The Whimsical World of Heather Verplanke
A glimpse into the realm of magical creation.
Maichina Veri, February 13, 2023 // Brantford, Ontario Artist Heather Verplanke surrounded by some of her works. Photo credit Sarah Evans.
Welcome to the creative and whimsical world of original Holmedale human Heather Verplanke. The 41-year-old, who currently resides in Port Dover, is an established portraitist and miniaturist. With her education in art fundamentals and technical illustration from Sheridan College, as well as her unique perspective from living with bipolar disorder and dyslexia, Heather creates intriguing work rich in colour and symbolism with an abundance of technical skill. Her walls hold stunning portraits of both familiar and famous faces. The shelves in her home studio display detailed diorama constructions. Join BTOWN as we enter the dynamic and fantastic realm of Brantford’s very own multi-talented artist.
Using bold colours of acrylic paint and honing amazing light play, Heather paints technically sound portraits of a variety of subjects. Browsing her home and her online work, you’ll find the faces of locals such as Mike Crechiolo (also known as Mike on a Bike) and BTOWN’s newest columnist, comedian Graham Chittenden. You might also recognize former U.S. president Donald Trump in red shoes, political Twitch streamer Hasan Piker sporting pearls with his microphone, musician, chef and actor Matty Matheson with a tear and pomegranates and artist Bob Ross donning a medal with his hair in curlers. For her paintings, Heather collects her reference photos, smashes them together in Photoshop for her composition, then translates it all with her acrylic paint onto the canvas. Though a painting typically takes her less than a week to complete, there is a lot of thought that goes into Heather’s work.
A few of Heather's portrait pieces. Photo credit Sarah Evans.
Compared to her portraits, Heather’s dioramas are non-thinking, monotonous productions that provide relaxation. She crafts intricate interior designs with different media such as wires, beads, nail polishes, wallpapers and even literal pieces of garbage. Any object or pattern that is to scale can wind up in her miniatures. To top it all off, Heather’s partner Ben, who supports and inspires her – and who also happens to be an electrician – adds a working light to each model. The result of her work is a range of truly delightful and magical rooms built around imaginative yet specific themes. You might feel a desire to step into her dioramas and walk around.
Heather pulls her ideas for her art from a vast ocean of inspirational and influential material. From documentaries to political podcasts and from crochet to photography, anything creative in the world around Heather can provide fuel for her work. She identifies with the art movement of Surrealism, appreciating how technical skill and bizarre ideas come together. Heather also flexes in her art a satirical edge, as well as symbolism that reflects society, that she draws from politics, worldly themes and her own life. On this note, Heather speaks to a portrait she painted of actor and comedian H. Jon Benjamin. “I watched a documentary about an octopus and how they were very humanlike. A guy befriended an octopus, and then the octopus died. And I was just bawling – the saddest thing. So I painted him [H. Jon Benjamin] with an octopus coming out of his chest just because I saw that documentary. Whatever is going on in my life, I like to use it if it inspires me – and it can be anything.”
The incredible detail shown in Heather miniatures. Photo credit Sarah Evans.
Two other key factors that play a part in Heather’s art are mental illness and dyslexia. She uses art every day as therapy to help with her bipolar disorder. Telling the story of her diagnosis, Heather mentions that’s when she learned people who share her illness tend to be creative. Add to this her dyslexia, which makes her a visual thinker, Heather states about her work, “I’m good at it because I’m dyslexic, and I do it because I’m bipolar. And that’s it. That pretty much explains it.”
Relating to bipolar disorder, as well as the artist’s life in general, Heather says one of the biggest challenges of being an artist is balancing introversion with extraversion and insecurity with confidence. Heather also started her art career later in life, but coming to things later should never stop someone. “It’s never too late to start,” she advises, “Follow a dream. And work your ass off. It’s OK to be obsessed with something you love.”
Showing the scale of some of Heather Verplanke's precision. Photo credit Sarah Evans.
Since following her dream, Heather has had about 30 to 40 shows, with her first being at the old Brantford Arts Block. Glenhyrst Art Gallery also featured her work, which Heather said was an awesome experience. “It was nice because when I was in Brantford and I showed at Glenhyrst, they had the most people they had ever had at a show before. I had all my friends and family come, and people that were interested in art, and it was just an amazing experience to see all of these people come together to celebrate. It was a great experience,” Heather emphasizes.
At this time, Heather has her work wrapping up at the Taren White Gallery in Paris, and on display at the Woodhouse Gallery in Port Dover as well as at the Paris Bohemian Gallery. She looks forward to joining in on the Norfolk Studio Tour and Holmedale Art Crawl when they take place and hopes to get into Hamilton galleries soon. To see more of Heather’s work, you can visit her website HERE. Also follow her on her Facebook HERE and Instagram HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maichina Veri is a writer based in Brantford, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University and has a background in Journalism – Print from Niagara College.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Born on a frigid winter's night, Sarah Evans knew early on that the only way to warm her soul was through art. During her time studying Film and Video Production at York U, Sarah discovered her love for photography and has been shooting ever since. Other things Sarah has done is worked on film and television sets, painted a terrible mural in high school, opened a floral business and bitten into a paintball (it wasn't a chocolate covered blueberry!).