The community of artists in St. Thomas is passionate about their art and diverse with their talents. Every February we celebrate our local art scene with the Railway City Arts Crawl but these local creators are dreaming up and bringing art to life all year round. We recently caught up with Grayden Laing of Laing Studios to learn a bit more about his art and where to find it!
What’s your background in art? How did you get started?
I think my fascination with art is rooted in my frustration with art and the fact that I’m too stubborn to let things that I find challenging beat me... It all started when my great grandmother began teaching me how to paint using watercolours. She started doing this while she was taking care of me after I got home from JK, because my parents we usually working until dinner time. That means I was four or five at the time. Anyway, she would set me up to paint something and I would see what I wanted to paint, but when I went to paint it I would be thwarted by either the way my brain was interpreting the images or my lack of control and understating of the medium. So, while I knew what I wanted to get… the results wouldn’t end up looking like what I was referencing.
This is all mostly because the left side of the brain tries to turn everything into symbols for ease of processing - for example, using “smily” faces to represent heads or stick people to represent bodies. We need to tap the right side of the brain to access spatial relationships before we can actually draw or paint something accurately. The battle between the left and the right brain trying to take control is what frustrated me because I kept thinking “if I can see it, and I know how I want it to look, what is preventing me from getting the result I want?!”, at that point my stubbornness would kick in and I would keep at it until I got the result I wanted. Everything clicked into place a couple years later when my mother introduced me to the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards, which explains what’s going on very clearly.
Anyway, that frustration and stubborn attitude is what started me on this career path and then what I learned about art as I continued to study it is what made me fall in love with it.
This also taught me a major life lesson, which is that the main obstacle between success and failure is dedication to learning and the stubbornness/hard work needed to follow through on projects to take them to completion.
What inspires you? Who are your biggest inspirations?
I’m inspired by creative political and societal commentary as well as by artists who carve out a niche for themselves with a unique visual style. I also think art has the power to shift societal views in an affluent society more than anything else. Because of that, I’m inspired by artists who use their craft to do that. Whether it’s a photograph, a film, or a painting – if it changes the world for the better, that’s inspirational to me.
Inspirational Artists/Animators/Cinematographers… I have so many, but here’s a short list in no particular order:
Edgar Degas, Claude Monte, Auguste Rodin, Banksy, Eva and Franco Mattes (Nike Platz), Kat Medlyn, Laura Woermke, Robin Grindley, Roger Deakins, Michel Gondry, Loren Bouchard, Patrick Boivin, Adam Reed, Jeremy Mann, Robert Valley, Casey Baugh, Sam Chou, Baran Mong, and Geordie Millar.
What is your creative process like?
I usually ruminate on a painting or video for weeks; thinking, researching and experimenting. Then I’ll go into a creative frenzy and finish off whatever it is in a couple hours or days. That sometimes leads people into thinking that I can just whip things off in no time, but I can’t have one without the other. The longer I ruminate - the faster I can create.
It should also be mentioned that during that rumination process my entire studio fills with clutter and I end up working in a creative chaos that would be an anathema to most people.
Do you ever experience creative blocks? How to you move past them?
All the time and my mantra for those times is “one foot in front of the other”. So, if it’s a painting, that means working on it for at least an hour a day and the same goes for a video project. Anytime I don’t follow that process on a video project or a painting the timeline to completion can stretch from weeks to months to years. Once I move off a creative path it sometimes takes a lot of mental energy to get back on it – so I also have to be careful to stay focused on the path I’m on until I make it to the end.
Where can people find more of your work?
A direct way to find out what I’m up to is to follow Laing Studios on Facebook and on Instagram. People can also find my work all over the internet. I create animations, paintings, photographs, and videos and one of my hobbies is SEO so if you search my name you’ll come up with thousands of posts that contain my artwork. I also founded the Canadian Animation Blog, which I run to help promote animation artists – so when you search for me a lot of those posts will pop up.
