With the pandemic has come a resurgence of hobbies — new crafts attempted, jigsaw puzzles resurrected, ambitious forays in the kitchen, and extra time spent in the garden.
One local woman has rediscovered her love of drawing, and with it, her connections to the community she has always called home.
Nicole Vanderperk is a sales representative with Niagara-on-the-Lake Realty. She is also a graduate from the Sheridan College interior design program, a natural for someone who began sketching when she was very young, and which has been a good background for her work as a realtor.
In the early days of the pandemic, as socializing was severely restricted and evenings at home pretty much the only option, she set herself a challenge. Beginning May 1, she began sketching historic buildings and landmarks in NOTL, using what she describes as rendering markers, used for perspective drawings, she explains, which she had purchased for her interior design work.
“When COVID hit, I decided it was time to stretch my creative muscle, and get back into it,” she says.
She made a list of the sites, and was hard-pressed to narrow it down to the top 30, which was her goal. Some buildings were recommended to her by friends and colleagues who had heard her plan. During the day, she took reference photos of the locations she had picked, and sketched one each evening, posting them on Instagram when she was done.
“I wanted to post them for people who would see them, and think, ‘I know that building.’”
Her father, John Vanderperk, is also a talented artist, and Nicole says she grew up with him always doodling, always with a pen in his hand. He still is often sketching something, either people around him or some machine he says he’s going to build some day, she says.
To some locals, he is remembered as the cartoonist for the old Niagara Advance, and his humorous approach to controversies of the day.
Nicole says with him as a role model, drawing seemed to come naturally, and she would take any medium she could get her hands on and give it a try.
“It’s a great hobby,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this, and what better subject than NOTL, the town I was born and raised in.”
Before beginning each drawing, she looked up the history of the building to learn about it. One that really surprised her was the Junior Commissariat Officer’s Quarters on the Butler’s Barracks property. Built in 1816, it originally housed commissariat officers, and at one time, in the latter half of the 20th century, was used as a community centre, with many other uses during the years in between. It is nestled not far from the Memorial Park playground and baseball diamond, yet many locals are unaware of its presence.
Nicole was one of them, until someone suggested it as a subject.
“I didn’t know it existed, even though I’ve been to the pool and park many times in my life. It was a shock to know it was there.”
It was also an eyeopener to learn about some of the buildings and their history, she says. She’s enjoyed it so much she still has a list of buildings she’d like to tackle, such as the former Romance Gallery on King Street, and The Apothecary on Queen Street.
As a future series, she says she’d love to draw buildings “once there, now gone,” such as the Anchorage Motel and Restaurant.
The most fun she had in the series she has just finished was Parliament Oak School, which she attended. While the building “doesn’t translate as well as some of the others,” as she was drawing it she thought about good friends and good times there, and attempted to remember details now covered or gone. She also contacted a friend to ask about it. “It’s so overgrown right now, I was trying to remember what it looked like when I was there, and that was fun.”
The NOTL Sailing Club was another favourite. Her family has always been involved in sailing, and she took lessons there as a youngster with the junior sailing program. Drawing it brought back memories of good times with her family, she says.
She also enjoyed drawing Fort Mississauga, which she portrayed with its original flat roof. “We used to go there all the time as kids. We would go after hours, when there were no golfers. As teenagers, we would walk around the fort and hang out there. It was just a place to go.”
Did she and her friends tell ghost stories? “No, but we felt the ghosts.”
When she was drawing, she says, “I had my music on, I was relaxing, and I really enjoyed my evenings. Other people have been baking bread or taking up new hobbies, like knitting. For me, this was a way to bring some joy to this situation.”
And by putting them on Instagram, she was hoping to spread some joy.
Although she has been working throughout the pandemic, with the real estate market still moving, drawing has brought pleasure and comfort to her, along with the memories of many special places.
“I just wanted to do a few little sketches that might make people happy. And it made me happy doing it.”
Check out Vanderperk’s sketches on Instagram @nicoleniagarahomes.