Oct. 10, 2022

Meet the Artists Behind the Arch Awards Illustrations

Not all artists spent the pandemic making banana bread. Three illustrators reflect on their processes and creativity and how the last two years have impacted them and their work
Illustrations of Arch Award recipients
For the past three years the recipients of the Arch Awards have been illustrated by (L-R): Karen Klassen, Maya Gohill and Dane Thibeault

Although the Arch Awards have been running since 1985, UCalgary Alumni didn’t begin hiring artists to illustrate the annual honourees until three years ago. Boom! Ever since then we’ve been getting queries from readers about the folks responsible for capturing the googly-eyes, the rosy cheek spots, the windy hair. And, many a reader has asked, could they commission a portrait?

The answer to that last question is a resounding “Yes!” but, in discovering that, we asked these three artists about the creative travails and triumphs they experienced during a global cultural shutdown.

Artist Karen Klassen

Besides art, Karen Klassen loves the outdoors

Karen Klassen – the artist behind the 2020 Arch Awards portraits

Where she’s at: Currently working on the second season of the streaming “neo-western” TV show, Joe Pickett, as a project manager of all things art- and graphics-related. When she’s not working on TV or film, she’s busy painting portraits; Klassen recently retired from creating illustrations for marketing or advertising purposes.

Her process: “I Google the heck out of the subject and try to obtain lots of images so I can capture the spirit of that person,” says the grad of what is now Alberta University of the Arts. Using acrylics and oils, she begins by painting her subject, then scans the works and digitally assembles the piece in Photoshop. In the case of the six Arch Award portraits she created for 2020, everything but the faces was painted with acrylics, while oils were used for the actual faces.

What, besides art, does she do? “I love, love, fly-fishing; I love being outside; I love riding my motorbike; and I also love cooking and sewing.”

How has the pandemic impacted her work? “It was good and bad. Good in the sense that I learned how to finally chill out and just ‘be.’ But there was also a time when I just felt overwhelmed by it all. I couldn’t paint . . . I just doodled in my sketchbook. It seemed so dumb to be making art . . . like, who cares? Painting while people were dying just felt . . . silly. But now, like a frog in a pot of boiling water, I am used to the chaos, and so am back at it. I do think COVID has affected my work. I am now more interested in suggestion . . . leaving some things unsaid, adding more concept to my portrait work. Yes, there’s been a shift as I care about different things now.” 

For more details on Klassen and her work, visit here.


Maya Gohill in her beloved RV, dubbed Priscilla

Maya Gohill, BFA’97 — the artist behind the 2021 Arch Awards

Where she’s at: For the past six months, the artist behind the mural at downtown Calgary’s Simons store, the interiors of Calgary’s Calcutta Cricket Club Restaurant and, of course, last year’s Arch Awards, has been perfecting her parenting skills by taking a five-month course on “conscious parenting” with Dr. Shefali’s Conscious Coaching Institute. Besides obtaining her coaching licence, Gohill explains that she’s learned to “deconstruct” her patterns and now understands what triggers certain reactions when dealing with her teenage son. In the world of art, Gohill has acted as a design consultant for the Old Inns of Banff and is the artist behind the four portraits that hang in Calgary’s Fonda Fora restaurant.

Her process: Gohill began her portraits with a brown pencil, followed by flat washes of water-colour used to colourize each piece. Then, to create deeper shading, she added a transparent layer of oil paint wash which then gets erased away, revealing the light areas and highlights. Finally, the remaining details and colour nuances are aded with Prismacolor Pencil Crayons. In other words, she uses traditional media with no digital retouching. 

What, besides art, does she do? In 2018, Gohill bought a motorhome for $3,600 off Kijiji and spent three weeks renovating the interior because she “loves little spaces.” Dubbed “Priscilla,” Gohill often takes this funky beauty to Kinbasket Lake, on a reservoir between Golden and Revelstoke, B.C., where she practices yoga, reads and “spends time in nature.”

How has the pandemic impacted her work? Gohill is not so certain, but says she was never anxious or depressed. She was certainly, however, grateful for Netflix and channelled her enjoyment of cooking and eating while actively working on her spiritual life. Oh yes, and she got a dog — Bart.

For more details on Gohill’s work, visit here.

Dane Thibeault

Dane Thibeault illustrated the 2022 Arch Award recipients

Dane Thibeault, BA’16 — the artist behind the 2022 Arch Awards

Where he’s at: This full-time freelance illustrator is currently creating 40 illustrations for an Annick Press book about animals and evolution. This is the third book that he’s worked on since graduating in visual communications from the Alberta University of the Arts (AUArts) in 2020.

His process: Thibeault begins by sketching a person’s features and perfects the shape of their black-and-white silhouette on his iPad using a program called Procreate. This is the part of the painstaking process that takes the most time. After that, Thibeault begins adding colours, using a black-and-white filter to make sure the darkness and lightness of each shape is accurate. Then he adds some textures and a noise filter in Photoshop that, he says, “gives the final images more character.” Like other artists, he tries to obtain as many photos and information on his subjects as possible before he begins sketching them.

What, besides art, does he do? Thibeault collects fountain pens, runs daily, plays video games and upgrades his skills through online courses.

How has the pandemic impacted his work? Thibeault’s immediate surroundings didn’t change for he continued to study at AUArts and live at home. But his last term at AUArts was held online, which also meant his final grad show was cancelled. At first, work was slow, admits Thibeault, “but the expansion of remote opportunities allowed me to work with clients such as FriesenPress in Victoria. Plus, I also took the time to experiment with different types of drawing media, including watercolours and coloured pencils!” 

For more details on Thibeault’s work, visit here.