Urban Sketching Disappearing Landmarks in Toronto

Recording Toronto's Endangered Landmarks One Drawing at a Time
December 1, 2015 | Paperback


Crash! goes the wrecker’s ball, and another Toronto landmark disappears forever. Maybe this one was a well known and well loved building that stood out clearly on its street, or maybe an obscure Victorian that nestled in a side street, modestly hiding its part in Toronto’s history. Buildings like this are disappearing at a remarkable rate in Toronto, as the city evolves and changes with the times. Rather than try to fight the unfightable, a group of Toronto sketchers known as the Toronto Urban Sketchers decided to record these old buildings before they disappeared. They pulled together a list of buildings that were in some way historical, or just simply beautiful, but found themselves either slated for demolition or at least in jeopardy. Working both individually and as a group, they sketched these historical landmarks as they stood in place. On at least one occasion, they arrived to sketch to find the building already boarded and ready for the wrecker’s ball. In “Urban Sketching: Disappearing Landmarks in Toronto” you’ll find a variety of artistic interpretations of buildings from the old Loblaw’s warehouse to the Planetarium to Honest Ed’s, as well as many you may never have heard of. If you enjoy reading about Toronto history, and have an appreciation of the artistic value of architecture, you’ll enjoy “Urban Sketching: Disappearing Landmarks in Toronto”.


Format : Paperback 70 pages
Dimension : 8.5 x 0.2 x 11 in
Published : December 1, 2015
Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Language : English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN-10: 1519643241 
ISBN-13: 978-1519643247

Peek Inside My Sketchbook 02

I finally took some time to record another sketchbook of mine. (I'm also getting better with the video editing portion) The sketches on this one were made between October 2013 and May 2014. I was using the previous sketchbook at the same time. This one was mostly used during our urban sketching sessions, at the beginning, then I started adding life drawing sketches, watercolor practices, and sketchnotes from various meetings. At the end I did a couple realistic portraits of local celebrities. They took around 1-2 hours. I stopped after the Keanu Reeves portrait. Perhaps I was afraid the next one wouldn't be a good. There are a couple pages left, not sure if I'll add more portraits or just leave it as is, well see. 

Every Adult is an Artist, the Problem is Many Simply Forgot

Pablo Picasso is known for the quote “Every Child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” I’d like to change it to : Every adult is an artist, the problem is many simply forgot
Too many adults, as well as teenagers, often don’t give themselves permission to be the artist they truly are. They tend to disconnect from that part of themselves to the point of believing that they are not creative and that they are not artists. But they are. You are. Everyone is. Everyone is an artist, we just don’t all use paintbrushes to create art, and it doesn’t need to be on a canvas to be called art : 
  • Chefs use food to create beautiful and delicious dishes. 
  • Carpenters use wood to create beautiful furnitures and accessories. 
  • Writers use words to create all kinds of scenes in the mind of readers. 
  • Programmers use codes to create beautiful functional pieces of software. 
  • Farmers use their hands to create the most delicious organic food. 
  • Organizers use their skills to create a serene environment for their clients. 
  • Engineers use their skills to create beautiful and functional machines that others use everyday. 
  • And the list goes on... 
The types of “canvas” available for you to create your own art are endless. All  you need to do is allow yourself to play like you did as a child, be curious, explore and experiment in your fields of interest, create what comes to mind and see what happens. This is pretty much what I’ve been doing over the past couple years. After too many years ignoring the “child artist” in me, I started exploring my creative side. At first I started doodling a little more, then drawing and sketching, then the sketching gave way to painting and using softwares to create art and put books together. And not long after that I created a coloring book. And as I was completing my “first” book, I realized that it was in fact my second. As you can see in the picture above, a long time ago, I created my real first coloring book for kids over the holidays. What a weird coincidence! I had totally forgotten about it until recently, going over some old books, I found an original copy of my very first coloring book. I think this is what happens when you allow your inner child artist to come out and play. You get to reconnect with that inner creative child and are able to make the art you’re meant to create. 
Unlock the door and allow the artist in you to express himself or herself. It will not only make you happier but it will also give you the opportunity to create things in a way that no one else can. Who knows where this could lead. What’s your art? Do you remember? Are you still connected to it? What would you create if you gave yourself permission to express yourself creatively and manifest the artist hiding inside of you? 

