Mandy Stobo, a Calgary artist most popularly known for her series of celebrity caricatures titled Bad Portraits, is finding innovative ways to share her creative expression with the world as the contemporary art scene turns digital.

The vibrancy of Stobo’s personality reflects that of the canvases that cover the walls of her brightly lit Calgary studio compared to her previous space — a dimly lit basement in dire need of repairs.

This basement was where Stobo starred in a short film, titled Synthesis, filmed by Canadian cinematographer Craig Wrobleski.

“There’s a catharsis to it, that comes onto the canvas,” Wrobleski says. “I think that’s what people relate to because there’s a purity of emotion.”

Wrobleski’s film captures Stobo’s creative process, from where she gets her inspiration for her paintings to the moment when she decides a piece is complete. The project was nominated for an award from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers.

The big break

In the early 2010s, Stobo’s free time was spent using celebrity profile pictures to create prismatic paintings that captured the happiness and humour in them.

Her big break came when she posted a portrait of Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, two members of the comedy trio, The Lonely Island, on Twitter. Samberg quickly replied, asking where the third member of the group, Akiva Schaffer, was. Her work led to publications in The New York Times and Maclean’s. Stobo had 3,000 orders by Christmas Day that year.

Stobo rose to the challenge, posting nearly 20 Bad Portraits of The Lonely Island, several of which were solely Akiva.

“I just kept Bad Portrait bombing him,” Stobo says.

Will Arnett (left) and Mandy Stobo (right) pose by Arnett’s portrait painted by Stobo at Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2019. PHOTO: Supplied by Mandy Stobo

When Google VR came out in 2016, Stobo jumped at the opportunity to incorporate it into her work and quickly found herself closing contracts for a number of augmented reality (AR) art shows.

“I can be done with the painting but then while I’m painting, I can be thinking about the layers of storytelling that I’m going to put on top with digital work,” the artist says.

Recognition of brilliance

Her work with AR has been featured in Canada’s Walk of Fame. The lives of  inductees were captured through moving portraits made with AR software. She is set to return this December for the museum’s 25th anniversary.

Stobo is also working on an educational piece for a museum in Brazil that incorporates AR. The project aims to engage a younger audience in a rare plant exhibit held by the museum.

More recently, she has started producing NFT art – digital artwork created in a blockchain used by cryptocurrency investors and art collectors.

“My favorite thing about NFT’s is there’s these incredible artists that could never have access to the art world and they’re making so much money and they’re giving back to their communities,” she says.

During the pandemic, Stobo also used her creativity to give back to her community. She used digital art to create free colouring pages for children and raised money across Canada for the Food Bank.

Stobo describes her art style as simplistic and full of childlike wonder, an aesthetic she incorporates into all of the latest technology on the market.

For young creatives trying to navigate the digital art world, Stobo encourages them to never stop trying new things.

“No matter what you’re making, if it’s a true reflection of you, or if there’s some kind of energy exchange, whether it’s a digital work or real painting, that’s what makes it magic, it’s that exchange.”

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