The secret life of tigers and roses


One day back in May I was going through the bathroom cabinet looking at my jar of tiger balm and for some strange reason I got the urge to paint a tiger in my next project, whatever that would be. Perhaps I needed to be inspired by its strength or courage, I don't know. Funnily enough, the project that came along in my MATS class at the time was to draw roses.  What followed is a mini gouache painting of a tiger chilling in a rose garden.



Actually, he kind of reminds me of another tiger who likes to smell the roses, Hobbes :)


Then the "big assignment" came along, which was to design a journal cover with roses and any quote from the historical garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. She was also an artist and writer, and said things like "the love of gardening is a seed once sowed that never dies", or "a garden is a grand teacher... above all it teaches entire trust." Tigers were entirely optional, but I really wanted to fit one in.

When stumped I love to read about symbolism... I guess cause it gives me a different angle. So, I got out my big book of symbols and looked up tiger.



"In dream images such as great cat prowling in the house or backyard, psyche warns us that physically or affectively we are identified with big cat libido and need to get some distance. 

To respond to such urge by killing, caging, or degrading the great cat is to brutally repress one of nature's most extraordinary incarnations of creative aggressiveness and sovereign instinct. The resolution seems to be in balance and boundaries."

- Taschen, Book of Symbols




That scary tiger in the Japanese painting by Kishi Ganku kind of reminded me of Richard Parker in the life of Pi. The dangerous tiger that helped Pi fight for his life and survive his ordeal, the one he feared yet left him heartbroken when he disappeared without a goodbye.

Why would Pi feel this way? I think maybe Richard Parker was a side of him that needed to be expressed but came out in a dangerous state. And conditioning it into submission with food and seasickness only made the tiger leave once freed from the boat. So what was Pi to do? What would be the balance and boundaries that would make him a helpful friend able to sticks around?

I got no direct answer to these questions, but instead an accident pointed me toward an idea for my design... opening my book at a random page I saw this intriguing image of a garden with a rose growing inside the symbolic container of the Grail.


"In this simple, elegant form, the artist of some five centuries ago has conveyed the ideas of wholeness, center, vessel, and source."

"While the Grail has often been portrayed as a cup, it can take many forms... [it] participates in the symbolism of the night-sea journey, the treasure hard to attain and the alchemical stone that is elixir and panacea."

- Taschen, Book of Symbols





Maybe you'll think that image has nothing to do with a tiger, but... if I want to put a tiger in that garden I will find a way! And I did... in my imagination the container became the tiger itself. And that way he is wrapped around the roses by choice, not because he is forced to.



I let my color choices be inspired by the trend board given in the class (which had no yellow), and the cool thing about that is in the dark the tiger took on a blue color. Blue is the color of trust, and reason. In that way he's more reasonable than Richard Parker, able to distance himself from his wild side.

Since he's not Richard Parker, I wondered what could be a good name for him. Well if Parker is a "keeper of the park", then his last name could be Gardner, as he takes care of the roses. And one famous Gardner from history is Martin Gardner, a math and science writer who also had a lifelong interest in magic. Perfect! Cause a blue tiger is also kind of magical, isn't it?

To me planting a garden means I have to decide which plants to buy, get my hands dirty to put them in the ground, regularly water, and trim dead leaves and flowers. And it also means not watering too much, giving the plants time and space to grow, and letting the sun do its thing. That's love...

You may have noticed I dropped the Gertrude Jekyll's quote. I do agree with her that a garden teaches entire trust but, can't help it, I like to come up with my own words.

Every time I pass by my garden I'll pick a dead leave, check to see if the soil has gotten too dry, or if the leaves are yellowing. It's the garden equivalent of sending a text to a friend or sharing something cool just to say hey. Nothing big, no expectations. Just the joy of connection. In the case of the garden, that's the joy of a beautiful flower or shade of green. It feels like friendship...

In the light version I gave the tiger his regular yellow color... which I guess means he's not always so reasonable. For instance he likes to play tricks, though always in good fun. He might have a bit of Tony the tiger in him, but he's a Gardner too, so let's say that makes him Tony Gardner.

I found two Tony Gardner in real life. One is a makeup and special effects designer, and the other is an actor and doctor. Both are great, so it's hard to choose, but remember... all this started because of my tiger balm jar! 

Available for real in my shop.

The feeling of home

Since I have been living in California, I have often wondered about the meaning of home. When I visit Montreal I speak of going home, but when I return to Los Angeles I'm also going home. In French the closest equivalent of home would be a chez-soi, and in Quebec we'll often say chez nous, using the plural form whether it's one or many persons' place. That plural can sometimes also relates to us as a group, and to our culture. 