Don’t Dig up in Doubt What You Planted in Faith

I can’t begin to count the number of times I thought of a great idea for a new product or a new way to solve a problem and then quickly shrug it off. Then, a couple years (and sometimes only a few months later) I discover that someone else who had that same idea and actually did something about it, turned it into reality. Has that ever happened to you? If so, you’re not alone. It is said that most people kill their dreams before they are even born. I’m definitely one of them. However, thanks to some inspiration from many people, I decided to pursue this idea of creating a coloring book. I had no valid excuses not to try. What’s the worst that could happen? I would be the only one who likes the book and I would gain experience from self publishing my first book. That’s not so bad. And what’s the best thing that could happen? On top of that, others would also be able to enjoy the benefits from coloring in a new book made by me. So I went on and produced it. I took a couple steps toward my goal and then, almost at the finish line, doubt started to creep in: Should I really do this? Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, calls it the Resistance. In fact, he said that it’s at the finish line that Resistance is the strongest. I can attest to that. I felt it. Fortunately I found a way to overcome it. 
Our ideas are in such a fragile state at the beginning of their implementation that it’s best not to talk about them too much until they are strong enough to withstand criticism : criticism from ourselves and from others who cannot possibly see our vision. When you do something for the first time, it’s easy to find all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t do it. Coincidentally, I came across this quote at the right time from Elisabeth Elliot which said “Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith”. It really resonated to me and reminded me that we have to give our ideas a chance to grow. 
Our ideas are like seeds. These seeds can turn into plants that represent our vision, what we imagine will come out of those ideas. Once we’ve planted a seed, all we have to do is make sure we give it the right amount of water, sunlight and time to grow into the plant we envisioned. And just like a plant, our idea takes work, care and time. When we let doubt dictate our actions, we essentially start digging the seed out of the ground before it has a chance to grow. So I kept at it, and finished the book as planned. There’s still a lot of work for me to do, but I’m happy to say that the book is not only available on Amazon, but it’s already in the hands of people in Canada, the US and the UK!

What are some of the ideas you have that keep reoccurring in your life and that you keep killing before they get a chance to take root? How would your life change if you carved out 15-30 minutes a day until the end of the year to give that idea a chance to grow? Why don’t you give it a try?

Toronto McLaughlin Planetarium Awaiting its Demolition Sentence

Nestled between the Royal Ontario Museum and Falconer Hall, the Toronto McLaughlin Planetarium is awaiting its demolition sentence. This unique building with a spherical roof opened its door to the public in 1968 with what was once state-of-the-art equipments to educate people about space. Now it serves as a temporary office space and a storage facility. It's very unfortunate that there doesn't seem to be any effort put into preserving and effectively using such a unique and important building. The McLaughlin Planetarium is apparently one of only ten planetarium in Canada. With all the available technologies and interests for arts and science in the city, it's difficult to understand why no one has found a way to put it to better use, specially considering the fact that it's in a prime location where other museums are within walking distance. 

As a way to essentially preserve part of the history of the city, I organized a sketching session with members of the Toronto Urban Sketchers group this weekend to capture the building before it is gone for good. The sketches from this building as well as other disappearing landmarks, will be part of an illustrated book we're currently working on. You can see more sketches from our session here

Everyone Has a Plan until They Get Punched in the Mouth

Mike Tyson quote portrait by MJ I learned a little while ago, especially when working as an interior designer, that no plans, as thorough and detailed as they can be, will completely prepare you for dealing with any situation. They help but you will still have to improvise. So you have to learn to roll with the punches, adapt and take action. Taking action very often is the difficult part, the part when a lot of us freeze and feel stuck. Some are fortunate enough to figure out a way around it and some give up and resign themselves to their unfortunate situation. When people endure unpleasant situations in a defeatist type of way, where they resign themselves to complain about their situation as opposed to doing something about it, it’s what many call “learned helplessness”. I had never heard of that term before this year and it fascinated me. Of course it caused me to look inward and look for situations where I might have displayed that behaviour, accepting what I don’t want and resigning myself to thinking that “it’s just the way things are”, not even trying to do something about it. And now every so often, I take the time to take a step back, look at my situation and see where I’m displaying that kind of behaviour and make adjustments. It’s a challenging task as it’s impossible to be completely objective about it but it’s doable. 

Interestingly enough, in his book What to do When it’s Your Turn (and it’s Always Your Turn), Seth Godin talks about it in a story where two executives are on their way up in an escalator, when the escalator suddenly stops moving and they get “stuck” between two floors. One of them starts yelling for help while the other, frustrated, just waits for help to come. This scene from a Becel commercial illustrates what many people do in their lives whenever they feel stuck. They don’t do anything about it and wait for someone or something to save them, when they could simply do the work themselves. This really shook me because it’s so ridiculous to think that they couldn’t think of just walking up the escalator and be on their way. But at the same time when I start looking at some of the things I might have been complaining about, I realized that in some aspects of my life, I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been waiting for something or someone instead of just doing the work myself. Figure it out, that’s the beauty of life. So let’s just say that I’ve been a little more vigilant and I keep that book close as a reminder to not just wait for something to happen. Make it happen. It might work, it might not. Doesn’t matter, at least you’re moving forward. 

With that in mind, I’m currently working with the members of the Toronto Urban Sketchers group to produce a book about the disappearing landmarks in Toronto with plans to sell the book and have them exhibit their work at a show in the fall. I’ve never done anything like this before but it’s a fun project I’ve been meaning for a while to do so we’ll see where it goes. So far so good. 

In which areas of your life are you displaying learned helplessness? What can you do to help yourself and get ahead instead of waiting?

Sketching at IKEA

A couple weeks ago I organized a sketching event at IKEA. It's an idea I got from another urban sketcher in Sweden and I thought it would be a great option for us when it's cold outside. It was my first time visiting the IKEA in Toronto, which his weird because I used to be there all the time before moving to Toronto. It was great to be back and see all the decor and items. Made me want to come back, specially considering how easy it is to get there. There's also an IKEA shuttle bus from the subway station directly to IKEA, even though you can walk from the station to the store in about 5-10 minutes. 

