My Journey to #YEGCANVAS: Part 1

The cat’s out of the Bag! OR, more appropriately, the art’s out of the gallery! AND onto the streets!

In partnership with Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the Edmonton Arts Council‘s latest project, #YEGCANVAS, sees 45 unique artworks by 32 Edmonton-based artists grace our city’s billboards and LRT stations for the next six months. One of the artists just happens to be me, KEEN Creative / KEEN Print and Sign Production Assistant, Lon Wenger. I am lucky enough to have three pieces involved in the transitory public art initiative: one LRT poster which will be up in time for this post and two billboards which will go up whilst in the midst of the project a few months from now. As an admirer and collector of street art I am beyond excited to see my work blown out of context, out of scale and dropped into the urban environment. For a dreamer and an emerging artist the opportunity seemed too good to be true and that’s where I was wrong.

The Edmonton Arts Council (EAC) makes dreams come true for Edmonton artists by offering opportunity after opportunity and actively providing the knowledge, skills and resources to help an artists dreams become a reality. I’m a huge proponent of the EAC and the more I discover about them through their vast initiatives the more enamoured with them I become. The EAC is a beast. AND, as fairy tales have taught us, beasts can be scary. Applying for grants and going after projects with large 5 to 7 figure budgets and mandates can be daunting and seem overwhelming. That’s why the EAC has entry level projects like #YEGCANVAS. It’s a simple and non scary way to get involved with the EAC and learn the ins and outs of public art. I really wish that I’d familiarized myself with the EAC and dipped my paint splattered toes in their artistic waters much sooner then I have. I encourage any artists out there that aren’t aware of the EAC to educate yourselves and get involved with their calls. The EAC is truly one of the greatest resources that artists in Edmonton have. To diversify and grow our public artscape in Edmonton it is imperative that more artists get involved. The survival of the EAC and the artistic integrity of our community rely on it. Heavily. With this project I am just in the dating phase of what is sure to be a long and wonderful love affair with the EAC. I really can’t say enough complementary things about this wonderful organization.

My journey began with a risk, as most journeys worth talking about often do. (Just saying. Take a risk friend.) As an artist who puts his work into the public space I’ve had to get used to the idea of rejection and critique when surrendering something so personal to the masses. These are all very difficult things. Rejection isn’t fun. It hurts. A lot. During the course of a relatively “normal” career as an artist you’ll experience “NO” a lot. It is important to accept this fact early on. I’ve embraced “NO” and used it to better myself. “NO” isn’t fun but it does make you better. It facilitates and initiates growth. Growth is good. Growth is the difference between a good artist and a great artist. The best thing about hearing “NO”? It makes “YES” sound so much sweeter and so much more special. It means something. It sinks in. It matters. Hearing “YES” from the EAC is one of the most important things that I’ve ever accomplished as an artist. It’s a big deal. I applied for a grant and it was approved. This is a big step for an emerging artist like myself. It signifies acceptance and entry into a world full of resources.

When I (eventually) decide to do something I go all in. Each project that I undertake gets 100% of my focus. I always strive to better myself and my art. There is always something to learn. There is always something to improve upon. Each artist was allowed to submit up to 5 proposals. I sat down with my work from the last year and really focused on finding the best pieces that were really able to satisfy every aspect of the EAC call for art. Having drawn every day for at least 30 minutes during 2014 the timing couldn’t have been better as I had a wealth of art to draw from that I was extremely passionate about. Choosing amongst your art would be like picking a favourite child I’d imagine. However, with these calls for art it’s as if the EAC is asking a very specific question and the answer is the work that you submit. It’s important to read between the lines so that you give the right answer to the question. I was able to find 5 pieces that I was extremely proud of and that I felt fully and completely answered the call. Then it comes time to get your pieces and proposal ready. The EAC pays great attention to detail when designing these forms so it is wise to pay attention and include exactly what they’ve asked for exactly how they’ve asked for it. This takes some patience and practice but usually there’s more than ample time from when a call is announced to when it closes so use that to your advantage. Once that is done and you’ve ensured that all of your i’s are dotted and all of your t’s are crossed it’s time to pack everything up and make sure that it ends up in the right hands. Usually, by this point, I’m so relieved that it’s out of my hands that the whole waiting for a response thing rarely phases me.

