Upon reflection, my recent journey of research and enquiry has been both rewarding and surprising. I knew I wanted to explore “Canadian identity through illustrated children’s books” as a theme, but selecting a keyword proved  challenging.  I eventually selected the keyword “Story” with the intention of examining uniquely Canadian myths and legends that could be applied to illustrated children’s books.  This would also allow me to explore the idea of trying to pack as much “story” as possible into a single image.  As a busy father of a three-year-old, I am aware that page-count, and keeping the story pure and simple, are key aspects in producing children’s books.

Keeping things simple is something I have always struggled with. Having settled on my theme and keyword I was  horrified by how broad both appeared,  but was excited by the possibilities they possessed. In an attempt to streamline my research I sought to break my process into three distinct avenues: technique, methodology and subject matter. My hope was that by isolating aspects of my process it would help narrow my focus.

A prevailing thought I had as I began this enquiry was that methodology was dangerous and that structure could stagnate creativity.  As my research progressed, I felt this became my area of most profound growth, as I came to believe that a well-defined methodology could possibly be a key to differentiating myself as an artist.

With regard to methodology, I discovered the work of  psychiatrist Carl Jung on archetypes and personalities to be very applicable in defining one’s individual process and methodology.

 “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are”

-C.G. Jung

This is a sentiment that resonates with me as an artist. It also reflects my belief in technique as I subscribe to the theory that the key to evolving one’s own style is practice. I believe that by putting in the hours, an artist will gravitate towards the techniques and elements that come most naturally. For me detail, lighting and line of action as it relates to characters have  been prevailing themes.

My initial concern that researching my theme would be very labour intensive turned out to be well-founded. My research opened the door to many ethical questions regarding bias in children’s books which I had not previously considered. I quickly became aware that these ethical considerations were not something I could ignore.

I had some set ideas on where I wanted to go with this topic but had underestimated the psychology involved in targeting children of different ages. This has led me to identify the subjects of child audiences and related semiotics as areas that require further research.

Overall I feel that my research and the related blog have introduced me to influential artists and opened up my eyes to some pertinent nuances regarding methodology and techniques. In addition I feel that the blog has served as a useful tool in bridging the gap between research and practice.

reference: [accessed 01-01-16]

Tiago Hoisel, Technique, and relevant Canadian Brazilian relations

Tiago Hoisel is a Brazilian Illustrator and 3D artist who I’ve admired for some time. He recently posted these videos which demonstrate his creative process. I’m not sure how they were recorded in respect to the timeline, but regardless the techniques he uses are very interesting, in particular the one where he begins with a shaded sphere. I also stumbled upon some interesting funding options that allow Canadian and Brazilian artists to work together. I have included the link and some details below.

A simple video showing a bit of one of my creative processes.
It’s experimental, a kind of a brainstorm trying some different designs, so some of them may work, some not.

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Reflections on National Identity, Ireland, and my childhood

irish books_01_good2

I recently read an article by Joyce Bainbridge and Brenda Wolodko titled Canadian Picture Books, Shaping and Reflecting National Identity. This article immediately resonated with me in a number of different ways, first in its summary of the Canadian picture book industry and secondly, on a personal level what it means to be Canadian from an immigrant’s standpoint.

My family and I moved to Newfoundland an eastern island province of Canada when I was a child, in 1981. I don’t believe it was the initial intention of my parents to make the move permanent for us, but I know that they liked Canada immediately. While leaving Ireland for North America was a journey that had been made by many countrymen in the prior 2 centuries, my family’s journey was perhaps different in the fact it was unclear if we would return, and in the early 80’s plane travel had become accessible, and for a number of years we returned every summer, and phone communication (although nothing like it is now) had become a relatively affordable option.


This is a picture of me as a child in Newfoudland playing with icebergs, good times!

For those reason we stayed very close toour large family back in Ireland, and I’m sti Continue reading “Reflections on National Identity, Ireland, and my childhood”

The great Quentin Blake, workspace and workflow

Quentin Blake exhibition - London
Quentin Blake poses with some of his illustrations at the world’s first public gallery and education space dedicated to illustration the ‘House of Illustration’ in the heart of King’s Cross, which is to open on 2nd July with a exhibition of Blake’s work called Inside Stories. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 1, 2014. Photo credit should read: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

While researching art methodology I came across this great 10 minute video where Quentin Blake walks us through his typical workflow and introduces us to his work space. Blake is best known for illustrating books written by Roald Dahl.

