Studio visits with some of our favourite creatives living and working in the province.
Studio visits with some of our favourite creatives living and working in the province.
Starting out in a two room school north of Saskatoon, Dean maintained a high interest in art and all things creative. After apprenticing as a sign painter, his mentor suggested that he polish up his design skills. This led him to Medicine Hat College, Calgary, Lethbridge, Regina and back to Calgary where he started 17oz. Design. Dean spent several successful entrepreneurial years in Calgary, co-founding Combine Design – at which time I had the amazingly good fortune of meeting and working with him – then venturing into design & manufacturing with Station Studios. More recently, Dean got back to his prairie roots and joined the team at Creative Fire in Saskatoon, where he works today while still maintaining his hand at illustration and manufacturing.
What inspired you to get started in the illustration/design field?
What is your favourite thing to draw?
I like the quirky. Stuff that looks normal from a distance but has more context when you get into it.
What is your process for coming up with new ideas?
A general theme…then let the drawings build themselves.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working? How does this affect your work?
Watch for turkey vultures along the river.
Can you tell us about one of the shining moments in your career?
I’ve been really fortunate to work with really great people. That shines nicely.
Since returning back to Saskatchewan, do you notice any changes in the creative environment/culture?
I grew up outside of the city so I experienced that environment…then left to find ‘work and prosperity in Alberta’… coming into Saskatoon now – I see a lot of talented folks quietly doing their thing…and doing it well. This excites me.
After seeing the School Art show at the Mendel Art Gallery, I noticed how much talent and a certain maturity is coming from kids. I’m not sure if it’s more exposure to things that we didn’t necessarily have, but the skillset is crazy impressive.
Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?
Folk Art. I think that’s kinda where my skill set and interest is. Most of my family has had their hands in folk art…vehicles or wood working or painting or growing stuff. My Aunt Edna makes a kick ass bird house, it’s pretty crazy. I don’t think I fit into a fine art crowd – folk art feels right to me.
Check out more of Dean’s work space here:
Photography by Carey Shaw
Saskatoon based Illustrator, Ashley Spires, grew up in B.C. with the backyard as the beach. With the support of her parents, she was encouraged to create, something she had always done as a child. This led her to Emily Carr to study photography, and with a twist of fate (in the form of a bookmaking class), ended up studying Illustration at Sheridan College. Not only are her illustrated books frequently being awarded by her peers, but she can also easily make a elementary school class scream in delight. Obviously, since she is the lady who created Binky.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned regarding illustration?
I have learned that it is more about style than it is about ability. I went through Emily Carr, and I once had a drawing teacher ask me if I was colour blind. I guess I just wasn’t doing a good enough job of the shading and my proportions are always a little off. And it is true, I can’t draw something perfectly realistic. It is just not my thing. But it’s about the style, and I always mention that to kids when I go and talk to them. Because it is around grades 6-7 when they decided if they can or can’t draw. And sometimes it is just about what you love to draw. And I love to draw. I have a visual style that projects my stories in a certain way. I have also learned to draw things again and again and again.
If you had to put it to words, how would you describe your style?
Cartoon-y. Goof-y. I am always striving to perfect it. All the work I write is goofy and funny, because that is what I wanted to read as a kid. And that was the work that I was drawn to. I loved Quentin Blake, Micheal Martchenko, and David Roberts. I am drawn to that style, so it makes sense that I would make that type of work.
Is all of your work done by hand?
Yes, my work is all done by hand. I mostly use my computer for emails and watching my British television shows.
You mentioned other Illustrators that are inspiration. Do you have other things that inspire you?
I have lots of things that I pull inspiration from. I find myself drawn to a lot of UK artists. It seems like the British sensibilities are a little more in line to my work, which isn’t that surprising considering that my favourite books growing up were Beatrix Potter, Roald Dahl and Quinten Blake. As far as getting ideas for stories, I think most of my inspiration comes from random places. My furry little friends that I live with are a huge part of it. Many stories come from some of the funny things that they would do. And also from crafts, I made finger puppets for a long time. I did them as a side business, and it put me through Illustration school. I used to sell them on Etsy, and Aritzia contracted me for a year and I sold them across Canada.
When you are thinking about your characters, do you think about how they sound or their voices?
We were actually talking about Binky being a cartoon, and wondering what Binky would sound like. My husband does the best accents, and sometimes when he does Gordon’s voice, it is a small German boy. So we do think about what they would all sound like. But mostly when I think about my books, they run through like a silent movie. I see the movement and pick out what I want to draw. Especially with the Binky books, because they are more storyboard ideas.
Do you ever find yourself in creative slumps?
Yes, for sure. The best way I have learned over the past few years to deal with that, is when I even have the smallest idea, I write it down. I will come back to it later and think “oh, I could do this, this, and this with it.” The other thing that really helps me is that I have the best editor in the world, Tara Walker. I find that every time I finish a conversation with her, I am always inspired. Without even giving me ideas, there is something about talking with her and her knowledge of the publishing world. She knows what I am good at better than I do.
