Dean details coastal life on canvas

Dean has been drawing and painting coastal scenes for more than 30 years.

Ladysmith artist Michael Dean is well known for his detailed documentation of coastal vessels and historical West Coast scenes, and he’ll be sharing that work with art lovers from near and far as the guest artist of this year’s Arts on the Avenue.

Dean has been drawing and painting coastal scenes for more than 30 years. Currently painting in oils and watercolours, his main interests have been working on coastal vessels, historical coastal scenes and, most recently, the forest and beach scenes of Vancouver Island.

Dean doesn’t know what got him interested in drawing and painting, but it’s something he has always done.

“It’s just something I did from before I was a teenager,” he said. “I used to sit around the house and draw.”

Art wasn’t really something Dean thought about making a living at; it was something he enjoyed doing.

“I thought that it was something I would like to do for the rest of my life,” he said. “Smaller towns had art schools; it wasn’t unusual to make a living as an artist — that was my goal, but to try to figure out how to do that was a different thing.”

After missing a chance to go to full-time art school, Dean got a job in his hometown and then moved to London with a friend.

While in London, Dean met up with a friend who was successfully making a living as an artist, and that re-ignited his interest in art. Dean was about 20 at the time.

“After a big overland trip to India, I realized I should get on with what’s important to me and focus on that,” he said.

When Dean came to Canada, he eventually had an exhibition of his ink drawings at a gallery in Gastown.

Dean went from job to job — many of them on boats — and eventually, he got out of Vancouver and started seeing different parts of the coast.

“Once I left Vancouver and saw this whole other world of the coast and boats and water and outside the city, I got interested in that,” said Dean.

He ended up on Vancouver Island in the 1970s when one of the men running a boat he was working on invited him to come stay with his family in Cedar. Dean stayed with them for a while and then lived on a boat in Ladysmith.

Dean had to leave his artwork behind to concentrate on making a living and making a life in a new country.

“Moving to a different country, it is challenging,” he said. “You have to find your place and then once you do, get back to what’s at your core, which was the artwork.”

After moving onto his boat, Dean got a job with tugboats in the Ladysmith Harbour and also working as a deckhand on a freighter going up and down the coast.

“It’s hard to describe what you see, what a different world it is and what a beautiful world it is,” he said of working on the water. “That’s what turned me onto all the boats and coastal images and the history.”

Dean met a woman, and they moved into a house, and he says the combination of her amazing support and cheap rent allowed him to get back into his art.

He did a lot of commissions of original drawings, but in the early 1980s, a recession hit, and the commissions slowed down. Dean had to go back to work on boats, and he realized that if he wanted to make a living, he needed more than originals. Around 1982, he started making prints, making his artwork more financially accessible.

Dean took those prints on the road, displaying his work in towns up and down Vancouver Island twice a year, and he says he is forever grateful for the support of those galleries As well, every summer for 20 years, he displayed his art at the ferry terminal in Nanaimo.

In 1985, Dean started painting again and started painting in watercolours. Recently, he has become interested in forest and creek scenes.

The 16th annual Arts on the Avenue takes place Sunday, Aug. 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. along First Avenue between Warren and Buller streets.

This year, guests will find more than 50 artists under the big white tents. The juried artists will display pottery, wood carvings, paintings, jewelry, glass, fibre arts and more.

The Ladysmith and District Credit Union is sponsoring a Kids Hands-On Art Area filled with fun artsy activities for young ones, and there will be demonstrations, such as Plein Aire painting, weaving, rug hooking, origami, print making and pottery, on the street. Please leave your dogs at home during Arts on the Avenue.

For more information, visit

To learn more about Michael Dean, visit


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