Thursday, 21 March 2013

Hot Art, Wet City: A Video Interview

I recently did a video interview for Hot Art, Wet City, a video blog spotlighting artists in Vancouver. Here is my interview, which shows my studio, my work, and a discussion about my methods, inspirations, roadblocks and fun times :)

Interview with Vancouver artist Jon Shaw from bentzen on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Dyadic - My Painted Examination of Phone Booths

I recently sold one of my favourite pieces of the latest set, called "Dyadic". It is a painting of two phone booths, representing urban decay and the passage of time.

I approached this piece as the beginning of a fresh set of city art works. I had previously created a few urban-inspired pieces as an experiment. When I realized that I loved making them, and that people were also excited to view them, I decided to create this work that treats them as a pair (the term "Dyadic" refers to dualities, relationships between two objects, etc). View it here:

As with other works of the same series, I started with an ink drawing. I remember really enjoying making this drawing. I did some of the drawing at a coffee shop near my house with my friend Beth. This was a significant day because at some point walking to/from that coffee shop I lost my wallet and somebody took it..we later found the contents (except cash and credit cards, of course) discarded in a bush. 

The drawing took a few days, as this is a 2' x 3' piece, and therefore has more content to fill. It was really awesome seeing it take shape though. I really love that part in the process when I can work on my pieces from anywhere - such as in public venues or with friends. Makes the work hold more memories and connections to people and places.

As I worked on this piece one thought was about how great it felt to be working on a larger drawing. Now that my most recent show is up and I have more time to explore new projects, I would like to work on something quite large (in the 4' range). 

The first stages of painting were as fun as always. I apply very loose pools of paint and let them dry flat. I work very spontaneously at this stage, often working from a loose colour scheme I've picked beforehand. The colours look somewhat disjointed at this stage, but its really interesting to see it like this.

This piece was the first time I focused on the addition of stickers, graffiti and other remnants on the phone booth. As time goes on, urban objects such as these phone booths age, decay and collect evidence of time and people gone by. I am very interested in the addition of these components because they are extremely fun to photograph around the city, interpret, and recreate in my paintings.

One neat other new addition began in this painting, and became a mainstay in future pieces. I began dropping very light paint blobs on top of lighter highlight areas, to break up the visual plane. I discovered that if I blot them dry when they are half wet/half dry, that I get a really amazing effect where the paint stains an outer ring of colour, and the middle becomes quite transparent. I find that with this subject matter, it adds a whole extra layer of texture and visual appeal.

You can see this work and the rest of the series on my site:

Thursday, 7 March 2013

My Joys and Struggles With an Abstract Painting

When I started painting seriously, and in the style that I currently work (with drawing and painting combined) I focused a lot on animal studies. On my online gallery, you will notice that the 2011 work is all animal studies.

When I figured out just how I like to work and got the flow down, I had this moment when I realized how much fun it would be to focus on that technical approach without representing a “subject”. This led me to begin a small series of abstract works. Below is the step by step development of the first of this series!

I was doing a show in West Vancouver last August called Harmony Arts. I often like to work on a piece of art at shows that I do – it attracts attention and is a great starting point for a discussion about technique. People love to see the process. So my girlfriend suggested that I work on a new piece at the show, and I figured doing the abstract work would be the best approach to showcasing how the layers of my paintings work!

I started this work (and other abstracts) with loose paint applications. Usually, when doing a representational piece, I would draw the first ink drawing before painting it in very loosely. By starting with paint applications first, I ensure that I can really play around with the notion of spontaneity and expression.

I worked with large, broad marks. I wanted a very loose structure. As the paint dried in the sun at this show, I was able to quickly move into drawing finer detailed line work.

The process is so much fun in these works. It’s so uninhibited, and a complete overload of endorphin production. I put myself in such a good mood while meditatively tracing over paint and drawing new lines, etc. The more areas I fill in with paint, the more layers that are established. Then, as those get traced over/drawn into, new opportunities for deepening colour layers appear. It’s an ongoing process of exploration and fun.

 Working on larger works (this one is 30” x 30”), I’m able to get really lost in the process for a long time. I spend time carrying these works around various parks or public places in the nice weather and start to draw lines..the work carries me for hours and I’ve actually found myself getting close to it so that most of my peripheral vision is dwarfed with art. This makes for a really amazing experience of being lost in the excitement of the work developing!

