Category Archives: People

Sketchbook Issue 2

Today I mailed out the first batch of Sketchbook – Issue Two! I’ll be dropping more off at the post office over the coming days, so subscribers, watch your mailboxes!!!

Potato Gothic

This issue features a number of situations that came to mind while listening to a radio program discussing the feasibility of growing potatoes on Mars.

Coots on Canals

There are also a few images of my experiences while living on a little canal boat in London.

You can see more of the first two issues here.

If you are an art buyer or art director, you can subscribe for FREE here.




Mirvish Village Giveaway!

A nostalgic look at Mirvish Village

A nostalgic look at Mirvish Village

Here is the result of a recent commission to design and produce a three-colour silkscreen print based on two new exhibits now on display at Markham House. Tonight only, along with free hotdogs, they’re giving away 200 of these limited-editions away!

Anne Mirvish: The Artist in Her Studio
and Welcome to Yesterday:
Ephemera from Mirvish Village

Come take a look at Anne Mirvish’s art practice and her influence on the neighbourhood known as Mirvish Village. In addition check out the wonderful collection ephemera and memorabilia from the Mirvish Family archive, collected over the past 50+ years. Here you will discover the tale of the Onion Pot and the name of the first shop opened by Honest Ed Mirvish.

The shows run from May 28th to July 10th, 2016.

Markham House
610 Markham St. Toronto
Open daily from 12pm – 7pm

Freedom to Read Week

It’s Freedom to Read Week, so I thought I’d post my illustrated book cover series.

Probably one of the more famous of fictional books from the cinema

Probably one of the more famous of fictional books, appearing in Rosemary’s Baby. The central illustration is the tanis root pendant that Mia Farrow’s character dropped down a sewer

A fictional press for fictional books. I call it The Cinotext Library.

A Country Made of Ice Cream from The Way We Were

A Country Made of Ice Cream from The Way We Were

Each time I see one of these movies, I am reminded of this idea I’ve had to illustrate the covers of all the fictional books from movies that I like to watch. Here are a couple of pairings of books:

Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Night of The Iguana

Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Night of The Iguana. Of all of these books, Collected Verse Vol. 1, is the only title we don’t actually see in the film, and it’s only mentioned once.

I’ve always hesitated carrying out this project because there are a lot of artists and illustrators who paint and draw old book covers — Harland Miller and Anna Hoyle immediately come to mind. But I concluded my idea is unique enough, if I stick to the cinema. I’ve also really just wanted to do this for such a long time.

Manhattan and Deconstructing Harry

Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Deconstructing Harry

The design is based on old Pelican and Penguin classics, but I’ve changed a few things, notably the colours! These will all be available as limited edition prints, in my Esty shop, in just a few days, sans the 50-cent stickers (did that just for Instagram).

Steven Taetz Launch at the Dakota


Designed this album cover for Steven Taetz. Photography is by Matt Barnes.


This was a nice project to work on and it was a pleasure working with Steven. It’s a very exciting direction he’s taking with his work and I congratulate him!


The CD launch party is Wednesday Sept 25th, 7–9pm, at The Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington, just north of Dundas St.


You can see and hear Steven perform some of the music appearing on this album here.

More details at the Facebook event page.

Studio Visit: Jerry Torre

Jerry showing me the raw stone which he imports from Italy

Jerry showing me the raw stone which he imports from Italy

One of the highlights of my trip to New York was a visit with the Marble Faun of Grey Gardens, Jerry Torre, in his studio at The Art Students League of New York.

What a delightful and gentle man!

Jerry and Wheat

Jerry and Harvest

Jerry began pursuing his interest in stone-carving about six years ago. Now he spends nearly every day in the studio refining his craft and teaching other students what he has learned.

Dressed in an adorable sailor outfit and Albert Maysles’ eyeglasses, Jerry demonstrated his craft and spoke to me of his passion for stone.

