Friday, 6 December 2013

Painting Vancouver Alleyways

My latest studies have focused on the back alleys of Vancouver. Anybody familiar with the city's Downtown East Side will recognize these icons.

My attraction to these environments has always focused around their cluttered nature. They are a haphazard collection of wood posts, overhead cables and wires, trash, dumpsters and other eclectic additions. The more you look, the more you'll see.

The anonymity of the alleys is also intriguing. Unlike an intersection with familiar markings, such as street signs, these alleyways seem to blur into one common image. Many of them look very similar but are in very different locations. I reaffirmed this idea when I recently exhibited these, and a number of people told me "I know that alley!". When they told me where it was from, however, they were incorrect.

One of my favourite components of these works is the colour schemes. While I explore and photograph the alleys, I take detailed note of the little bits of discarded garbage and packaging that is found within them. I work as a graphic designer for an advertising agency, and I pay attention to the colour schemes that these discarded wrappers utilize. I combine various colour schemes from these discarded objects to compose interesting combinations of various colours in the rest of the painting.

My work focuses on the concept of urban exploration. I essentially find myself in particular locales, and explore the environments with my camera. I immerse myself there for a bit of time, and enjoy all the little nuances and components. I really enjoy the act of becoming one with my immediate surroundings, and appreciating what is there.

I have recently been awarded a new exhibition at the North Van Arts Council, on Lonsdale in North Vancouver for 2014. I will be focusing on creating more of these works for many months to come, and continue to push and explore colour combinations and colour use within them. I feel that interesting next steps may be the addition of texture and collage elements to the pieces.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Painting An Octopus Was Wonderful

Last year I was involved in the annual Whistler Paint-Off competition in Whistler, BC. While there I met a nice fellow from my home province of Ontario who liked my work and we discussed commission ideas in the following months.

We worked on composition and image options for an octopus, which is a very wonderful choice in terms of details, visual complexities and textures.

A couple of rounds of design options eventually led to a horizontal composition, at a size of 20" x 50". The nature of the image within that size presented a very cool crop and allowed me to flow various parts of the image in and out of the picture plane.

I had the panel custom-built. Typically I purchase my wood panels from the local art shop but this one was a unique size so it wouldn't allow for that.

Several coats of clear gesso mean that the panel is primed but the wood grain would still show through.

The next step is to pencil in the composition. I usually find I'm drinking tea and listening to the radio while getting the lines worked in. It's a pretty meditative step as it takes a couple of hours for a piece this size, and it's essential to the success of the overall work, so it needs to be done right. The benefit of completing this step is seeing the size of the composition and image come to life (from small digital file to large art work).

The next step is to ink the piece. I really enjoy the various techniques I use to create my art works because each one has a different feel, process, and mood. When I draw the image with permanent ink, I work all over the image. I don't just stay in one spot. I have a tenancy to jump from area to area. I find this way of working fresher and more interesting. I like to develop "patches" of tight drawing then I start to connect them with more lines, etc. It's an organic growth.

Drawing is very basic in terms of artistic production. It's one material on one surface. Therefore, set up time is basically non-existent. I like to do a lot of drawing outside of the studio, so this piece ends up travelling with me to various locations. I drew this piece over the summer in my apartment, at several coffee shops on the North Shore of Vancouver, and in the park by the water. A lot of Vancouver folk saw this piece as I worked on it and it received a very positive and lively response.

The picture below is Waterfront Park, which is a few blocks from my apartment in North Van. In the distance is downtown Vancouver, which is just a short (13 minute) seabus ride away. It's also the best way to commute - I take it every day to my desk-job downtown.

I finished the piece after some hearty drawing-time and brought it to the studio to begin painting. Mandatory art-selfie enclosed:

After I finished drawing this piece I had to set it aside for a bit while I worked on some paintings for a show which kept me quite busy. I was certain to get the drawing all finished so that when the show was finished I could jump right into the painting phase.

I do a lot of really loose paint applications in the early stages. I water down acrylics in cups and pour it across the surface. I leave it to dry flat so that it creates really interesting and spontaneous pooling effects. The way I leave it for the day is different from how I return to it the next day.

As the piece progresses I start to block in some loose colours and establish certain highlights here and there. They are quite bright at this point, which establishes an overall contrast to build out of. Otherwise, the image is too mid-tone and doesn't feel dynamic enough.

The piece builds up over many studio visits, which I usually limit to just a couple of hours. I prefer to work in very focused spurts, as I find its a more efficient use of my time. I find that doing 10 hours of work in 2 sessions versus 10 hours of work in 4 or 5 sessions is a very different story. I would get much more done in the 4 or 5 sessions, even though the overall time expended was the same. The end product is better this way and it allows me to recharge the creative batteries.

After building up more shadows, highlights and colour layers the work is complete. It looks very good and I varnish it and get it ready for final shipments to its new home in Toronto (The Adidas shirt is because I took a mid-packing break to go for a jog).

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Neighbourhood Analysis - Chinatown

Vancouver has a pretty large Asian population and a distinct Chinatown neighborhood. This area has long been special to me. My first two studios were located in Chinatown, and my current one is just outside the area, in Japantown.

There is a distinct neighborhood structure in Vancouver that is emphasized by characteristics such as building motifs, street marker posts, language, etc.

In Chinatown, the street posts are amazing. They have metal dragons built into them, and the lights themselves are encased in lantern structures. Not only that, but the graffiti comes in different languages, and the major colours are red and purple.

These characteristics were essential to one of my latest street sign paintings, titled Main and Pender, which is referential of the intersection where I photographed the original image I painted.

