About

John Steins in his studio

My primary focus here is to archive as much of my life’s work as possible, where marketing becomes secondary. A public record of work for future posterity; recording thoughts, opinions, and knowledge with lots of free advice :-). Obviously, I’m not averse to selling my art; it’s not my focus here.

As a print-maker with a bias towards wood engraving,  I have a strong admiration for this tradition and the many fine engravers it produced since Bewick’s time in the 1700s.

Not long ago, I finished seven years at the Yukon School of Visual Arts (Yukonsova.ca), where I supported our students, faculty and staff as their Studio Technician. Once in a while, I got to give a talk on print-making. Or an instructor will bring a class over to my studio for some show & tell.

Lucky me! I had a resident art instructor living in my house while growing up, my father, Ilgvars Steins. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1959, winning the Lieutenant General’s Award for excellence in drawing and painting. He enjoyed a very long and productive career. According to traditional Latvian belief, he left our world to take up residency on the other side of the sun – in November of 2011, on my birthday! Ever the joker!

I attended a unique 5-year course at a high school in Ottawa that prepared art students for the world of commercial art or college. A very cool program that produced quite a few career artists. I loved the lettering class, where we learned to draw perfect fonts by hand using French curves, lining tools, quills and India ink.

One instructor had a mantra that stuck with me; “Simplicity, unity and harmony: the elements of good design.”

Unlike my fellow students who went on to various art colleges, I went headlong into the world of commercial art beginning a career with a major ad agency in Toronto at the tender age of 18.

When our family moved to Toronto I joined an ad firm called Vickers & Benson when I turned 18. They were one of the top advertising agencies in North America at the time. They hired young people who showed promise and groomed them for a future in the ad game. Of course, I was destined for the art department or creative arm of the company. Even though I was on the periphery for a very short time in this crazy environment I can totally relate to the TV series Madmen. It gives me a nostalgic twinge.

I switched horses in midstream and went over to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation  taking a junior position at the Information Services Department. Jobs were always handed to me on a silver platter but I decided to chase a career in music as a singer-songwriter in the late sixties and early seventies. That effort had mixed results largely due to my penchant for not being able to decide between oats or hay, like the donkey that eventually starved. Happily I really didn’t know hunger. Another great job was at the University of Toronto Book Room and I moved into a communal house in the downtown area. Not to mention my gig as projectionist at Cinema 2000 on Yonge St. near Dundas, that was fun. But not nearly as fun as being the night manager at the Olympia bookstore on Yonge St. near Isabel. Back in the day this was one of the best bookstores in town featuring

Restless Youth

future wood engraving practitioner John steins hopping freights
Riding the boxcar 1974

1974 rolled around and a buddy of mine and I decided to leave hot and dusty Toronto for unknown destinations in Canada’s northwest. We hopped freight trains across the vast prairie to the foothills of the Rockies, turned north and ended up in Dawson City, Yukon, home of the great Klondike gold rush.

We hooked up with some other travellers in our age group, built a  ‘skookum’ raft and set off down the Yukon River in late June. Huck Finn and Jim would have been envious. It was the perfect raft made from Dawson City boardwalk sections lashed to 45 gallon drums keeping us high and dry for the six-week lazy float down to Eagle, Alaska and finally to a town called Circle.

After exploring Alaska via Anchorage and Fairbanks, I got on Haines’ ferry to sail to Prince Rupert. At this time, I was fixated on returning to Dawson and its voodoo magic.

My New Etching Press!

Various exploits kept me employed and active in the mid to late seventies. The spring of 1978 was a highlight because I took delivery of my etching press that came in a huge crate all the way from Ontario. I remember the delivery guys from White Pass Freight grunting and groaning, trying to push the thing through a narrow doorway into my little log cabin. While they were pinching their fingers in the door jamb, I prattled on about how their suffering was worth it because it was all in the name of art… if looks could kill!

What a thrill it was to unpack my shiny new press made by Emil Praga back in Scarborough. Little did I know it would be underwater the following year during the devastating flood of  ’79. The press survived, and I am still using it today.

To be continued…

13 comments

  1. Hi John:

    Just passing this along – I have the proof of your piece entitled “Obsession.” It is of an acoustic guitar player, is signed by you and dated 1977. It was purchased in the Yellowknife area by a good friend of mine who lived and worked in Yellowknife in the mid-to-late 70s. I’m a longtime guitar player and he purchased it as a gift for me.

    I really love the piece and it has occupied a place of honour in all the homes I have lived in during the past 30+ years.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for taking the time to write. And thanks for your remarks about the “Obsession” linocut. I remember when I made that one, it was a bit ambitious for me at the time because of the different colours.

    Good to know it’s still surviving and appreciated.

    John

  3. John

    just starting out with learning engraving and stumbled upon your site purely by accident doing some research and seeing what is being printed these days by others. You have done amazing work.

  4. Thanks Brian, if there’s any way I can help you with your engravings please let me know.

    John

  5. Hi there, I’m a student in secondary/high school and I’m doing some work on you in my art class. I know it sounds silly, but when were you born? & why did you start doing lino prints?
    -I chose you to focus my lino print work on as I love everything you do that I’ve seen. I love the ‘Snow and Trees’ photo that’s on here, Im thinking of getting it printed & put in a frame for my bedroom. Love your work.

  6. John,

    Just wanted to thank you again for the informative talk you gave, and to say how much I enjoyed reading ‘About’ you. You certainly are talented in many areas. Your art is amazing and I’ll visit often to keep up with your latest works.

    All the best!

  7. Thanks Barbara,

    Thanks for coming last night and I’m glad you got something out of it. Hope to see you at the opening.

  8. Dear John

    I am an art student at Agincourt Collegiate Institute and i as arts students we’ve been given an assignment to choose an artist that we’re are interested in, i have chose you and i was wondering if you could answer some basic questions for me such as your Birthday, your education in art, where you worked etc.

  9. John,

    It is always a pleasure to check out your site and see printmaking at its finest. I appreciate your work a lot and have fond memories of friends from Dawson City. I am now retired from teaching and work now on my dreams – making art whenever I can. Best of success to you with the new press. Lynn

  10. Thanks Lynn for those kind words especially from a worthy artist like yourself. As a printmaker with a perverse desire to work in a vacuum where there’s no other printmaker within hundreds of miles it was so uplifting to have you show up in town so many years ago offering me encouragement. As I am working at our own little art school right now I’m trying to carve out some time for my own work. I’ll keep you posted.

  11. Hi John

    It’s been a few years since your cats used me and Philip (Craig) as a climbing device at your apartment in Yorkville.

    I’ve looked for you many times over the years since Ottawa and now … here you are … I think. The last email here is dated 2012, so I don’t know how often you check this site out … or worse, if you’re still with us.

    If you get a moment and are in the mood, please contact me at the email address supplied. I’d love to hear from you.

  12. Hello, I am currently doing an art project on initiation and was captivated by your lino printing technique and some of your artwork. if you wouldn’t mind replying to this message it would be an honor to ask you a few questions and advice concerning your lino work.

So great if you could take a minute and leave your thoughts on this.