Sure, she was making a whole lot more money managing restaurants, but when art takes you, it takes you.
And it took Nadia Rieger into the art supply business about 15 years ago, give or take, where she eventually became the community manager for a company with eight stores in the Ottawa area.
But she realized she wanted to do her own thing. She wanted to open something where artists could work, show, develop, mingle, experiment, sell, and...just be artists, really.
"But Ottawa was kind of a difficult place to do that just then," Rieger says, sitting at a paper-covered table in the studio section of The Crow's Nest Gallery and Art Studio in Willow Point. "There was so much going on with the economy and art businesses were struggling. I mean, even the business I was with was struggling and they were in their third generation. It was a heritage business, and it just couldn't make it."
And then, just before she could open her own gallery/workshop/studio/arts space in Ottawa, using all of the skills and contacts she'd built over the years, the space she had envisioned for it suddenly became unavailable.
"I guess I just kind of decided to go on a life journey across America and Canada. And wouldn't you know it, I ended up meeting the man of my dreams, whose family just happened to be from Courtenay," she says with a huge smile. "That's how I made it to the Island, and I just fell in love with the whole place. There's so much focus in the arts here. It's just so encouraged here. There are so many artists and they're all so supportive of each other."
She headed back to Ottawa to think on some things. But she came back for good only four weeks later.
"I came with whatever I could fit in my car – basically art supplies and clothing. And I just put a post out on Facebook, and the community helped us find a home. They helped us with furniture. They helped us with forks and knives for our kitchen. I couldn't believe the sense of community here. It blew me away. I lived in Ottawa my entire life and I'd never felt that, and I got that here immediately. It was so inspiring."
That feeling of inspiration threw her back into her art head first and she would eventually end up asking the landlord of Sunrise Square in Willow Point if she could use a vacant space for a pop-up gallery.
She recruited a few artists, booked the "show," put on a few workshops, and it went so far beyond expectations that she did, in fact, turn it into a full-fledged business.
The Crow's Nest was born.
"At my first workshop I had 30 people booked within a week and had to start a waitlist, and then I filled another one, and another waitlist, and finally, I just figured I should just open the location as a permanent business using my vision from Ottawa now that I was in a place that was obviously in need of it."
But she knew the only way that it would work would be to involve as many artists as possible.
"That's how I'm able to fill the store," she says. "I wanted to open the gallery to not just traditional forms – which is what a lot of galleries tend to do, but I wanted to be available to all different styles of art and all different levels of artists."
Basically, what she wants to do is provide opportunity.
"Would a lot of these artists ever be given a shot in a regular art gallery?" she asks looking around the room. "Probably not, but I kind of take pride in that."
She also wants to keep art affordable. She only takes a 30 per cent commission on sales of art through her gallery – which to the non-artists out there may sound like a big cut, but anyone reading this who has tried to sell in a gallery knows is very reasonable.
"I make barely anything on what I'm selling, but I love being able to call an artist and tell them something sold and have them get all amped up and energized to paint some more. It's such an awesome feeling."
She probably loves that feeling so much because she knows that struggle first hand.
"One of the things artists struggle with the most," Rieger says, "is that when we finally get a shot in a gallery, we have to mark up our work so much that it won't sell. Being able to have it at a lower price point is really a benefit, both for the artist, because they can sell more stuff more often, and for the community, because they get original works of art at a price they can afford."
Of course, she also loves teaching, which is why she has opened up a ton of classes – from "Bob Ross style" oil painting classes (which may or may not involve some wine consumption) to drawing basics to photo transfers to classes with live models.
And those are only the adult ones. She also offers watercolour, mixed media, silkscreening and drawing classes for kids and teens.
"I've done demonstrating and educating for 11 years now, but it's so cool that now I get to do it all the time, every single day, a lot of times for people who have been making art for a really long time and just want to experiment with something new," Rieger says. "That's been one of the funnest parts of this – getting to work with very creative people who are experimenting and learning and exploring new mediums. I'm glad I'm filling a niche that it seems the community needs to have filled."
"The biggest compliment I get as a teacher is that it makes it so much easier for an artist to learn how to do something new when they understand why it behaves the way it does, and with my background in being a product specialist – I can tell you how every type of paint is made, what goes into it, why it's made that way, how it behaves and how that can benefit you for each and every project you do."
In terms of the gallery side of the space, The Crow's Nest works on a two-month rotation system where artists bring their work in and get a spot for two months. They can replace work as it sells during those two months, but then a new crop of art will flow through.
"Some artists might put new art up or wait for another rotation to come around in two months, but in either case, it'll change completely in here."
And she's always wanting more artists involved – but only if they want to be.
"When I was first getting going, I found out pretty quickly that not everyone wanted to be included, and that's fine, but basically every person who comes in I say yes to. What's most important is that I stay versatile. If I ever get to the point where 10 knitters come in, I'll probably have to start being selective and keep it to maybe two per medium."
Right now, she specifically needs more of what she calls "crafters and makers."
"Maybe because I'm called an art gallery, people don't realize that I'm accepting of all types of art. I have a few more shelving units that I can fill."
So if you're an artist who wants a place to show and sell your work – especially if you're potter or a knitter or a wood turner or some other kind of craftsperson – get in touch, she says.
The Crow's Nest Gallery and Art Studio can be found at 2116F South Island Highway (Sunrise Plaza) or you can find them on Facebook.