I just met with a recent graduate from that Alberta College of Art and Design (which will soon be a university), and she told me that almost her entire class was planning on moving out of Calgary and into different cities to pursue their careers.

Honestly, I can’t blame them. It’s hard to learn how to sell your work and find clients in a place like Calgary. When I got, started, I had to move to Edmonton to get a job at Bioware Corp. Nothing was happening for games in Calgary at that time.

As a place for creatives, the City of Calgary is a hard go.

Why can Calgary be so Tough?

  1. Calgary is a super conservative town. Money for art is not wholly accepted, and even some of our counsellors think it’s a waste of investment.
  2. Calgary continues to look outward for artistic talent and forgets that there is an entire community of especially skilled designers, artists, and creatives in the city.
  3. The weather. Six months of indoor activity that leads to a general disinterest in doing anything, except keeping warm. We love our summers and chinooks in Calgary.

At Union, we are always on the lookout for new projects. Whether illustration for branding, working on some public art or working with the small but burgeoning tech industry. But in the winter from about December to February, it can sometimes feel like there is no work to be had.

It’s a time for the studio to get it’s act together and get ready for the inevitable spring rush. It certainly does become a rush.

It seems that after the clouds part and everybody gets a little Vitamin D injection, they get inspired. Some folks want murals while others are looking to revamp their brands. There’s a steady stream of festivals to take part in, and then, of course, public artworks are easier to have installed in the summer.

I look forward to it every year, but it’s hard to take a summertime staycation.

The trick is to find a way to enjoy the downtime in the winter. Good thing we like to play video games.

Calgary Stampede Day Pass
There’s always art for the Calgary Stampede.

I’m a simple person, and my home is my castle. I suffer from hay fever and just mowing my lawn requires a ton of antihistamines. But I love to get out there and do it. Fix up the garden. Pull the weeds and create a little summer oasis for myself.

If we could, we at Union would shift the work schedule to a more winter one, so that we could spend more time outdoors in the summer, just hanging out in the sun.

But alas. In Calgary, when the sun comes out, it’s a time for working. When it’s hiding behind the clouds, it’s a time to rest.

So why keep the studio here?

Calgary is a beautiful city. Within 45 minutes drive in any direction you will find rolling hills, rocks and trees and a green landscape that is so gorgeous you can’t help but spark the imagination. Bike and walking paths go on for miles, and the options for adventure are exceptional. I don’t know many artists here who don’t have at least two or three outdoor hobbies.

Mine are biking, hiking, and chasing birds.

It would be easier to move the studio out east or to Vancouver. All you have to do is check out the various creative job boards to see the number of creative jobs other cities. Union Illustration Co. is proud to be able to make it here. To stand out amongst the oil, and soon tech companies and say hey, we’re here with you, just doing it our way.

So when the clouds part and you get your vitamin D injection, remember, we just got ours too. Let’s make something Hot!

Author Michael Grills

Michael Grills is an Illustrator, Artist and Designer working internationally at Union Illustration Co. from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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