A piece of the puzzle: Local artist’s work featured by global puzzlemaker Ravensburger

Ottawa artist Katerina Mertikas will soon have one of her paintings featured on a Ravensburger puzzle. (Supplied)

Ottawa-based artist Katerina Mertikas has had her paintings displayed across the country, but soon one of her works will be not just beautiful to look at, but also fun to play. 

Next year, German puzzlemaker Ravensburger will release a new puzzle featuring one of Mertikas’s paintings, “Canadian City Lights,” which captures a nighttime winter wonderland with children skating around a pond against the backdrop of a colourful cityscape.

Founded in Germany in 1883, Ravensburger has been a global leader in puzzles and games for more than a century.

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“It’s very exciting for me,” said Mertikas. “It’s one of my favourite puzzle companies and one of the most widely known. When I heard, I had to pull over the car to read the email. It was amazing.”

The painting was one of many by Mertikas displayed at Koyman Galleries in Ottawa. It’s since been purchased but, when the puzzle releases next year, puzzle-lovers will be able to have the image in their homes as well.

“Canadian City Lights” by Mertikas will release as a Ravensburger puzzle in 2024. (Supplied)

Originally from Tripoli, Greece, Mertikas has been a professional artist for over 35 years.

“When I was younger, I always coloured and drew and took art classes during my school years,” she said. “Then, before entering into a gallery, I would sell (my art) to my friends. That’s how it started for me.”

She describes her art as bold, vibrant and inspired by the works of impressionist artists. 

“My colours are pretty basic,” she said. “They’re very much primary colours and it seems to capture people’s eye. They’re so rich and beautiful, like the fall colours of our Canadian seasons.”

Her career took a professional turn in the ‘90s, before the advent of the internet. She said she walked into a gallery in person with a couple of her works and showed them to the owner. On the spot, a passing patron offered to purchase one of the paintings. 

“That is exactly the moment I entered into a gallery,” she said. “It was very memorable for me.”

Since then, her works have been displayed at art galleries across Ottawa and throughout Canada, including Montreal, Toronto and Calgary. 

But the Ravensburger puzzle is not the first time her work has appeared outside the walls of art galleries. Like most professional artists, her paintings have appeared in many shapes and forms over the years, from greeting cards to calendars. 

It’s allowed her to gain recognition for her work, while also giving back to the community. 

In 1993, she mailed in one of her works to the UNICEF headquarters in New York. Soon after, she received a phone call saying they’d loved the painting and wanted to use it on the cover of a brochure that they were distributing internationally. 

“The painting was so popular for two years,” she said. “It was great to also give to children, because my art is mostly of children. I felt it was a wonderful way to expose my art at the same time.”

It became a long-lasting partnership. She has submitted at least 17 different designs used on other UNICEF merchandise.

She has also used her work to contribute to causes that are personal to her. 

For the past four years, she has collaborated with her daughter, Gina, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34. Every year, they use Mertikas’s artwork to create a “calendar of hope,” with proceeds going to support clinical cancer trials that benefit cancer patients around the world. So far, they’ve donated more than $30,000. 

It’s this kind of work that she said fuels her desire to continue painting. 

But it isn’t always easy to be a professional artist, especially as the internet and social media introduce pros and cons. 

“Now online, we are able to reach a wider audience,” said Mertikas. “It’s good and bad, because it doesn’t bring people much into galleries. I feel for new artists because a lot of them rely on Instagram. You can have a lot of followers, but I don’t know what that translates to in sales.”

Mertikas herself has found social media to be both a blessing and a curse. She keeps a Facebook page to promote her latest works, but said she’s glad she was able to establish her career before having an online presence became a necessity. 

Gallery patronage is down more than ever because of the online dynamic, she said, and the pandemic didn’t help. 

“I still believe in a gallery presence and I hope people can still go back to the galleries,” she said. “I love going to an art showing and seeing the lineup (of patrons). I just found it more validating. I enjoyed the gallery experience; I hope it comes back.”

Ravensburger is set to release its new puzzle featuring “Canadian City Lights” by Mertikas in January 2024. It will be available for purchase online, in Canada and in markets around the world. 

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