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Ballet teacher finds a new artistic groove during pandemic: bottle art

Christie Norman’s path as a visual artist began last December, at the home of a friend who was hosting a small Christmas market.
Christie Norman, a musician and ballet instructor who turned to painting bottles after losing the majority of her income during COVID-19, with some of her work. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Christie Norman’s path as a visual artist began last December, at the home of a friend who was hosting a small Christmas market.

Norman brought along some of her new creations to sell: clear wine and liquor bottles hand-painted with acrylic and lit from within. Her wares sold well, but that was it for several months.

“Basically, not a whole lot happened until the end of April,” Norman said.

With the pandemic virtually ending her usual work as a piano accompanist and ballet teacher, Norman decided to revisit her bottle art during spring break. With the help of her twin 13-year old daughters, whom she home schools, Norman had several bottles ready when Mother’s Day arrived.

Support from past customers and friends pushed her to explore other selling opportunities, including three successful stints as a vendor at the Bastion Square Market in August, where she sold 24 on her first day and a combined 30 on the other two days.

Since she began making bottle art, she has sold 500 at an average of $50 apiece.

Given the time it takes to paint and assemble each one — “There is no production line,” she said, “I do every part of it” — the price is modest, maybe too modest. Norman says there’s a reason for that.

“One of my biggest things was to try and make them accessible for everyone. I first started selling them for $35, but as I got more into it, and realized the amount of time it takes me, I had to charge more. I am forever annoyed when I go to a market and see all these amazing things that you love that are $175, whereas $50 is a fairly reasonable amount.”

The daughter of a watercolourist father, she grew up comfortable with painting as a profession, but never applied the skills she acquired during her youth, choosing instead to play piano as a professional accompanist and teach ballet.

Those skills are on the back burner until the pandemic passes, she said, but her bottle art will continue, through

Norman is influenced by architecture in Italy and Denmark, which she fuses with natural elements for each bottle. If she’s doing her job correctly, bottles with scenes depicting winter can be displayed year-round, she said.

“In the spring, the [bottles] were all cherry blossoms and flowers. The fall was all falling leaves and oranges and reds. I want the painting to be beautiful, but I want it to be beautiful when it’s lit, as well as when it just sits on the windowsill in the day. It will illuminate in different ways.”

The small string of lights that illuminate the bottle from the inside is attached to a battery where the cork or cap would normally sit.

Clear whiskey and beer bottles are best to work with, because of the shape, she said.

To meet the demand of her bustling business, Norman frequently has friends drop off empty bottles of a unique shape to her front door, which is helpful, but also somewhat problematic.

“We look like we have a major drinking problem,” she said with a laugh.

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