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July 30, 2021 4 min read

DISCOVER HER 02: NATOYA ELLIS

Originally from a small town in Jamaica, Natoya tells the story of how she used art to navigate the challenges of moving to rainy North Vancouver as a teenager. Empowered by the likes of Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, she now runs Studio Natoyaista which is a true extension of herself as a woman, mother, and artist. 

Here is Natoya's story.

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Tell us about you and your story.

I grew up in a small Jamaican town and when I was fourteen years old, I then moved from small town Jamaica to Deep Cove, North Vancouver. Talk about culture shock! I came to Canada in the summer and had a little bit of hard adjustment my first few weeks of school. I feel as if this critical few weeks made me into the person I am today. I began taking my art very seriously as it was my way of keeping my cultural connections to Jamaica alive. 

Every chance I got I was in the art room, drawing, painting or creating something. At this time, I also began reading quite a bit of Black American literature and fell in love with poetry and the works of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou to name a few. I didn’t realize it at first but the literature had began to heavily influence my art. 

I think since I had grown up in a society of very strong black matriarchal influences, I was craving that in my new environment. After high school, I went to Capilano College (at the time) and studied Studio Art. With a diploma in hand, I tried to be a full time artist and also modelled for a short time.

After I had my son, I decided to create handmade cards, candles and bath and body products and began selling at local markets. They did a lot better than I had planned and I continued to focus on these products before introducing vintage to the mix. That is how Studio Natoyaista was created.

harly jae - Discover Her: Natoya Ellis

So one could say, you've always been an artist at heart?

Yes, I’ve always created art. As a child, I would draw on any surface I could find. I didn’t started taking my art seriously until I came to Canada. I found creating art was one way to stay connected to the life I previously had.

Through art, I could keep my cultural ties to Jamaica strong and work through the discomforts of being a teenager in a whole new world.

What inspired you to create the art that you do?

I draw my inspiration for creating from all around me, as cliché as it may sound. Living in Mission, I spend quite a bit of time in the forest. I sometimes take my sketchbook and watercolours with me and rough out ideas. I find my mind is clearest when I’m surrounded by the sounds of nature.

I’m also inspired by my own lived experiences as a Black woman. Representation truly matters to me.

harly jae - Discover Her: Natoya Ellis

You are a multidisciplinary artist – what is your favourite type of art to create, and why?

It’s difficult to choose a medium of art but I would say my main concentration is painting. Painting encompasses so many aspects of art and it makes it easy to successfully create the type of art I love, which is portraits. I find that a face says so much without trying. 

harly jae - Discover Her: Natoya Ellis

harly jae - Discover Her: Natoya Ellis

You share not only your art on Studio Natoyaista, but also vintage pieces. What is your favourite part of sourcing vintage?

My favourite part of sourcing vintage is learning the provenance of the items. This is a major reason why I choose to have a business which sells preloved items. All vintage have an incredible story to tell.

I once sourced a mint green Hermes 3000 typewriter from a woman who purchased the typewriter in 1969 for her first job as a secretary, she even gave me the official sales receipt. 

Wow, that's amazing! What do you look for when sourcing vintage?

I can’t give away all my secrets. But I look for quality over quantity always. I have a list of items I always pick up because they either do really well or I just love them. I’m obsessed with woven materials for example and have to task myself with not buying anymore baskets.

harly jae - Discover Her: Natoya Ellis

The support for local businesses has boomed over the past year. Why is it important to you to support local?

It’s always a great idea to support local business because it keeps the money rotating in the local economy. I hope the rise in local support continues well past the pandemic. I find small/local business put a lot more care and effort into customer service and quality assurance.

It’s particularly important to me because I get to interact with my customers, I’m able to show them they are not just another number and their support impacts my life in leaps and bounds. This is why I will always go the distance for their support.

On your blog, you share about beauty and skincare products. What are the 3 products you can’t live without?

I absolutely cannot live without:

Cerave - Foaming Cleaner

Farmacy Beauty - Honeymoon Glow

Whiffcraft - Chaitease Lip Balm

harly jae - Discover Her: Natoya Ellis

Being a little more than halfway through the year, what have you got planned for the rest of 2021?

For the rest of 2021 I want to relax. Even though we are in the tail end of the pandemic, it has been an incredibly busy year for me, for which I am VERY grateful but also very tired.

I’m also hoping by December I can once again visit my family in Jamaica.

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Natoya wears our Paysanne Dress Linen & our Kea Set

Follow Natoya on Instagram, see her art, and shop her studio.