 I had a couple of moments working on this new piece where I just wasn’t feeling it. I thought it was getting sloppy and overworked, so I ended up doing a couple of radical paint dumps – one with a big pool of red, and another where I drizzled clear primer all over the canvas. Once these dried I was still unhappy with it, but I learned an important lesson to my methods, which is that its important for me to make a mess with paint then clean it up with ink lines. That’s what I spent more time on, and eventually I ended up loving it in the end!

This piece was great for a building exercise in spontaneity, technique and overall layers and structure. I also pushed my textures and material combinations; the final canvas has a nice texture to it. The final varnished piece is now among my favourites!

I think as time goes on I will continue to work on some abstract works casually, if for nothing else than the sheer joy and relaxation and focused escape it brings to my day. See the final work and other abstracts at

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

8 Reasons To Enjoy Painting Portraits

When I was in art school (I went to Mount Allison University, in New Brunswick) I painted a lot of industrial subject matter and things that were dark, and used lots of browns and greys in my work.

During one of my painting critiques in second...or third year, I cant remember exactly which, I had a classmate remark that I need to use more colour. At the same time, our painting professor was encouraging us to make a painting a week. He said we had to consistently deliver, and to push ourselves. 

I got into a habit of working quickly with colour and doing colour sketches on cardboard. I shifted that into a project where I would paint 50 portraits of people I knew in 50 that I would (hopefully) begin to work very quickly and looser with my paint applications.

I painted a lot of my friends in this time. I took a lot of photos and worked from those as reference. I like this because each one has a story behind it. More stuff at

This is my friend Mike. We used to work together at the Keg restaurant in St.Catharines where I grew up. One time we came home from the bar to crash at my house, but my parents have really loud dogs so instead of risking waking them up he crashed in the back seat of my old car. My dad asked in the morning if I knew that there was a person in the back of my car. It was an odd talk because it was 7am and I was really hungover.

My buddy Hal. This friend is an exceptional artist and we used to jam on drawing back home all the time. He backpacked south through South America and is one of the more travelled, interesting artist friends I know. 

I went to art school with my friend Jessie. She always had this amazing ability to paint bright, vibrant works with minimal brushwork. I always envied her marks and how she could confidently build up colour areas with variety and geometry of paint. It was so cool to watch.

This is a self portrait I did. I really like the angle of this. I won't talk much about myself, as there is plenty of that on this blog already!

This is my friend Jono, who I still jam with here in Vancouver. I have painted him more than anybody else, maybe 5 or 6 times. One time I painted a 4' x 4' picture of him playing his bass with his tongue hanging out. He loved it and put it in his apartment. His girlfriend disagreed.

This is my friend Lynn who graduated a year before me and now runs a gallery and artist-run-centre in Lunenburg called the Power House. Our friendship began out of a mutual interest in metal sculpture and time spent in the metal shop, which is also what explains my initial painting direction before adding colour. Lynn and I have been known to use grinders and drink coffee at the same time.

My old roommate Neil. What a fellow. I remember painting this piece when I was watching Snakes on a Plane at my old house. I also remember this one flowed so well and came together so quickly. Must have been from the quality of that movie in the background! The first time I met Neil was when I was unpacking my bag upon arrival in first year at our residence room. His parents were also there. The first thing that happened was my big glass bong fell out of my bag onto the floor and we all stopped and looked at it. That was awkward.

This is my friend Sarah. She was really into theatre and also modelled for some of our life drawing classes. It was always awesome when a creative person modelled because they didn't act weird about it, and when you saw them around campus things wouldn't seem strange. Sarah's a great actor and cool gal.

At some point with my new working styles I will definitely go back and make more figurative work. It's just a matter of time now! You can scope whats currently new at

Monday, 4 March 2013

My Discombobulated Obsession with Turkey Vultures

Visit my site,, to see other animals that I've obsessively painted!

As an artist, I inevitably develop particular visuals and recurring images in my work. This is referred to as a "visual language", and many creative people have it. For visual artists, this can be certain subjects that pop up time and time again, and particular brush marks and line styles. 

I got really into the visuals of turkey vultures (aka Cathartes Aura). These creatures are just so weird. They have scraggly skin, weird bumps, holes through their heads (ie nostrils) and freaky pointed beaks. They are bald and look like death. I was told by a friend that they can even projectile-vomit at other creatures. How cool is that! For me, this of course meant I got to focus on all the fun, intricate lines when drawing. 

