The Night Stippler

Night Moves: artist finds his muse when everyone else has gone home

Cover 3912 - For 21 years, Ian Cooper and his detailed, cosmic renderings have occupied 30 square feet on the lower causeway. For the past four years, he’s worked at night.

Cover 3912 - For 21 years, Ian Cooper and his detailed, cosmic renderings have occupied 30 square feet on the lower causeway. For the past four years, he’s worked at night.

Night Moves: artist finds his muse when everyone else has gone home

It’s a great backdrop: the Empress Hotel, the provincial legislature, and bright flowers spelling “Welcome to Victoria” against a green grass slope. Spring, summer and fall, Victoria’s Inner Harbour causeway is a bustling home to visual and performing artists who cater to tourists from around the world.

But wintertime is different. As temperatures drop and the rain begins, the cold, wet causeway empties. The artists, buskers and jugglers stop coming until only a couple diehards remain: a wood carver with a heavy blanket on his lap, an occasional lone guitarist with his case open. But every late afternoon, as dusk descends and the temperature drops, they pack up and retreat home.

And that’s when Ian Cooper is just getting started.

For 21 years, Cooper and his exquisitely detailed, cosmic and metaphysical renderings have occupied 30 square feet on the lower causeway. For the past four years, he’s worked at night.

“I get here after dinner time, usually stay until midnight, but sometimes later, sometimes much later. My art resonates with people at night.”

Cooper’s commute is a 15-minute push of his cart from his James Bay apartment. His cart is a mechanical marvel that he built himself to display all his prints for sale. It’s self-contained with umbrellas that make sure the rain doesn’t stop him, and a pair of car batteries that power lights: bright ones that illuminate his art, and a tower of red ones that flash to attract attention from the street above. He burns incense, too.

“Well, it sets the mood, helps create my space here — and I’ve had people track me down from half a block away because they were drawn to the incense.”

Creating his space is important because Cooper isn’t here just to sell his art, but to make it; the nighttime causeway is his studio, perched on a chair at the light table he designed and built. He gets more work done when few people stroll by, but welcomes interruptions, and not just for the sales.

“I think it’s interesting, what people see in my art, the things they tell me — and especially for the piece I’m currently working on at the time.”

He shows me where comments and observations by passersby found their way into several of his drawings. There are only 19 prints for sale, representing Cooper’s body of work dating back to 1981. He explains that each piece can take more than half a year. Walking by his stand since late September, I’ve watched him make progress on the same drawing in that time and have come to appreciate the glacial pace of his work.

Cooper creates most of each original drawing by applying thousands and thousands of black ink dots on the white page. By varying the density of the dots, he varies the apparent degree of solidity of the thing he’s drawing or the density of a shadow it casts. As a budding young artist, Cooper met a scientist who showed him stippling, the technique botanists, entomologists and others use to create extremely detailed, accurate depictions of plants and animals. It was a perfect medium for expressing his creative visions with a delicate precision that he’d been unable to achieve with just pencil and paper.

Ian works through a magnifying glass attached to an arm on his light table. The technical pens he uses are expensive, delicate and feature the finest points in the world: thirteen-hundredths of a millimeter. This is half the thickness of the thinnest insulin needle used by diabetics. He must keep their stainless steel tips moist to prevent any ink from drying and clogging. The detail they allow Cooper to achieve is mind blowing. At 18×24 inches, his prints are 75 per cent larger than his originals and highlight the high-resolution in which he works.

After months and months of focused effort, what emerges are fantasticly surreal drawings, most with a cosmic theme woven in, but juxtaposed with the here-and-now, be it the inside of an old cabin, a gum ball machine, people, or a truck barreling down a highway. Cooper is inspired by the environment, relationships, space, and wildlife.

“Wait, there she is.” Cooper points down to the dark water at a gleaming white swan that appears to be looking for him. “I’m going to include her in my current piece.”

He is never alone on the causeway.

