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Behind the scenes of one of my blog post images

September 19, 2016

So there I was in the parkade with my scissors and…

It’s more than unusual for me to blog about one of my images—I don’t believe that I’ve done it before. But I’m going to shed a bit of light on one recent creation illustrating my post on the meaning of home. And I’m not doing it just because my friend the Green Guy said that I should.

Just as the image serves to illustrate a post about one aspect of my homeless life, its creation illustrates another aspect—that of being a homeless blogger.

Wanted: A picture worth only 600 words

The post in question was originally written as one of several 600-word essays for a feature in the September issue of the United Church Observer magazine on the many meanings of “home”.

Each essay was written by a person who had experienced a form of dislocation, such as fleeing the fires of Fort McMurray; moving into an old age home; relocating to a big city from a First Nations reserve, or—in my case—losing one’s housing and becoming a homeless person on the streets of Vancouver.

By agreement, I held off blogging my essay until after September 15th. As the middle of the month approached I began to think of the image I would create to accompany the blog post.

I decided to illustrate a key point in the post about the meaning of home—how it was an intersection of freedom and safety. This wording lent itself nicely to both a street scene involving a homeless person and a title for the post: “The intersection that I call home“.

My first inclination was to go with photography and on the evening of September 15th a homeless friend of mine readily agreed to be photographed the next morning sleeping peacefully in his sleeping bag on a Fairview street corner under the street signs.

With my friend’s promise of cooperation in hand, I retired to my parkade for the night and, well, hurriedly set about devising a fallback “Plan B”.

The secret to homeless bonhomie is low expectations

I knew that as sincere as my friend was about helping me, there was a good chance that I wouldn’t see him the next morning. His way of living was fairly inimical to scheduling and I was unaware that he owned a watch.

My backup plan crystallized quickly. As I rode to my parkade through the back alleys of Fairview I stopped to collect a stack of empty cereal boxes out of paper recycling bins.

It was about 9 p.m. when I arrived at my parkade and—surprise—there were still some cars parked in stalls.

It’s one thing to see a homeless person in your parkade doing something that you understand at a glance, like reading or sleeping. It’s quite another thing when they’re doing something weird and inexplicable—as I was planning to do.

“Hello, police? There’s a homeless person in our parkade playing with scissors. That’s right. Scissors. And cardboard”.

I know the routine of the building workers who’s parkade I  expropriate at night. Cars still in stalls at 9 p.m. usually means people staying at their desks until 11 p.m.—meaning that I had a little over an hour to do what needed to be done.

Fortunately, my time spent as a graphic designer and commercial illustrator taught me to embrace and work with such real-world limitations.

Limits are often just opportunities in disguise—for creativity. Strictures on a design process can focus the mind and lead to better work than if a designer has a whole fuzzy world of technical possibilities open to them.

The trouble a homeless person with scissors can get up to


So I wasn’t troubled by all the things that I couldn’t do. I chose from my limited options and went at it. Meaning that I took a pair of scissors that I had and began cutting tiny pieces out of my cereal boxes.

I was cutting-out the individual parts (legs, arms, etc.) of a sleeping homeless person. The parts would arrange and overlap to create a kind of collage-in-depth.

The form of a street light, with street signs, would follow but owing to gravity, this would only be formed of two pieces. I entirely ruled out including a bicycle/trailer combination or a shopping cart as too time-consuming and difficult to effectively pull off.

The time constraints, the bluntness of the scissors and the nature of kraft paperboard dictated a consistently rough “low resolution” approach—no fingers on the hands, for instance.

A cut-rate creation almost suitable for a homeless blog


Within 20 minutes I  had all the bits that I needed and I assembled my homeless person on his little blanket and managed to get the two-piece street light to defy gravity long enough to take some photographs. Then I repeated the assembly process at several places in the parkade to get different lighting effects.


This convinced me that an edited photograph of the model itself could not serve as the finished image. I would need to use it as the basis for a 2D image created in an image editing program. I therefore didn’t waste time photographing the model with a secondary light source to simulate the streetlight.

After I took my photos of the model, I simply threw all the paperboard bits back into another paper recycling bin. I would work with what I had.

While I was running around with scissors in my parkade I should mention also that (multi-tasker that I am) I had my little hiking stove steaming up some rice and stuff for a bedtime snack.

Naturally, when 11 p.m. rolled around and the people came for their cars, they saw none of the aforementioned hi-jinx. They just saw me, lounging lazily on my sleeping bag, reading an ebook—same as always (yawn).

All over, except for the photo-editing


The next morning, I was neither surprised nor irritated that my homeless friend and would-be model was nowhere to be found. Wherever he was I knew that at least his heart was in the right place.

The creation of the final image was a straightforward process—albeit one employing a lot of layers and layer effects. I used the Windows version of the open source image editing program GIMP (aka, “faux-toshop 3.0”).

The only photographic aspect of the model that survived in the final image was the concrete floor of the parkade. This formed the entire background of the image, giving texture to the grass, the sidewalk and the road.

It may be noted that I fluffed the placement of the street signs in the original paperboard model by putting them exactly opposite one another, rather than properly offsetting them. Admittedly the original arrangement suggested outstretched arms but as I hadn’t properly planned to be that allegorical, I corrected the mistake in the final image.

All in all, just the sort of haphazard job that you should expect if you use a parkade as your art studio. Click the images to enlarge them.

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