PORTFOLIO: Learned it Through the Grapevine

I’m honored to have been published by some great folks over at Rural Delivery.

This past summer I traveled around and found myself spending time in Nova Scotia, as many of my blog posts from that time attest. My farcical misadventures and overall educational experience made for some great times for me, and RD was kind enough to let me share a glimpse.

Rural Delivery publishes 10 magazines a year to subscribers across Atlantic Canada, most of whom live in small rural communities and truly enjoy stories on today’s agriculture industry as well as small-scale at-home living off the land. I’m glad I got to share my experience with their readers.

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PORTFOLIO: Art for kids builds collections

As soon as anyone over 16 walks into the Seymour Art Gallery, they feel like a kid again, surrounded by bright whimsical fairies and wicked dragons. The kid-friendly Start with Art show is back for its 13th year of helping kids build art collections with works by celebrated Canadian artists.

Sarah Cavanaugh, curator at the Seymour Art Gallery believes building an art collection as a child is an enriching experience.
Sarah Cavanaugh, curator at the Seymour Art Gallery believes building an art collection as a child is an enriching experience.

Highlighting 16 artists this year, the show brings everything from traditional paintings to felt dolls and creepy mechanical brains with bat wings. Start with Art teaches kids about art and gallery culture, while pricing all the works under $150 so kids can afford it.

“It gives us a real chance to have a conversation with kids about art,” says the show’s curator, Sarah Cavanaugh, who flings a $6 fabric frisbee toy towards the reporter. “All the artists we’ve chosen we think are terrific and collectible.”

Better than a deck of hockey cards, building an art collection from a young age helps kids appreciate the works of art they pick.

“To choose something and then live with it, it’s an amazing gift,” said Cavanaugh.

With all the art at a lower height for kid-friendly viewing, boys and girls can tromp through the show and purchase art, as only those who are under 16 are allowed to buy anything. Kids also get to put the red dot signifying ‘sold’ next to their work, teaching them more about how galleries operate.

“It sort of takes out that lag,” said Cavanaugh, of the time in early adulthood when we often can’t afford to or don’t choose to purchase our own art. This way, says Cavanaugh, when a child goes off to college they can hang art by respected artists on the walls instead of simply posters.

“It’s really rewarding for me to see,” she said. “To be [the gallery] where a kid bought their first piece of art is cool.”

The show runs until May 4 and with about 3,000 people coming through, including several elementary school groups, the Seymour Art Gallery is sure to be abuzz. During the North Shore Arts Crawl, the gallery will be holding a free puppet show for kids.


Initially written for the North Shore Outlook newspaper, April 11 2013. In print and online.

PORTFOLIO: Highly Animated

Don Perro, program coordinator and an instructor of the commercial animation program believes that the strong emphasis on professionalism and training in a variety of styles helps Capilano University grads get ahead. Photo: Rob Newell
Don Perro, program coordinator and an instructor of the commercial animation program believes that the strong emphasis on professionalism and training in a variety of styles helps Capilano University grads get ahead. Photo: Rob Newell

The hum inside the Bosa Centre at Capilano University isn’t the heating system — it’s the gears of hundreds of minds turning with creativity. When you walk in the front doors, you immediately sense that you’re among artists. The state-of-the-art building, which opened about a year ago, houses film and animation students who are furiously at work bringing new characters and worlds to life.

“You’re surrounded by like-minded people,” says Simon Edwards, a second-year commercial animation student. “I’ve learned what it’s like to work cooperatively with other people in an environment like a studio.”

Capilano University offers three programs in animation — commercial animation, digital animation and visual effects. Carrying either a diploma or a certificate, these programs are all designed with the goal of employment in the industry.

“We called it commercial animation because… you’re basically a chameleon of styles and designs, and are really geared towards stepping into a studio and working without a lot of supervision,” says Don Perro, program coordinator and an instructor of the commercial program.

The three programs are all heavily vocation-based, with guest speakers and instructors from the industry and constant communication between the department and animation studios.

“I always [ask] students when they come in here ‘Are you looking for a job… or are you looking for a career?’” says Craig Simmons, program coordinator of the digital program. “When things go up and down in this industry, a career is what we want our students to get.”