Montreal is where my family and culture is, but over the years the city has changed, and I've changed... it's still my hometown but I can't deny it feels different. Los Angeles was very foreign to me when I first arrived, but now it holds a great deal of memories and people I care about. More than that, it's a place of innovation, artistic expression, and possibilities. And I feel at home with that. As Herman Hesse says... "Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you or is nowhere at all." 


This exploration of the concept of home was my response to this month's assignment in Lilla Rogers' MATS Bootcamp. It started out with a mini about Ellis Island which then turned into designing mugs with the hairstyles of the era of Ellis Island. I was quite challenged by that. How to place the topic of immigration on coffee mugs, or even as an editorial, limit it to the era of Ellis Island though it expands way beyond that time to today? As others did, I first tried to approach it simply with the fashion angle, which is quite fascinating considering the costumes and the hairstyles of the time. I sketched some motifs, explored the connection between some historical hairstyles and those in vogue now.


But I also had the thought when seeing photos of the people of Ellis Island that they had to carry their whole home in a suitcase. Those big trunks looked so heavy to carry, why they didn't attached wheels at the time I have no idea. Although mine had wheels, actually it was a truck of belongings following me, I can relate with packing my home and moving it in a far away place. And somewhere between drawing a fancy hairstyle and being nagged by the concept of moving and home I got the idea of designing the girl's dress as a house and found the perfect quote to go with it. See my Pinterest board of inspiration.

I meant my illustration to be used as an editorial piece, to be pitched to lifestyle magazines for articles talking about home. But I also managed to turn it into a mug as suggested for the assignment. 

And I couldn't resist animating that one too ;).


The courage to be a creative entrepreneur

After the lettering and courage journaling exercise the big assignment for bootcamp came as a surprise and quite a challenge: turn our 5 acts of courage into a mind map and make it using the style of our illuminated letter. I didn't even know what a mind map was. Wikipedia says it's a "diagram used to visually organize information that is hierarchical and shows relationships among pieces of the whole." But I stuck to the word "map" and decided to make mine as an actual map with roads and building and all. 

I also thought it would be better to extract the bigger picture from each of my courageous acts and make it generally about being a creative entrepreneur so more people could relate to it and have it be more marketable as an editorial piece. I thought no one would care about my personal experiences. But I realize now that was total bulls**t. Many people in the group made their mind maps very personal and they were totally if not more relatable. 

However my map is not completely impersonal because all the little drawings represent actual experiences from my life. There's the beaten old Ford I learned to drive with at 30 in LA freeways  (terrifying). And playing my ukulele in front of an audience, which is teaching me to be less shy and more myself in front of others. There is also selling little fabric characters to a boutique in town when I was 8 years old, and then later in LA walking into two stores and selling paper cards (back when there was no internet and buyers would buy on the spot). 

I may also have opened mysterious doors and fallen down rabbit holes, to end up on shaky grounds. But for sure on one hot summer night a raccoon terrorized me as its shadow crossed my cracked open window. Then there's time's always ticking. And feeling like a fish out of water at each career change in a completely new field. 

This map has been a big learning and therapeutic activity for sure. It got me to examine my life and... finally stop talking about getting back to animation and really do it! You can see below pieces of my map come alive. Hope it's as fun to watch as it was to make.


My life is a game of chutes and ladders

When asked to draw an illuminated letter of my first initial and think of 5 courageous acts from my life for Lilla Roger's bootcamp assignment, the first thing that came to mind was my many "brave" career changes. I started over at least 4 or 5 times in my life: from engineering to hydrogeology then leaving academia to start coding for internet startups, drafting and model making in architecture, returning to the web and brand new UX field, and now illustration.

While doodling my S, it looked to me as a chute like in the game of snakes and ladders and for fun I added a ladder to it. It may be brave to start over but there can be a fine line between courage and foolishness. Had I been brave enough to follow my heart from the beginning perhaps I wouldn't have had to start over this many times!


And now that I'm "there", having art as my career, I'm finding there are still more chutes and ladders! I guess no matter what we do there will always be the need to start over in one area of life or another. And I find this realization kind of freeing. Does it matter which ladder I'm on? Not really. So why fret about it, the climb is what makes life interesting!

New work: ocean-inspired designs

Do you remember my post from last month where I shared a whole bunch of new pieces with a holiday theme? Well this is one of the same kind, except now the theme is nautical and the chapter chosen for February from Draw Every Day Draw Every Way was "a month of Sea Life".

Like holidays, nautical is another popular licensing category that I've been wanting to expand on. And I'm finding it really helpful to have these little paintings to spark ideas for new pieces. It's almost as big a game changer as when I got the iPad Pro and Pencil. Kind of big. I still go through many design iterations and often will need to paint new bits and pieces along the way, but the blank page isn't as scary as it used to be.

I hope you enjoy this collection! You'll see some changes in my portfolio very  soon, cause I've been planning a big re-org :).