Pascale Arpin, Artist
From article “Hail to The Humanities: Carleton Grads Conquering Diverse Fields” By Dan Rubinstein
Photos by Yuli Scheidt and Courtesy of Pascale Arpin
When Tim Burton Likes the Way You Paint
Pascale Arpin’s career also bridges art and commerce and it sprung from the College of the Humanities, but the similarities end there.
If you live in Ottawa, you’ve likely seen Arpin’s work. Although she does illustrations and paints canvasses and has brought film and TV props and sets to life, her niche these days is custom sign painting and hand lettering — a traditional style that adorns the windows of about five dozen local businesses, including hip spots like Little Victories Coffee on Bank St., Crows Nest Barber on Wellington St. and The Third in Hintonberg.
“I followed a winding road to get to my current obsession,” says Arpin, who is arguably the city’s foremost practitioner of this intricate, ornate old-school craft.
“I always found it aesthetically pleasing but didn’t know how to do it. It looks like something you can create effortlessly, but you really have to understand the brush stroke and technique.”
Carleton’s Humanities program, she says, “helped me understand the world and why the world is the way it is today.” Moreover, as a francophone, it also gave her a nuanced grasp of English, which has been critical throughout her career.
After graduating, Arpin was awarded a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in Sociology but instead moved to Iqaluit, where she lived for six years and did a series of jobs, from early childhood educator and youth arts programmer to a position with the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association.
Although she was learning a lot about the business of arts, Arpin didn’t want to settle into a desk job, so she returned to freelance illustration and began working in film as a set decorator, scenic painter and props master. Wanting to be closer to family, she eventually moved back to Ottawa and dove into her own creative work.
A fateful trip to Minnesota in 2017 to take a workshop with renowned sign painter Mike Meyer led to her passion for hand lettering and techniques such as gilded windows, in which a mix of gold leaf, gelatin and water is painted onto windows to create an eye-catching mirror-like effect.
“It’s aesthetically pleasing and fits the belief system that the companies that hire me are trying to uphold,” Arpin says about bringing this look to Ottawa-area businesses.
“They’re supporting local artisans and quality signage over cheap vinyl products. It’s a local economy of businesses supporting one another.”
The connections Arpin made while working with Meyer, who she has continued to learn from, led to a meeting with Hollywood filmmaker Tim Burton in Las Vegas. Burton was struck by her work and hired her to fabricate and paint pieces for a multimedia exhibition he was working on for the city’s Neon Museum.
“That was a big turning point for me,” she says. “If Tim Burton liked the way I paint, then I needed to paint more.”
Arpin also recently illustrated a comic book written by Carleton Cultural Mediations PhD student Cara Tierney, “Phantomtits,” which tells the story of Tierney’s real-life experiences navigating the medical system as a trans person seeking surgery.
“I’ve done a lot of fascinating things,” says Arpin.
“What I do now is so different from what I studied at university, but for me everything has been cumulative, and you always benefit from having more knowledge.”