Reflections on National Identity, Ireland, and my childhood

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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

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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.

Continue reading “The first snow fall and William Steig”

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”


While writing my post on Jon Klassen; the children’s book author, illustrator, and animator, I was fascinated to discover an interview where he credited animated sources as the primary inspiration for his books. I then began to wonder if I myself was more influenced by illustrations and still images or animation and multimedia? I also began to speculate if it made a difference, and I think it does. In animation you are forced to think of composition in a restricted manner, and line of action and poses must be considered from a different perspective.

This got me thinking of the Canadian National film board  (NFB), an institution respected around the world for moving the mediums of animation and film forward for many years.

Here are a couple that have stood out to me over the years many with  a bit of Canadian flare.

Log Driver’s Waltz  –  Directed by John Weldon – 1979

Wild Life – Directed by Amanda Forbis & Wendy Tilby – 2011
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short at the 2012 Academy Awards

Walking – Directed by Ryan Larkin – 1968

Nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short at the 1970 Academy Awards

Continue reading “The NFB”

Deisign, Illustration, Animation and Video games


In this demonstration the Deisign group offer us a great look into their process and workflow for creating digital paintings. It is an absolutely essential watch for anyone interested in understanding the contemporary process of digital painting in Photoshop. The Deisign group create character and creature designs for the entertainment industry.

I stumbled upon this video researching examples of some techniques I wanted to cover in a character design class that I teach, and it sparked a thought on  a rather large part of my overall process I had been overlooking in regards to my research.

When I first started working in the animation industry over ten years ago now, I spent a tremendous amount of my free time documenting ideas for animated shorts that I wanted to create, and dreaming of having the time to produce them.

As time rolled on, and crunch time on one project ran into crunch time on another, my idea list grew and grew without any of them being realized. I have generally been alright with this as the work I’ve been doing in the industry has been exciting and really allowed me to focus on technique. I’ve always found my work to be fulfilling as long as I’m learning and growing, and feel lucky to have been in that state for the last 10 years.

In many ways I hope my time working on this masters will serve as a transitional phase between working on the ideas of others and those of my own.

One of the reasons I decided to persue my masters in Illustration, and selected the theme of children’s books is that the vast majority of my ideas were geared towards children, and over time I realized producing them as children’s books was a much more realistic goal than producing them initially as animated shorts or video games which in many cases would entail a tremendous amount of time and resources.

So I feel it’s worth noting that part of my  reasoning for developing children’s books, is to examine the integrity of the idea as something that may be worthwhile pursuing as an animation or game.

Something about looking at the great character concepts Deisign  have produced on this site made me consider that producing children’s books with the intention of producing animation or games from them, might perhaps be a unique part of process, or at least not the norm.

Post-Apocalyptic Cover Illustration | Timelapse from DEISIGN on Vimeo.



Bobby Chiu routine and the early morning…


While examining the process and methodology of other artists, I thought it important explore the intricacies of routine. That’s when I stumbled upon this great Facebook post by Bobby Chiu that I thought was worth sharing.

Bobby Chiu is an exceptionally talented and inspirational illustrator and concept artist based out of Toronto, and one of the founding members of Imaginism Studios. You can check out samples of his work here.

article link [accessed 22-12-15]

Bobby Chiu’s routine for a perfect day