I sketched one of the set up they had at the entrance as well as a portion of the self-serve area on the main floor. It was interesting to hear the conversation going on while sitting at the patio display. The comments on the patio furniture were all positive.  I recorded snippets of it while sketching (shown in the photo on the right). 

My Coloring Book is Now on Amazon

I did it! I created my first coloring book and it's now available on Amazon. The process has been a very interesting experience and by going against my previous habit of planning more than accomplishing, I was able to get it done. Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principles, talks about the idea of shooting first and aiming second, as no amount of planning can ever fully prepare you for any endeavour. You have to take a leap of faith and trust that you will figure it out as you take action. This coloring book is the manifestation of me taking action. I imagine there's still a lot to learn, but it's very satisfying to be able to see an actual product made by me. I also created a little video (shown above) about it to show what it looks like inside. Again, I'm new to making videos, but I learned as I worked on it, and I'm quite happy with the results. 

The amazon version of the book was made using CreateSpace. It's a great platform that enables creators to self publish and print physical books that are printed in the US. I ordered a couple proofs, that came in no time and enabled me to check the book before making it available online. I'm quite impressed with the quality of the book. I also printed a "homemade" version of the book at a local print shop to see how it would look like using thicker paper (65-lb). It's quite nice as well and perfect for markers. It's a little more expensive but I'm thinking about selling them directly as a special edition if there's a demand for it. I also created a free sample version of the book as a trial. If you're interested, just sign up below to get the file.

You can also find out more about this project here.

Fear Is the Weak Chain Holding Back the Powerful Elephant That Is Your Life Dream

Fear quote by MJ
Ever been in a position where you have something important to do for yourself but you keep doing everything else to avoid doing it? That’s something I constantly have to fight through in order to get certain things done, like writing a blog post, organizing an event, painting an idea, starting or finishing a project, exercising regularly and even writing this. Why?

Fear : fear of the possibility of failure, fear of not reaching my goals, fear of disappointing myself or my peers, fear of the unknown, and even fear of being wildly successful. Each goal is like a powerful elephant held up by discouraging thoughts. And although these thoughts seem convincing, they are no match to our ability to overcome them. Fear will never go away, it will always be there, because it has its place in our lives. Still it shouldn’t stop you from accomplishing the things you would like to accomplish. I think the difference between those who seem to fearlessly live their dream life and those who wish they could is in the way they react to their fears. I’m not an expert, I’m learning from others who found a way to overcome their fears and accomplish great things and I would like to share what I’ve learned so far and what has been working for me (mind you I still have work to do):
  • Acknowledge your fear for what it really is 
  • Take action in spite of your fears 

1. Acknowledge your fear for what it really is 
What is fear anyway? Is it rational? Can it really hold you back or did you decide to give it the power to hold you back? 

I was listening to an interview with artist Ann Rea a little while ago and she was talking about a friend she used to work with and who was a cancer survivor. Her friend dreamed of becoming an interior decorator but was working a soul sucking office job instead. She had no debts, no kids and a supporting husband but for some reason she was more afraid of starting a new career in a field she loved than to go through chemotherapy. She died unfortunately without ever giving herself a chance to at least try. This was a wake up call for Ann Rea who decided to turn her own dream into reality. She quit her job, moved to her dream city and started earning more money doing what she loves: painting. Now she also coaches other artists on how to thrive while doing what they love. She faced her fear and came out the other side a better and stronger person. 

If you don’t take the time to really face your fears and to evaluate them, chances are you’ll perceive them as being much bigger than they need to be. Think about something you've been dreaming about but have been avoiding out of fear. Now think about one of the worst things that has happened in your life. Is your current fear of something that could happen worst than what already happened? I'll guess it's probably not. Not only did it happened, but you faced the worst and you survived. Chances are you’re probably stronger because of it. So could it be that you’ve been giving that fear a little too much power over you and that by going ahead anyway, you’ll find out that you are stronger than you think you are? No matter what the outcome is, you’ll learn something and grow. As far as I know, no one ever regrets facing their fears in the long run. 

2. Take action in spite of your fears 

Fear will never go away. It’s part of the process. However, the more you take action, the smaller your fear becomes and the more powerful you'll feel. 

I used to be scared of driving alone across the border but when an opportunity for a sketching event came up, I started to think about it a little bit more rationally because I really wanted to go. So I thought “What exactly am I afraid of? I have a cell phone if I get lost. There are road signs along the way. I can prepare and see the entire trip on Google map before going. I speak English. Many people will be going as well. It’s not like if it’s in the middle of nowhere”. I really was running out of reasons to be afraid. So I went. I drove 5 hours to Ithaca, New York by myself. My first solo drive across the border and the longest I’ve ever driven to date. And yes, I felt very empowered once I conquered my fear. Now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore because I took action. Not only that, I met a lot of great people and learned a lot of new sketching tricks. I’m even thinking about doing it again this year. 

Fear keeps you from moving forward only because you think it’s stronger than you, not because it is. What fear are you willing to face and conquer this month?

Peek inside my sketchbook

I love watching other artists' sketchbooks, online and offline. They always inspire me. I get to do this a lot during our urban sketching session in the city and it's something that I think most artists love to do. So I figured why not share them online as well. A couple days later, here's my first video showing the content of my tiniest sketchbook in a little over four minutes. 