Jerry is moving towards sculpting figures

Jerry is moving towards sculpting figures

This will become a horse’s head

Following the grain, there’s a horse’s head inside this piece of stone

Jerry at work on Tower:

Jerry working on Tower 02

Jerry working on Tower 01

Not only does Jerry find time to work on his stone carving (and teaching!), he is working on an auto-biography and is starring in the upcoming documentary film: The Marble Faun of Grey Gardens. In the film, Jerry talks about his childhood, his time at Grey Gardens, his world travels, his life as a New York City cab driver, and the adversity he has faced throughout life’s journey.

Jerry, I look forward to spending more time with you next time I am in town!

Visit Jerry’s Blog.

A clip from the upcoming film:

Collecting: Chia planters

I thought it was a mannequin head when I bought “Barnacle Bill” online

I soon realized that these were chia planters from before the days of Chia Pets

This one has penciled-in eyebrows and a mustache…  I think it makes him look like Clark Gable

Love the clown make-up applied to “Paddy O’Hair”

“Elmer the Doughboy”

A lot of army and navy dudes… these must be early 1940s?

My favorite… I found this “Paddy” at Mickey’s Monkey in San Francisco. I didn’t notice him right away as his ridges were sanded down and he has a nice thick coat of shiny black paint

These are much like the now-famous Chia Pets, which were trademarked in the 1970s by Joseph Enterprises of San Francisco. Now manufactured in China and as American as apple-pie, their true origin is the region of Mexico named after chia – Chiapas. And they have been around since the days of the Aztecs! Even Joseph Enterprises engaged craftspeople in Oaxaca in the production of their original line of Chia Pets. For more information you can read an extensive history of the origin of the chia planter here.

I found this image on the Curt Teich Postcard Archives (check out their great blog, Life in a Postcard Mirror, too):

The Robinson Ransbottom Pottery Company of Roseville, Ohio.

A dealer also sent me these photocopies along with a planter:

The Paddy Novelty Co., Goliad, Texas

Chia and Contemporary Art

More recently, the chia planter has been explored through the brilliant creations of Toronto artist Naomi Yasui. I spoke with Naomi about her chia pillar and planter and about collecting.

IPi: Naomi, how would you describe your work, what is the foundation behind your practice?

NY: I attempt to articulate ideas rooted in the discourse of archeology and anthropology.  I’m interested in the relationship between cultures and objects and what objects can communicate about both past and contemporary civilizations; our understanding of society and human experience through objects.  I try to understand and articulate these concepts through my personal experiences with the material, with objects, and the process of making.  I believe, as sentient beings, there is an impulse to create and to express and I’m on my own journey of discovery with what this means to me and what it can mean in terms of cultural identity and expression.

Naomi Yasui’s chia planter

IPi: How did you discover chia?

NY: I first saw a Chia Pet on TV, and always wanted one.  In preparation and research towards building the chia pillar, I purchased a Garfield planter from Canadian Tire.

IPi: So Chia Pets are what attracted you to utilizing chia in your work?

NY:  In a way the 2 pieces I’ve created with chia were directly influenced by the recognition of chia planters in contemporary culture. But, I think even more so, I was drawn to the relationship between the porous nature of clay and the ability to grow vegetation on it.

I’m interested in the history and culture of moving plants indoors and cultivating indoors and in small spaces, with minimal resources.  I’m also drawn to the idea of bring the outdoors indoors with our desire to arrange cut flowers in vases or keep indoor plants.  Ceramics, a material I most often work with, facilitates these endeavours/impulses to live with plants in an indoor domestic setting.

The forms and structures I create visually reference obelisks and perhaps ritualistic artifacts of unknown function or utility, and in turn greatly reference the origin and history of chia.

Naomi Yasui’s chia pillar, part of the Slap Dash Depository, a collaboration with Jennifer Sciarrino and Jacob Whibley for The Gladstone Hotel’s Come Up To My Room exhibition

IPi: Almost everyone I know has some familiarity with Chia Pets. Do you think this makes your projects more approachable to your audience? People were excited when they realized what your installation was.

NY: “Is that real?” and “Can you eat it?” were two questions I was asked a lot.  Surprisingly, I often had to explain what chia is.  I think the plant is mostly recognizable on a Chia Pet form as many thought the pillar was covered in bean sprouts.  Everyone wanted to touch it, and some felt compelled to spray it (there was a spray bottle left at it’s foot), they wanted to interact with it somehow, help take care of it.  It’s funny how people have an immediate reaction to a living thing.

