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The City as Your Studio

From inspiration to exhibition possibilities, the urban landscape has a lot to offer an artist. Strategic and creative use of city spaces can provide artists with ample opportunities to work big and showcase their talents.

An easel and watercolour set aren’t the only tools of a plein air artist. The approaching summer months offer up a chance to artists of all mediums to work outside, whatever the landscape. Inspiration can be found everywhere from the noise on the streets to the serenity of the mountains; it’s just a matter of finding what works for you.

Just as inspiration can be found anywhere, so too can your painting surface. For artists that like to work large, working outdoors can give them the freedom to create work that just isn’t possible indoors. Meet artist Dan Leo who uses his environment to facilitate his art.

Opus: What inspires your artwork?

Dan Leo: You can get inspired by anything. I like animals and nature. I do a lot of female characters and have them accompanied by animals. I try to point out that people and animals can actually coincide, but my references are subtle. I am also inspired by cartoons and the work that people are doing around me. Inspiration can come from a number of things: it’s everywhere.

O: What kind of big scale works have you done?

DL: There has been some big enough walls that I’ve done in the last couple of years. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to travel reasonably often. It’s getting better too because I’ve been able to get out and meet people that are doing the same thing from all over. You learn more from the people around you who are doing really good stuff.

O: Do you find that working outdoors does something to enhance your work?

DL: Usually if I’m outdoors I am going to be with friends and that’s nice because it’s not often that people just get together to paint small pieces. I enjoy getting out and socializing with other artists and working off one another’s energy. When I’m working outside it’s always fun and relaxed.

O: What word best describes your work?

DL: Organic. My work is always going to be about stuff that comes from the earth in some way, shape or form because it’s got more of a flow to it. I am always striving to achieve a nice flow. Anything that comes from the earth moves a certain way and can be kind of twisted.

O: Do you classify yourself as a graffiti artist?

DL: I do not consider myself to be a graffiti artist, I just like to do what I do, but on a bigger scale. I like to use spray paint outside because it’s quicker than using paints and brushes. I don’t write or tag or anything like that, and to me that’s what graffiti is. I’ve seen proper train track graffiti pieces and it never really appealed to me. It was only when I started to see proper characters put at the end of them that I thought, “Wow you actually can go big and do the stuff that I’m doing on paper but on a wall.” That’s really what sparked my interest cause I am a painter. I draw and paint: big or small.

O: What appeals to you about doing your work big?

DL: It’s like a treat to go out and do something on a wall. To me bigger pieces are easier than doing a small piece at home. I already kind of know how it’s going to go down because I am going to make it simple enough to do. It’s going to be bold, crispy, fun and colourful. I’ve done it enough times now that I can relax about it and get into it. For big walls, unless it’s a client job, it’s basically just for me and I’m just going to do something that I am going to be pleased with once it’s done.

O: Does the stigma of urban art being an act of vandalism make it hard to find places to work big?

DL: Finding a place to paint outdoors doesn’t have to be illegal by any means. There are plenty of people here in Vancouver that are open to having stuff painted; this whole kind of culture is gaining speed quite rapidly. Though the stigma is there and some people still put a negative spin on it because there are kids that are making a mess of the walls. But we all need a place to start and practice and I think if we had more spaces to paint then we could avoid having the walls wrecked. We have skate parks now, and skateboarding was seen in the same light as graffiti, and these parks are everywhere now. If we can provide more options for painting, then I think that kids at an early age will have the space to work, and the bad points associated with street art would fade.

O: What would you say to someone interested in painting big using spray paint?

DL: If you’ve got any artistic skills whatsoever you’re going to pick it up pretty quick. It’s just a bit intimidating at first, but it’s easy really. You just have to get used to how the can reacts and know about some basic caps. It’s more so about having the available space to go and do these things, because you’re obviously not going to have a wall to practice on. When I was starting out I repeatedly painted the same board over and over and over again in the kitchen of my apartment. I had to do it otherwise I was never going to be able to get better at it. At the time I was used to going really big, even if it was on a canvas. So try to scale some of your work up. It’s just as difficult as painting small. Just keep things interesting by changing it up. If you do the same kind of thing all the time, year after year, it’s going to get pretty stagnant. Just keep yourself interested.

See more of Dan’s work at danleodesign.com

Opus Video: watch Dan in action at www.opusartsupplies.com/urbanart