Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Gifting art to show appreciation

Winning alumnus award recipient and Dean with the art piece commissioned by me.
Photo : Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto,
A couple days ago, I wrote a post regarding the value of art, and what art can do for people based on Alain De Botton's presentation. One use of art that was not covered is the fact that art can serve as a way to show appreciation for someone special, as was the case for a few alumni students, like the one shown in the photo with the Dean of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto.  

I was recently commissioned by the Faculty to create an art piece depicting their current and previous buildings. The idea was to give prints of the artwork as an award to Alumni winners, as a way to congratulate them and show them appreciation. What a thoughtful gesture! 

It was a great opportunity for me to create something a little different and to be part of this nice gesture that I think goes beyond simply receiving an award. It's my hope that this art piece will not only serve as a reminder of the school's appreciation for the Alumni, but also as a reminder of their time spent in school. Hopefully it will bring good memories of their time with fellow students and teachers, and it's something that they can look at and bring a smile to their face and warm their heart for years to come.   For those who received the artwork as a token of appreciation, this art is now also attached to the memory of receiving this acknowledgement from the Faculty who obviously care about and appreciate their alumni.

Art can serve as a physical manifestation of several emotions and also as a trigger to bring back those emotions. If you're looking for a way to make someone feel good for years to come even when you're not around, consider having art commission for them. It could be a student, a teacher, a retired employee or boss, a special client, a friend or a family member. Commissioned artwork can serve as a memento that will bring fond memories of good times and bring a smile to their face whenever they look at it. It's a great way to show how much you care.

What kind of art should you commissioned?  It could be a special place to evoke good memories of time spent there, or a place you've imagine in your conversations. It could be a portrait of that person depicted as a superhero that fits their personality. It could be surrealist scene depicting an inside joke. it could be an abstract filled with quotes or saying related to the person receiving the gift in his or her favourite colours. Sky is the limit when it comes to commissions.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Robarts Library : The Subtle Pyramid of Toronto in Spring

Robarts Library : The Subtle Pyramid of Toronto in Spring   
Watercolor and Acrylic on paper, 11" x 15 "  

I tend to be attracted to "mysterious" buildings and landmarks and one building that really gets my imagination going is the Robarts Library. It's been designed in a very interesting shape and contains a lot of reference to the number three, starting with the triangles that are repeated in patterns on the ceiling both inside and outside the building. It also occupies 3 acres (according to Wikipedia) and the footprint of the building is an equilateral triangle measuring 330 feet on each sides. 

Another interesting observation about this building is that it was built for Canada's Centennial in 1967. When you look at the building from the top using Google map, it looks a bit like the Centennial logo with extra bits attached to the upper points. Coincidence? Maybe. Being that the building is made out of concrete, it's not an easy design to build. So why was it important to add these two wings on ether side of the building and connect them in such a way. Also, how awesome is the design of the top of the building? There's a lot of great shapes one can discover from it. It can maybe inspire a couple design ideas for new logos. 

The painting I did is called Robarts Library : The Subtle Pyramid of Toronto in Spring is from a view you get from the ground level. It reminds me of an Egyptian pyramid and seem to have a similar effect (albeit way more subtle) of wonder when looking up at it that way. It was created for a project exploring the contrast of nature in the concrete jungle. There were 32 cherry blossoms in the area according to an article in The Varsity, the U of T Student Newspaper, as part of a gift from the Consulate-General of Japan to Canada. The trees were temporarily removed last year to make way for a renovation project and should return in 2018. 

The renovation project includes a 5-storey glass extension that seems to unfortunately break the pattern that was established by the original architects. It will feature a large glass cover on the side facing Huron St, essentially the only side that doesn't have the extra extension. If I were in their shoes, I would have proposed to repeat the pattern and add the extension the same way it was designed previously and perhaps using glass to "modernize" it. But that's just the way my brain works. It will be interesting to see the final results when the cherry blossoms are back on site in 2018. 


