Early observations on identity, ethics, and Zambia

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My mother and I, outside Lusaka, Zambia

It may seem odd to be beginning a blog post exploring Canadian identity through illustrated children’s books with a photo of my mother and I taking the family car for a drive in the countryside outside Lusaka, Zambia, the warm African country where I lived as a child. Zambia is not far off the equator, and most likely very far off what one might consider while contemplating the Canadian environment and culture. I begin this post in Zambia as one of the first thoughts I had regarding my research, was that in order to define what might make a children’s book distinctly Canadian, there would be merit in exploring imagery and culture that Continue reading “Early observations on identity, ethics, and Zambia”

There’s something subtly Canadian about this image I just can’t quite put my finger on…


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I wanted to test out how adding images worked in word press,  and thought this might be a fitting image to use… Its an illustration I came across  recently done by Jessica Borutski a fabulous Canadian animator, living and working in the United States, an experience which could be a blog post here all on its own! so maybe I’ll come back to that later… Anyways up and running!

into the wilderness we go….

I’ve recently begun a masters in Illustration at the University of Hertfordshire which I’m very excited about, and also a little terrified by as I work full-time and have a 2 year old son who means the world to me, and with whom I try to spend every possible second with. The masters is an endeavor I’ve wanted to take on for some time now, and although the circumstances dictate that I have to do  a lot of the work alone and in the wee hours of the morning, its a journey I’m very glad to have begun.

As I begin writing this post I think of a television commercial I watched recently for The Hudson Bay Company (a Canadian Department store) which featured one of the company’s most famous sons; David Thompson, climbing the Rocky mountains, and looking rugged. Mr Thompson was many things to many people, most notably: map maker, surveyor, fur trader, astronomer, revolutionary, explorer and epic adventurer! He is most renowned for having mapped more of North America than anyone else, which he accomplished by horseback, canoe, dog sled and on foot. He traveled some 90,000 kilometres, (is this how I should spell it in Canada?) equivalent to circling the globe twice,  and mapped some 3.9 million square kilometres of wilderness, quite the undertaking! He is also well respected for having contributed to Canada’s development as an independent nation. As I write this post I wonder how  he felt as he started his journey, and walked his first kilometre, was he as excited as I am right now? and how did he feel when he walked his 90,000 kilometre? was he overcome with emotion and joy at what he had accomplished? or just plain tired… He accomplished things most of us could never dream of, but yet it started with one step, so I’m left wondering how far this journey will take me?

I come to writing this first blog post, with that thought, and having spent the last 4 weeks consumed by selecting a topic (and subsequent keyword) that I’d feel comfortable dedicating the next 2 years of my life to… a chilling thought! I’ve spent most of the last 15 years  working as an animator,  so its been a while since I’ve done much writing or research, but I had hoped that I would have a “eureka moment” which would make picking the topic easy. Alas I did not. I guess I shouldn’t be to surprised when one of the main reasons I signed up for this masters, was the hope that I would discover direction for my own work as an artist. Well there have been numerous nights recently where I’ve begun developing ideas for my topic around 9 in the evening after a long days work, and worked till 3 in the morning thinking I was finally getting somewhere, only to throw the idea in the garbage (Canadian word?)  go to bed setting my alarm for 6, defeated, and getting ready to do it all over again the next day. With that thought in mind, going back to David Thompson for a second, I wonder how he felt around his 900th kilometre? did he ever spend hours or days portaging  through mosquito ridden swamps and forests, or paddling into headwinds across lakes only to realize he had left his compass back on the other side? (I’m guessing that was fairly important to him!) Maybe some of you reading this now have shared similar experiences researching your topic, spending way more time trying to decide where you should focus your energy than you thought you should, but hoping to get the result right in the end. In my experience putting the time into the idea up front has usually been worthwhile and pays off in the long run, will it here? I don’t know, only time will tell I guess… But I do know that when I see other topic’s and themes that fellow students and illustrators have dedicated their time and in some cases lives to, I think Wow! what an amazing subject! maybe I could  do that! there is just so much excitement going on in the field of illustration and applied arts in general right now! its just such an incredible time to be creative and alive!

Maybe you’re reading this post many days from now, and find yourself in the same boat (or canoe!) striving to choose a good topic, if that’s the case good luck to you. I hope that this blog will survive well into the future. I’ve begun blogs in the past only to watch them fall by the wayside and loose direction, but feel I may have found a subject with meaning here that I could continue on with for many years . (pause for a bedtime story)

The topic I’ve chosen to focus on for our first 2 modules “Is Canadian Identity through illustrated children’s books”. In our practice 1 module (illustration course) I have selected the keyword of “story” with the intention of exploring uniquely Canadian myths and legends that could be applied to illustrated children’s books. To back this up conceptually I have begun researching the topic of “Canadian Identity through illustrated children’s books” to gain an understanding of where this topic lies currently, and begin to piece together where it has come from historically, politically and ethically, from both an internal and external perspective.

I had originally intended to cover this topic primarily from an internal perspective, but realized that it would be beneficial to first gain an understanding of the facets that are involved in establishing cultural identity as a whole. So for that reason I have refined my research topic to the broader area of “Establishing cultural identity through illustrated children’s books” with the intention of focusing on how it relates primarily to Canadian culture.

Well its currently 10 in the evening (EST) here at my home in Canada, so goodnight, I’m off to research books!