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David Ball - A Lifetime of Artistic Legacy

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He has been sitting before drawing boards since he was 17, blossoming into a career that saw him create fine art so true to life it looks real.

But for Dave Ball, life took a turn 11 years ago that forced him to change his medium of choice from watercolours to pastels.

Originally hailing from Coventry, England, Ball made the trip across the pond in 1977 to work in Montreal. From there, he eventually moved west, again for work, calling Edmonton home for a while.

From there, he soon began making the trip back and forth to Fort McMurray doing technical illustrations/graphics for Syncrude Canada before finally making the decision to move north in 1981.

“It’s always been a sociable town,” he says citing one of the reasons he made the decision to move here.

With the extensive outdoor adventure possibilities here, Ball was able to his love of outdoor activities like kayaking, hiking, and cycling.

An avid climber, Ball’s life changed during a climb in Grassi Lakes above Canmore with his daughter, Samara. He describes the climb as one where bolts are already placed in the rock and climbers simply clip their carabiners to them as they make their way up.

During one of their climbs 11 years ago, Ball was lead climber when he suddenly blacked out and slumped back when the pair were about 60 feet up.

“My daughter said I just fell back,” he recalls.

“I must have swung into the corner and smashed my helmet.

“If it wasn’t for my helmet, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

He hit his head with such force it cracked his helmet.

Ball remembers a helicopter picking him up after calls for help went out and then arriving in Canmore.

He’d had a stroke which impacted his right side. Ball is right-handed.

Thankfully, it wasn’t a debilitating stroke, but it did leave him with challenges.

“I can still work, but not too fine. A lot of that work is brushwork.”

He has difficulty using a brush now because of the weakened state of his fine motor skills as the bristles will fold when they touch the paper.

This required a switch to something more solid hence the current use of pastels which he likens to chalk and as such, are more solid and firm.

He has also learned to use his left hand.

“You paint with your brain; you don’t really paint with your hands that much. I didn’t have to re-learn as such.”

He acknowledges it does take him longer to complete work now and if he uses his right hand, he sometimes needs to place his left hand on top of it to steady it.

“It’s a little awkward, but I can still work.

“I use my left hand occasionally. If I’m doing a large area like a sky, I will use a pastel which is like a chalk so you can use it flat so I can use my left hand.”

Ball estimates it was about six months after his stroke before he could again create and says that first piece “was okay. You wouldn’t be able to tell it’s a lesser work than the others.”

“I prefer to do landscapes now though I would tackle anything.”

His work, which can be viewed on his website,, covers a litany of vistas from portraits to landscapes to seascapes to wildlife. His portrait work includes pieces depicting Fort McMurray history and the transportation methods that highlight the uniqueness of this community as well as being integral to its growth. They also feature key historical figures Wop May and Punch Dickins.

He is also a sculptor, creating steel and acrylic works, usually wildlife. He’s even made candles.

His work is on display at Points North Gallery and he annually has pieces in the FuseSocial Timeraiser.

While his work can be so detailed it resembles a photograph, one piece can take up to a couple of weeks to complete whereas a photo can be completed after a push of a button then data manipulation if shot digitally.

There are artists in photography and Ball cites the late Ansel Adams whom he does call an artist.

Renowned for his epic black and white photos of landscapes of the American West, Adams was considered a classicist who avoided the pixel passion, using a variety of equipment including a Deardorf 8×10 View Camera or a Hassleblad 500c Medium Format, 4×5 cameras and 35 mm cameras among many other formats.

While photography is art, it’s not fine art.

When creating fine art, an artist visualizes what will be on the canvas in their mind’s eye then transfer that image to canvas.

“You think about it for a long time before doing it.”

With a landscape, he admits artists take a little creative licence.

“You change things to make it look more interesting.”

Portraits don’t take as long to complete because the artist knows exactly what they’re painting.

“I used to do a lot of industrial work for Syncrude,” says Ball when discussing completion times. He estimates one technical drawing could take a week or more.

When it comes to landscapes, that’s a different story.

“I don’t normally start and end it in one go. I’ll think about it for a  while and then do half an hour …. leave it for a bit then come back to it ... You see it fresh every time if you let it sit for a time.”

When Ball completed his first work after the stroke, he admits he was happy with the result.

“I was pleased I produced something that wasn’t lesser than I normally turn out.”

Though the stroke curtailed his creative endeavours for a brief time,“it’s cut down a lot on my activities because I used to do a lot of outdoor activities and that’s the worst part.”

What compounds the issue, is a trapped nerve on his right side.

No more climbing. Kayaking is limited as is hiking.  He doesn’t cycle as much anymore either.

“The stroke wasn’t so much of a problem after six months. I was pretty much back to normal.

“I can walk more or less normally, but now with this trapped nerve, I would be uncomfortable.”

He recalls one of the most notable challenges he’s had during his career is gaining the interest of some art store owners in North America, a stark difference to their counterparts in Ireland.

“Before I had my own website, I used to take this little book into art stores and try to get them interested in taking some work,” he said referring to a colourful catalogue of selected pieces of his.

On a trip to Dublin, he recounts venturing into art stores and having interest shown in seeing his portfolio.

“I was in one for about an hour and a half talking to this old guy and he said, ‘Do you want to go to lunch?’ I said ‘No. I have to meet my wife,’” he chuckled. “But he was so nice. It’s exactly opposite over here.

“I went to one gallery in Edmonton and I said, ‘Are you interested in looking at my stuff for art?’ and he said, “No, no. I’m sorry.’ He wouldn’t even look at it.

“I understand the reasoning for this. They must get a lot of people coming and asking, but it was frustrating.”

He loves most art, but Ball admits he doesn’t understand the growth of abstract art.

“I really don’t call myself an artist. I call myself an illustrator because anybody can call themselves an artist really. You could get a canvas and throw paint on it and press yourself against it, and call yourself an artist. An illustrator has to usually do a client’s job .. ‘I want a submarine … and a dog tap dancing,’ and you produce it, but I just can’t do the abstract style.

“Being brought up as an illustrator where everything has to be precise, it is hard for me to look at abstract.”

Visiting art galleries, “I see pieces of artwork that are on the wall that are four feet by five feet and they’re just colour and flash, and it really isn’t art for me.”

He recalls visiting an art centre and seeing a piece of work that was a flattened squirrel from roadkill in a frame. Ball chuckles, shaking his head, wondering how that is considered art.


One of those people who arrived in Fort McMurray for a short time – six months - but eight years later is still here. Love this place, the people, the outdoor escapades and the incredible heart of the community. Work hard, volunteer lots and would rather sit and chat with someone than do housework. Passport always at the ready to jet off to some wonderful global locale. So much to see and do.