I find too that creative slumps happen a lot, especially in my 30′s. There are so many other responsibilities, and other crap you have to deal with. And it isn’t just about creating, there is the business side of things as well. I don’t have an agents, so I deal with it all myself.
What type of other creative things do you do, aside from illustrate?
I do have a fashion blog. I love clothes a little too much. I am pretty camera shy, but thought, “why don’t I draw this” and it gets me into a different vain of illustration which is interesting to me as well. I try to put as much as I can up there. That to me is a creative thing, making outfits in my head. And fimo. I still rock some fimo.
How do you market yourself?
I just recently started to learn about the whole online thing. I tweet, Binky has his own Facebook page, my blog and Instagram. When I was drawing the latest version of Binky, I took pictures of it when it was pencil-ed, when it was inked, and in the various stages. I’ve also had some print press, and going to schools is a huge way to promote yourself as an author/illustrator. Especially for children to see the person who makes the book. I also rely on my publicist as well.
When you are speaking at the schools, what is one message you use to inspire the kids?
Lately I have been focusing a lot on being creative for creativity’s sake. I think that a lot of kids think that when they sit down to do something, it needs to be perfect. And I talk to them a lot about how I have tons of different sketchbooks that all serve different purposes, and I am never worried about what comes out. I am not worried about making it perfect.
What are your plans? Are you working on more books?
Always. I am working on the fifth and final Binky right now. Normally what I do is a picture book in the spring and a Binky book in the fall. But the Binky books are 64 pages and every inch of every page is painted. It is a massive thing to do. It takes six month of my year to do one. I am also working on some picture books with Tundra books, so I am in the development stage of those.
Photography by Carey Shaw
We recently went to Saskatoon to do some studio visits with Dean Bartsch and Ashley Spires. So of course we made a little iPhone movie of our trip. Stay tuned for the full posts of the visits!
Pssst – we are not videographers! We really have no idea what we are doing. But if you are, and are interested in working with us for upcoming visits and projects, get in touch!
When we discussed who we wanted to feature first on Not Nowhere, Chad Geran was top on the list. Not only is he a talented Saskatchewan Illustrator, but a really great person. Always supportive of the colleagues around him and open to sharing what he has learned. Qualities that are really admirable to find in an artist and refreshing to find in the creative industry. Born, raised and living in Regina, Chad studied Visual Communications at the Medicine Hat College and Computer Animation at Sheridan College. His professional and teaching career has included Noblet Design, SIAST and Phoenix group, and has taken him to Jordan and New Zealand.
Having both a design and illustration background, how do you think they work together?
I have done both for so long, it is hard to image one without the other. My training in school was design, so trying to build logos and boil things down to the bare essentials. I know that has influenced the illustration I do. It is very shape based. I try to remove extra information, only because I find it an interesting process. Also I think that good Illustrators have a strong good sense of type and space. Whenever I am working on an illustration I am matching it to what it will be used for, if its used in a bigger design and how that will work. And vise versa. I guess an analogy would be a filmmaker who has the ability to make music, their films will be influenced by their ability to create music.
Are you doing any of your work by hand, or are you using a computer to simulate the effect?
My process right now is that I will do the thinking in a sketchbook and then when I find something interesting, I quite often take a snap of it with my phone and then get it onto my computer. It will be my bottom layer in Illustrator and I’ll use it as a guide for the first 20%. After that, I kind of have enough shapes to work with. It is sort of like working with cut paper, they are on their own layers and I can twist and skew them. The sketch I don’t really need after a while. Its almost all 100% digital. I also have assets like textures and such that I bring in.
What would you consider your top source of inspiration? It can be anything.
Probably Twitter and my RSS feeds. I just go through them and keep a collection of images. It keeps me current and I see what’s out there.
What is your all time favourite thing to draw?
I like drawing things I haven’t had to draw before. For an example, if I had to do an office chair, I would think “Oh shit, how am I going to do an office chair the way they want it”. I go through the process, dreading it at first, then working it out and it becomes interesting. When you go in thinking “I don’t know what I’m going to do” and come out with something good, that is my favourite. The challenge of doing something new.
Is there anything that you do to separate work time and play time?
No not really, my two year old seems to manage it for me. It is the benefit of being freelance, I work when I want to work and when I want to hang out with the family, I do. The work/life balance isn’t hard in that sense. I don’t really do anything formally, except think ahead. If I am spinning my wheels, there are lots of things to do in the house, I will go cook supper or run errands. I am a total early morning person, so lots of times i will get up at 4 am and bang out a few hours of work before Brin is up. I have already worked half a day, so I don’t really feel guilty if I want to go for a beer or lunch with someone. I am just shifting the times to when I am most productive.
Last one, what’s your plans?
The book that I did (Do You Know What I Am?), I want to get that on the Apple store as an app. I am exploring how to best do that – if its something that I should do myself, or through a service. My blog. I want to revive it, which I sort of abandoned when Brin was born. And I would like to get an agent or rep.