I received this little sketchbook while attending the urban sketchers symposium in Barcelona back in 2013. I really like it because it used to fit in my pockets or purse, so I could easily sketch anywhere at any time. In this case, most of the sketches were made while riding public transport in Toronto. There are some sketches from restaurants and bars as well. I also brought it with me on my way to Montreal while riding the train. Since we were stopped for a long time, I had a chance to sketch and colour some of the scenery on the way there too. 


Color Your Stress Away : Geometrical Pattern

Coloring Book for Adults
May 7, 2015 | Paperback


Remember when you used to color as a kid? You just picked up a pencil and filled in the pages however you wanted. You didn’t worry about anything, you weren’t overwhelmed by your thoughts, you were just enjoying coloring. Turns out coloring is one of the easiest, most affordable and effective way to give your mind a break, whether you’re getting ready to go to bed, on vacation or during a lunch break. There are no rules when it comes to coloring for adults, just go with what feels good to you in the moment. Pick up a couple pencils and bring the pages to life. Don’t worry about matching colors, coloring inside the lines or even finishing the pages. Let your subconscious guide you to release your stress and replenish your energy. Includes 50 one-sided coloring pages of black-and-white prints at various levels of details.


Format : Paperback 104 pages
Dimension : 8.5 x 0.2 x 11 in
Published : May 7, 2015
Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Language : English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN-10: 1512103500 
ISBN-13: 978-1512103502

You Know It’s Art When the Check Clears

The Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair
A couple weeks ago I went to check out The Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair. It’s a great little exhibition enabling artists to connect directly with potential buyers. Part of the exhibition this year included a competition where artists were invited to create a piece of artwork involving typography. The winner for me was the one shown above by artist Jim Bourke of a portrait of Andy Warhol and one of his quote : “ You know it’s art when the check clears”, answering the question : What is art anyway ?

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s checks started to clear when he was in his early twenties. He had a dream of becoming a famous artist, and went on to make his dream come true in a relatively short period of time. The Art Gallery of Ontario is currently exhibiting some of his work (the show ends on May 10th) , so I went to see what art is from his point of view.

Viewing his art felt like seeing a portion of the North American culture through his eyes. Most of his work was not about him but about people and events around him. I think that’s a clue to what makes art valuable to others enough for them to pay for it. This reminds me of what many successful entrepreneurs promote : the importance of taking yourself out of the equation and find ways to be of service to others. In the case of Basquiat, I think it was more about his message and how his art made people feel when viewing it as opposed to how perfectly one color blended into another or how perfect the canvas was stretched over the frame. I try to keep that in mind when I find myself seemingly hypnotized by the minute unimportant details taking me out of focus from my main goal. Perhaps that was one of Basquiat’s strengths and that’s why he succeeded.

Art is an emotional trigger that changes shape from one point of view to another. Art is in the eye of the beholder. If a person sees value in the artwork, that person will gladly pay for it. So I think Andy Warhol said it best: "You know it’s art when the check clears".

Basquiat at the AGO Basquiat at the AGO

Urban Sketching at 401 Richmond

Earlier this month, I organized a sketching event at 401 Richmond for the Toronto Urban Sketchers group. It's a very interesting restored heritage building right in the middle of the city and is home to several artists, cultural producers, microentreprises, galleries, festivals and shops. It's always a bit of a challenge to find indoor spaces that will accommodate a large number of people comfortably with interesting things to sketch when it's cold outside, but this building fits the bill. It wasn't too cold in the sun so some people event ventured outside in the courtyard and created beautiful sketches. (You can see them on the Toronto Urban Sketchers blog and Facebook page

Manning the event and taking pictures of the sketchers tend to eat into my sketching time, but I managed to sketch the view from the second floor into a parking lot. There was this skinny long building right in the middle of the parking lot and a little parking shack next to it, surrounded by tons of barrels. Weird. It also looks like the top floor is someone's home. If that's the case, the surroundings are not very welcoming and the stair leading straight to the parking lot are rather steep. There's absolutely no green space around it either, kind of sad.  

I usually get to play "Where's the Urban Sketcher" during these event, capturing them in their element, totally focused on what they are sketching. I managed to capture quite a few in the zone. It's great to see how they benefit from this relaxing activity and how they interact with one another. 

The event is typically divided in two sketching sessions. For the second part, I spend most of the time exploring the building with some of the participant but still squeezed in a quick sketch of a really neat art installation made out of drinking straws, shown below.   

2015 Reading Challenge - First Quarter

What have you been reading lately?

Shown above are the books I read over the past three months. It's interesting for me to see how books just "land on my laps".  Despite having a list of books to read for my reading challenge this year, there seems to be certain books that find their way ahead of the list. Seth Godin, Zig Ziglar, James Altucher, Jason Gaignard and Robin Sharma's books were amongst those who skipped the reading list line this first quarter of the year. I'm happy to report that I'm 3 books ahead of schedule, according to Goodreads. Audiobooks are a big help in keeping up with the challenge. Perhaps I can increase the amount of books I read over the next three month. I'm curious to see what kind of books will end up on my read list in June.

