By Jack Lawson –
The first time Jeff Wiebe took a commission as an artist, his buyer, a high school teacher, paid with a toonie.
“I think I just sort of stared at him in shock,” says Wiebe. “It was a bit of a locker-door slamming kind of moment – a hard lesson. It taught me to be more particular, and to be wary.”
Despite this somewhat rocky beginning, Wiebe has been drawing, sketching, and painting for thirty years.
Much of his work focuses on the natural world. After graduating from the Alberta College of Art and Design, Wiebe began working as an illustrator with the Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. Wiebe worked there for four summers, drawing park wildlife and set designs for plays put on by park staffers. It was there that he developed the pen and ink style that would define his work.
“I started, because of the national park job, working with the pens. I used architectural pens, and I ended up using them totally incorrectly,” says Wiebe. “I’d madly crosshatch, and the pens would kind of just get burnished down.”
Many of Wiebe’s pieces are cross-hatched animals that show off exaggerated features: crows with large eyes, and a lynx being slowly expelled from a chimney as a cloud of smoke.
As a boy, Wiebe was fascinated with large animals. One of his strongest memories is the systematic redrawing of bison, over, and over, and over.
“I remember being really into drawing bison when I was a kid. I drew with BIC pens in black ink. This was actually the start of my first commission,” says Wiebe, smiling wryly.
These days Wiebe works with paints and brushes as well as pen and paper. This came about after a bout of tendonitis, which made the repetitive motion of cross-hatching difficult. Despite the injury, Wiebe keeps up with his pen and ink style.
He often finds inspiration from photos taken in the field. Upon moving to Ottawa, Wiebe discovered Gatineau Park, where he sketched birds and other animals. These sketches were re-worked into finished pieces.
Inspiration, however, can strike at any time, says Weibe, not just during a trip to Ottawa’s prodigious network of parks.
“There was a period where we drove along [highway 7] quite a lot,” says Wiebe. “I drew several different pictures of the same old oak tree. We’d pull over and I’d draw it. Again and again.”
Click here to read profiles of the other artists on the West End Studio Tour.