I have never given work space a lot of thought, but I certainly recognize its importance in regards to process. When trying to nail down what makes a work space good, I’ve often felt that there are many intrinsic elements that are tough to put into words. However there are also a number of elements I have identified myself, some of which seem to be quite important.

First and foremost, the environment needs to stimulate creative expression. To a certain extent  personal preference is likely a factor here, and I would say there are also a number of elements involved that fall into the category of un-quantifiable. I’ve worked in a number of studios throughout my career and have tried in other spaces to emulate some of the work spaces that seemed to work best for me, but to no avail. It’s tough sometimes to recognize what makes a work space good, but generally pretty easy to recognize what makes a work space bad.

There are a lot of little details involved in setting up a good work space, and that translates over to your digital work space too. For example, being left handed, there are many little things I would change from a work space setup by some one who is right handed. I’ve found that these little preferences may seem like small things but over time when you are using certain techniques repetitively they make you more efficient.

For me though, I think the two most important elements of a great work space are good lighting (and ideally the ability to adjust it) and just having enough space to be properly organized. If you don’t have the luxury of a large space,  working in an organized environment often involves a fair bit of ingenuity and work.

I found some of the elements Quentin demonstrates in regards to keeping his work space organized inspiring, as organization is something that is easy to battle with as an artist. Its interesting to see some of the nuances he has setup in his work space and filing system.

Quentin and I share an affinity for the light box, so I found it noteworthy in an effort to define my process, that I too like to use paper where you can’t quite see the back image well enough to trace, but having drawn it previously can see it well enough to have the mind and hand replicate it loosely and freely.

Quentin’s demonstration includes a very clear example of how he uses pen and watercolor to create his illustrations. Coming from an animation background I’ve been partial to using the blue col-erase pencil for quite some time now. But watching Quentin work here makes me want to experiment with what I believe is a calligraphy pen, and watercolor paints, two mediums I have very little experience using.

He ends with a demonstration of the magic pencil, a medium I have experimented with a fair bit and have always found interesting, but have not used for some time. The magic pencil as Quentin points out is not in fact magical, but draws with random colors as the pencil is warn down. I’ve found that this effect and its busyness force you to simplify your line and subject matter which in some cases can be quite interesting.mrs_armitage

The first snow fall and William Steig

brave irene_small

Well it finally happened, we got our first real snow fall of the year in Niagara last night. This quickly changed into a freezing rain/ice storm. My 3 year old son and I have been reading a lot of Christmas books together recently, most of which involve snow, and he is very eager to get outside and build a snowman. He is however a bit concerned that when the snow storm rolled in it may have brought a snow monster with it, as I had let him stay up one night to watch the old Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special. Upon watching the clip below I realize  that may have been a mistake.

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The Ogopogo Landscape

I posted some details below of an Illustration I did for the practice component of the masters program. The intention of the work was to explore the myth of the Ogopogo lake monster reportedly  found in western Canada.

As mentioned in my previous post The Group of Seven – Canada’s most notable art movement? the Group of Seven hold a special place in Canada’s art heritage, and their simplified depictions of Canadian landscapes are undoubtedly some of the most recognized paintings within Canada’s borders.

While the Group of Seven largely painted in eastern Canada I chose to explore the simplified juxtaposition of shapes, many of the Group of Seven artists used in their landscape depictions. My intention was to examine digital techniques that could be used for capturing a related visual style.

While my style is usually pretty heavy on detail,I felt the process of simplifying the shapes down that were involved in the landscape elements ,was successful and one which could possibly be explored further in regards to children’s books intended for audiences under the age of four.

(click on image to enlarge)

Methodology, Carl Jung and the Collective Unconscious


Throughout my research I have been battling with thoughts surrounding methodology. Is it wise for an artist to live within the wall of structure, or dangerous? In the early phases of my research I would have argued dangerous, in the fact that I felt it could act as a barrier to creativity. But now I’m not so sure, and recently have begun thinking that perhaps truly understanding the details of ones method and its relationship with the contemporary art scene may in fact be a key to differentiating ones work.

Continue reading “Methodology, Carl Jung and the Collective Unconscious”