The digital animation program, which began in 1999, was created as a supplementary certificate for the two-year commercial animation students to take as a third year.

“The idea of digital animation is that it becomes a third year for people who want it and we recruit from other places as well,” says Simmons. “A lot of our students come through the two years and go to the third year.”

Simmons also coordinates the summer programs, where students can get a sample of any of the three animation streams for two months. “There should be a way to starting on that path,” says Simmons.

“Some people are shocked, they come in here and suddenly they’re drawing for eight to 10 hours a day or working on a computer and they’ve never done that much before.”


Craig Simmons, the digital animation program coordinator. Photo: Rob Newell

With less than 30 students being accepted to each animation program once a year, competition for spots in the classes is fierce.

“We like to keep [the classes] small because in good years and bad, the industry is cyclical. Even in bad years our students get jobs because we’re not throwing a bunch out there,” says Perro.

Like many who apply to the animation programs at Capilano University, Edwards wasn’t accepted on his first try. “I thought I could draw,” says Edwards, who was considered one of the top art students in high school in Kelowna.

“I didn’t get in because I didn’t get what life drawing was,” says Edwards.

Perro agrees that life drawing is crucial, as well as an eye for design and technical skill. By drawing from real life, scenes or people, life drawing is just that — drawings with life in them.

Starting last year, the animation department began accepting portfolios posted online, so applicants can now post their work to a blog or website and send that, rather than hauling piles of paper to campus.

Out of the acceptable applications, ranging in number from about 40 to 80 portfolios, Perro provides a small assignment to test the applicants to further whittle down the numbers.

“I just took a picture of one of my daughter’s teddy bears… and say ‘OK start with this and create an original character design based on it.’”

With cutting edge classrooms, including tablet computers for each student to use, and instructors with experience working in the industry, Capilano University’s animation program continues to make a name for itself as more quality graduates enter the field.

“Cap grads are everywhere,” Edwards, who is currently on a summer internship at DHX Media as part of his studies, points out. “I work myself with Cap grads.”

With so much to learn in just two years, Edwards points out that the heavy workload and long hours can “get a little much.”

Often at school for 10 to 12 hours a day working on assignments or projects, drawing and refining, Edwards believes this greatly improves an artist’s technical skill.

“You’re locked in this chamber of drawing,” he jokes. “You can only get better.”

And you don’t have to look too hard to see the results.

Several Cap U graduates have won awards for their work, including Sarah Airriess and Clio Pitt, who both contributed to Paperman, which won Disney the Oscar for best animated short film earlier this year.

PORTFOLIO: Profile: Cap U basketball star stays humble

“I’m very competitive,” says Jenna Ralston. “I like being successful on the court and in life.”

This statement pretty much encapsulates the 25-year-old Capilano University basketball star, who added another notch to her belt last Thursday when she given the title of Sport BC’s College Athlete of the Year. Other winners of this prestigious title include sports stars Steve Nash and Rick Hansen.

Now in her final semester studying business administration, Ralston manages to maintain a 4.28 GPA while also helping to manage a construction service company. Her commitment and good memory help her keep on top of it all. “I remember the weirdest things,” says Ralston.

She began playing basketball around the age of 12 when a new neighbour and her sister would take Ralston to an open gym. “I’d just go fool around and shoot,” she says. A very active child, Ralston was put into many sports including softball and horseback riding.

“Growing up playing so many sports,” she says, “managing time is just something you did, you didn’t think about it.”

At her athletic peak, Ralston was putting almost five hours a day into honing her basketball skills, as well as three or four hours of class per day.

By Grade 9, Ralston had left her other sports behind and knew basketball was what she wanted to excel in. After playing for three years at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, she returned to B.C. and began playing for the Capilano Blues for her last two eligible years of play.

Last season, Ralston was decorated with more than 10 awards. The 5’10” power forward stays humble, and admits she’s “not good with recognition.”

She appreciates the hard work of her proud parents, Russ and Barb.

