Why did you choose to attend OCAD U?

I knew I wanted to move to Toronto. I grew up just outside the city and would come to OCAD U on high school field trips to see the Grad Exhibition. It was so inspiring: the building, the people, I loved it all! Additionally, I knew that if I were going to go to University at all, it would be for something in the visual arts. The appeal of OCAD U was the fact that it is exclusively art and design and that I’d be learning from practicing artists. I applied to a few schools and OCAD U was the one I was hoping for the most. I got the email saying I was in and it was an immediate yes on my end.


Please briefly describe your current job/practice.

I am currently an MFA candidate at Concordia University in Montreal. It’s a 3-year program and I just finished my 2nd year. I recently found out that I will be teaching my first class this fall, a traditional colour darkroom class. I am particularly excited about this opportunity because the subject matter is what I spent most of my time at OCAD U studying.


How did you get started in your career?

I started to hustle while in school and that really helped me. I applied to as many exhibitions as I could, getting rejected just as much as I got accepted. I had friends who were older and I could ask them really honest questions about what it takes. I got my first big grant from the Toronto Arts Council a few years ago. I’m really only at the beginning of my artistic journey.


Did you volunteer or work in your field while you were a student?

Of course! How could anyone not? I started as a student monitor in the photo department, I worked at Xpace, as well as a few commercial galleries. I helped out where I could and worked as much as possible.


What were your policies regarding internships, volunteering, and paid work?

I moved out when I was 18 to go to OCAD U and lived off my student loans for years. It’s great to have, but you realize soon enough that you have to pay it back. I would help out any friend in a heartbeat, or work for trades with people I know. That being said, I’ve been burned when trading my craft with people that were friends of friends. I’ve learned now that many emails can be required just so you can get what you agreed upon. Internships are great when they count as class credit. It’s regulated. There’s a contract involved. I did a work-study that is internship-like at OCAD U in my last year where I worked as a studio assistant. It was great to have that relationship, and it was great to see the workflow of a practicing artist. I believe everyone in the arts needs to be paid in some way - including things like course credit - for their time and expertise.


What do you enjoy most about your work? What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

I work pretty slowly. I think about everything constantly. I have folders of images I find online. I spend way too much time on Pinterest. Deadlines are really helpful to me. I start really ambitious projects and always think I can do them on my own, but invariably I need a second pair of eyes. Being in school again right now is exactly where I need to be. I am experimenting with new things I have never done before due to the excellent facilities at Concordia. The last photo I made was in the Winter, and it was roughly 6ft tall by 23ft long. It took a lot of me to do, so I haven’t taken a photo since, but that to me is sort of liberating. Currently, I’m working on a number of very hands-on sculptural projects. They are related to the photos I’ve already made - still the same ideas - just different ways of dealing with them.


What skills or relationships developed at OCAD U helped you participate in your field? Is there anything you would have done differently?

I connected with so many people right away. My closest friends almost all went to OCAD U, from all departments and years. You meet new friends who introduce you to someone, teachers remember you and ask you to participate in events. It was and is great like that. The photography program, which I know has slightly changed, catered to both film and digital. I took all my other electives in Printmaking as I was headed for a minor. I wish I could have completed it (I was only a few credits short), or shake things up and take all completely different classes to really get everything the school has to offer.


What are the key responsibilities you maintain for your practice? 

Ultimately, the biggest part about maintaining a practice is maintaining motivation to create new things. As I’m in school, it’s easy to maintain that for now. But, for me, the much more practical answer is that I need facilities. And since my practice has moved toward creating larger sculptural objects, it’s not just dark rooms I need, but wood shops and metal shops as well. Finding all these things as I leave academia is going to be a big challenge. I would also say that maintaining a community is not only an invaluable aspect of maintaining a practice but in fact the aspect that can help create motivation and solve practical problems. So - go to shows! Talk to people!


What are your personal and professional goals for the coming years?

This is a pretty easy answer. Finish school! After that, it’s up in the air. My partner and I live together in Montreal currently. He is an artist as well and moved with me when I started school. The big question, then, is where do we live next? Move back to Toronto? Stay? I am pretty open about it all and so is he. He is exceptionally supportive which is the biggest #blessing (ha!). I’d love to continue to teach, but I know how hard it can be. The jobs I had in-between OCAD U and Concordia were more design-oriented and, with my MFA leaning in that direction, it would be nice to get back to that and, in a perfect world, to have my own design shop one day.

Photo of Elise Windsor
Photo of Elise Windsor
Infographic of Elise Windsor's career path
© Elise Windsor
© Elise Windsor
© Elise Windsor
© Elise Windsor
© Elise Windsor
© Elise Windsor
© Elise Windsor
Freelance Visual Artist
I started to hustle while in school and that really helped me. I applied to as many exhibitions as I could, getting rejected just as much as I got accepted.
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