Art should be enjoyed by everyone! Head over to my Society6 to infuse your life with art within your budget. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mysticity : Uncovering the Mystical Aspects of Cities

A couple years ago I visited Washington DC for the first time and took it as an opportunity to create urban sketches of some of the landmarks. I spent a lot of time exploring and sketching what I was seeing, pondering on the meaning of things and coming up with various theories based on what I saw and read about the city. It was mesmerizing and inspiring to see all the care that has been put into designing this city. 

Urban Sketch of the Washington Monument and reflecting pool from Capitol Hill
There are a lot of interesting theories regarding the design of Washington DC. The one that fascinated me the most is the possibility of the city being designed according to the laws of nature and sacred geometry.

I remember seeing a map of Washington DC with a Vitruvian man drawn on top of it. Vitruvius believed that the human figure was to be the principal source of proportion among the classical orders of architecture. In fact, many churches constructed in the Renaissance era are based on the design of the perfect human figure. What if the human figure was also at the base of the design of the city of Washington DC? Interestingly, when looking at the chakra points, which are energy centres of the body, it looks like each can correspond to a landmark in the city : 

  1. Root Chakra : Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  2. Sacral Chakra : Washington Monument
  3. Naval Chakra : White House
  4. Heart Chakra : Lafayette Square
  5. Throat Chakra : Scott Circle Park
  6. Third-Eye Chakra : House of Temple
  7. Crown Chakra : Meridian Hill Park

Some landmarks are more prominent then others. Perhaps it's an indication of where there might be some areas that could use some help in order to create a more balanced and harmonious city. For example the most prominent landmarks along that axis are the Washington Monument and the White House. The Washington Monument represents the Sacral Chakra which is centred around sexuality and creation. George Washington is known as one of the the founding fathers of the United States. The White House represents the Solar Plexus which is centred around personal power and identity. On the other hand Lafayette Square representing the Heart Chakra, centred around Love, and the Scott Circle Park, representing the Throat Chakra centred around Communication and Truth,  are present but not as popular. 

What if these landmarks dictate the level of development of each aspects of a city's energy? What if just like the human body, cities can become more balanced and harmonious with a proper distribution of energy along each area? What if this applies to any city or town around the world? What if that's one of the reasons why there are so many obelisk landmarks around the world?

This is the starting point of The Mysticity : a fun explorative art project on possible links between the mysteries of urban centres through observations and random thoughts around them. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What's the value of art ?

Photo by Sean Brown
Until recently, I thought it was difficult to articulate why I think it's so important to be surrounded by art and beauty in a way that tangibly shows its value. I just knew in my core that art makes people feel good and that I wanted to be part of that process. But how do I turn this into a real business? Art seemed to be one of the most difficult field to make a good living out of for a lot of artists, but now I think it's only because the value of the artwork is often lost in translation. 

Having gone through a lot of personal development over the past couple years through numerous books, various courses, workshops and a mastermind, I'm starting to find ways to better communicate the value and importance of art in people's homes, businesses and public spaces in a more effective way. I'm also gaining a better understanding of my urge to create and share art with as many people as possible so they too can reap the benefits of art, as intended. 

Why do people buy art ?

There are many reasons why people buy art. Some buy art as an investment with the hopes that it will increase in value in a distant future. Others buy art to decorate their homes or office so they don't have to stare at a blank wall. And a number of people buy art because the artwork and/or the artist make them feel good. To me the third option is the most attractive but it's also the most intangible reason why people buy art. Still there's a way to demonstrate the value of buying art by acknowledging that when these people buy art, they are buying the experience of an emotion.  When you really think about it, we all buy things to be able to feel a certain emotion. That's why retail therapy is a real thing. The object is just a physical representation of that specific feeling we're looking for. For example if you buy a car instead of buying a bus pass, it may be because you want to feel free to move wherever and whenever you want and feel comfortable doing so. So the emotion that you're buying in this case is a feeling of freedom and comfort.

