This year, CIBA commissioned artwork from talented Canadian artist and illustrator Alexander MacAskill (Midnight Oil) to help celebrate Canadian Independent Bookstore Day. We spoke with Alex about his vision for the design and why he wanted to support the campaign.
What did you want the illustration to say to people about independent bookstores?
I wanted this illustration to show independent bookstores as a destination, a point of interest worth visiting, and a significant presence in a community and daily life. I wanted it to show how indie bookstores enrich your life, and almost like it is its own little ecosystem that supports writers, creates jobs, spreads joy, etc.
It’s infinitely better to walk into a bookstore than to buy something from the evil websites that don’t need free publicity by being named. Convenience and cost savings have their place, yes. But to browse shelves, feel the paper and see artwork (designer/illustrator bias), discover works from local authors on local interest topics, get a recommendation from the knowledgeable and passionate staff, it just can’t be replaced. And if these things can get us off the phone at the coffee shop and break out of the binge-til-you-fall-asleep cycle on the couch, even better.
Did you know from the outset what imagery you wanted to include?
I was lucky enough to get to travel a little in 2022 for the first time in ages. Even before COVID-19 made travel difficult, it had been ages since I’d been away, so the few days I spent in London (the England one) were even more impactful. I was so inspired by the architecture, the fashion on the street, and the history. I drew this concept wanting to indulge in that fascination a little. So, I knew from the beginning where in my heart this streetscape scene was coming from, but the specific imagery and vignettes through the windows, or moments of lives on the sidewalk, those all came as the work was progressing and I thought about the subject more.
Is any of the imagery personal to you or reflective of your experience with indies?
I think the general feel of the piece is pretty accurate to my personal experiences with indie bookstores. I’m a slow reader so I’m not always going in to shop for myself. But I do shop frequently for gifts for friends and family, and I feel like it’s a great opportunity to reflect about who someone truly is and what’s going on in their life right now. And then give a gift that shows you care about their life and it’s from your heart. It’s a sentimental experience, often made successful by help or recommendations from the staff. Or sometimes I’m at the store to pick up a copy of a book I did illustration work for, and that’s always super exciting. I think I expressed this positive emotional experience in the artwork, and I hope people can kind of project their own experiences onto the joyful characters within the drawing.
Why do you think indie bookstores are important?
I get nostalgic thinking about the Friday night trip to the video store when I asked my favourite guy there what I should watch. I had just watched Snatch and I want to keep that vibe going. He recommended Layer Cake. Yeah, it was just a video store, but now we don’t engage with someone from the community, we just engage with an algorithm. If we’re not careful, we’ll lose one of the few moments of interacting and reacting to art and culture with people that we have left in our daily lives.
Where else can people find your work?
You can find my work at midnight-oil.ca or check me out on Instagram and TikTok (@midnightoilprintdesign). I also recently illustrated Canada Wild: Animals Found Nowhere Else on Earth (Nimbus Publishing, 2022).
See Alex's full illustration below. Canadian Independent Bookstore Day is on April 29, 2023.
Click here to download our save the date featuring Alex's artwork (sized for Facebook/Twitter, Instagram in-feed post, and Instagram story).