Kelly Whyte of Rapley Fields Art Studios doesn’t have to go far to find inspiration.
I live just south of Bobcaygeon,” she says, “and we own 100 acres. It’s fields and trails and woods. I ski on it, I hike on it, I snowshoe, so a lot of my scenes come from just my backyard, so to speak.”
Whyte’s painting studio is a stop on the 2023 Victoria County Studio Tour, her third year participating in the popular Kawartha Lakes event that sees artists opening their doors on select weekends in fall. The complete tour map includes over three dozen artists, in disciplines that range from photography, woodturning, ceramics, and more. Visitors to Rapley Fields Art Studio can browse a selection of Whyte’s oil paintings, with the artist on hand to talk about her process.
“I always thought to myself when I moved up here, wouldn’t it be great to be on the studio tour?” Whyte says. She’s lived in the area for over three decades now, but retiring from her teaching job allowed her to concentrate on her passion for painting. She opened her own studio in 2021, making good on a lifelong dream. Participating in the studio tour allows her to share that enthusiasm. “Oftentimes I think artists are solitary beings—we spend a lot of time by ourselves! So it’s really nice to talk about art with people that appreciate it.”
Her landscape paintings have a universal appeal, but for local audiences, there’s an added pleasure in recognizing the terrain. Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park and Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park have both inspired paintings, with Gold Lake and Cold Lake being particular favourites. She often works from photo references, or acrylic studies painted on location that she later renders in oils, her preferred medium.
“It’s just the vibrancy of the colours, she says of the appeal of oil paints. “The colours just pop off the canvas. I don’t think there’s anything else that compares to it.” That richness lends itself to capturing fall colours, as well as winter paintings that contrast deep purples and blues against stark white. However, if vibrant colours are one of her hallmarks, she varies her approach by alternating between naturalistic and impressionistic styles.
“Every day I go into the studio and I’m like, what do I feel like doing today? I get a little bit impressionistic if I’m in one of those moods where I don’t want to concentrate and do a lot of detail… And then there are days I’ll go in and I’ll really focus, zero in, and do a really detailed painting!” she says, laughing.
Outside of the Victoria County Studio Tour, Whyte’s range has been on display at the Miskwaa Studio & Open Air Gallery, where her work is shown during the summer, and at the Boyd Heritage Museum in Bobcaygeon. The museum focuses on the region’s history, particularly the influential Boyd family, who ran a logging empire. Whyte refers to the museum staff as “fountains of information,” but her link to the Boyds goes further—the property her studio is on once belonged to the Boyd estate, who named it Rapley Fields.
Whyte kept that historical link in mind when she opened her studio. It’s a fitting choice for an artist active in her community and drawn to local scenery, and an interesting story to muse on while exploring the region on a studio tour. Whyte, for her part, will be ready to receive guests enthusiastically: “I think my highlight of the whole season is the Victoria County Studio Tour. I just love it.”