Creative spirit making her mark
You may or may not be familiar with April Branco's art but either way, she's making a name for herself in Bermuda. The 30-year-old turned her passion into a profession six years ago. She doesn't always use traditional methods to showcase her art: her illustrations can be seen in Pamela Barit Nolan's book, Bermuda Blessings; each week she posts a painting for open bid on Facebook, using #ArtsForAll.
Q: How long have you been exhibiting?
A: Since I was 19. I submitted three charcoal pieces to a winter members' show at BSoA.
Have you always been interested in art?
Always. My whole life. My father is a sign painter and architect and my mother likes to embroider and cook. So I grew up with lots of supplies for creativity. There was no television in the house until I was 12 so my time was spent reading and creating.
Who encouraged you to pursue art?
Everyone! My parents, especially. When we were moving back to Bermuda my father encouraged me to consider how to sell my work, and once we had settled back in I started selling at Harbour Nights. He built me a huge display easel and would drive me across the island — to Dockyard, St George's and town, to set up and vend. My mother would help me with sales and packaging and moral support.
They went above and beyond to help and support me. I am ever grateful I had parents who believed creativity is a valid life path. I also had several very influential and supportive teachers and mentors who told me I had the talent and drive to go far and taught me how to have a successful and fulfilling life as a creative. Foremost of these is Mr Edwin Smith and Ms Sharon Wilson and Dr Carolyne Fuqua.
Had you illustrated a book before?
This is my first book. I have been approached many times about illustrating but this is the first one that came to fruition.
How was it different from the usual work you do?
Working around and with text is very different. As far as logistics, I had to choose sizes and shapes that fit the book dimensions and text, and then I had to consider subject matter. I loved reading through Pamela's writing. I picked key phrases and words, which I felt I could summarise in an image. Beyond merely the words, I had to listen to the nature of her prayers to sense the feeling they evoked in the reader: peace, serenity, reverence, gratitude, love ... and then my next thought [was] how can I evoke those same feelings with light and colour?
Was it more challenging than working on your own?
MUCH more challenging. Art is usually a personal and private thing for me. No middle man. I was not used to having to run so much of what I was doing by others and incorporate their input. There were also periods where I was waiting for others to complete their part of the process before I could proceed. It was a wonderful learning experience.
Have you ever held a traditional job?
I've worked front desk and concierge at hotels, I worked in international banking, as a dive master in the South Pacific and in Bermuda. I'm also a Thai massage therapist and a yoga instructor. I love learning new things and I love an adventure! I've travelled far and wide, backpacking in Mexico, Fiji, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, Egypt, Costa Rica. I sailed tall ships from Spain to the Canary Islands ... you name it!
I'm gearing up to go to Italy next year.
The best part of doing the book for you?
The best part was seeing a project come to life and completion. I'm an Aries so we love to start things but aren't usually successful at finishing them! Pamela was very patient and she allowed the project to take its course. I appreciate her anchoring us the way she did.
The best/worst thing about being an artist in Bermuda?
The best thing in Bermuda is the sales. I have always found it easy to sell my work here. Bermudians are avid art collectors and we have an income, generally, that allows for high-end purchases like original art. I also find the amount of professional artists here are few and we all have such different styles that it allows for us all to make a living from it without infringing on each other.
The worst thing I'd say is the shadow side of what I mentioned above. The community is small and the work here I find (myself included) tends to be sales-based. We often create for the consumer as we have to pay our bills and living here is expensive. So the subject matter and sizes are often geared towards sales. Bermuda isn't an artists' hub, it's a business mecca and it's challenging to find like-minded individuals — especially my own age. I also feel we could do more, publicly, to support the arts: more grants, more murals, more studios, more festivals. But I do see progress, and that's exciting!
And the online bidding?
I've taken to Facebook with online bidding. I post a painting each week and allow the public to place offers/bids on the painting. The highest bidder gets the painting at the end of the week. I received the idea in meditation one morning. That very day I posted a piece for open bid and it sold. And since June I've sold many paintings using #ArtForAll. It allows the everyday person who may not have thousands to still own an original painting.
• Learn more here: www.aprilbranco.com. Buy Bermuda Blessings at Brown & Co for $35, at St Paul's Church office in Paget from Monday to Friday, 10am until 2pm, or firstname.lastname@example.org