Art on the other hand can alleviate pain such as anxiety, stress, depression, boredom, and more. It all depends on the art and what you're looking for. When it comes to art, there's a really insightful video that explains 5 reasons why people buy art, entitled "What is art for ? ". Narrated by Alain De Botton, it's a great starting point on the road of better understanding what art can do for you, your employees, your clients, your peers, your family or your friends. In this video, De Bottom narrowed it down to 5 reasons :  

1. Art keep us hopeful
2. Art makes us less lonely
3. Art rebalances us
4. Art helps us appreciate stuff
5. Art is propaganda for what really matters

My series of cloud paintings in progress

Pretty art keeps us hopeful : Art can be an emblem of hope in a world that sometime seems really negative and depressing. Some people need to be reminded of the simple pretty things in life like flowers, animals or even clouds to get a break from all the negativity. Just looking at a pretty image will enable them to be transported in the world depicted in a painting. Focusing on the pretty will put their mind at ease. Imagine working in a stressful office where everything is grey. Add some bad news and your thoughts can easily descend into thinking about everything that is wrong. But if you look up and see pretty clouds like the ones above, and pretty colours, it can interrupt your negative train of thoughts by introducing a positive image with which you can start associating positive feelings and reduce the negativity in your mind. For example these clouds could bring you back to a time when you were a kid and used to spend time looking for fun cloud shapes in the sky. Or they could take you to a time when you were traveling to a fun destination aboard a plane and was mesmerized by how beautiful clouds look from above. Pretty things can alleviate despair and depression. They are an emblem of hope, ready to be used when needed. So surround yourself with things you find pretty and that bring you joy in order to keep you in a good mood. 

One of my urban sketch in the Toronto Subway

Art makes us less lonely :
Art makes us less lonely by helping us see that others do the same or feel the same way we do. Art has the ability to connect people by showing us that we are more alike then we think, and therefore that we are not alone. Sometime, something as simple as depicting people doing ordinary things, like the sketch of the girl on her cell phone depicted above, reminds us that we're normal but also worthy. When art depicts deep emotions like despair, anger, and lost, it also reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering because many feel the same way. That realization in itself can alleviate some pain. There are times when pretty things cannot alleviate certain pain because they are still being processed and need space to exist before returning to a happier state. This is when art depicting the same pain holds space and offer solace by recognizing that the pain is real and valid. It's just like when we need to hear a sad song to make us feel better in our sadness. So don't hesitate to buy art depicting pain if it can help alleviate yours. 

A arwork from my personal journal
Art rebalances us : There's a belief that we tend to be attracted to what's missing in our lives and sometimes art can be the missing piece. If we live in a dense city for example and we long for nature, we're likely to bring nature indoor through plants, photographs and paintings. If we tend to have a chaotic live, we may reach for a calming and minimalistic piece that will offer some peace amongst the chaos. If we're looking for answers on the big questions of life, we might gravitate toward mystical or surreal art like the one above. Art can essentially help you fill a void and make you more whole. If there's an excess in a particular area, art can bring back some balance. For example in an office that's very stern and serious, lighthearted artwork and rebalance the environment for the people working in it. Imagine an very austere law firm office where everything seems so serious, but when you go to the meeting room there's a picture of anthropomorphic animals in suits. The right artwork can bring some lightness through humour while adhering to the style of the office, thereby creating a balance environment. 

My sketch of the sculpture garden in Toronto
Art helps us appreciate stuff : All too often most people live in their heads, thinking about what the didn't do right in the past or what could go wrong in the future while missing everything about the time they are currently living in. Art can make you stop and appreciate what's around you by being present. Depicting ordinary objects or day to day scenes like the sculpture above essentially enables the artist to highlight some of the beauty that surrounds us but that are often missed because we are not being present. I've noticed quite a few time while sketching on location with the Toronto Urban Sketchers, passerby would stop to see what we're doing, only to look at what we're looking at an event taking pictures of what we were sketching. Being present is another great way to bring feelings of happiness and calm, and art and be a vehicle to becoming more present. 

