Cover: Doug Driediger, hitting the high spots

Doug Driediger CGD: artist, muralist, graphic designer

For over three decades Doug Driediger's art practice has focused on creative placemaking – painting murals that define public spaces in iconic ways.
Doug Driediger CGD

Doug Driediger is a Calgary-based multi-disciplinary designer, specializing in fine-art-based problem solving. He is a certified GDC member, a muralist and a graphic designer who graduated from ACAD in 1980 with an honours diploma focusing on painting. He is also the the Founder and Creative Director of Metrographics.

With a focus on large-scale public art, Doug is best known for his interpretive work for Parks Canada/Alberta Parks, as well as iconic murals visible in downtown Calgary. He has completed over 40 murals across Western Canada. His illustrations have been commissioned by the Canadian Government, Parks Canada and the Royal Alberta Museum, and his personal art is included in several significant collections including a major purchase award by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

Tell us about Metrographics and what is "fine-art-based problem solving”?     

Metrographics (Metro) represents the successful cross-fertilization of the traditional painter in studio with the ‘outside’ world of visual communications. We are a small but mighty design and advertising studio, where graphic design and fine art each hold an integral role and “have something to say”.

Founded in 1981, I like to say Metro is a vibrant combination of artistic vision and communications savvy. I've been with the agency from the beginning, paralleling my skills and career as a painter with Metro’s nearly four decades of design development. From our studio in cSPACE I also maintain a personal art practice that often informs our commercial work – paintings are usually acrylics, and lately I have explored an interest in birds, specifically magpies, and often incorporate gold leaf.

Left: Peak-finder with custom illustration - one of 18 exterior interpretive panels developed for the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk in Banff National Park. Right: inii awattoo - a steel cut (hand painted) tribute sign to honour Indigenous education at the Iniskim centre in Mount Royal University, Calgary.

Tell us about your work and why you specialize in certain areas of practice.

Metrographics distinctiveness comes from a seamless blend of graphic design and fine art. We are a full-service design and production studio specializing in all aspects of advertising media, public art and interpretive design. With established experience in these areas, we’ve successfully completed projects that range in scope from identity development, marketing, publications and packaging to large scale public murals, high-profile exhibitry and interpretive displays.

Left: Astotin Theatre Interpretive display - an ecological installation (painted backdrop with interpretive panels and pediments for artifacts) produced for Elk Island National Park. Right: Sharing Spaces with Wildlife - an award winning climbable display assembled for Science World in Vancouver.

These areas of speciality all share something in common: they are place-based and identity driven. My enduring passion has always been identity topics, either in my personal practice or through my public art career. I strongly believe that understanding the individuality of a subject or the uniqueness of a place results in the most meaningful art solutions.

One of Metro’s biggest clients right now is Parks Canada. We currently have interpretive works in progress for Banff, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes and Grasslands National Parks, as well as the Saoyú-ʔehdacho National Historic Site in NWT. This work requires client-specific, refined solutions that often involve custom illustration and/or structural elements… and the creativity doesn’t stop there. On any given day, you might also find the Metro team busy collaborating on sculptures, painting floor-to-ceiling murals, or even hand-decorating 3D topographical models for various Parks places. There’s no project too complex. Our team is fearless, innovative and wildly creative – that’s our motto.

“CP History” - A historic photo-montage mural located on the new CPR campus in Calgary. The space in front of the mural is now a mini-park/relaxation area; large, concrete ‘spikes’ were designed to complement the imagery.

What’s it like to paint a huge outdoor mural?

Painting at a large scale is a little weird. Controlling proportion and colour when I don’t have the ability to back up and check my work easily has its challenges. For those reasons, I’ve learned to use a projector for help with the initial drawing, creating a simple set of outlines that I know I can trust. The colouring of those outlines still has its perils! I’ve been known to unintentionally add/merge/omit elements that seemed appropriate up close/high, only to discover (from the ground) some crazy mistakes! (I once merged two men’s lower torsos, making them share a 15’ long central leg!) With practice, I’ve found that frequent trips back to the ground, where I can back up and take a visitor’s eye view, are vital.

“Rainforest” (details) - a large floor-to-ceiling mural that bridges onto neighbouring walls of the Kwisitis Visitor Centre in Pacific Rim National Park.
Densely detailed mural artwork documents over 70 species of flora and fauna.

