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Being an Illustrator in Calgary

Years ago, when my wife Sandra and I had our first child, we decided we wanted our kids to grow up near their Grandparents and cousins, so we moved back to our home, and I became an illustrator in Calgary. Having already wandered a bit of Europe and the United States we were fairly certain that our home in Alberta had everything our kids could ever want, and you know what? It does.

Choosing to be an illustrator in Calgary can be a tough decision.

Calgary doesn’t have the big media industry Vancouver, Toronto or many of the metropolitan places of the USA have. And while Bioware Corp. is a darling success in this province, it was not a company run on subsidies, like many of the media companies in other provinces. Which means there are not a lot of other video game or media companies being created here — as it’s easier to do that kind of business elsewhere.

There is good and bad with this situation. Many Calgarian illustrators head east or cross the boarder to the states to find work in greener pastures, where business owners have had much more exposure to art and illustration, and therefore have a deeper understanding of how it helps a brand.

The great thing about being an illustrator in Calgary is the loyalty you get from your clients. Calgary is a place where most folks are expected to be resourceful and if you come through for your clients they tend to stick with you. They aren’t busy trying out several different illustrators to get a lot of different looks. Instead they expect us to be able to do different things and draw in different styles, whether it’s for corporate work or entertainment. For me, this is a great scenario as I get to do everything from cartoons to more fine art styles.

The entrepreneurial nature of Calgary means a lot of businesses come and go. This can be especially frustrating for illustrators, as there is always a lot of a education that comes with the job. I am often explaining what I do to both corporate business types, as well as media companies. But I don’t see this is as a negative. There is a lot of opportunity for great partnerships if  you you’re patient and I try to take advantage of it as much as possible.

There is also not a lot of love for media people who work from Calgary. I have heard on many occasions that I should hide the fact that I live here. Our economy is very tied to oil and many consider how we get it to be bad for the environment. I don’t know enough to comment, but in my travels I can tell you with no uncertainty that Alberta is one of the most beautiful places in the world. We have tons of protected land and wildlife and unlike other places I have visited – you won’t find litter in our parks. It’s just not our way. Our desire to preserve is just as powerful as our resourcefulness.

That carries over to the artists, musicians, film makers, and fashion designers as well. We are truly an underground group of protectors and hunters. Protectors of our creative community as well as constant hunters of places and ways to apply it.

One of the major reasons for living here is simply the beauty. Within 45 minutes driving in any direction you will find rolling hills, rocks and trees and a green 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 out here who don’t have at least two or three outdoor hobbies.

Mine are biking, hiking, and chasing birds.

It would be much easier for me if I moved out east. All you have to do is look in the job boards on indeed.ca to see the difference in the amount of work for artist’s in this country. I think though, that like the pioneers that came before me, there is a certain pride in being able to make it here. To stand out amongst the oil companies and say hey, I’m here with you, just doing it my way.


About Michael

Michael Grills Illustration is located in Calgary Alberta Canada. The business was established in 2005 and since then I have been collaborating with design agencies, editorial, publishers, video directors, and game makers from all over the world. As well as doing art for illustration fans.