Living on B.C.'s Salt Spring Island, artist Hannah Stone surrounds herself with colour: the mauves of a Monet garden, blues as deep as the Pacific Ocean, mossy rainforest greens. She paints on canvas, Italian porcelain and wood, and also transfers her work onto clothing, specifically activewear for women.
Her use of vibrant hues in her line of fitness and yoga gear is deliberate: "I want to give Lululemon a run for their money," Ms. Stone says.
"When I take public transport in the city, I always take a colour inventory of the people on the bus," she explains. "Ninety per cent of the women I see are in black and brown, with maybe a splash of navy blue to liven things up. Colour makes me happy on a B.C. rainy day. I want to retrain women to believe they are beautiful, colourful and original beings, and we don't need to hide our bodies in black leggings."
Ms. Stone knows first-hand what it's like to want to fade into the shadows. She's driven to create with colour after having come out of a very dark place herself.
For many years, Ms. Stone struggled with body-image and eating disorders and feelings of worthlessness. Those gave way to alcohol and drug addiction.
Born in Gisborne, New Zealand, she emigrated to Canada at age 3 and grew up in Mission, B.C. At 19, she began travelling, living in far-flung places such as India, Thailand, Egypt and the Virgin Islands. She says she hit rock bottom at 30, coming close to death after discovering that the cause of her sore back was, in fact, her liver, enlarged.
"I didn't see any worth in anything I did," Ms. Stone recalls. "I was full of negative self-talk and self-hate.
"I suffered from crippling self-doubt," she adds. "I used to hide in baggy, dark clothes in my youth to cover up and feel safe."
Now 45, Ms. Stone describes herself as a "not anonymous" recovered addict; a 12-step program saved her life. She has been sober since Feb. 14, 2002. In 2008, she moved to Salt Spring Island and began painting.
Through her art, she says she has learned to channel her "all or nothing" tendencies in a positive direction. The life of an artist has not been easy; Ms. Stone admits it can be a lonely and scary path, not to mention stressful, when bills and rent are due and cash is lacking or nonexistent. However, it's exactly where she needs and wants to be.
"Making art has taught me how to live," she says. "You learn new tools for life. Painting frees my mind. It's my greatest touchstone to my most authentic self. I truly think this is my purpose."
With a lifelong love of fashion, Ms. Stone has devised a way to emblazon ankle-length leggings, capris and shorts with her floral and abstract paintings for her line of functional women's wear that goes by the name Hannah Stone. She does the same with original photos and digital designs, which range from magnolia trees in magnificent bloom to gingham prints dotted with small hearts or pairs of cherries.
Her products are made in Canada. She sources a compression-fit fabric with UV protection from Montreal then has images of her artwork transferred onto the material via a sublimation printing press in Toronto. Ms. Stone sells her pieces, which range in size from 00 to 18, at the popular Salt Spring Island Saturday Market, which runs from April to October, and through her website. (She also makes jewellery.)
Many of her customers are women who spot her on the street and stop to ask her where she got her leggings. She has had people tell her they wear them for everything from paddle-boarding to running. Ms. Stone hopes that her out-of-the-ordinary designs will encourage more women to bring colour into their wardrobes, and their lives. The effects, she says, are more than aesthetic.
"The main comment that I get at my market stall is 'Oh, I could never pull that off,'" she says. "I hear women say, 'I'm a size 12 or 14; I can only wear back,' or 'I don't want to draw attention to my legs; my legs are fat.' They use self-deprecating language, which is something I've had to overcome.
"Then, when I finally convince them to give them a try on, they inevitably light up and get excited about the concept that maybe they, too, could wear a bit of colour, not hide in black, and maybe feel confident about their body," she says. "I rock a lot of colour on a daily basis. There's something about being empowered in your own colour and your own beauty."