In June of 2015 I contacted fellow Ottawa illustrator Mawt Trood, asking if he would be interested in doing an outdoor sketching project revolving around exploring alleyways in Ottawa. I did not know Mawt personally at this point, but I knew of his work and many friends in the arts community knew him or had worked with him. I was also intrigued by him as he had the same fascination as I do with neighbourhood storefronts (or “Mom & Pop Shops” as he called them). He had been tirelessly working on illustrations which included corner stores, cafes and places of personal importance. His work also emphasized those forgotten details that make up a space: wires, poles, street signs. The “negative space” of a city as he called it.
We arranged to meet at the Raw Sugar Cafe (where else?) and Mawt biked up on time to the minute. We chatted for a while about our backgrounds, work, process, the city and interests, before moving onto the alley sketching project I was organizing. Mawt was very enthusiastic and began suggesting alleyways in Vanier and Hull we could visit. He said he had not sketched outside in a long time, most of his work was done in the studio.
When we next met it was in the alley behind Elgin Street. Setting a precedent for the summer, Mawt, eager to sketch, arrived early, giving us ten or fifteen minutes to chat before the rest of the group arrived. We met weekly, with a regular group of artists including Cindi Foreman, Kristina Corre, Marc Adornato, Stephen Frew, Emma Cochrane, Anthony Parravano, Chris Roussakis, Justin Nalepa, Beccy Murphy, Tomas Pajdlhauser, Violeta Borisonik and others.
The group would always go for beer after sketching, at dusk. Mawt would rarely stay late as he preferred to get hometo be refreshed for his early morning run, before biking to work. Most of our time with Mawt was spent in close proximity, quietly sketching, and occasionally chatting about things in front of us or ideas for future missions.
One such mission was a tour of Vanier alleys, which Mawt scouted and organized for us, even providing us with a google map highlighting the area we’d focus on. It was a strange series of grassy alleys, abandoned lots and narrow spaces between buildings, recently purchased by a development company, soon to be transformed. The process had already begun, with contractors trailers and model home displays already occupying some of this space.
Our final day of sketching alleys, late summer, we ventured to the opposite type of alley we had been exploring - Claredon lanes in the market. I began playing with watercolours for the first time in many years, and my first sketch included Mawt making a sketch of his own. When he saw it he immediately asked if he could buy it or trade for it as he wanted to give it to his mother for a Christmas present.
The plan the entire summer was to hold a show of our alley artwork in an alley somewhere. An opportunity came up to display our work as part of Chinatown Remixed. Our alley show partnered with the Jackpine pop-up park behind Monopolatte, and the plan was to have people look at art walking up the laneway, and spend time in the park in the lot behind. We needed a temporary way to hold up and display prints of our artwork. We wanted it to be gritty, like the alleys we had spent so much time in.
A plan arose to use discarded doors, which we would wheat paste cheap prints of art to and lean against the buildings. One day I got a text from Mawt saying he had seen some doors on the sidewalk near his house. Within 30 minutes we were both there and began carrying the doors one by one up to Monopolatte - thankfully not too far away.
One day in December - well after the sketch crew had wrapped up - Mawt texted me asking for my address as he had a card to drop off. A few hours later there was a knock at my door, and Mawt was there, smiling, with a hand-drawn Christmas card depicting one of the sketching adventures.
We sketched together on two further occasions, once at the Museum of Nature, where I only saw him as he was leaving. The second was at an Urban Sketchers Ottawa event at the Carleton tavern. One of the artists ended up making a beautiful sketch of him.
I knew Mawt to be a kind, thoughtful, gentle person with an infectious enthusiasm for art and exploring.
I miss him.