Jeri Engen, Educator of School and Family programs gives us the inside scoop on the recent Valentines Day Painting Workshop with In the Flesh exhibition artist, Elly Smallwood. This was one of the AGGV's most coveted workshops and an evening that won't soon be forgotten.

For 15 lucky people,  Valentine’s Day was especially sweet this year!

Deeply personal and sensual, contemporary Canadian artist Elly Smallwood’s nude paintings are a natural fan-favourite in our current exhibition, In the Flesh: The Nude in Art, Past and Present, curated by AGGV Chief Curator & Director of Collections and Exhibitions, Steven McNeil.

Image courtesy of AGGV

Smallwood lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario where she passionately dedicates herself to her creative process.  The intimate subject matter of Smallwood’s paintings is brought to life through her gestural painting techniques, and she sometimes holds workshops to share these unique abilities with others. Smallwood is somewhat of an Instagram celebrity, boasting over 470K followers, and her dedicated fans  jumped at the chance to learn from the artist during our very special, and quickly sold-out, Valentine’s Day Workshop.

Image courtesy of AGGV

The evening started in front of Smallwood’s artworks hanging in the Kerr Gallery as part of the exhibition, In the Flesh. Smallwood shared interesting details behind her uniquely personal visions and answered questions by eager workshop participants before heading back into the Spencer Mansion to paint.

Image courtesy of AGGV

The Spencer Gallery had been transformed into an artist studio space where wine and chocolates were served as everyone began to settle in at their easels. Although there were a variety of skill levels attending the event, Smallwood did a wonderful job breaking down the process into small steps. Beginning with charcoal, she demonstrated how to loosely draw the figure references that she provided everyone with, and floated around the room to offer encouragement and tips as people began to make their own marks on the canvases.

Image courtesy of AGGV

Once the sketches were completed, guests used acrylic paints to work directly on their charcoal drawings. Smallwood demonstrated not only color-mixing and working from light to dark, but also how to create the loose and expressive brushstrokes her work is known for. Throughout the evening Elly Smallwood generously provided insightful feedback on everyone’s work.

Image courtesy of AGGV

Smallwood’s teaching, like her paintings, was very personal and engaging.  She spent time with her students, leaving each person with advice and praise.  As the evening came to an end, everyone had a new painting influenced by one of their favourite artists, and a special experience with memories to last a lifetime.  All agreed that it was a Valentine’s Day celebration as unique as the artist herself.

Written by Jeri Engen, Educator, School and Family Programs


In the Flesh: The Nude in Art, Past and Present is on now until March 31, 2024.



To learn more about artist Elly Smallwood and her work, visit her website:

Or follow her on Instagram: @ellysmallwood


Featured Image: Elly Smallwood in her studio. Courtesy of the artist.