Rebecca Holmes has gone a long way since her high school art class with Mr. Gillespie at Smithers Secondary school.
Born in Smithers, Holmes, works as a figure colourist at Madame Tussauds, a world-famous attraction in London, England displaying waxworks of celebrities, royalty, athletes, political figures and the famous and infamous.
Holmes, who always had a passion for art, credits David Gillespie, as being the first person to teach her how to really paint.
“Not just using those kids’ watercolour sets,” Holmes said. “He made me realize I had real potential as an artist.”
Oddly enough, the teacher who Holmes says perhaps influenced her the most was her physics teacher, Jim Taylor.
“In his classes I could see how much he enjoyed his job,” she said.
“It made me realize I wanted the same out of my profession.”
After graduating from Smithers Secondary, Holmes studied fine arts at the University of Victoria until 2004. It’s a long way from Victoria to the United Kingdom, but serendipity paved the way.
Rebecca met a fellow from the UK, and the two became engaged this past December.
“It probably seemed like a foolish thing to do as I was only 20 and I had only just met him, but everything worked out,” said Holmes.
“We are now engaged and I managed to get a pretty amazing career over here, so it seems like it was meant to be.”
Holmes also develops her artistic abilities outside her work at Madame Tussauds and hosts her first show in London, June 7, with a selection of her oil and watercolour paintings at a west London gallery. The show is a collaboration with her fiancé, a photographer, film-maker and artist.
“I’m very excited as the show will also be raising money for the charity Save the Children,” Holmes said.
Holmes first worked at Madame Tussauds as a guest experience host, working in the attraction and helping customers. “It was a crazy job as the attraction can see upwards of 12,000 people per day during peak seasons,” she said.
She now puts her art skills to work painting the wax figures in the collection, ensuring they are maintained to high standards.
A typical Madame Tussauds figure takes a team of around 20 artists about four months to make and costs about £150,000 (approx. CDN $240,000).
“I use oil paints to paint the heads, hands and bodies and layer the paints very intricately, using a technique we call stippling,” Holmes said.
“It takes about four days to paint a head and about a day for each hand. I also check the figures with my team of colleagues every morning, touching up any areas of paint that are missing and filling in gouges and scratches in the wax. With the amount of people coming in everyday, you can imagine the wax figures need a bit of TLC in the mornings.”
Holmes said that one of the most interesting projects she has worked on was making a new ermine for Elizabeth I.
“She has an Ermine on her arm and the old one was very worn out and dirty. My own art is very inspired by animals and nature, so I love when I get to do a project like that,” said Holmes.
Holmes’ key piece of advice to young artists is networking.
“Work as an intern, do work experience, go to gallery shows, call up companies that you think you want to work for and do whatever it takes to meet the right people,” she said.
“I got my job by doing work experience for a year and half. I worked on my days off with the figure maintenance team and when a job did finally come open, I got it.
“There are jobs for artists out there, but it’s a highly competitive industry and often a resumé and a good portfolio are not enough. It’s all about attitude and eagerness to learn, so don’t be shy, just put yourself out there.”
Holmes still considers Smithers her home town and favourite place in the world.
“I make sure I visit as much as possible, especially coming home at Christmas. Nothing can beat Christmas in Smithers with my friends and family and all the snow, it’s the best thing in the world.”