Jeff de Boer | Opportunity Creator

Jeff is a renowned sculptor and multimedia artist best known for his tiny medieval armour creations.

Independent Visual Artist & Creator
Former Instructor, Jewellery & Metals
School of Craft & Emerging Media, AUArts
AUArts Alum 1988, Diploma | Jewellery & Metals

AUArts: What do you do, and where do you currently live?

Jeff de Boer: I live in Calgary, I am a full-time professional, independent visual artist. That means that basically, I make my entire living in the private sector. I don't need to apply for grants. I have everything from corporate clients to private clients who finance everything I do, and I make everything from large public sculpture to small-scale jewellery and everything in between. And I've done everything from art-related project to design projects, architectural projects, basically the full gambit. Anything made in metal.

AUArts: And is there one type of art that you prefer doing?

de Boer: My claim to fame is, when I was a student at the art college in 1986, I made a suit of armour for a mouse. And to this day, I still do it and I have collectors all over the world for that.

AUArts: And what first gave you the idea to do that?

de Boer: I had been building armour for five or six years, and I was working in the Jewellery department – that was my scale. And the one thing I didn't want to do was make a miniature or a model of a suit of armour.  So the question was, how do you bring authenticity to the work? I didn't want it to be cute. I wanted to look for a subject matter that was the same size and scale I was working in the course. And the mouse just seemed perfect. That's kind of that a-ha moment. And I think that's the moment where creativity lies, is where you're connecting your past with your present. 
The suit of mouse armour, it's also a good metaphor for the art institute. We have to be resourceful. We're not considered very powerful, and we're always taking on the cat. That suit of armour, to me, is like education or having resources. Given the resources, I think you can take on anything. I think that's a very important message for artists.

AUArts: And didn't you do some for cats as well? 

de Boer: Yup. Equal opportunity creator. You have to keep the universe balanced.

AUArts: Did you know that you wanted to be an artist when you were younger? 

de Boer: I cannot remember a day when I did not want to be an artist. It’s all I've ever wanted to be. 

My father was a metal fabricator. So I was making things my whole life. I decided to go into Jewellery because I liked the skills, and I liked making things. And I told myself I would treat jewellery as a form of three-dimensional visual communication. There was no course in existence for what my gut was telling me. But the Jewellery department was perfect for me, I knew that. The rest is history.

I cannot remember a day when I did not want to be an artist. It’s all I've ever wanted to be. 

My father was a metal fabricator. So I was making things my whole life. I decided to go into Jewellery because I liked the skills, and I liked making things. And I told myself I would treat jewellery as a form of three-dimensional visual communication. There was no course in existence for what my gut was telling me. But the Jewellery department was perfect for me, I knew that. The rest is history.

AUArts: You said that your father was a metal fabricator. Was he supportive of you going into art?

de Boer: I always joke that every other kid got an accordion or a piano or violin. I got a hammer. The idea that I'd become an artist would almost be like me becoming a doctor and a lawyer in another family. They were so excited about that. I've had nothing but love and support to become an artist my whole life.

AUArts: What would you tell someone whose parents weren’t so supportive? 

de Boer: People who are creative are going to have the best jobs in the future. 

An arts degree is about becoming and being immersed in a world where creativity is everything. A creative person will always have the most transferrable abilities and skills. And there's going to be so many jobs in the future.

The really good jobs are going to be a fusion of creativity and engineering, or creativity and business management, or creativity and product design, or creativity and marketing. I would also say that it’s not enough to just be an artist. In my career, it's also important to be an entrepreneur – have some business ability, be able to manage projects. 

I think getting into the arts is a pretty good idea.

AUArts: What is the League of Extraordinary Makers?

de Boer: I've created a guild where mentorship is available to artists. I've been mentoring other artists to become professionals for over 20 years, and I've had some success.

AUArts: Can you give me an example of how that would work?

de Boer: My last student just graduated from AUArts. I’ve been working with the group to produce my own jewellery company, and he’ll go directly into a two-year residency in my studio. 

And he’ll have access to everything. My studio, my tools, my materials, access to my clients, and access to my Rolodex. What student could possibly graduate from school and have access to 30 years of real-world experience like that? And get paid to do it. Being able to offer that to somebody, is for me, the biggest accomplishment of my career.

AUArts: That's awesome. Can you tell me what’s the biggest thing you learned from going to AUArts?  

de Boer: I think that truly creative people will come out of a university setting and create their own book. And I think that’s the secret – it’s not the degree, it's what the degree does to the person to get that degree. The changes in that person, it’s what makes the difference. It's the process – it’s not the piece of paper.

jeffdeboer.com

instagram.com/jeffdeboersculpture