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Artist turns grief into beautiful free illustrations inspired by B.C.'s Dr. Bonnie Henry

"I feel really lucky to be a visual communicator, to be able to capture moments in time in a way that speaks to people" says B.C. artist Sharon Montgomery

For many British Columbians holing up in our homes, watching COVID-19 spread through our seniors' care homes, and in communities both near and far across the globe, hearing Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's oft-repeated reminder to "be calm, be kind, be safe," offers soothing balm.

Artist Sharon Montgomery of Victoria counts herself among those for whom Dr. Henry's daily addresses to the public takes the sting out of what so many of us are experiencing. 

And so she turned her anguish into artwork, inspired by Dr. Henry and shared online for anyone to access.

Montgomery tells V.I.A. she was into her third week of practicing social distancing when she became more emotional about what had been happening. 

"I just felt such grief for everyone and for all that we're going through as society right now. To try and ease my mood, I tried to think of what was making this time bearable, all the things I had to be grateful for," the artist explains. 

Then she thought of Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix and their daily updates on COVID-19 in B.C., and the effect they have on her. 

"I always feel so reassured and my stress lessens," says Montgomery.

And so, the professional artist and art teacher - whose work appears on everything from textiles, to ceramics, paper napkins, greeting cards, and book covers, as well as in private collections across North America - did what she does best.

"Dr. Henry is so calm and matter of fact that I thought it would be nice to draw her as a way to make myself feel better. We all appreciate her so much."

In addition to drawing a remarkable and compelling likeness of Dr. Henry, Montgomery illustrated the "Be calm, be kind, be safe," quote. 

Why that one? "It's the one that I associate most with Dr. Henry. It's also short and concise and I think most people can identify with it," explains Montgomery.

The artwork is bright and cheerful as well as serene, and shows Montogomery's appreciation of nature - a common theme in her work.

Montgomery shared the illustrations online, and they quickly made there way into the chatty Dr. Bonnie Henry Fans Facebook group. 

Initially Montgomery says she turned the art into free Facebook cover photos that she made available for anyone to use, but then people started requesting prints.

She set up a page on her website offering free downloadable prints - something the self-employed illustrator and artist says she's never done befroe. 

"I wanted the print to be available to anyone," explains Montgomery. "Not everyone can spare money right now and I didn't want this project to be about profit, but about our shared experience as citizens of B.C."

In addition to the prints, Montgomery commissioned her friend, artist Andrea Soos, and Soos' son, to hand-press a set of 60 pins, all which sold out in just two hours. All of the proceeds from the pin sales go to FoodbanksBC. Now Montgomery has outsourced the pin-making to a Vancouver-based company, and the pins should be available to order from her site soon.

The Dr. Henry art, with the downloads and fundraiser pins, has become an unusual branch of Montogmery's career right now. Montgomery says, though, that while working from home isn't unusual, what is different is doing so with her kids and husband home all the time with her, too. And keeping inspired to create has proven difficult.

"I've found it really challenging to be creative these past few weeks, I haven't had much motivation. But when I do force myself to sit down and get to work I really do feel better afterwards," adds Montogmery. 

With so many of us tapping into new sources of inspiration to keep us going during this time of global and local crisis, Montgomery's art can be a touchstone for us in B.C. who appreciate the calm guidance and leadership of Dr. Henry. For artists like Montgomery, creating something out of what's happening around her is her way to help out.

"I feel really lucky to be a visual communicator, to be able to capture moments in time in a way that speaks to people. It's what I've done my whole life, and I'm so glad I could use my skillset help out in a small way during this time."

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