I'm thrilled at being in high places (mountains, scaffolds), but this feeling is definitely mixed in with a mild sense of panic…especially when the lifting equipment is small. My movements, when at the extent of the equipment’s reach, will create gut-wrenching pitching motions that, although completely safe, are for me unnerving. On the tallest projects I’ve worked on, I’ve managed this by starting each day ‘at the top’ (the scariest) while my nerves are freshest from a night’s rest. I then give myself the reward of working downward as the day progresses. The views are great, though, and it’s an odd sense of calm and separateness to be high above the bustle below, doing what I love to do.

Client meetings and miniature planning aside, it usually takes around 100-150 hours to complete a project. Smaller works are nearer the viewer, so they’re more loaded with detail; larger ones use bigger brush strokes but have more area to cover.

Case study: What is your most valued project?

With such a rewarding career, it’s truly impossible to select any single project as the ‘most valued’. With that caveat…

“Holding Fast” (work in progress) - a commission for the City of Calgary Public Art Collection, as part of the new Fire Headquarters construction project. Acrylic and gold leaf on wood panel 23' x 17'.

“Holding Fast” is a recent public art project that I was extremely honoured to produce. Commissioned as part of The City of Calgary’s Public Art Program, the artwork is intended to honour the sacrifice of City of Calgary Firefighters as well as capture the Fire Department’s values of Pride, Professionalism, Teamwork and Respect.

“Holding Fast” (details) - two of eleven circular paintings installed at the new Calgary Fire Headquarters. Artwork is intended to honour the history and sacrifice of the CFD. Shown left to right: a vintage fire truck and firefighters in action (based on archival photography).

The mural consists of a circular grouping of paintings that provide an understanding of the Fire Department’s history while also reflecting a memorial theme. Images transition from archival photography at the mural’s top to contemporary pictures on the bottom. The central, anchor image depicts a current firefighter reaching up to grasp the mitted hand of a historic firefighter – connecting the old with the new. This connection between past and present creates a memorial of lives lost but remembered.

The Memorial bell used during used during firefighter memorial ceremony.

To complete the composition, the wall behind the artwork is marked with a stencil pattern inspired by common firefighting symbols: the Maltese Cross, the axe and the pike pole. Nine of the stencils are highlighted with a brass colour to represent the nine Calgary firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

Seeing the work installed (and well-received by the community), I’m incredibly proud of “Holding Fast”, however I also celebrate the journey it took to get to this final outcome. Our team at Metrographics completed a lot of in-depth research prior to developing the mural's concept, including: participation in the CFD Boot Camp, and attendance during the Calgary Firefighters Memorial Ceremony and march. Interviews were conducted with active members of the CFD as well as meetings held with members of the Honour Guard, representatives of the Calgary Firefighters Union, Museum and retirees. It was a powerful experience from beginning to end.

What first sparked your interest in design and what inspires you now?

I’ve always enjoyed visual communication – drawing, inventing letter forms as a kid – being ’the art guy’ in High School. These passions led me to the Alberta College of Art + Design (now AUArts) where an appreciation for both fine art and graphic design contributed to my education. Looking back, the very first spark might have been my set of Dr. Seuss books, with their fabulous combinations of illustration and type.

“Prayer” & “Retreat II” - two images from Doug’s personal practice, part of an ongoing series of mixed media bird paintings inspired by ravens and magpies.

Personal work is inspired from lived experience – the ‘everyday stuff’ in which I try to find divine echoes: my wife going through dialysis, birds, the landscape from my front window. I most enjoy working in series: a painting-a-day for a year, 52 weekly self-portraits, and portraits of the 12 Apostles reimagined in present day settings using my friends as models. Working in this way allows me to approach a subject from a variety of perspectives— combining an experimental approach to materials with a commitment to observation as a threshold for making art.

“52x8.5x11" (details) - select artworks from Doug’s personal practice, part of a larger (weekly) self portrait series purchased by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

Corporate work is always inspired by the client’s world…usually heavily researched to understand client goals and motivation. The aim is to decode someone else’s content into accessible, memorable forms that a broader audience can also understand. This process is intentionally interactive and collaborative. I really enjoy working hands-on with different stakeholders to help realize their vision. Metro’s broad client base is also wonderful in this way; our wide-ranging services allow the Metro team to be constantly learning and interpreting new content.

“Foundations for the Future” - a monumental installation and historical collage developed for the Red Deer Servus Arena. Artwork tells the story of the former Arena (built in 1952, decommissioned in 2016).

Are you involved with your local GDC chapter?

In the past, I’ve been a juror in my Chapter, and always enjoyed that process! The connection between our group of practicing professionals was always rich and personally rewarding. We have maintained those friendships beyond the jurying sessions. This has, for me, been the biggest benefit of being a member of our Society – the opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals.