Canadian Visual Artists: Laura Stitzel

Laura Stitzel is a layout designer for an animation studio, and an exhibiting artist specializing in pen-and-ink illustration and hand-lettered vintage-style posters. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she is now living in Toronto.

Acrobadger ink transfer on woodI chatted with Laura over a pint in a pub in the Annex – the neighbourhood which is about to host one of Toronto’s more unconventional outdoor exhibits, where she’ll be showing her new series of works on wood.

In the Annex Patio Art Show, art is displayed on the outside of storefronts and restaurant windows along Bloor St. West while artists hang out on the sidewalk. It’s an unusual setup, but Laura enjoyed the experience of exhibiting there last year:

“I really liked it. It’s strange because you can’t sell the work there, but I actually got a lot of publicity out of it, a lot of people contacting me after the show. It’s good because people are just walking around and they’re not expecting to see art, so it takes them by surprise and you get to see really honest reactions.

Mer-pig ink transfer on wood“And it’s a nice neighbourhood – the kind of people who like my art.”

Laura’s latest series of works on wood, created using an ink transfer process that gives them a weathered vintage look, was inspired by classic circus posters.

“It’s taking an existing style of poster – the circus poster – and putting a twist on in, which is that it’s animals as circus freaks, and they have personalities.

“Because I really like animals, they are in my work all the time. I’m really fascinated by how animals fit into our day-to-day life.

A Day in the Park

A Day in the Park
Illustration for this 24″ x 36″ print was drawn in ink on paper, then painted in Photoshop.

Ducks

A print from Fear the Birds series

“My Fear the Birds series was about how birds are around everywhere and they’re wild animals but they live in the city among people and it’s really interesting and it’s something that we don’t really take notice of.”

Laura’s technique is to do all the line work on paper first, using a fine tip pen or pen and ink. Only the colorful illustrations (like A Day in the Park, above) are painted digitally. The lettering on her posters is also drawn by hand, assisted by nothing more advanced than a ruler.

“I like to try to find a balance between wonky lines, things that are a little bit off and not computerized-looking, and also having it really neat.

“It’s very time-consuming. I love doing it though – it’s very meticulous and I just have the right kind of personality to not get sick of doing that.”

Hand-lettering in progress

Hand-lettering in progress

“The way I got into doing hand-lettering is I did an illustration course in New York a couple of summers ago and we were asked to bring a draft of something we were going to work on. I did just pencil and paper, and the lettering I copied by hand off the computer, fairly roughly. I brought it to class and the teacher loved it. Then I went to do the final draft, and I did the lettering on the computer, because I thought, “This is the good one now”. And when I brought in the final draft, she said, “What are you doing? Your lettering was so nice. You should just do it by hand.”

“I didn’t know that lettering was a thing – which I guess it is. And I really enjoy doing it. That summer has shaped my life quite a bit. It’s one of those little mistakes.”

Very Cheeky Monster series by Laura Stitzel

A print from the Very Cheeky Monster series

For someone with obvious drawing talent and eye for design, Laura arrived at her current profession in a curiously roundabout way:

“I used to be a dancer and a choreographer, and I started playing around with projections for dance shows. I started playing with Flash – this is when the animation stuff was pretty new – and I was using it as a tool to create almost specific lighting for dance shows. But then as I was playing with the software, I found that I really liked it, and I enjoyed drawing. So then I went to university to study animation to help with the dance side of things. But once I began to study it, I really loved it and started working in it straight away.

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Canadian Visual Artists: Heather Vollans

Heather Vollans is a mosaic artist specializing in salvaged materials and concrete sculpture. She works and teaches mosaic courses in her studio near Hamilton, Ontario.

Mosaic in red and gray

Red Power was was inspired by a photograph of Chinese labourers painting the exterior of a power plant, hanging on long ropes.
Photo © Heather Vollans.

You’re originally from Australia and you’ve traveled a lot around Europe and the Middle East. How have your experiences in different parts of the world influenced you? Did your travels play a role in you becoming a mosaic artist?

My years of travelling definitely influenced me – especially in terms of use of colour. Being Australian I was already influenced by desert colours and earth tones, but then living in the desert those colours became an even stronger influence. The textures and contours of the sand, the vegetation and shadows also had an effect. And all these years later l see some of those same textures, shadows and contours in the snow!

The textiles of Europe were another big influence. I am drawn to textures wherever I am – and it’s all around us… rusting metals, patterns of dirt and grime on a truck, plastic wrapping materials, old paint peeling, bark, ripples on water… I journeyed through many arts/crafts before finally discovering mosaic about 10 years ago, but all of those influences are part of the place I have come to.

The mosaic on this side of the wall is composed of stones, driftwood, black glass, travertine, marble, slate tile, slag, terracotta - all salvaged or taken from nature.

Mission Statement mosaic is composed of stones, driftwood, black glass, travertine, marble, slate tile, slag, and terracotta – all salvaged or taken from nature.
Photo © Heather Vollans

My favorite piece of yours is this amazing four-paneled mosaic wall you’ve built on the property beside your studio, which you describe as your mission statement. It embodies your enthusiasm for making mosaics using natural and salvaged materials, and it represents many of the themes and values central to your art including man’s journey through the ages and his relationship with nature. What was the most important you learned while making it? Does the wall provoke any reaction from passers-by who see it from the road?

The materials were important to me. They symbolised the waste in our world. I wanted to use materials which were just lying around, having been discarded, to make this statement. Much of the ‘process’ for me was the gathering of the materials, cleaning them, sorting and storing them before coming up with the design.

The other side of the Mission Statement wall - this is the side seen from the road

The other side of Mission Statement wall, facing the road

I’ve learned such a lot doing this large project: the biggest is – dream big, think about it, research it, keep the passion, work at it … you can make it happen. The thinking/dreaming/planning process for this wall took far longer than it actually took to build and mosaic! The building and mosaic work took 2 summers. Other things I learned were: you don’t have to do it alone. Surround yourself with enthusiastic supporters – get friends involved, run a class around it, throw a bar-b-que in with it and people will come to help. Another thing: research materials and construction methods well before you take on something this big – and build beyond specifications, especially in Canada where nature takes its toll on everything. Build to last.

Slate mosaic

This piece was created using slate roof tiles discarded after renovation of a victorian house.

We get a lot of reaction from people passing by on the highway – strangers come up the drive and ask to see it. Often when I meet people and tell them where I live they say “you mean the place with the big wall?” It’s gratifying that people notice and even more gratifying that people understand why I did it.

I love your philosophy of creating art from materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. You use salvaged construction materials and discarded objects in your mosaics, as well as natural stone.  Do you have any good scavenging stories?

I have salvaged stuff all my life and yes, I have many great stories. It’s the materials I find that fire my work. I always begin with materials, rather than the idea or design. My work is all about the process – the thrill of the find, the endless hours of thinking about how to combine my treasures with other materials, and the final production.  All of this process is as important as the final result.

Working in construction, I have come across some wonderful dumpster materials – aluminum, ceramics, wood, rusty nails, copper and other metals. Once you take away from your mind the expected use of these materials you can see them purely as textures to be played with.

Mosaic sculpture using salvaged construction materials

The crushed Tim’s cup in the tool belt? My favorite part of the sculpture!
Women in Skilled Trades, back and front views. Photo © by Heather Vollans.

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