For Parksville artist Chris Bullock, the vibrancy of Vancouver Island holds a wealth of inspiration.
Which is the reason he moved to the Island from the Fraser Valley approximately three years ago, in 2017.
Appearing for the first time in a gallery, his work can now be viewed and purchased from the McMillan Arts Centre (MAC) until Feb. 28. He will also be on-site every Saturday until the end of the month, from 11 a.m until 3 p.m.
In a “pre-COVID” world, Bullock could be found selling and discussing his artwork at street and farmer’s markets all over the Parksville Qualicum Beach region. With the current public health order limiting gatherings in public spaces, Bullock has sought different avenues to showcase his work.
Bullock first started his illustrations once he moved to the Island.
His inspiration naturally came from wildlife and the wilderness, but somewhere down the road he extended into the “weird and silly.”
“I’m heavily influenced by old comic book styles from the 1950s,” he said. “I got a lot of those comics as hand-me-downs in the ’70s and ’80s, so I grew up with it. And I just really love the style.”
To emphasis his point, Bullock explained that one of his pieces, Fairy Tales of Horror, was based on the 1950s comic book series Tales From The Crypt.
His method involves sketching the illustration in pencil first, refining the image, then outlining with ink and a calligraphy pen. Colourization is done with either watercolour washes or digitally on his computer.
But he said that he doesn’t like to linger on one subject for too long, something he considers both a strength and a weakness.
“A lot of artists will just be a landscape artist, for example. I’ve kind of done everything. I’m trying to focus and do specific series of things, like my Easter bunnies or Mermothers.”
Bullock’s ongoing Toad Tripper series, about a toad adventuring across Vancouver Island with his dragonfly friend, was imagined while under pandemic lockdown in early 2020, and inspired by the French Creek Marina.
Another piece, The Hermit Knight, showing a medieval knight riding a hermit crab, was influenced by Albrecht Durer, a German painter and engraver from the 15th and 16th century.
He said that many of his works are actually influenced by woodblock engravings. So much so that he would like to delve into the medium, but remains hesitant because of time constraints. Still, he considers it a personal goad and aspires to hand carve an entire piece.
“I feel like there’s a balance between constantly learning new techniques and skills, versus trying to do new characters and new scenes.”
The Mermother series, he said, was created for Mother’s Day, and depicts an underwater mermaids cradling their infant children. Bullock became a new father in November 2020, and considers being able to hold his child in front of the series as a special privilege.
“I want to leave something for her to be proud of,” he said.
Someone else who has left a lasting impression on Bullock was his “super harsh” high school art teacher, an apparent caricature of the strict authoritarian art teacher. He also admitted she was someone who was there to challenge him and introduce him to new things.
While some of Bullock’s work can be purchased online, he prefers to sell the majority in-person.
One of his first experiences selling was next to “grandmothers selling used books from her basement” and the like, while at markets and street fairs. Something he considers to be a comfortable way for an ‘anxious artist’ to start.
All of the pieces and series formally mentioned can be viewed in-person at the MAC until the end of the month.