Invest in yourself. Read a good book!

Start With What You Keep Avoiding

art journal april clouds
Is there something creative you'd like to do but keep rescheduling it to "Someday" every time you think about it? Is it writing a book? Scrapbooking? Making a video? Designing something? For me it's painting. For some reason, I can't stop thinking that I should paint more and more often. But as soon as that thought comes to mind, so does about a dozen thoughts about all the reasons why I should wait until someday when...  [insert excuses here]. It's a trap! "Someday" is not a day of the week. My way around that has been to do little paintings in my journal at least once a month : no pressure, no "waste" of canvas, no big time commitment. Not only is it a good way to actually do it, but it also encourages me to do it more often. This one was made with only two colours and a couple paint brushes on my desk in about 30 minutes. Take that Resistance! Now I feel like I'm starting this month on the right foot and I'm very happy with the result. 

What have you been putting off to "someday"? What small step you could take today to start chipping at it? Whatever it is, I hope you find a way to fight your way through any discouraging thoughts this month and start expressing yourself creatively. I'm sure you won't regret it. 

Ten Down Twenty to Go

The challenge continues for the Grumpy Cat colouring pages. I now have 10 done and at least 20 more to go. It's definitely a challenge to come up with some interesting backgrounds and make sure they look different. It's a great way for me to practice patterns as well. I really like the latest one with the catnip plant leaves. To purchase the print, just check out my Gumroad page :

A Couple More Printables

I've been playing around a little more with my grumpy cat sketches and came up with four more colouring pages with fun backgrounds. The goal is to digitize all of them and create a colouring book. It will be an interesting experiment to conduct and I will finally be able to get that idea out of my head. In the mean time, each page are currently available on my Gumroad page for a dollar each. 

Polka Dogs

I recently joined Spoonflower to try my hand at pattern making. They have this really neat weekly contest where they give a topic and participants get to design a pattern based on the given theme. This week's theme is Beagles in honor of Miss P, winner of the best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I wasn't sure I would participate as I couldn't think of something interesting, but today I thought of making Polka Dogs and this is the results. Their patterns are used for wall covering, fabric and gift wrapping paper. I think these would make a fun wallpaper. 

Colour Your Stress Away

Colour your stress away Grumpy Cat Printables

I know from experience that colouring is a very relaxing activity. In fact, according to an article in the Huffinton Post, Carl G. Jüng was the first psychologist to apply colouring as a relaxation technique. But for those who have not touched a colouring pencil in a while, a blank page might be a bit daunting. This inspired me to try a new project and create fun colouring printable pages as a way to help those who are looking to get rid of some stress and what better way to colour your stress away then by adding some colour to a grumpy cat. The first one, is a modified version of a drawing I did a couple months ago. I just uploaded it to my Gumroad page and you can download it for only a dollar, print it as many times as you'd like and add your spin on it. Hopefully it will help you get rid of some stress and put a smile on your face.  

Winter Subway and Streetcar Riders

A couple weeks ago I started a new sketchbook and drew a couple passengers in the subway and streetcar on my way to various events and meetings. Above was this guy I drew while he was sleeping. It is one of the easiest subjects to draw because they don't move a lot so it gives me time to get more details on paper. 

The subway was packed (top right) so I drew what stood out. I also like to take notes of what I hear every so often and also note down the colour of people's outfit so I can add it later.  This time I decided to keep most of the sketches in black and white, for now.  It's fun to see the various styles and what people chose to wear. It says a lot about their personality and mood. This little girl (probably around 7 years old) was wearing the cutest little outfit with pinkish earmuff. I had to sketch her. She looked so serious and focused. She barely moved while I sketched her. 

On my way back from the exhibition place, there were a lot of kids sitting in the back and the adults in charge didn't have much control over their volume. It made for an interesting ride. Some people were cringing, others were talking louder on their phone so the person on the other side could hear them. The sound took over the visuals so it felt more appropriate to write down what was going on instead of trying to sketch the crowd around me. After the kids left, I sketched a little more in the streetcar. By the time I got in the subway there was another loud conversation going so I added bits of it to my sketch as well.

21 Portraits in 28 days

As I'm learning more and more from successful artists, it became clear to me that one of their common traits is the ability to produce a lot. Even while reading Arnold's biography, I realized how much work he put into his craft which made me take a look at how much work I do and realize that I could do a lot more. There's also a really good audio from Tai Lopez on YouTube entitled Be Prolific - Gulp Life, where he talks about the about the importance of producing on a high volume : Gulping life instead of just sipping. He also talked about how Pablo Picasso produced over 3000 pieces of art in his life. All this information inspired me to challenge myself to produce more. So, at the beginning of last month, I came up with the idea of creating a portrait of an important figure during black history month. I ended up creating 21. They took a little longer than I expected (about 3-4 hours each), but I managed to do one almost every day of the month. It was a great way for me to learn a little bit more about this part of history that I hadn't really paid too much attention to in the past. By taking the time to do a little research, I found new inspiration from people who, no matter what their obstacles were, figured out a way to live their dream and lead the way for many after them. 

I've uploaded all the portraits on my Society6 profile (, so if you're interested in buying a print there are quite a few options available. 

