Where there’s a will to create, there has to be a way to make it pay.
That’s particularly true for two emerging visual artists, both of whom have young children at home. Through collaboration with others in Port Alberni, they’ve been able to carve out a living while pursuing their passions.
Since graduating from the North Island College furniture program in 2008, Kyle Miller has specialized in live-edge woodworking and design. Three years ago, Miller moved his TGT Studios into a bay at Electron Metalworks, located at the top of Dundalk Avenue. He was spending enough time there, obtaining materials, that he decided to move in.
Mike Slaco and his staff at Electron specialize in metal fabrication and metal art.
“I think it’s unique in Port Alberni,” Miller said. “Between the two businesses, we cover so much ground.”
While his shop is tucked away at the top end of Dundalk Avenue, visibility isn’t important to Miller because 90 percent of his work is sold outside of the country. A lot of his custom wall art and furniture is shipped to customers in Texas, California and Hawaii. Among them is podcaster Joe Rogan, who keeps one of Miller’s Nixie Tube Clocks in his studio. When businessman Elon Musk was on Rogan’s show recently, he couldn’t help but notice the clock.
“That’s not a bad endorsement, for sure,” Miller said. “He’s mentioned my work three or four times.”
The clocks bear a style reminiscent of steam punk, incorporating old radio vacuum tubes in distinctive hardwood bodies. They sell for several hundred dollars apiece.
Furniture is Miller’s primary focus, though. His Shop River Series of wall art blends the beauty of hardwood grains overlaid with tinted glass, creating the appearance of a river in relief, complete with rippling waters.
“That looks like home,” he said of its appeal. “That West Coast style is a natural kind of fit.”
His hardwood supply comes from a variety of sources, local in the case of big leaf maple and farther afield for exotic species such as black walnut. Alberni Glass & Mirror supplies the finishing tint. Totem Tree Service and Eden Tree Farm have helped supply the wood.
“Every time I make a table, six other businesses get paid,” he said.
In contrast, Shayne Lloyd’s spectacular murals are splashed around Port Alberni — including the blue whale at Pescadores Bistro and another at the Capitol Theatre — and his artwork has a new home in the form of Portal Oddities and Curios. Co-owners Andrew Perkins and Elizabeth Matthews feature Lloyd’s variety of artwork prominently in their Harbour Quay shop, which opened last fall.
“Andrew sought me out, having seen my work in other shops around town,” Lloyd said. “That’s led me to try other designs. It’s just become a good fit.”
What’s most impressive is that Lloyd is still completing his visual arts degree at VIU in Nanaimo. Not many arts students achieve that degree of profile and marketability before graduation. The ability to do self-directed studies in his later years, together with the need to support his young family, have helped to expand his art practice.
From wildlife painting and classical animation earlier on, he’s ventured into contemporary influences, three-dimensional sculptural wood pieces, wood burning and silk screening. He likes to experiment with unconventional media with an eye for popular appeal.
“One medium leads to another.”
His studio is home-based, a lifestyle that allows him to be a stay-at-home dad. That doesn’t seem to limit his artistic output.
“I wholeheartedly feel like I’m an artist first,” he said. “It’s easier for me to make money with art than with anything else.”