Samantha Wojciechowicz’s Instagram account declares: “I have two fingers on each hand, what’s your superpower?”
By day, she is an art therapist. But by night and on weekends, she heads to the basement, dons her lucky blue flannel shirt and throws her energy into painting. In her art practice, she goes by Samantha Woj.
The 28-year-old has a rare congenital disorder called ectrodactyly, which left her with one finger on each hand at birth and a total of three toes. When she was 2, doctors surgically removed a toe from each foot to create thumbs so she could grip things. She never looked back.
Ms. Woj, who lives with her parents, sister and two dogs in Brossard, Que., on the south shore of Montreal, is always pushing herself. She’s played soccer since she was 6 and done almost two years of gymnastics. She has skied and even tried rock climbing.
She started painting in Grade 6 and quickly developed a passion for it, eventually studying art throughout CEGEP and university. She remembers watching classmate after classmate find their own style but never finding her own. She’d master a technique, get bored with it and move on.
She disliked abstract art because she couldn’t “not see something.” When asked in class to paint a song, she says her fellow students all went abstract and painted harmony while she painted a giant tiger glaring out of the canvas. “Get it?” she says, “Eye of the Tiger.”
Having a few months off before beginning work as an art therapist in October, 2021, she felt the need to create but to try something different. She wanted to combine her love of painting with her love of sport.
Playing around with a soccer ball, she wondered what would happen if she rolled it in paint and applied it to her canvas. Her sister pushed her to try.
Then she began to do portraits of the athletes in the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games – which took place in 2021 because of the pandemic – and she expanded her use of sporting equipment as a replacement for brushes. She wanted to offer support to those heading to the Games where there would be no live audience, just the people watching back home on TV.
“Sport brings people together,” she says. “I wanted to make people smile.”
She started to tag athletes as she posted her paintings and videos of her technique on Instagram. It wasn’t until early this year during the 2022 Winter Games that her work really began to take off. The difference was tagging sponsors as well as athletes. Once they began to take notice and share her posts, interviews, sales and commissions started trickling in.
Two weeks before Christmas, she prepared a canvas for a painting commissioned as a gift. The collage she created shows two siblings posing in their favourite sports: diving for one; baseball for the other; and hockey for both of them.
Instead of selecting a paint brush, she walked to the corner of her room, where sporting equipment was piled up. Two curling brooms leaned against the wall beside lacrosse and hockey sticks and a yellow Rossignol downhill ski. A football peeked out of a bag filled with sports shoes. Even a bicycle wheel was stacked in the pile.
Ms. Woj pulled out a paint tray filled with tennis balls and found a pair of swim goggles, which she dipped into black acrylic gouache and began to dab onto the canvas. Goggles for the diver; a ball and bat for the baseball poses; and, for the last two poses, she pulled a hockey stick and puck out of the pile.
Though she won’t yet call this her style, she admits she is not bored by it and loves the texture it creates.
“There are so many things I can do,” Ms. Woj says. “The marks will never be the same. I’m still learning the process. Learning and improving on how to create with it.”
Is the process more difficult with just two fingers? Only in how she grips the tool, as it can create pressure on some points on her hand, she says. The process is more mentally exhausting than physically since she is creating art in which she fills in negative space and has to keep figuring out where to apply the paint to make it all come together.
“The power is in my two fingers,” Ms. Woj says. “My two fingers give me the ability to create, that I wouldn’t be able to do, without them. If I had five fingers it wouldn’t be the same. It would be a different result.”
She feels confidence in these two fingers and what they have accomplished. They are not a disability but a superpower. Her superpower.