Cooper’s art can be found on his website: transientvisions.com. But better yet, take a late-night stroll along the lower causeway to see it in person, and say hello. M

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Orca 1
Orcas: Our Shared Future

Royal BC Museum dives into the world of orcas with upcoming feature exhibition

Frank Ludwig in a forklift with his long hair during Trooper’s heyday. (Photo submitted)
Humble Island beginnings blossomed into storied career for Trooper keyboardist

Frank Ludwig got his start as a boy pumping the organ in a tiny downtown Chemainus church

Joan Miller with the Vancouver Island North Regional Film Commission says there’s much room for optimism in the region rebounding from COVID-19 and is excited about what the future holds for the region. Black Press File Photo
North Island film industry optimistic about post-COVID rebound

Interest in filming here is still high, according to film commission, once things open back up

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, has been filming in Langford and Colwood over the past two weeks. On April 7, filming will take place on the east side of the Esquimalt Lagoon. (Black Press Media file)
Netflix series ‘Maid’ filming in Colwood

10-episode Warner Bros. production filmed exclusively in Greater Victoria

Victoria mural artists Joshua Lundrigan (from left) and Paul Archer join Rob Chyzowski, co-owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner in front of an Archer-designed mural that went up on Thursday at the Inner Harbour restaurant. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Positivity rules with new outdoor mural from Victoria artist

Paul Archer teams with Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner for patio project

Thomas Kuecks, Bellamy Kuecks and Paula Foot have come together to create an album of stories for children. (Nina Foot photo)
Moments with Miss Paula creates musical stories for kids

Music and the spoken word from Island pair available on streaming

Author Eden Robinson poses for a portrait during an interview in Toronto, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Trickster trilogy author Eden Robinson hosts online conversation and reading

Haisla and Heiltsuk will join fans in event hosted by Vancouver Island Regional Library

Nanaimo author Lawrence Winkler’s latest book is ‘The Last Casebook of Doctor Sababa.’ (Bulletin file photo/supplied)
Nanaimo author wraps up trilogy following ‘antihero’ Island doctor

Lawrence Winkler presents ‘The Last Casebook of Doctor Sababa’

‘Frank Ney’ by Patrick Flavin, ‘Millstone River Upper Falls’ by John Collison Baker, ‘Labyrinth of Dreams’ by MA Molcan, ‘On the Other Side’ by Liana Ravensbergen, ‘December Snow’ by Laurel Karjala and ‘Jacks Point’ by Dana Smiley (cropped, clockwise from top-left) are among the works in the Nanaimo Arts Council’s latest exhibition. (Photos courtesy Nanaimo Arts Council)
Nanaimo Arts Council presents its first online gallery show

Submissions now open for upcoming ‘Ekphrastic Celebration’ show

Dorothy Sevcov’s exhibition ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ is on display at Art 10 Gallery until the end of the month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Experimental paintings now on exhibit at Nanaimo’s Art 10 Gallery

Dorothy Sevcov’s ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ on display through April

Courtenay artist Christine Boyer presents Alongside My Path: Native Wildflowers of Canada at Gallery Merrick from April 9 to 23. (Photo courtesy Christine Boyer)
Island painter shows off the wildflowers of Western Canada in first solo show

Courtenay’s Christine Boyer presents floral exhibit at Nanaimo’s Gallery Merrick

Nanaimo Harbourfront Library librarian April Ripley led the effort to create a Vancouver Island poetry booklet in recognition of National Poetry Month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Harbourfront Library publishes booklet for National Poetry Month

Collection features winners of ‘Poem in your Pocket’ contest

SENCOTEN language revitalizationist and filmmaker Renee Sampson’s short film, Bringing Our Language Back to LIfe, shows online during the Reel 2 Real International Youth Film Festival, April 14-23. (Photo courtesy Wapikoni)
SENCOTEN language featured in short film created on Saanich Peninsula

Renee Sampson film highlights importance of passing on traditional languages to youth

Most Read