Bay of Quinte Tourism

Click here for the latest COVID-19 updates in Ontario and please consult your local Health Unit's guidelines before travelling. Stay up to date on COVID-19 in the Quinte region with our local health units and stay connected with us through our weekly newsletter.

Sowing Seeds of Wonder and Delight

Article by Veronica Leonard
Photographs by Dave Fraser
Courtesy of County and Quinte Living, Spring 2012

Courtesy of:logo_county-quinte-living

There are faeries living in the tree stumps by the front door and goblins down by the stream. Visitors to Pixie Hill Studio come to accept this could be true.

Born in England, Nichola Battilana’s childhood susceptibility for faeries remained relatively dormant until she moved to the Quinte area with her husband Paul and their son Dante. The magic started to happen when they bought a century-old house on a two-acre property on Bullis Road in Brighton, bordering on the Timber Ridge Golf Course.

“I was inspired just sitting on the tractor mowing the lawn,” revealed Nichola. “I saw frogs jumping out of the way. We watched the stars twinkling at night – they don’t do that in the city, and there were fireflies in the grass. It got my imagination going. We were surrounded with so much everyday magic.”

Nichola is a graduate of graphic design from Sheridan College and had taken a fine arts foundation program at a small art school in Dundas, Ontario. It landed her a job as production co-ordinator in Hamilton overseeing three magazines. It was an interesting job with new challenges everyday but she wasn’t the person she wanted to be.

“They used to introduce new staff to me apologetically, saying this is Nichola, don’t mind her. She yells and swears a lot,” laughed the faerie creator who is known in her new community as a sweet-tempered artist.

These days, Nichola still does some graphic design for a non-profit agency but her focus for the past year and a half has been faeries, pixies, and other wee folk.

Her studio is an eclectic mix of magical things. A cluster of cloth faerie godmother dolls with painted faces and stockings, fussy clothes, and tiny shiny wings keep an eye on everyone who enters. Antique shelves display miniature cabinets chock full of interesting necessities for the faerie gardener, beekeeper, and homemaker. China teacups from her mother are filled with faerie gardens and handmade mushrooms and houses sprout from thimbles or under tiny glass cloches. A basket of handmade wands crafted from wooden spoons sits on the floor and a rope of mandrake roots with scowling faces straight out of Harry Potter’s herbology class hangs from the door.

The walls are covered with montages of antique photographs surrounded by life’s mementos. In the corner is a collection of twisted walking sticks that would do any wizard proud. Although Nichola is the main artist, husband Paul has made a number of wooden crow pull toys and there are books of photographs by Dante.

The centrepiece of Nichola’s current collection is the Storyteller’s House – a doll’s house speaking to grandmothers as much as children. A bean stalk threads its way through the two storeys and attic of the house and out the chimney. Mice scamper across the moss-covered roof where mushrooms grow and a kite has landed. Each room is filled with the stuff of faerie tales, including scrolls, miniature books, red slippers, magic beans, a nest of golden eggs, a message in a bottle, a small pumpkin patch, and a picture of Hans Christian Andersen. At $560 it’s hardly a toy, but Nichola said her work is hardy enough for children to gently touch.

“One of the stupidest things I ever heard an art teacher say was art is not meant to be fun.” Nichola recalled.

Fun is what Pixie Hill Studio is all about. Everything in her studio inspires a smile. There is something very reminiscent of the pictures of Terry Gilliam from Monty Python in her montages.

“I do like old photographs. I have boxes full of them. I feel bad for those people in the pictures; they’ve been forgotten and abandoned so I turn them into faerie godmothers.”

Nichola will scan and edit a picture adding soft tints of colour, pointed hats, and silly clothes to create such characters as the Blueberry Faerie, Colonel Whatsit, and Professor Quaint. A series of portraits include collages of pages from old books, scraps of ribbon, buttons, old stamps, and dried flowers all captured in puddles of beeswax.

She also collects old books, cutting out interesting phrases like “you made a bad dream come out all right” and “you were so lovely” to include in her collages.

“I’m a fan of up-cycling. I’m very fortunate I’m given a lot of my materials. Fellow crafters send me stuff when they are de-cluttering. I hit auctions and thrift stores and I hoard things. A neighbour was giving away sheep’s wool and I washed it and needle-felted it to make tiny mice.”

Nichola’s art is whimsical and delightful, and she is a shrewd business person, ensuring the magic is virtually everywhere. Her marketplace is the Internet with 85 per cent of her sales coming from the United States.

Her work allows her to shape her life around her family. After getting nine-year-old Dante off to school, she spends a couple of hours on-line, updating her blog, commenting on the blogs of other crafters, and expanding her social network on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. As so many of her miniatures are handmade she will make up a batch of paper clay for toadstools or houses or edit pictures on her computer.

“I do a lot of my work at night especially if it’s repetitive, so I’ll make a batch of 50 little books. I find I get lost in time at night and suddenly realize it is 2 a.m.”

She keeps all her self-described madness and mess in her upstairs workroom which is chock full of projects, supplies, and magical ingredients. It’s also full of samples of other crafters’ work for inspiration.

In addition to her Internet community, Nichola is very impressed with the local Brighton Arts Council. “When we go to the meetings there are 60 people who show up every single time. It blows us away. We can’t wait to be even more involved and we try to help where we can. I never see other artists as competitors. If you have a group of people together you attract more people. It just makes sense.”

Artist and performer Ron Waddling, president of the Brighton Arts Council said members are equally impressed with Nichola.

“She’s creative, approachable, business savvy and always ready to help out. She designed the logo for our new arts centre at The Gates to Presqu’ile Park. We have invited Nichola to sit on our board of directors, and think she will be a great asset to the council. Paul and Dante are equally enthusiastic members.”

Whether you believe in faeries or not, Pixie Hill Studio is a magical experience.

“Paul and I are living other people’s dream life. We have this great house and get to work at things we’re really passionate about. It’s important to be passionate about what you do whether it’s art or making wine. Happiness is not about how much you are paid or even whether you get paid, it’s that you really love what you are doing.”

Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.

© 2022 Bay of Quinte Region | © TripAdvisor 2022

Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.