Here’s an abridged list of places to find my work:
Websites: laingstudios.com, graydenlaing.com, canadiananimationblog.com
Facebook: Laing Studios, Firebox Sessions, Art of Grayden Alexander Laing, Yoga Face Selfie, Canadian Animation Blog, Farm Fit, Eggs Gone Wild
Instagram: Laing Studios (Business Profile), Intrepid_Illustrations (Artwork Profile), Yoga Face Seflie (Satirical Profile)
How would you describe your art?
That’s a hard thing to do. I’ve always refused to choose a single niche and stick to it. I know, intellectually, that that’s the way to have your style reach the most people and have them flock to you and buy the most work. However, every time I consider doing that, I think about how much I would miss the breadth of the mediums and styles I work in now.
I enjoy creating work that sparks a dialogue, but what I’ve found over the years is that my more commercially successful works are ones that use my painting or filming techniques to showcase the beauty of my subjects. That means I have learned to have a foot in both art worlds; the commercial art world and the fine art world. Choosing to do that has given me and the artwork I produce more perspective than I would have if I just stuck to one type of art.
Producing artwork commercially, in the realm of film and television has meant people have paid me to fly around the world to film for television series and commercials as a director of photography. I’ve also sold and been paid by DHX Media to develop an animation series, Beer Goggles, that I created with a friend of mine from Lynhurst, Shawn McKay (who has since moved to B.C.). The pilot episode was created and filmed in Shawn’s mothers basement in Lynhurst - at the time it was the only place we had enough space to create the characters and sets. I’m just waiting for the show to take off and for an extra sign to be added at the entrance to Lynhurst that says “Home of Joe Thornton and The Birth Place of Beer Goggles.”
What I learned during all of that was how to efficiently produce video content, which allowed me to move back home (Elgin County/St. Thomas) to continue to produce artwork and videos in the community that I love. A video series I’m working on right now with Railway City Tourism is #TASTEOFSTTHOMAS, which is all about beautifully showcasing the unique people creating great food right here in St. Thomas.
Taking on the commercial gigs means I haven’t become bitter about the fact that my more political pieces haven’t sold as well as I expect they will when they hit the critical mass awareness point and people realize what I’ve been doing all these years. I’d explain exactly what I’m doing, but then I’d ruin that gratifying ‘Aha’ moment when you figure it out for yourself.
So how would I describe my artwork? All encompassing and all consuming - and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you could grab a drink with any artist in any medium living or dead, who would it be and why?
Edgar Degas, hands down, the guy was always experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in society and art. You can see the struggle and thought behind every stroke in his pastels and paintings. He was constantly thinking and evolving and doing what inspired him as opposed to what was considered beautiful or appropriate for the time. For me, that passion and drive is inspirational.
As an artist that isn’t independently wealthy, I have to balance the commercial side of what I do with the artistic passion for what I love and sometimes that means compromise by putting the passion projects on hold so I can complete a project to get a pay cheque and pay my bills. As a result, I admire the other artists who have done the same or are doing the same – and I’d honestly be happy to grab a drink with any artist that is doing that.
What do you want people to experience through your work?
There are two things. On one hand I want them to spend enough time with my body of work to notice the subtle messages I’ve hidden in my paintings and on the other I want people to appreciate the craft and care I put into my artwork - which is represented by the thousands of hours I have dedicated to developing both my oil painting technique and my pen and ink technique.
I suppose that means what I really want people to experience through my artwork is a dialogue about the subject matter of the work and an appreciation of the craft required to execute it.
I think that also speaks to the ego of myself as an artist because even though I know the amount of time people have to spend on dialogue and artwork is finite – I believe that what I’m talking about and doing is worth their time.
Do you take artwork commissions? Teach classes?
I pretty much do it all! I love working on commissions for people and I love sharing what I know through classes.
I teach one-on-one classes in animation, film, photography, painting, and sculpture. I also teach group classes and have open classes that people can drop-in on like the drop-in photography classes I’m teaching at my studio (456 Talbot St. – Back Entrance) on Thursdays from 6:30-8:00pm.
I’ve also just set myself up to teach paint nights with large groups. So that’s kind of exciting! If you want to schedule a paint night where you learn some fundamental art techniques - let me know!
The best way to find out about what I’m offering is to give me a call (647.269.4415) or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.