My painting of the of the Toronto Police Memorial
Art is propaganda for what really matters : Art can be used to deliver a message or communicate beleifs. This is a great opportunity, for example, for a firm to communicate their corporate culture to their employees. Just like the art of Michaelangelo was used by the church to communicate the scriptures to devotees who could not read, art can say something without using words. An office with a custom graffiti art on the wall says something completely different then an office with generic motivational posters with words like "collaboration" "integrity" and "synergy". When using art in an office, make sure that it says the what you want to say to your employees, your clients and visitors.  

So what's the value of art? 

The value of art varies depending on the need of the benefactors and the kind of art they choose to live with. What's the value of art when its makes you feel happy and you then have more energy to do the things you really want to do? What's the value of art when it effectively communicate the corporate culture to your employees and they are more eager to collaborate on project because of that? What's the value of art when it makes you feel understood? What's the value of art when it reduces the number of day your employees take off work because the environment is no longer depressing? To really understand the value of art, I think it's important to look into what the artwork can do for you and work your way backwards. If adding the right art in your office reduces employees anxiety and depression resulting in a 10% annual decrease in paid sick days across your 100 employees who cost you $100,000 per year in sick days per year, then the value of that artwork could be  $10,000 per year. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Sketchbook Tour 04

If, like me, you're into peeking inside other people's sketchbooks, you'll probably enjoy the latest videos I recorded of some of my sketchbooks. I've been testing various ways to present them, so they vary from one sketchbook to the other for now, but eventually, I'll come up with the right formula.  I created a playlist on my YouTube channel to keep them all organized in one place as I keep adding new ones. Going thought these sketchbooks are a walk down memory lane, as a lot of them were made on site and brings me back to the time I created them. Here's the latest one : Sketchbook Tour 04 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Think Different

"Think different" - Steve Jobs

What does it mean to think different? To me, it means to think for yourself, with your own unique perspective, even though it may not follow popular beliefs. People who think different tend to be the ones who accomplish great things because they don't compete to be the fastest or cheapest at doing the same as everyone else. They don't compete, they create something new, something that has never been done before and many benefit from it. They create in a new category all to themselves, they innovate and they push boundaries.  When I think of people who think different I think of people like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Michael Jackson, Missy Elliot, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Oprah, Karim Rashid, Leonardo DaVinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Einstein, Picasso, Salvador Dali, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and many more. They don't follow the norm, they follow their own intuition and bring significant changes around them. They are the ones others try to emulate years after the originators have moved on to something else . 

It takes courage to think different because it also implies dissociating yourself from your tribe, your family, your coworkers, your community, your peers, etc. By doing so, you risk being cast aside for essentially threatening the status quo of that particular group. For example, think of the many scientists and doctors who ignore certain data because they fall outside of the established boundaries. They won't even talk about it because it would upset their peers and they could be ridiculed for thinking different. Thinking for yourself is a rebellious act that might get you expelled. Yet, it's the only way to move forward and innovate.

Where do you tend to think differently then your peers?

Cloud 02 

Cloud 02
Acrylic on panel

Cloud 02 is the second of my series of intuitive cloud painting. In this one I see a funny cartoon character with a long round nose and bushy eyebrows and prominent chin. It wasn't planned, it just appear and that's they main image I see whenever I look at this painting.

What do you see? 


If you like this design, you might like some of the following items in this collection on Society6 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

MJ Sketchbook Tour 03

I've been meaning to create another sketchbook tour video for a little while and finally took some time to create this one. I always enjoy looking through other artists' sketchbooks and I think it's only fair to let others see mine as well.

Unlike the previous two sketchbook tour videos I made in the past (1, 2) this one is longer and I added some context with a voice over done by yours truly in order to give you a bit of background regarding where the sketches were made and why.  It's an interesting way to learn more about the city of Toronto as most of the artwork are urban sketches from Toronto. That's the fascinating thing about urban sketching. I get to show Toronto through my eyes.

