Ever since I was a little kid living in Montreal, I was always attracted by art in one form or another and also facinated by mechanical components. My Christmas gift of choice was always a set of meccano of which I played extensively.
In high school, I was never the top of the class in math, physics or chemistry but when it came down to visual art class, I was always one of if not the top of the class.
Back in 1989, I majored in graphic design in college. Within that 3 year course, I made gazillion trips to the art supply store and one day in 1988, I found a book in the book section which I still have to this day. A book about airbrushing. I was already getting very good with the airbrush but the book was cheap and why not learning a few more tricks. I discovered at page 84 and 85 an illustration of which became a revelation to me: a cutaway of an engine. I was hooked !!!!!!!!! and I said to myself “this is what I want to do with my life !”. Although not very much related to what I was learning in college, the direction in my mind was clear.
The next 3 years, I worked odd jobs because of lack of finding a job in my field, or a good one that paid a decent salary for that matter, so in 1992, I decided to go back to school in technical drafting for 2 years (1800 hours) and within that course, I had some training in Autocad which is a computer-assisted drawing (CAD) software. For me, it was another revelation! During that time, I was into technical illustration more than ever but only as an observer, I would buy books of the masters from Japan and study their hand made (no computer) art.
In the school curriculum, the technical drafting course consisted of mainly a small version of an engineering course specializing in 2D drawing on the drafting board, calculations and other stuff. We had a 45 hour module on isometric views. (Kind of a boring paralell lines form of 3D view) I really excelled in that module and it was the embryo of my upcoming career. Also the school curriculum of the 4 sessions of Autocad within the 2 years, did not include 3D and even at that time Autocad 11 had a rudimentary 3D modeling system in its package. So I had to learn 3D cad on my own. In the summer break of 1993 after 2 sessions of courses, while everybody was partying and having a good time, I was going to the park, reading for hours my 3 inch thick Autocad power user book. When I was finished with my afternoon studying at the park, I would go back home and practice what I learned on my 486 33mHz, 250 megs of hard drive computer, 14 inch monitor, equipped with a pirated version of Autocad 12 on DOS. (Good times). The efforts paid off because I was slowly becoming very good in 3D modeling. So one day I felt comfortable starting a project on my own and had enough of the little examples and tutorials in the book and I started at the top like Tony Stark said in Iron Man “Jarvis, sometimes you gotta run before you can walk” .......and boy did I started high!!! I had in my closet, a none working RC truck (Tamiya Blackfoot) that I started to disassemble and cut the parts with a hacksaw. I would then reverse engineer the parts with a caliper (measuring tool). After a few hundred hours of hard work, I had the entire truck in 3D in Autocad. It was a “tour de force” at the time . Remember in those days, very few companies were using Autocad 2D let alone 3D. The majority of draftmen were still using the drafting board.
Once finished, I printed the different layers of parts using the school’s plotter (huge printer). I then traced the different prints on vellum to build a composite illustration and transfer everything to a airbrush “made for” illustration board.
I then proceeded to start the coloring of the piece using my airbrush and different brush techniques. It was a big feat too !!!! As big as the 3D modeling I should say. It took many months of spare time after school hours and week-ends, but when you’re passionate about something….who cares ! I was so eager to see the result. And then, there it was, my first complex technical illustration !!!!!!
I finished the entire piece around April 1994 and went to see a photographer specializing in artwork reproduction. I then had quality prints I could have in my portfolio along with the other hand drawn stuff I had.
The last module of the course was to find an internship in a company. Needless to say that the teachers were all in awe with my work. One of them proceeded to call a drafting room supervisor in a nearby company. Is reaction was not of the best, to say the least. “We don’t want students here, let alone someone with no engineering degree” and blah blah blah. The teacher insisted many times and reminded him that the internship was only 3 weeks and best of all, unpaid! He said, “ can my student at least show you his portfolio ?” The supervisor was sort of fed up of my teacher and accepted. When I met the supervisor and unzipped my portfolio is reaction was…HOLY FU^$&@@$@#$ !!!!!!!!!
“YOU DID ALL THIS WITH AUTOCAD??????????????. WE GOT AUTOCAD AROUND 2 YEARS AGO, JUST A FEW SEATS HERE AND THERE AND MY BEST PEOPLE ON IT ARE JUST BARELY MAKING BALLS AND CUBES IN 3D !”
