One cold evening, artist and educator Beckie DiLeo leads me to Walnut Studios, an artist loft tucked away on a small, leafy street that would be its namesake. I was impressed by the creative energy that emanated from its walls. From the outside, Walnut Studios looks like a non-descript, post-industrial space, but once through the doors, I am welcomed by strong, soft lighting, beautiful artwork, in all mediums and various stages of completion, and dedicated artists milling about, despite the late hour.

Walnut Studios consists of four large areas that over two dozen artists rent out as a space dedicated working on their craft. Artists range from recent OCAD graduates and up-and-comers such as Laura Darling, whose abstract paintings radiate colour.

I ask DiLeo what makes her and the community here at Walnut such passionate champions of this venue. “Being surrounded by likeminded, inspiring individuals who share ideas and give feedback in a supportive atmosphere. I haven’t found anywhere else like this in Toronto,” she says.

In fact, the Studios are fully equipped, with a kitchen and washroom facilities, and multifunctional, with areas devoted to dramatic art performances, classrooms, events. In the artists’ lounge you’ll find a coffee table and comfy-looking chairs that open out into a spacious terrace in the summer. One resident artist who makes extended use of her space is portrait artist Ilene Sova, whose area also doubles as a teaching space where she conducts painting lessons.

Walking through the paint-splattered aisles, I feel privileged to witness art of all types coming to life before me. I pass Cat Reyto, the illustrator and portrait artist, and Michael Di Lucca, a painter.

When I ask DiLeo what her specialty is, she leads me back to her nook, which is full of works in progress that resemble fashion sketches and renderings. As it turns out, I am right in making the fashion connection, says DiLeo: “In-between commissions, my favorite subject is rendering the female figure in fabulous clothes. I am working on a fashion illustration series for various blog posts.” Further to that, DiLeo divides her bodies of work into “collections” that mirror the fashion industry’s own seasons. “I adore vibrant colors and bold patterns in my art and the way in which I dress.”

As DiLeo and I conclude our tour of Walnut Studio, she emphasizes the importance of community, not just the vibrant artist community at the Studios and in Toronto, but of the neighbourhood and general public, and their involvement in the arts. Therefore, Walnut Studio welcomes walk-in guests to the studio, whether they be art aficionados or are simply curious.

Walnut Studio invites you to help them celebrate the warmer weather by dropping in to their Spring Fever Art Exhibit. Open House from noon to 6pm and reception from 7-11pm on Saturday, May 14th.

~Melissa Allen-Anderson