outside,” she said.
Securing a supply of her new favourite canvas isn’t easy. Her husband has gone as far as to look for them at the dump. But Loubert said it’s worth the patience.
“They’re difficult to find, but I like that they are original. I don’t want to buy the plastic ones. I want the original ones because they have a story,” she said.
“They travel and have signs of wear and tear – or I call them ‘character marks’ – which are there even if I paint on it, but I find it more interesting that they have a story.”
Her licence-plate paintings typically consist of nature scenes featuring winter forests and the northern lights. They sell for $125, or $100 if you provide your own plate.
“People want me to paint their own because it has a history for them. For people moving out of town, when they take it off and they want it as an authentic souvenir, that represents something for them because it was on their own vehicle here,” Loubert said.
Since she started painting licence plates last year, Loubert said she has received a surprising amount of interest. She has received orders from across Canada, with some customers even offering to trade stacks of old licence plates for a painting of their own.
While Loubert is happy to paint a licence plate from anywhere, she has a soft spot for the polar-bear shaped ones for which the NWT is known.
“I just find those ones are very, very interesting. That’s probably the nicest one in the world,” she said.
Loubert loves to experiment with different techniques and canvases. She started out painting doors, whether they were doors to a cupboard or to a room in a house. In the past, she has even painted the fire department’s electrical transformer box.
“For me, painting on anything is fun. I don’t know if it’s the oil paint, but it always works. I wish I could try a boat, or a canoe, or a car one day – maybe just a bumper. That would be fun.”