Photography by Daniel Vaughan
Doug Comeau’s Timberwolf Gallery
Doug Comeau recalled when he first knew he wanted to be an artist. His father was in the military and when Doug was a young boy his family was stationed in Great Falls, Montana, one time home of the early 20th century artist Charles M. Russell. Russell’s work documents the intersection of indigenous and settler cultures in the American Midwest and into Alberta.
Doug said a chance discovery was a big inspiration for him to become an artist. “I stumbled across the work of Charles Russell in Yellowstone National Park; he worked in both graphite and water colour. I was 10 or 11 years old and I was just enthralled. Ever since that time in Montana I wanted to be a professional artist.”
His father offered what Doug describes as good advice, suggesting he join the military and pursue art as a hobby. Doug entered the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1979, never losing sight of becoming an artist fulltime in the future.
A military career initially meant moving around a lot but Doug eventually settled with his wife, Cathy, and their two young daughters in the Quinte area in the mid ’90s after being stationed at CFB Trenton. Throughout his time in the military he continued to work on his art, steadfastly sticking to his first and preferred medium of pencil. Now he says he mixes it up a bit using colour pencil and charcoal too, sometimes all in one work.
“I don’t know why I like it. It’s the fineness of it, the detail of it. For some reason, I just never got into the paint. I just seem to get more and more enthralled with it as I go, even now.”
Doug retired from the military in 2001. That same year he opened Timberwolf Gallery in downtown Trenton. Finally, he was able to devote himself to his art full time. Doug is self-taught, often describing his process as trial and error, but it’s clear he has thought a lot about his creative process, resulting in works so precise in their realism, at first glance, they are sometimes mistaken for photographs.
“It’s basically how well you see. When you look at a subject and interpret it. It’s basically where’s the light source, where are the shadows, how are the transitions, are they sharp, are they steady, are they slow? You really figure out in your head what needs to be done to recreate that. Now the dexterity, and the hand to eye coordination, and physically doing it plays a big role but to me the biggest role is what you see. Without that ability to see what you need to do it’s very hard to translate it to pencil to paper.”
After almost three decades living and working as an artist in the Quinte region, Doug figures he is practically a household name locally with his work hanging in many area homes. He also gained national recognition when he was commissioned by the Canadian mint to create images of bison for a series of $20 silver coins. The Bison was released in 2014 followed by a second, The Benevolent Bison, released last fall. Even with this kind of local and national recognition, Doug laughed, “I’ve always said I won’t be happy until I’m world renowned. That is not easy.”
International recognition is no small feat for a visual artist working almost entirely in pencil, but with the marketing savvy of fellow veteran, patron, friend, and new business partner Jim Leonard, it just may happen.
The two men first met in the military. Both were aviation technicians based at CFB Shearwater in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in the ’80s. Both settled in the Quinte area after retiring from the military and started their own businesses, and both had artistic pursuits, Jim as a musician. Little did they know they would become future business partners.
Over the years Jim purchased several of Doug’s works. It was a fateful day last September when they had arranged a round of golf after which Jim planned to go to Timberwolf Gallery, now located at Doug’s home on Glen Ross Road just north of Frankford, to purchase the latest in the bison silver coin series. On this early fall day, Doug’s blue jay images just happened to be on the drawing board in the gallery, so he asked Jim, who owns a consulting business, if he thought they were marketable. Within a month, they had the concept for a new business mapped out.
Stirring Images is an e-commerce enterprise. Through the company, Doug’s work, old, new, and some still in the conceptual stages – is available for purchase on line. This means both originals, and signed giclée prints done by Mike Gaudaur of Quinte studios in Trenton, are now available anywhere in the world.
Stirring Images has four collections. Executive Prints includes his older work done in the style of realism he is best know for, such as his signature timber wolves and newer works including the Gray Cat Bird. The all-new Visual Metaphor Collection can perhaps best be described as abstract realism, and includes a series of very realistic blue jays in various stages of flight, dynamically juxtaposed with equally realistic baseball images. There’s also a line called Intelligent Design, where a drawing of Doug’s arm has a USB cord plugged into it connecting a strand of his DNA. The Zodiac Collection, still in its conceptual stages, will include original drawings of zodiac symbols. Finally, in homage to their roots, the Honour Collection salutes veterans.
With almost 50 years of military service between them, their business plan includes 10 per cent of the sales from the Honour Collection and five per cent of Stirring Image overall profits going to Wounded Warriors Canada (WWC), a multifaceted charitable organization established to help ill and injured Canadian Forces members, veterans, first responders, and their families.
“For us, we have a lot of friends who are the recipients of what Wounded Warriors does. It’s very close to our hearts, and we did our entire careers without suffering some of those permanently disabling injuries. Because we can, we feel obligated,” said Jim.
In February, they finally had a chance to meet face to face with representatives of WWC. That’s when, on behalf of Stirring Images, they donated an original work to the organization, the first in the Honour series titled We Honour and Support. “They loved it; they couldn’t believe it,” said Doug.
In some ways Stirring Images represents a change in content and process for Doug. The Metaphor Collection for instance, is more abstract than past work. This also marks the first time he has collaborated on his work. He and Jim have breakfast meetings to brainstorm ideas before he hits the drawing board. Doug said Stirring Images has rejuvenated his excitement in his work, and he is up for the challenge.
“Usually artists stick to their genre; we’re a little different. I can basically draw anything if I can still move my arm. We are trying to capture people’s wow factor. What have they done now? ”
After a lifetime of practice, in many ways what Doug’s work does do is to challenge the boundaries of what can be done with pencil and paper.