For this particular painting, I worked on a cool horizontal composition. The canvas is 2' x 4', a size orientation I hadn't worked with before. There were some compositional questions to be ironed out before any painting started, so I worked with some thumbnail sketches and played around with paper cut outs to establish the look I wanted. Since I worked from several source images, I found this to be quite necessary so that nothing looked amis.

This image became somewhat of a travelling icon of my work for a little bit after I made this painting. First, the actual canvas itself has been featured in two shows. One at last years State of the Art show in Whistler, and most recently in a group exhibition at my old haunt, the Gam Gallery, in Vancouver. This picture below is right when I arrived in Whistler to set up my work in my space. What you can see just to the right is my snowboard. As soon as these works were hung I was on the slopes :)

Once I realized I loved the image of the vultures, I used it for other displays. I was invited to participate in a group print show in Vancouver called Design 24. We each created a single image that was hand screened into limited editions. 

I created a black and white profile sketch with just ink pens, scanned it, and vectorized it in Illustrator so that it could be used at any size. The original drawing was actually the same size as the final printed one..although tracing the image meant that all the lines would be 100% black. This is the final design once digitized:

Upon finishing this print, I decided to try putting the design on a t-shirt. I have a friend named Trevor (he runs a great biz called Evon Aves Apparel) who is a talented artist and printer himself, who helped me do my first run of shirts. I sold a number of them, still have a few left on my shop ( but ultimately decided to limit their creation out of effort and needing to order large up-front stocks. I still really like what happened with their design though, and I keep one around for myself to sport from time to time (goes great with a blazer jacket :)

In the end this "Travelling of the Vulture Heads" seems to represent how I can obsessively dig into something that I find so cool and work with it in different ways to explore the look. Guess thats what us artists need to do to be satisfied! haha.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Top Reasons Why It's So Cool To Paint A Dumpster

The alleys in downtown Vancouver are quite notoriously beautiful and interesting. They have all kinds of cool character to them, and the collection of graffiti, colour, form, bricks, wires and exposed metal is so intriguing.

One of the subjects I've taken a keen interest in painting lately are dumpsters. To me, these objects are big behemoths of hidden necessity. Think about it - we use them, but we hide them away from sight and let others deal with the mess. They serve a very functional role in our urban lives, and at the same time they just kind of sit there and rust, get banged around by big vehicles and filled with junk.

As I continue to explore the city, and capture images of what I find to be special, I get more and more excited about the means to generate a piece of art.

I've always had a love of complexities when it comes to subject matter and composition. For example, when I was younger in high school art class, I always drew well rendered still-life compositions of many complicated objects. I would arrange them in a cool way, light them, and sit and draw them for hours. Single objects usually didn't thrill me too much, but when I started having items and objects interacting with each other, things became more interesting!

With dumpsters that have rust, texture, graffiti, stickers, and other crap built up on their surfaces, I have an opportunity to express my joy of creating a larger composition out of so many little bits. I get to take liberties and composite more or less of these elements as I see fit for this particular piece. I add more bits to build up certain areas and break up the visual plane, which makes the image more interesting to our eyes and minds.

My approach to this piece was a bit experimental. There were some new elements I added and explored. I find that when I'm making a series of work, there is a slow evolution within the overall body of work, while maintaining the same look and feel that holds the overall series together. For example, in this work, I started the work out of a single, very wide brush mark of a rusty red-orange. As the work progressed I printed a ring shape on top with the back of an old yogurt container.

I got quite liberal with some of the brush marks in this piece as well. I find sometimes as I'm making these works I just get really spontaneous, exciting urges to quickly drag some heavy paint through an area, uninhibited. This gives the work such a sense of immediate energy and spontaneity that contrasts the tight ink lines so well.

In this instance, this purple swiggle represents the mood I was in that evening at the studio. I remember being so high on endorphins (happens when I'm painting and full of beans) and I was listening to really loud Led Zeppelin. The studio was empty, and I made these two marks so quickly and without thinking, and felt so good about that decision right after.

That is something I often tell people about my work - I "make a mess" with the immediacy of paint, then "clean it up" with the ink lines..and selectively decide which areas get really cleaned up, and which remain spontaneous and loose.

Final work and more viewable at