Studio mate Alexx Boisjoli watches Naomi apply chia to her colossal chia pillar

IPi: I am curious to know what challenges you faced in constructing such a large planter.

NY: I wanted to further explore the concept of growing on a porous surface and was curious to see if I could succeed using different porous materials other than the traditional red earthenware.  No red clay allowed in our space!

What is the right density of seeds?

The pillar, made out of one-foot containers of plaster, was relatively successful.  I think a better stacking and watering system could be engineered and perhaps one day I will revisit this. Maybe next time I do revisit this project I’ll do it with an engineer so I can go bigger and innovate a more even watering system.

Timing is everything – the pillar must be in full bloom for the four-day event

This piece tended to leak in certain places and growth was uneven due to this.  The chia was definitely happier and more robust on the plaster compared to the ceramic piece, however, plaster breaks down over time and with its constant contact with water and is not a sustainable material choice.

The chia pillar, sadly, is degrading in a dump somewhere…..  Overall, ceramic is the most ideal material for ethical and sustainable reasons.

IPi: The blog you co-produce with Heather Goodchild, The Wardens Today, is partly about collecting, about objects. Do you think collecting is a part of what one does as an artist?

NY: I think the habit of collecting and the origin/history of objects go hand in hand.  It’s all under the umbrella of the psychology of objects and why we feel so connected to inanimate things, why we insist in surrounding ourselves with them.  As a fellow collector and maker of objects, and the older I get, the more I see objects as distractions from real truths in oneself and our relationship to the universe, though I very much understand that objects are critical tools for understanding our historical past and for psychological comfort or therapy….. As I continue my study, the complexity of my relationship to objects deepens.

IPi: Naomi, what are you doing right now?

NY: I am installing pieces from my Alchemical Vessel Series for a group exhibition, which opens tomorrow at The Latcham Gallery in Stouffville.  It runs June 14th through July 28th.

On Stage: The Haunted Hillbilly

The Haunted Hillbilly
Montréal’s Centaur Theatre
May 8 – June 3, 2012

The award-winning musical based on
the novel by Derek McCormack.
Produced by  Sidemart.

I saw it 3 times last summer in Toronto at Theatre Passe Muraille!

Featuring all-original music by Matthew Barber, this season’s production launches the soundtrack on both vinyl and CD. The album includes twelve songs from the play and has guest appearances by Doug Paisley, Justin Rutledge, Oh Susanna, Julie Fader and of course, Matthew Barber (and others!). The album will be exclusively available at the theatre during the run of the show and will have a wider release in June.

The hatch-show style poster for the original theatrical production & Derek McCormack’s book

Matthew asked me to design the cover for him — such an honour!

I wanted to keep the same character I used on the original book cover and poster – the skeleton in a cowboy hat, playing guitar. I found this old photo at a flea market and altered the person’s face to resemble a skull.

Found photo and collage

This doesn’t have the impact I was looking for. Dropping the photo and
updating the illustration I came up with something more effective:

Introducing characters from the story: the lonesome cowboy, and the vampire bat

Something closer to the original poster could work. I used a
typeface that is easier to read at smaller sizes, but the type and the
cowboy are competing for attention — more revisions!

Thinking of bats, some snapshots I took at the South
End Cemetery in East Hampton came to mind:

Nathan Baker, who died by the fall of a tree, South End Cemetery, East Hampton

I’ve always liked those little angels on tombstones. They remind me of bats.
Changing one angel wing to a bat wing and adding cowboy hats,
I came up with this new design:

One of 26 variations – my second favourite, with a leather and denim texture

I wanted to keep the new cowboy so used him elsewhere:

The lonesome cowboy appears in the liner notes

I really liked the leather and denim colours on the design, but we
decided something warmer and more colourful would
be better. It’s more musical, more sideshow, more carnival.

The final design:

Matthew Barber's new 12-inch vinyl

In Montréal? Order tickets for the play here.
Matthew Barber’s webpage.
Derek McCormack’s reading list

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