First African American : Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole is considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianist of all time. He played his first performance at the age of 4 years old.  At 12 he was a church organist and he created his own band at the age of 16.  He started out as a jazz pianist, performing with two other musicians and playing for the public in various venues. He was asked one day to sign by one the patrons one night and people took notice and he got a record deal that led him to record popular classics such as "The Christmas Song" and "Unforgettable". In 1956, he became the host of the Nat King Cole Show on NBC. It was a controversial show because it was the first time an African American starred on a variety show. The show lasted a year. Cole pulled the plug because of the financial pressures of running a show without national sponsorship. He continued to create hits and selling millions of record around the world until he passed away from lung cancer, most likely caused by his heavy smoking habits, at the age of 45. Several years later, Nat King Cole was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Down Beat Jazz Hall of fame, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame and the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was also awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. 

First African American : Bessie Coleman

Born in 1892, Bessie Coleman was the 10th child of a family of 13 kids. Being of African descent in those time meant that there weren't a lot of career opportunities for a young black girl. By the time she was 23 years old, she was working as a manicurist in a barbershop. Her faith changed when she heard her brothers and other military clients talk about flying during World War 1 and how women in France could also fly planes. This inspired her to want to become a pilot. And since no aviation school would let her enroll due to her skin colour, she took it upon herself to learn French and work extra jobs to save enough money to travel to France via boat and earn her pilot licence. 

In 1921, she became the first African American female pilot and the first to have an international pilot licence. This fearless petite woman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting. This was the only way she could earn a living doing what she loved, since commercial flight had yet to be established. In order to become a stunt pilot, she had to go back to aviation school for more advanced lessons. Once again, discriminations in the United States kept her from being able to enroll in the school so she headed back to Europe to learn from teachers in France, the Netherlands and Germany. She then returned to become an acclaimed pilot nickname "Queen Bess" by her fans, both black and white. She had dreams of starting an inclusive aviation school. Unfortunately, she never got a chance to fulfill that particular dream. In 1926, her plane unexpectedly dove and spun around while she was planning a parachute jump for the next day and her mechanic was flying the plane. Both her and her mechanic die on impact.  

During her short life, Bessie Coleman inspired many African Americans to dare to dream bigger  and that no matter how big the obstacles are, if there's a will there's a way. 

First African American : Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner was the first African American painter to gain international acclaim in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was the only black student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and it was not always a pleasant position for him to be in. In his autobiography, The Story of an Artist' Life, he stated  that the racism he endured troubled him deeply while living in the United States. This pain led him take an opportunity to move to Paris where he felt more accepted amongst his peers. In his new home, he met and learned from several prominent artists. His popularity increased when he started to pain biblical scenes, and in 1986, Tanner got one of his paintings accepted at the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He maintained a successful career as an artist and was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1923, one of the highest honors in France.

Tanner is also the first African-American to have a painting, Sand Dune at Sunset, purchased for $100,000 by the White House for their permanent collection, during the Bill Clinton administration era. 

First African American : Zelda Wynn Valdes

Zelda Wynn Valdes was a very successful fashion designer and costumer with a knack  for designing outfits that masterfully highlighted women's curves. Her style caught the eye of Hugh Hefner who commissioned her to create the famous and iconic Playboy Bunny outfit. She also created outfits  for many of the celebrities of the 40s and 50s, including Joyce BryantDorothy DandridgeJosephine BakerElla Fitzgerald, and Mae West. She was the first African American to own a shop, Chez Zelda, on Broadway in New York city. Later, at the age of 65, she became the head costume designer for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and kept that role until she retired at 83. 

First African American : Arthur Mitchell

At a time, before the civil rights movement, when many believed that African Americans were not physically fit to become ballet dancers, Arthur Mitchell, an African American teen from Harlem got offered a scholarship by the co-founder of the School of American Ballet, Lincoln Kirstein. George Balanchine, a prominent choreographer originally from Russia, took Mitchell under his wings, went against the grain and not only did he teach a black man to dance ballet, he created leading roles specifically for him. When parents didn't want their child to dance with him because of his skin colour, Balanchine supported him and told these parents to take their kid out the school. He even refused to have his group perform on TV when he was asked to remove Arthur Mitchell from the group.  
A couple years later, the death of Dr. Martin Luther King triggered in Mitchell the need to create the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the first of its kind, as a way to reach out to kids who didn't get the same opportunities he did as a ballet dancer. From its humble beginning in a garage, to a full fledged school with dancers touring around the world, Arthur Mitchell, through his hard work and dedication opened (and still is opening), doors for many dancers, adding more colour to the world of ballet and giving many the permission to live their dream of bringing something of beauty to the world through dance. 

First African American : Halle Berry

Halle Berry started out as a model before venturing into acting. She participated in several pageants and won the 1985 Miss Teen All American, and the 1986 Miss Ohio USA. She later went on to pursue her dream of working in the entertainment industry by moving to New York to become an actress. After a rough start where she was homeless for a short period of time, and collapse on the TV set while shooting a television series, she managed to get a small role on Spike Lee's Jungle Fever movie but it wasn't before she landed a leading role on Boomerang that she started to get some attention. She continued to work on various type of roles to establish herself as a professional actress. She's notorious for taking on role that doesn't always rely on her beauty. It took her 10 years and 16 movies before she was finally able to win an Oscar for her roll in Monsters Ball for best actress in 2001, and thereby becoming the first African American woman to win it. 

