Johanne Deffarges. My exchange to OCAD university, Toronto

3rd August to 22nd December 2018 

I arrived in Toronto on the 3rd August and I was glad that my uncle’s Canadian brother and his wife were there to pick me up at the airport. They live in Guelph, a small city nearby Toronto that features the Ministry of Agriculture and a good university. It took me some time to recover from the jetlag and I was already moving to their 25 years old son and his wife’s organic farm, in which I stayed for a week and worked to harvesting, planting, watering, etc. This was a very sweet memory of my trip to Canada, even though not properly part of my exchange, because I got immersed in a very interesting community of young and brave people that were making the land live through their organic farming but also through their art and craft. I met a lot of people during the many performance shows, potlucks, exhibition in farms across the area, workshops, etc.... that were organised during my stay. 

The couple weeks before the actual exchange started were not as nice because I had to look for an accommodation in Toronto, city that felt quite overwhelming after the quietness of the Ontarian countryside. I stayed for about two weeks in couple hostels, roaming the city visiting flats and meeting up with potential flatmates. It is difficult to find a place to live in Toronto especially because there is a growing flow of immigration and a lot of international students coming to study there and a sharp rise in rents. Out of luck, I have eventually found the ideal place, a big house in Cabbagetown that I mainly shared with other exchange students at OCAD. This period was exhausting but it was also rewarding because I got to see almost every corner of the city and grasp its multiculturalism through the people from many nationalities I got to encounter. 

My semester kicked off with a few exchange students meetings featuring mainly European and Australian students. They were always happening in the learning centre of the library, in an annex standing opposite the school’s main building, in which can be found a zine library and a food court, where students socialize. The exchange students became a nice group of friends and the house I was sharing with other exchange students in Cabbagetown quickly became a meeting point for us all.

My timetable happened to be quite light between my four courses (fifteen hours) but I quickly realised workloads were way superior as GSA’s. My subjects were Illustration, Lithography, Animation and History of Illustration.

The Illustration course was based on briefs given every two weeks, mostly intended to illustrate newspapers article or abstract concepts. The approach to illustration was definitely more commercial than experimental and my course mates were more competitive than back home, which was unsettling to me. I managed to adapt, though, and the teacher was happy with my work most of the time. He gave me good advices regarding how to improve my technique. The course was not teaching skills because other courses were meant to, but the expectations were quite high. It was a good course to learn to be critical, especially in terms of picture analysis and composition. 

The Lithography course was by far my favourite one. Printing from a stone was new to me and I had to learn this complex technique from the beginning. Lithography is time- consuming and physical but the result is very satisfying because it replicates pencil strokes almost perfectly. It is a lovely technique to replicate drawings or paintings. The teacher asked us to print about five series of ten to fifty prints each with different requirements (use of addition and reduction techniques, transfer of a digital file on the stone, use of complementary colors, etc). The printmaking department was the space in the school I enjoyed the most because solidarity was prevailing and people were more easy-going. The technicians were always up for giving a hand. Workshops did not necessarily require inductions to be used so I tried to make the most of it and learn to use the screen printing facilities as well. 

The Animation course, similarly to the illustration course was not about learning skills so much. The course was based on two projects. One group project required to illustrate an old fable with silhouette animation, one portion per student. The second project required to work with appropriation and involved the creation of an animatic (animated story-board) instead of a finished animation. I decided to create a homage to Cabbagetown, my neighbourhood in Toronto, mingling observations with my memories of the place. This part of the course really pushed me and I got to use the animation stand and Dragonframe software to put it together. 

The history of illustration class was lecture-based and approached illustration quite traditionally, in its relationship to politics, medicine, narration... It was a quite demanding class with a lot of readings required, quizzes and essays. My final essay had to do with abstract comics which was probably the most experimental approach to illustration there was in this course.

Even though Toronto is not famous for its cultural scene, there was quite a lot happening. During my time there, there was numerous zine fests and book festivals featuring some amazing illustrators and artists. Many film festivals happened as well, of course the TIFF festival for international movies but also smaller festivals like an Iranian film festival, a festival in my neighbourhood called Regent Park festival featuring local artists. I got to go to very good lectures in museums (Orhan Pamuk at the Aga Khan Museum, panels about gentrification and about First Nation people). I was also part of a group discussion about Indigenous Cultures that helped me a lot to understand the history and issues of Canada. 

The fund I got from The Friends of GSA was very useful. It helped funding my plane ticket as well as traveling around Toronto during the semester. It helped funding my trip to Ottawa for the famous animation festival (where, funny enough, my tutor Ross Hogg’s film was featured) and pay for materials and studio fees OCAD asked. I would like to thank my donor for the amazing experience I had in Canada! 

David Findlay