After my 3 weeks of internship, the supervisor called me into his office and ask me if I wanted to sign up for a position in the company after I finish school and get my diploma. Of course, I said yes. The company was a manufacturer of heavy pulp and paper equipment and they had a small illustration/marketing department. That’s where my career as a technical illustrator started and it was July 1994. I did 3 years there doing 3D modeling, technical illustrations and 3D animations of mechanical components and left 4 months before the company closed down to get another job as a technical illustrator in an aerospace company. It was late October 1997. That’s when my career really skyrocketed. I did 8 years in that one and 9 years in another aerospace company doing mainly 3D modeling and technical illustrations involving super complex cutaways.
In 2010, I bought myself a decent size CNC machine from China because I couldn’t afford the 35,000$ + tag price on a Canadian or American equivalent machine. It took months before it arrived here because of transport, brokerage and customs paperwork and when it did, after removing the crate it was a disaster. It took me more than a month to replace the bad electronics and some other components but finally I got to make it work like a charm. It took a small crane to get the crate to fit in my garage. The reason I bought the machine was to make a little side line doing artistic signage for restaurants and pubs and a few cutting jobs for local woodworkers and also some personal projects.
A few months later, that’s when my daughter was born. July 31 2010 ! Stay tuned cause later in the text you will see the reason why this detail is so important to where I want to go in my career and life change. She’s the one who started it all !
I went into a steep learning curve about using a CNC machine making many mistakes and destroying a lot of cutters, some a bit cheap some others very expansive, ouch ! I laugh when I think of those days now but at the time, not so much. Now, all my 3D modeling and experience with 2D CAD could become such an asset when combined with this machine. I did learn a lot and became quite good at designing stuff on the computer and converting it to reality on the CNC. But unfortunately after making a small survey about sign making, I realized that there were already 3 small companies doing exactly that in my area alone. So my project of having a small sign making business was getting a bit down. But no problem, some people buy snowmobiles, motocross, boats ect ect. Having a 13000$ personal CNC machine is a hobby like any other. So I did many different things for myself, friends and family.
One day I was looking for a project to do and I was thinking of doing a small wooden clock in honour of my daughter Élizabeth to fill a big wall along the stairs going to the basement. At the time it was supposed to be something cute and very small say 20 inches wide X around 30 inches high. At the same time, I was getting interested in the Steampunk movement. As I was designing the project on Inventor (3D program) it grew and grew and grew some more to the point where it became humongous. Some parts are machined from MDF wood others from melamine and other parts are repurposed unused objects around the house like old propane fittings and a dated ceiling fan. After many months of designing, CNC machining, assembling and painting, the whole thing was ready to put on the wall. It weighs approximately 280 pounds and a bunch of 3-½ inch long lag screws holds it in place to the wall studs.
In November 2014, 3 months after I started the Élizabeth wall sculpture, I lost my job as a senior technical illustrator, in a well-known aerospace company, due to changes in the company’s direction. In the technical illustration field, it Looks like, for the past few years, big corporations go for the dollar they will save rather than high-quality output, that’s why they outsource whatever they can. But a few years prior to this event, I was thinking of doing something else. After thousands of illustrations done over a period of almost 20 years, I had that feeling of “been there, done that”. I was thinking and talking about it but never did anything since I was in that comfort zone of a steady paycheck every two weeks. Looks like life took care of my hesitation and directed me in the right path. In other words, life gave me the kick in the butt I needed.
While unemployed, I said to myself, why not put the extra free time to good use and perfect my art. The level of detail grew substantially on the piece. After completing the project, I researched the web and realized that I was the only one in the world doing wall sculptures of this magnitude except for another well-known artist called Dale Mathis. His work includes gears as well but what he does is totally different from mine. His stuff is amazing and very Salvador Dali inspired while mine is more like a piece of a train or an old factory that you would cut with an acetylene torch and bring home.
Following that project, I realized that I could use all the knowledge I acquired over the years in 2D drawing, 3D modeling, CNC machining, silicone molding, resin casting, painting and faux finish and try to make it as a full-fledged artist. So I did a number of other projects; small, medium and even bigger than this one. Check out my catalog on the gallery page. The Élizabeth wall sculpture is static, meaning the gears do not rotate but almost all of the other designs I did and will do are kinetic, meaning there is something moving.
Those pieces of art take a tremendous amount of hours to design, CNC cut, assemble, test and paint but once the prototypes are finalized, the limited edition copies are way less tedious to do, nevertheless, they are made with the same passion as the prototypes.
Hope you liked my little story and thank you for your time