A Conversation with Jeff Blackburn, York Alumnus and multidisciplinary artist

(Courtesy of Jay Nelle)

Jeff Blackburn, York alumnus, is a multidisciplinary artist with a specialized  BFA in drawing, painting, and black and white photography. Recently, he has illustrated and released a new children’s book with Virginia Jahyu: Alphabet Dreams.

“Virginia Jahyu and I had met at an arts market around 2012 or 2013 where we were both selling some work. We have some friends in common, and she thought my style of illustration would fit with a book of alphabet-themed poetry that she had recently written. She reached out and asked if I had any interest in collaborating on the project, and it took off from there,” says Blackburn.

He explains that even though the project was pushed to the back burner for a bit, it was revived once his son, Emory, started to grow up and it became his favourite book to read before bed.

“Reading it night after night allowed me to marinate with all aspects of the book, and it highlighted a number of necessary edits and changes, from the flow of each line of text to various imagery issues. Finally, in the fall of 2022, I held a fundraising art sale of older paintings, illustrations, and prints and secured funding to do a run of 100 books plus special edition prints. We had a public launch in September 2023, and were sold out within 48 hours,” says Blackburn.

Blackburn shares that one of his most influential classes at York was the fourth-year figure drawing class with Tim Whiten.

 “He taught us to pay close attention to our surroundings and really focus on how we define form with a line or the lack thereof. And then boom, I graduate and am sent out into the wild with a whole new way of seeing and means of filtering that information. It’s only been the last couple years that I’ve begun to realize how influential that last term was on the development of a personal style within my work,” he explains.

However, Blackburn adds that the most “profound and life altering” thing that happened during his time at York was meeting his wife.

As an artist, he says that he is most inspired by other artists. “On a day-to-day basis I work in the arts and am introduced to new artists, curators, collectors, etc. all the time, as well as being immersed in a city that literally has art on every corner. Travel and exploration have been constant sources of inspiration as well, and have taught me to be present and appreciate the goings on in the world around me,” says Blackburn.

He explains that while his favourite part of being an artist is immersing and dedicating himself to each fine detail of your work, it can be challenging to find the time to do so.

In addition to finding Blackburn’s work online on his Instagram or website, he has a few murals found around the city, as well as in restaurants or on beer cans.

“As I mentioned earlier, our run of physical copies managed to sell out fairly quickly, but Virginia and I would love to work with an established publisher and be able to reach a wider audience. One last fun fact about the book: Virginia developed and hand-wrote her own font for this book,” adds Blackburn.

About the Author

By Sydney Ewert

Arts Editor


Sydney is in her third year at York University studying Dance. She loves to travel and explore new places. When Sydney is not editing, working, or studying for her classes, she is likely going for walks or learning new recipes.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments