Animal illustrations tell human stories

Exhibition draws inspiration from workaholic dinosaurs to elephants at sea

Drawing for Edwards’ upcoming book Woodrow at Sea, on display at Studio 22 until Jul. 14.

From June 19 to July 14 at Studio 22,  author and illustrator Wallace Edwards is displaying his creative process as a cycle of ups and downs, propelled by his boundless energy to brainstorm ideas. 

Edwards’ exhibit is a lesson: when we deliberately look beyond the surface of art, we may be inspired by its course of creation and the stories left for us to freely interpret.  

Many of the works are featured in Edwards’ recently published children’s book, Woodrow at Sea. 

Using watercolor and ink, the book tells a thrilling tale of the friendship between an elephant and a mouse who find and rescue each other at sea. Together, they embark on a journey across the water. 

Edwards’ use of a soft-colour palette complements the lighthearted spirit of the story. Even the treacherous waves are juxtaposed against subtle shades of blue. This playfulness is captured in the simplicity of the drawings where small scenes like a kind sea turtle helping Woodrow return to the surface. 

Although Edwards’ artistic skills may not be the most prominent feature of the exhibit, the multitude of paintings that were considered over the course of the story’s construction is striking. 

This just goes to show how the cherry-picked illustrations in the book are merely a sliver of Edwards’  imagination. 

Yet the viewer that stands in front of the art can be encouraged to think just as creatively as the artist. 

The other exhibit, Workasaurus, is a piece that was painted by Edwards in 2007. His use of colored pencil and opaque paint creates the dark hues and elaborate details of a gloomy dinosaur buried in workspace clutter, aligning with the dominant theme of personifying animals. 

In Workasaurus, Edwards focuses on the distance between animals and humans. The size of the stars in the darkness signify a great distance from the dinosaur, which may translate to the vast loneliness of space that parallels a life of all work and no play.

On the dinosaur’s back sits a spear with a clock on one end and a dollar sign on the other with the spear tipped toward the money. 

Workasaurus is a metaphor for our dangerous tendency to devalue time, especially when it’s not as apparent as earning money. As close as it may be, the fact that it’s never exactly within reach in the painting reveals how an uncontrolled desire for wealth can be unfulfilling. 

The exhibit teaches us we don’t have to become artists or travel back in time to fulfill our youthful sense of creativity and optimism. As young adults of the modern age, it’s critical for us to recognize that art is something more than its aesthetics, and we have the ultimate choice in how we perceive the hectic world around us.

Beyond the visual appeal of his human-like animals, Edwards succeeds in communicating meaningful motifs in his illustrations. He  highlights everything from the miracle of friendship and generosity to the monotony of work and isolation. 

Regardless of how imaginary the characters are, the essence of their stories represents a curious exploration of reality, rather than a complete escape from it.  

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