First African American : Booker T. Washington

I had never heard of Booker T. Washington before doing a little research for this series of portrait, which is surprising considering all of the things he has accomplished during his lifetime. Washington was a dominant leader of the African American community from the late 1800 until his death in 1915.

Born from an African-American mother, who was a plantation slave, and a caucasian dad who's identity remained a mystery, he became a free citizen at the age of 9. He went on to pursue his education while working to earn money to pay for his education, and became the leading voice promoting the progress of African-Americans through education and entrepreneurship.

As an educator, author, orator and advisor to presidents of the United States, Washington was the giant who's shoulders key leaders, such as Martin Luther King and Barack Obama, have been able to stand on. His mission was to empower the African-American citizens through education and self help, thereby solving the problems of discrimination and inequality. He believed that by providing needed skills to society, Black Americans would play their part, leading to acceptance by White Americans.

Brooker Washington brought together middle-class African-Americans, church leaders, caucasian philanthropists and politicians to work together on a long-term goal of building the community through education and self help. His connections enabled the establishment of several black schools in rural areas through their donation of money, time and labor. He later founded the National Negro Business League in 1900 with the support of Andrew Carnegie in order to promote the commercial and financial development of African Americans. It was later renamed the National Business League in 1966 and still exists today. 

Washington is also the author of several books including the best selling Up from Slavery, still available today. Following the success of his book, he and his family were invited to dine with President Theodore Roosevelt at the White house. He was the first African American to be invited.  

Washington continued to work on his mission until his death at the age of 59, due to a heart failure. His legacy includes over $1.5 million to the Tuskegee Institute, the school he lead for most of his life, as well as the education and empowerment of the black population in the South. His contribution to American society granted him an honorary master's degree from Harvard University in 1896, and an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth College in 1901.

In 1940, several years after his passing, Washington became the first African American to be depicted on a United States postage stamp. He later was honoured on the first coin to feature an African American ( from 1946 to 1954).  A memorial was dedicated to him in 1984 at Hampton University near the historic Emancipation Oak, and another memorial was erected for him in 2009 at the West Virginia State University. Several schools throughout the state have also been named after him.  Brooker T Washington is a key player in Black history who had a dream of inspiring former slaves and their future generations to become more. I bet he would be proud to see how far we've come, 100 years after his death. 

First African American : Oprah Winfrey

There's no question that Oprah Winfrey is a pioneer in the entertainment industry and an important figure in Black history who keeps breaking new grounds in a very positive way. Oprah wears many hat : she's a talk show host, an author, a model, an actress, a producer, a CEO, a philanthropist and more. Despite her difficult beginning, as a child born in poverty to a single teenage mom, she defiantly found a way to pull herself out of her traumatic environment and went on to become one of the wealthiest, most loved and recognized celebrities in the world. 

Oprah is known for her very popular show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated program of its kind. She completely change the television industry and help countless people around the world deal with their own issues, traumas, prejudices, growths, pains and joys. She's written five books to date, and published O, The Oprah Magazine, which I believe to be the first of its kind as well. She also has a radio channel, Oprah Radio and a very popular website fill with a lot of valuable content for its viewers. It's no surprise that she became the first African American billionaire and is considered to be one of the most powerful and influential woman according to organizations such as CNN, TIME, Life, USA Today, Ladies Home Journal, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, etc. 

Oprah is also quite the philanthropist: As of 2012, she was reported to have given away $400 million dollars to educational causes, as well as 400 scholarships, countless prizes on her show and a vacation in Hawaii for her employees and families (1065 people). She is the first African American to join the list of top 50 most generous Americans. 

Oprah continues work on making the world a better place and raise the bar when it comes to the possible accomplishments of not only African Americans but every individual around the world, no matter what their circumstance may be. 

First African American : Louis Lomax

Louis Lomax was a scholar, graduate from Yale University, who pursued a career as a journalist and author. During his short life, he wrote for various publications, gave lectures and hosted television programs. In 1959, he became the first African-American television journalist for WNTA-TV. A notable moment of his career involves a five-part documentary series called The Hate That Hate Produced where he introduced Elijah Muhammad and Malcom X to the viewers who, for the most part, hadn't heard about them until then. He died in a fatal car accident at the age of 47 before he had a chance to finish his book about Black history. 

First African American : Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin is a very successful singer, songwriter and musician who's been in the business since 1956. To this date she has released 39 studio albums,  6 live albums, 47 compilation albums and 131 singles. She known around the world for the songs "R-E-S-P-E-C-T"  and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", which are major part of our culture and won several awards over the years. Between 1968 and 1975 she won a Grammy every year, to the point where some people were referring to it as the Aretha Award. In 1987, became the first woman to be  inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the performer category. Last October, she became the first woman to have 100 songs on the Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip Hop Song chart. Let's just say, she sings a lot a good song and definitely made her mark in history.  

