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‘Montreal is the perfect place to study art’: alumna made painting her life — and now she makes a living at it, too

Niki Kingsmill, BFA 12, turned her passion into a successful career
March 25, 2019
By Toula Drimonis

Kingsmill works in editorial illustration, web and print, custom paintings Kingsmill works in editorial illustration, web and print, custom paintings. Her prints, greeting cards, and wholesale work can be found in 60+ retailers in the U.S. and Canada. | Photo: Danica Oliva

With both her grandmother and mother having painted, art was always a part of Niki Kingsmill’s life. Even though she dabbled in various art forms from an early age, nothing sparked her interest quite like holding a paint brush in her hand.

After taking a year off after high school to travel, she applied to Concordia's Faculty of Fine Arts and pursued a double major in Art History and Studio Art. The Burlington, Ont., native has nothing but good memories of her experience.

‘Concordia made me think in a well-rounded way’

Niki Kingsmill, BFA 12 Niki Kingsmill | Photo: Danica Oliva

“Montreal is the perfect place to study art,” she says. “It’s such an artsy city and it’s small enough that I was exposed to regular life.”

For the first three years of her program, Kingsmill studied only Art History, spending her fourth and final year in the studio.

“I was surprisingly very challenged – both mentally and artistically – by the program at Concordia,” she says. “It made me think of art in a well-rounded way, outside studio classes and made me much more critical of my own work – ultimately making me a better artist.”

Kingsmill particularly remembers Holly King’s drawing class because it was both explorative and enjoyable. It was also where she started to incorporate and revisit watercolour in her work.

“I liked oil and acrylic, but knew watercolour was my strength and what made me happy,” she says. “But I always, somehow, thought using oil and acrylic resulted in more serious, museum-worthy art. I realized, however, that I didn’t have to fight what I loved, and my professors being open to ideas and to exploration helped me understand that.”

An artwork a day

After graduating from Concordia in 2012, Kingsmill couldn’t find work in her field and started working in Toronto’s financial district. After five years in banking, and doing something that didn’t make her heart sing, she started hating herself for not doing anything creative. She realized that if she was going to paint again, she had to do it on her own.

“My New Year’s resolution in 2015 was to hold myself accountable and paint something every single day, without missing a day” she says. “No matter how tired or busy I was, I would paint a watercolour a day. I was that miserable and I needed to force my way out of finance. I called it my ‘An Artwork a Day’ project and by the end of that year, I had 365 paintings, held a show and donated the proceeds to the Aga Khan Foundation.”

Evolving into a full-time artist

At this point, Kingsmill had amassed quite a portfolio, and, having developed as an artist, she started taking the necessary steps to shift into full-time illustrative work.

Art is how she now makes her living. She works in editorial illustration, web and print, custom paintings, and her prints, greeting cards, and wholesale work can be found in more than 60 retailers in the U.S. and Canada.


Watch painter Niki Kinsgmill in action in her studio, and hear her talk about her first encounter with watercolour at Concordia.

She also takes on a considerable amount of commissioned work. Collaborating with En Route, Air Canada’s award-winning magazine, has been one of the highlights of her career so far.

Working from her home studio in Carlisle, Ont., a rural suburb north of Hamilton, Kingsmill has wonderful memories of her time at Concordia.

“The program served me very well,” she says. “I’m where I want to be in my life right now, very happy, and my next big challenge is going to be having a baby in July and learning how to balance it all.”

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