“I was always an artsy kid, but I just kinda thought everyone was,” says Jewel Buhay, the alcohol ink instructor here at The Crow’s Nest. “It took me a while to realize I had something that other people didn’t.”
She was encouraged in her art throughout middle school, but when she got to high school,” our class had to pick between art and drama, and they picked drama, which was super disappointing,” she says.
But her love of making art stayed with her, despite not getting to practice for a number of years, and she brought that love along with her when she began working in childcare after high school.
Then she had children herself, and her own art practice got shuffled aside yet again, as many people’s do when they’re focused on raising children and working to put food on the table.
“But when they got a bit bigger, I ended up taking over the basement and turning it into a studio and got back into it,” she says.
And when the local theatre group in the small town of Allan, SK, found out there was an artist down the street, they got very excited, and brought her on-board and had her doing huge murals for the entranceway for each play they put on.
But with a population of 600 or so people, Allan wasn’t big enough to do things like put on art shows or exhibitions, or even get very many commission jobs, so when there was a big show in Saskatoon, Jewel would pack up her paintings and set up a booth, slowly getting her name out into the broader art world.
But things really took off for Jewel when she discovered alcohol ink.
“I had a bunch of yupo paper in my studio and I just didn’t really like the way watercolours worked on it,” she says. “And I was online one day and saw someone using alcohol ink on it, so I thought that might be a good way to use it up.”
So off to Saskatoon she went in search of alcohol ink, which she’d never even heard of until that point.
“I tried it once, and absolutely loved it. That was pretty much it for me. I was an alcohol ink artist now.”
And once she tried it on tile, she realized she’d hit on something unique.
“For the first while I was just making colourful blobs, because nobody else was doing it, so nobody could teach me,” she laughs.
It was pretty, but abstract art had never been her thing, so she really wanted to figure out how to manipulate the medium to make it do what she wanted it to.
Over time, she got there.
“I started bringing them with me when I went to the shows in Saskatoon and people were just amazed…and they were selling,” she says.
And people started asking her how she did what she was doing, so she started making YouTube videos as short tutorials to help them out, which soon got a fair bit of attention from others who had never seen effects like the ones she was producing…
Then, in 2015, her and her husband, Roger – who had recently retired – decided it was time to make their way out to Vancouver Island, where they had some family. They’d already had their first garage sale to start getting rid of their stuff and were getting ready for the move when she got some bad news from the doctor.
Her breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment meant they would need to hold off on their move, but Jewel kept her chin up.
“It certainly put a damper on things, but I wasn’t going to let it get me down,” she says. “I knew I would get through treatment and get out to the Island.”
That she did, and within a few months of arriving, she met Nadia at The Crow’s Nest, back at her old location at Sunrise Plaza.
“I really just wanted a place to show my work, which she gave me, but she also asked if I’d like to do some classes,” she says.
“When she came in with her pieces, I was amazed at what she was able to make a very difficult medium do,” Nadia says. “It was something I’d never seen done before and I knew immediately that it would be something that other people would also love to learn.”
And she’s been a steady instructor at the Crow’s Nest ever since. Right now, people are eagerly awaiting the release of the next class schedule so they can quickly register for her classes before they fill up.
“I actually have fans across the country and even around the world, which blows me away,” she says. “I have people who come to the Island from places like Ontario and they’re fans of mine so they come take a class while they’re here.
“I guess in the alcohol ink world, I’m maybe a pretty big deal,” she says laughing.
And she’s a big deal here at The Crow’s Nest, too.
“I’m super happy that Jewel has stuck with us through the years to give our students another medium they can explore alongside an expert, because there’s nobody else who could do it,” Nadia says. “She truly is one of a kind.”