Magically in this case, out of the blue, I came home to a lovely phone message congratulating me on 3 of my pieces being chosen. 3! I feel very lucky and very grateful. This has definitely been one of the most rewarding stops along the way of my artistic career thus far. The three pieces chosen were Fragments (Billboard) Wolf (Billboard) and LOVE (LRT Poster). I thought I’d include my rationale behind the pieces and why I thought that they would be good fits for this project. Hopefully this is of interest to you or may even help in furthering a project of you own. I find in making and creating art, especially where grant monies are concerned,  that a rationale is very important.

Fragments (Billboard)

This piece is a collaged cross section of 10 pen and ink drawings that I then coloured digitally. I love digital colour. It’s perfect. I find I can work seamlessly digitally as I would with a airbrush or spray can except digitally I am able to control the results a little more and dictate the colour. I like that. This piece was a happy accident as each drawing was done separately and once I had the 10 drawings finished I really struggled with how to arrange them all together in a way that seemed thought out and felt meaningful. After looking at the pieces over and over and over again I realized how instantly recognizable they were and that they could be represented by just a small sum of their parts. I’d used all of these “pieces” together to tell the story together. I picked 10 elements that I felt really represent our province. I’m excited to see these pieces either exploded or imploded in scale and put in or taken out of context, whatever the case may be, when this billboard gets dropped into the wild.

Wolf (Billboard)

This is one of the most organic pieces that I’ve done to date. I’m really proud of it as it seemingly came out of nowhere and is like nothing else that I’ve done before. It is so genuine. I’ve always been enamoured with mark making and the art of our indigenous peoples. I wanted to make something simple and beautiful. It was done using pen and ink. I’ve always loosely related to the idea of the lone wolf. I think I’m most excited about seeing this piece in the wild. I hope it ends up somewhere very urban. I like the idea of this oversized wolf stalking our cities streets. Circling its prey. Waiting. I like the juxtaposition of Man VS. Nature.

Love (LRT Poster)

You might have heard me blabbing about this poster on the CBC news. Such a cool experience. What started off as a sketch and pen and ink drawing eventually became a 4′ by 6′ poster. It’s impressive to see in person and Pattison was able to preserve all of my detail… Not one smudge, pencil or eraser mark was lost. I was really excited about this piece getting selected as I believe that it’s quite “raw” and elicits emotion. I believe that it works so well in the urban environment and will serve to literally stop people in their tracks. The idea of ‘Love’ is so open ended and I believe this poster captures so many different sides to the story. Finally, it’s not lost on me that this poster just happens to be positioned right across from the LRT’s entrance to the AGA. SO. COOL.

Thus far this has indeed been one of the greatest experiences of my artistic career. I am so grateful to the EAC and Pattison for the wonderful opportunity and to their amazing staff for making this entire experience nothing but positive. It’s been an amazing ride and a truly unforgettable time in my life. ‘Love’ as well as 24 other masterpieces by other #YEG artists, whom, in my opinion, are far more talented then I, are out in the wild and ready to be viewed right now. So, use the interactive map below and go see them. Experience art and Edmonton in a new and unique way and I’ll let you know when the remaining 20 pieces have been swapped in. Expect this dynamic project to change and evolve over the next 6 months.

For more information on the EAC’s #YEGCANVAS in their own words read their post on the project HERE.

You can also use THIS interactive map to view the artworks in person.

Go HERE to watch the lovely Katherine Kerr and yours truly speak to this wonderful project. (Let this video also serve as a lesson that it can totally pay off to be in the right place at the right time. BIG TIME.)

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