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This Montreal artist turned a watercolour hobby into a new calling, post-retirement

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John Bailey had a successful career in marketing packaged goods, but now that he's retired, he's found another calling.

"When people say 'it's beautiful,' they're making comments [like], 'I love your art,' I'm going really?" he said.

He began taking art classes at night while he worked, but since retiring in 2018, he has more time to pursue his hobby. It wasn't until the third wave of the pandemic in 2021, when many were feeling isolated that Bailey decided to share his watercolours on Facebook.

"My intent wasn't to sell my art, it was to post it," he said. "To my surprise, I was getting hundreds of likes and lots of good comments, and that sort of spurred me on to do it."

His work focuses on scenes from around the city.

"I started innocently with a statue nearby where I live, and to my surprise I got a request for a print almost immediately from someone who used to gather around that statue with her girlfriends."

With each piece he'd share, JBailey began hearing countless stories.

"I walked by Ms. Kim's depanneur regularly because I live near where she is. I took a picture of her watering the plants one morning, and again I did my ink and watercolour," he said. "I posted the scene of Ms. Kim, and to my surprise, not only was there an outpouring of, 'I love Ms. Kim, everyone knows Ms. Kim,' but then, 'Can I get a copy?"

With many neighbourhoods changing, Bailey is immortalizing memories for Montrealers through his art.

"The old abandoned factory down on St. Ambroise that has the little pink house on top, everyone talks about 'la maison rose.' I've sold quite a few copies but when I first posted it, again I thought, 'I don't think anyone is going to like this,' but there was a lot of likes, and a lot of attachment from the neighbourhood, they better not tear it down, they better not build condos," he said.

The reaction is what keeps him going.

"It made me think, 'Oh there's something here. What I'm doing here is more than just a nice drawing,'" he said.

He's even gotten a like from a former Habs GM.

"Marc Bergevin, he liked it," he said.

He sells his art to former Montrealers living elsewhere, but for those still in the city, he prefers to deliver the pieces himself.

"I've gotten a lot of joy in watching these people smile when they take it out of the envelope," he said. 

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