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For Yellowknife artist Nicole Loubert, inspiration comes from the least likely places. His latest source? A collection of 30 year old NWT license plates.

“I like to explore, so I’m always trying to come up with new ideas,” said Loubert, a Quebecer who moved to Yellowknife 25 years ago.

Loubert is an artist and teacher who works primarily with oil paint. The idea to start painting license plates came from her husband, who had amassed a collection of them over the years.

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She started researching how to paint on metal effectively, but to no avail.

French-Canadian artist Nicole Loubert holds one of her license plate paintings.  Courtesy of Nicole Loubert.
French-Canadian artist Nicole Loubert holds one of her license plate paintings. Photo: Supplied

“I just decided, ‘Ah, let’s go. I’m trying.’ And yes, it worked. I might varnish them at the end to perfect them, so they could even be outdoors,” she said.

Getting a supply of her new favorite canvas isn’t easy. Her husband went so far as to pick them up at the dump. But Loubert said it was worth the patience.

“They’re hard to find, but I like that they’re original. I don’t want to buy the plastic ones. I want the originals because they have a story,” she said.

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“They travel and have signs of wear – or I call them ‘character marks’ – which are there even if I paint on them, but I find it more interesting that they have a history.”

His license plate paintings typically consist of nature scenes featuring winter forests and the Northern Lights. They sell for $125 or $100 if you supply your own plate.

“People want me to paint theirs because it has a story for them. For people leaving town, when they take it off and want it as an authentic memento, it means something to them because it was on their own vehicle here,” Loubert said.

Since she started painting license plates last year, Loubert said she’s received surprising interest. She received orders from across Canada, with some customers even offering to trade stacks of old license plates for a painting of their own.

While Loubert is happy to paint a license plate from anywhere, she has a soft spot for the polar bear-shaped plates the Northwest Territories is known for.

“I just find those to be very, very interesting. It’s probably the most beautiful in the world,” she said.

Loubert likes to experiment with different techniques and canvases. She started by painting doors, whether they were doors to a closet or a room in a house. In the past, she even painted the electrical transformer box for the fire department.

“For me, painting on anything is fun. I don’t know if it’s oil paint, but it still works. I wish I could try a boat, a canoe or a car one day – maybe just a bumper. It would be fun.”

Loubert can be found on Facebook and through his website. She teaches and sells her work online and in person at craft sales in and around Yellowknife.

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