“I don’t think I’d be where I am today without them,” she says. “My dad [at the award dinner on Thursday] asked if he could take the giant poster of the nominees,” she laughs, admitting that there is now an oversized poster of her face in her living room. Her older brother Jason has also been a big support in her life.

Another help to her success was her coach at Capilano University, Paul Chiarenza. By giving Ralston the freedom to play without the threat of being put on the bench, she found the change like “night and day.”

“I over-analyze things already,” she says. “It takes that extra pressure off you… When you’re worried, you second-guess yourself.”

Ralston found Team Canada’s Teresa Gabriele to be an inspiration when she was a kid, although she doesn’t have any basketball idols anymore because she’s trying to grow and enjoy new things now that she’s finished with varsity athletics.

Ralston hopes to dabble in new activities and hobbies, like snowboarding and wake-boarding. “I want to go surfing in the summer,” she says.

While Ralston still shoots hoops with SFU alumni on occasion, she is more focused on finding a place for herself off the courts.

PORTFOLIO: Cutting Out the Tongue at West Van Museum

Pierre Coupey, photo by Ley Doctor
Artist Pierre Coupey, photo by Ley Doctor

Canadian abstract artist Pierre Coupey’s latest show, Cutting Out the Tongue, showcases some 40 paintings spanning more than three decades.

Now 70, Coupey has created other forms of art, like prints and poems, but in the mid-1970s decided to focus his efforts on painting. The title of the show is a reference to artist Henri Matisse’s famous quotation, “Whoever wishes to devote himself to painting should begin by cutting out his own tongue,” advice which Coupey plans to follow.

“It’s partially choice and partially recognition that I was more interested in painting than in writing poetry,” says Coupey. “I just began to feel the need to shift and accept the fact that painting was the thing that I perhaps had the chance to do best and let the other people I know that are better writers keep on writing the poetry.”

Growing up in Montreal and the youngest of three children, Coupey played hockey, some winters playing for four teams as a goaltender in equipment he fashioned himself. As a McGill student, he found solace in the galleries and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “I was never taught as a kid, never had art lessons,” he says. “I was educating myself at the age of 15.”

As Coupey explored the art scene in Montreal, he found the gallery of artist Agnes Lefort. “She would accompany me in her tiny little gallery and we’d have a dialogue about the paintings,” says Coupey. “She would ask me questions and ask me what I saw and she would gently guide me to what could be seen.”

Coupey firmly believes in enriching kids with exposure to arts and culture. “The more art you can see when you’re young, the better off you are and one of the sad things about Vancouver is that we don’t get to see it as much as I think we should.”

His art has been hung in galleries and collections from Canada to Japan, but Coupey is especially fond of how this series is being presented.  “What I like so much about this show,” says Coupey, “it’s not hung chronologically. It’s hung chromatically, and for me it’s giving me an opportunity to see how something from 1976 speaks to something from 1990.”

With a background in poetry and writing, Coupey believes that his education in philosophy and literature have heavy influences in his work.

His pieces are sometimes based on war or conflict, though he says that despite his days fighting for social justice as a founding editor of the Georgia Straight, he isn’t pushing any agendas. “I’m not trying to send any overt messages,” says Coupey. “It’s a resonant thing… It’s a recognition that the world is a world filled with violence to which one responds the best one can and in a way you hope is both witness and redemption.”

Coupey often paints in sets or “clusters,” such as his collection A Book of Days, which consists of 13 paintings. “When I get bored of them or I think I’ve figured out as much as I need to… I just stop.” Many of his paintings in Cutting Out the Tongue are companions with other works of his, often with one being shown in West Vancouver and the other in Coquitlam.

Coupey’s show runs from now until April 27 at the West Vancouver Museum and from March 17 to April 27 at the Art Gallery of Evergreen in Coquitlam.

Craft beer craze

The latest food craze to cross Vancouver isn’t about food at all – it’s about beer. Specifically, fine beer brewed in small batches with care and attention to detail. This style of brewing, called craft or microbrewing, is quickly becoming the want of many in our town and around the world.

“People are starting to take more interest in the food they consume and the alcohol they consume,” says beer lover Chuck Hallett, who writes online about his escapades with Vancouver bars and beers under the pseudonym Barley Mowat.

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