I'll probably do more sketchbook tour in the future, it's really a question of taking the time to do it. I have a few sketchbooks that I can share online. This process also made me realize how much time I take to complete a sketchbook and that I need to spend more time sketching.

I hope you enjoy this format. If you have any particular questions, feel free to add them in the comments below.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ideation without execution is delusion

"Ideation without execution is delusion" Robin Sharma

I believe I first heard this quote while listening to a presentation by Robin Sharma. It's something that I need to constantly remind myself because I'm really good a dreaming up ideas, get lost in the planning and visioning phases, heads in the clouds, and forget all about actually doing the work to turn these dreams into reality. It's important to dream, but it's also important to turn these dreams into reality, otherwise they don't serve their purpose. Whenever I get a piece of artwork done, good or not, I get closer to turning my dream of being a successful artist into reality. I'm also finding out that there are various layers to this reality. Creating the art is only the first step. Next is to bring the art in front of the people who are looking for it and will benefit from it. I'm also realizing that with the technology available today, art is becoming more accessible to a wide range of people with a wide range of budget. It's a great thing because it makes art more accessible as it should be. 

Clouds 01 (Original painting)

Clouds 01
Acrylic on panel

Clouds 01 is the first of a series of intuitive paintings of clouds I started in 2014. I just started to paint clouds without planing any particular shapes. Once the painting was complete, I started to look for shapes just for fun. It's become a bit of a game for me, like Where's Waldo : the cloud edition. In this one I see a flower, a donut, a contact lense case , a profile, a bowl, and blood cells. I'll probably keep finding new objects the more I look into it. 

What do you see ? 


If you like this design, you might like some of the following items in this collection. I'm quite fond of the way the clouds look on  the pillow. Should I do one without the quote? Let me know. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Capturing symbols in the sky in Washington DC (2014)
Have you ever looked up at the sky and seen a sign or shape in the clouds that felt like a personal message just for you? Moments later, it's gone. Fortunately, back in 2014, while I was visiting Washington DC, I had my iPhone in hand and captured this unusual cloud formation in the shape of a question mark. At the time I was taking pictures of everything in sight, wondering about the meaning of everything around me :  the monuments, the sculptures, the architectural details, etc. And when I looked up I saw these clouds.

Perhaps this is what started fuel my interest in painting clouds. I painted a few back in 2014 and stopped there. Recently I got back into painting more often, and the clouds are coming back. And as I was uploading the latest cloud painting on my online art store, I stumbled across the word Nephelomantia which, according to occultpedia.com, stems from the greek words nephele which means a cloud and manteia which means divination. So nephelomantia is the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means with the aid of clouds. How cool is that?  #LearnedSomethingNew

So since, I recently decided to continue my series of artwork around the topic of clouds, I thought it would be fitting to create a blog (http://nephelomantia.blogspot.ca/)  around that particular art series. The intent of this particular series of painting (I renamed it "Nephelomantia") is to capture some of these ephemeral moments intuitively. Each paintings are unique and the clouds are created without any particular shape in mind. It is only after they are completed that one can see a shape, message or meaning. And the fun part is that the viewer gives it meaning. Different people will have different interpretation and will probably see different thing.

When I looked at these clouds, I saw a question mark. What do you see? 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How a financial corporation supports local artists by connecting them to a wider audience

Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art

Do you know about the TD Gallery of Inuit Art? 

I certainly didn’t until a receptionist from the Museum of Inuit Art in the Harbourfront told me about it. Of course, I had to check it out. So I decided to organize an urban sketching session at the TD Gallery, located right in the heart of the city in the Financial District. 