The graffiti and stickers are somewhat embellished for the sake of reflecting the feel of the neighborhood. I am really fond of painting those components into the works I make and the little details really pull the piece together.

I haven't worked in this colour palette in some time, and I'm glad I did. Red is such a powerful colour, that you really learn some interesting ways to offset the strength it brings. I honed that particular aspect of my colour knowledge through this painting, thats for sure!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

East Broadway - The Start of Something New!

For some time now my work has focused on the theme of urbanity, life within a city, urban decay and the various other components that make up the Vancouver concrete farmland.

This is the basic ink drawing with first washes of paint. I knew from the start I would be working with a nice rich blue.

I am currently exploring a particular facet of this city, something I had started in the past but never built a large focus around - street signs and street posts. Here is one of my on-site photographs I took while exploring the subject:

The first one of these that I painted was for a charity gala event last year called H'Arts for the Homeless. For that event I created my work "No Left Turns". It was a lot of fun and what I realized is that I am very intrigued by their appearance and presentation. It turned out really well:

There are a lot of pretty generic streetsigns-on-posts out there, but there are others that are composed and clustered in such interesting ways that they merit a particular artistic attention. In addition to the interesting shapes and angles that they form, there is the addition of stickers and graffiti that create a uniqueness that can't be replicated. I've started to paint in some of those stickers here:

That is what I find most interesting about these objects - at face value they are so common, so irrelevant and similar. At further investigation, however, they provide their own flavour.

I am currently producing more street signs from different neighborhoods. This is an ongoing project and not ready to view just yet, but I'm finding that various neighborhoods have very particular and unique characteristics as well, separating them from one another even more.

The final image that these cool objects creates is quite pleasing, I'm happy with this first one and ready for more:

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Tree Frogs Are So Darn Cool

Agalychnis callidryas is the scientific term for the red-eyed tree frog which is the subject of my latest painting. This piece was started a little while ago, and was a side project while I worked on other, larger pieces.

It is one of my "portable sized" pieces. I usually work on larger pieces at the studio, and works like this one are carted around with me in my daily adventures. I began this piece when taking the skytrain back from the airport, after seeing off my good friend Beth from Vancouver. Drawing on transit is a favorite pasttime of mine.

The initial painting began pretty quickly after, but it remained idle because I went on an adventure out to Atlantic Canada to visit old friends for my 5-year university reunion (Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick).

Upon my return to Vancouver, I began working on another painting that consumed me for some time. I worked on this frog here and there, and tightened up the colours on it. I felt that they had gotten richer, and deeper, but were still lacking the volume that I desire to satisfy myself with these art works.

I made it my mission to sit and finalize this piece last Friday after work. It was one of those nights where I had the time, and I wanted to finish a piece while watching a movie at the studio. If memory serves me correct, I watched The Empire Strikes Back, sipped red wine, and added all the highlights that finalized this piece.

Upon posting to my facebook page ( I sold the piece quickly - within an hour. It also got a good response from my followers and I'm happy with the overall piece.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Painting a Baseball Bat For the Toronto Blue Jays

I recently created a piece on a raw spruce baseball bat for the Toronto Blue Jays. This was for their annual gala fundraiser called The Curve Ball, held in Toronto, each May.

My piece was based on the interests of a particular player; #53, Melky Cabrera. His interests include Land Rovers, Reggaeton music and movies. These played an integral role in the images I painted on the bat.

Painting on a round surface was a lot of fun. It opened me up to new possibilities and possible future endeavours of painting on various primed objects.

One thing I did was use the roundness to my advantage. For example, the handle of the bat has a long strip of film wrapped around it. I felt this was a neat way to draw in a 360-degree manner.

The process was very similar to my flat pieces. I primed the bat with a clear gesso and did all the ink drawing first.

I filled in various parts of the bat with paint and stencils. One thing I couldn't do that I usually add is the effect of a flat pool of liquid paint left to dry before adding more layers on top of it. Because the bat is round the paint would just run off to the sides!

At the end, the bat was on display and ready for charity auction in Toronto. However, it was pulled from the show last minute because the player association did not like the fact that I had included a Puerto Rico flag on the bat, as Melky Cabrera has an issue with that flag. I included it as a reference to the origins of Reggaeton music.

I am happy I got to finish the piece but I am pretty upset that my piece was subject to an obvious case of art censorship - where one person got to decide its fate without understanding what was in my piece and why.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Very Cool Feedback Based on Observation

I had a pretty rockin' weekend doing the Make-It show here in Vancouver. I had a booth set up with a number of originals, and new prints and greeting cards I have started developing as an entrepreneurial project.

The good thing about these shows is that based on numbers, you get to guage what is most popular. For me, that meant that my greeting cards and prints sold in distinct sets.

For example I discovered that certain Vancouver images sold like hot cakes and more generic ones didn't really at all. I learned that even though both of these prints are very cool images, the First one of the Woodward's W-sign sold significantly higher than the parking meter piece:

When it came to my originals, the situation was interesting to observe as well. I presented several of my smaller, 12" x 12" panels. I have been studying various parts of the city with these "Urban Snapshot" pieces. I found that the ones that show spatial depth and environment were more popular (and sold) versus the ones that were an object study.

For example, the first two images below sold. The third and fourth ones did not. Furthermore, I had the most feedback on the alleyway/spatial ones (the first two). 

This is interesting information as it reminds me what appeals to particular audiences. While I don't dictate my work based on mass response, it is certainly good information to have at one's disposal. It's always good to receive feedback and critiques in any means possible..even if it is based on statistical analysis and response!