Sketching in the Subway on a Cold Winter Day

Despite the extreme cold temperature warning in the city, a couple of urban sketchers left their warm cozy home to go sketch people in the subway. We had a great turnout and a lot of great sketches of people riding the subway on a frigid Sunday afternoon. Torontonians don't usually get temperatures below -20 degrees C, so it was interesting to capture the various ways they bundled up to protect themselves from the cold. Tuques, caps, hooddies, puffy jackets and lots of layers were popular today. An interesting fact that we discussed while observing passengers, is that most people wear black or grey coats. There's not a lot of bright colours for outerwears in the city other than the occasional red Canada Goose Jackets. 

Above are the sketches I did. I was able to capture some conversation going between two teens about a game. They seemed so serious about it. By the look on people's face, I would say that most have had enough of winter and are looking forward to spring weather. Hopefully soon we'll start seeing temperatures above zero. 

First African American : Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson had a rough start.  Born at the end of the civil rights movement, he lost both of his parents, and his uncle (guardian) before the age of 12. He moved on his own to Baltimore to become a cabin boy on a merchant ship, where the captain, Captain Childs, took him under his wing and taught him to read and write while traveling the world. Henson took this opportunity to learned how to navigate a ship while traveling the world under the captain's care. After his mentor passed away he went back to work on land  until he met Commander Robert E. Peary who recruited him to help with his expedition in Nicaragua. 

Henson's impressive navigation skills convinced Peary to recruit him as his "first man" for his own expeditions. Their dreams of exploring the world eventually led them to the North Pole, where Henson was instrumental in the success of expedition to the North Pole in 1909. Henson had learned the ways of the Inuits and was able to communicate with them in their own language. He said to have been instrumental in the survival of the participants. 

There are rumours that Henson reached the North Pole before Peary, if so he was technically the first man to reach that point. Still, Henson's contribution was largely ignored by the main public hen they came back, but he was celebrated right away by the Black community for his work. It took 28 years following their expeditions for Henson to be admitted to the Explorers Club. In 1944, he finally received recognition for his efforts and was awarded several medals by Congress. He became an honorary member of the Explorer Club in 1948. 

First African American : Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

Beyoncé  needs no introduction. She's a great artist with many talents : She sings, she dances, she writes, she acts,  she models, she designs, she produces, and who knows what else she'll add to her portfolio in the future!  She's been dominating the entertainment business for close to two decades, always innovating and bringing new energy to the industry. At 33 years old, so far she won 10 awards in the retail industry, 5 awards in the films/television industry, 4 awards in the business/wealth industry, 5 awards in the personality/image industry, 1 award in journalism, 1 award in philanthropy,  and a staggering 312 in the music industry including the first African American woman to win the the Songwriter of the year from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Looks like she's on her way to becoming the artist with with most awards as well. 

Beyoncé is a huge inspiration for me as an artist and as a woman. She constantly pushes herself to learn and do more, perfect her craft and see where it takes her. She's a very hardworking woman from what I can see and as a results is able to reap the benefits for such focus and dedication. She's a great example of what happens when you give your all to pursue your passion. 

First African American : Robert L. Johnson

Robert L. Johnson is the first African American billionaire who made his fortune after founding Black Entertainment Television in 1979, a cable television network catering to a prominently African American audience. Although he had the idea, he didn't have the money to start the network. Fortunately, he was able to partner up with John Malone, a billionaire business executive in the industry, who invested half a million dollars for 20% of the company. In 2001, they sold BET for 3 billion dollars.

The creation of BET is a significant part of history as it opened the door to several African Americans in the entertainment industry and enabled viewers to get a chance to see an often hidden part of society with different point of view. 

First African American : Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns is the perfect example proving that someone's situation is not necessarily their destination. You do not need to define yourself by your current environment if it doesn't match your aspirations. Despite being born in poverty and raised  in the projects by a single mom, Burns appeared several time in Forbes top 25 list of most powerful women in the world. Through hard work and dedication, she went from being a summer intern at Xerox to becoming their CEO.  

Ursula Burns is redefining what the CEO of a Fortune 500 company looks like and showing young girls that it's possible for them too to become a CEO.  As the first African-American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, she has a created great new role model for young girls of all background to aspire to. 

First African American : James Baskett

Born in 1904, James Baskett fell into acting at a time when being an actor was the type of job someone would get to pay their bills. He wanted to pursue a career in pharmacology but his lack of finance caused him to abandon school and moved to New York to become an actor. He obtained several acting roles in all-black films as segregation was still in place at the time. In 1945, he auditioned to be the voice for an animated character in Disney's featured film called Song of the South. But Walt Disney was so impressed with his skills that he hired him not only for the part he auditioned for, but also to be the part of Uncle Remus on screen. 

The movie was controversial partly due to the level of racial tension at the time and the fact that some saw Uncle Remus as a demeaning character to African American. To this day, the has yet to be an official release of a home video version of the movie in the United States.

Baskett was not allowed to attend the film's premiere in Atlanta, which was racially segregated by law at the time. Still, many were impressed with his talent and two years after the release of the movie, he received an Honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus. It is said that Walt Disney had plans to work on other projects with  him but sadly he died of a heart failure at the age of 44 a couple month after receiving his award.

Baskett was the first to sing Disney's the famous "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" song which won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1947. The song is still used in various Disney montage and theme park.