I took on many jobs to pay the rent and earn tuition as an art student. Not all were ‘art-related’, such as my two summers making office furniture on an assembly line. As a picture framer, I felt some contact with the broader world of art. Skills learned at school got me a job as a commercial screen printer and it was much the same that qualified me as a T-shirt designer and very occasional free-lance illustrator.
I took one short-term job with a specific goal in mind. Way back then, teaching had worked it’s way into my mind as a possible future source of income. I would have to be comfortable painting and drawing in front of people in order to teach and demonstrate. So, I responded to an ad for Zippity Zoo Daze. It’s no less embarrassing now than it was decades ago.
Zippity Zoo Daze was a joint promotion shared by Simpsons, a large Canadian department store, and the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo. I spent several Saturday afternoons painting mostly African wildlife in one of the Simpsons Toronto branches. I worked from a book of photographs. Children and adults would crowd around to watch. The job ended with a final weekend of doing the same at the zoo. Still, working from photos.
I used inexpensive pads of Strathmore watercolour paper. As a particular challenge, I did not do any preliminary drawing in pencil. I ‘drew’ with my brush and mapped in the shapes with light washes.
I hadn’t had any specific training during my art school classes for this assignment. Demonstrations of anything were rare, particularly in watercolour. I worked from light to dark, observed values and shapes carefully and used the brush to mimic textures. Basically, I rendered.
Looking back, I can see things I like in these studies such as the use of ‘lost edge’. I can also see that I was timid with the darkest values in several of them. Overall, it was an excellent experience. I wasn’t paid much and didn’t benefit a lot from all of the amazing publicity I was told I’d receive but I forced myself to work in front of an audience. Years later, it paid off when I commenced my teaching career.