Turns out this great little gallery is the result of a vision from Allen Lambert, TD's former chairman and president in the 60s, who recognized the potential for art to make a personal connection and start conversations. After working as a branch manager in Yellowknife in the late 40s, Lambert developed an interest and deep respect for natives and their artwork. He believed that displaying art in the workplace would not only enhance the corporate environment, but would also enhance the lives of the staff and customers as the art would provide a way to forge relationships. 
“I feel that the value of a Corporate Collection is not just a matter of dollars or decoration. It is the commitment by the corporation of its concern for a fuller quality to life; an extra dimension is added to the normal business day by providing a stimulating and sometimes challenging environment for our staff, customers, and visitors.”
He also hoped that this would enable Inuits to inform others about their culture and tradition. I would say that’s exactly what he did for the Toronto Urban Sketchers. By providing free public access to the gallery, the bank is helping more people better understand and connect to Inuit art. On April 9, 2016 about twenty urban sketchers made their way to the gallery to sketch some of the sculptures beautifully displayed in the mezzanine of a Mies Van Der Rohe building located at 79 Wellington St. Sketching the artwork enable them to spend some time with the artwork and develop an new appreciation and understanding if Inuit art and culture. 

It’s very encouraging and inspiring to see corporations like TD take it upon itself to purchase local artworks and to share them with the general public. Toronto is not yet at the point where museums are free like in London, UK and Washington, DC which restrict access to some members of the population. So it’s great to see some corporations taking the lead on enabling more people from the general public to connect with the artwork of local artists. In this case, they’re contributing to raising the awareness of Inuit art and its significance in the history of the country which for some reason have been lacking in the classrooms (at least at the time when I was a student).

So how does TD's project support local artists? 
1. TD Bank buys local artwork
To date, the TD Bank Canadian Art Collection, comprising Contemporary Canadian and Inuit art, includes over 5000 works. The bank originally acquired 1000 inuit artworks. While 200 of them are displayed in the gallery, the rest, including inuit prints and drawings, are located in offices throughout the bank’s global operation. Most of the larger domestic and international offices own at least one inuit sculpture.

2. TD Bank familiarizes its staff to local art
As a result of the bank's corporate art collection, many employees have been able to develop a greater appreciation of Inuit art without having to make a special trip to a museum or gallery. For some individuals, having ready access to works of art has sparked their own personal collecting activities or helped stimulate creative thinking in their day-to-day work. 

3. TD Bank showcases local artwork as part of its marketing process
Through the years, TD's marketing efforts reinforced their association with Inuit art.  An Inuit carving is often presented as a gift to important clients, visitors, retiring board members, or dignitaries. Also, for several years, an annual corporate Christmas card highlighting a sculpture from the collection was produced.

Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art
Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art
Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art

Getting acquainted with Inuit Art 
I was particularly attracted to a carving by Osuitok Ipeelee from Nunavut called Mythical Owl. The way the wings are positioned above its head and its twisted tentacle-legs were intriguing and inspired me to sketch it. I wish there was a bit more information about the actual artwork. It's great to know the name of the artist and the title of the work but I have so many questions like : Why the owl? What does it represent? Why do its legs look like tentacles? Why are the wings placed above its head? Does the position of the owl mean anything? Etc. It did however start a conversation with fellow sketchers about how the carvings are typically created and how the artists typically start by sitting with the stone to visualize what’s "hidden" in the stone before they proceed to remove the unwanted pieces of stone and reveal the hidden gem within it. What a fascinating concept! That could also explain why the figures are not an accurate replica of a particular animal or person, and can have unusual characteristics like the Mythical Owl.

Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
My rendition of the Mythical Owl by Osuitok Ipeelee at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art
You can see a quick timelapse of my sketch here

Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Some of the sketches from the Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art

The sketchers created quite a nice range of artwork including sketches of the sculpture, the space and other sketchers. Everyone looked like they had a great time interacting with Inuit Art. I highly recommend you checking out the TD Gallery of Inuit Art next time you’re in the area. It is open 7 days a week and admission is free. Since the gallery opened to the public in 1986, the bank has maintain its commitment to do the collection justice and share it with the community. I hope this inspired other corporation to do the same as it’s a great example of how large corporation an artists can work together to enhance the lives of the community as a whole. Artwork should be shared with everyone. While not everyone can afford to own an original artwork, they should be able to see and appreciate them in public spaces like this and it's great to see companies doing something about it.