Brad Jaycock: The Northern Tiki

By Sherri Telenko  |  Photography by Nikki Wesley

Art is a challenging living; many aspiring Picassos are advised to adapt a back up plan.

But what happens when that plan becomes less in demand than your art? When overseas skilled labour starts edging into your turf? You become a custom-plasma cut metal artist, apparently, and convert the family garage into a studio.

At least, that’s Burlington artist Brad Jaycock’s career trajectory.

For 15 years, Jaycock has worked as a digital graphic artist, website designer, and computer animator, after graduating from Georgian College and returning from a three-year backpacking trip through Asia and Canada. The trip influenced both his design aesthetic and the name of his company, The Northern Tiki. But times are changing, and Jaycock finds himself in a unique position: interest in his layered metal art and signs is growing as compensation for his commercial trade withers.

“People don’t put as much value on graphics and graphic design anymore,” Jaycock says as we chat frankly at the Art Gallery of Burlington. “A lot is outsourced and done cheaper and cheaper. I still do freelance graphic design and social media work, but what started as a hobby – the art – is taking up 70 per cent of my time.”

Jaycock is referring to the custom work and more appearing on The Northern Tiki Instagram account (social media is his primary promotional tool). He cuts cold-rolled lighter metal into shapes or words based on a computerized design.  “I built a CNC machine myself,” he says, enabling him to design on computer then translate the digital art to the machine that cuts layers of images from flat sheets of metal. What differentiates him from other metal artists?

“I don’t cut a flat piece, paint it and be done. That’s just a silhouette,” Jaycock says. “I give the pieces layered depth. My experience in animation allows me to see the finished piece differently.”

The layers form signs with depth and texture, such as corporate logos for the front of restaurants, or wall art, such as a now privately-owned large-scale Canadian flag composed of individual maple leaves. Layers of resin-coated leaves, rusted, then patinaed red and assembled on a 100-year-old barn board make up the dramatic watershed piece.

“I love to use a lot of different patinas, the finishes on the metal,” says Jaycock, also fond of more expensive architectural steel. That steel is meant to rust and change colour, but the rust doesn’t eat away the metal, creating naturally oxidizing outdoor patio art.

Jaycock creates his own designs, like the flag piece and several styles of circular living tree designs morphed with a guitar, but commissions are the bread and butter of The Northern Tiki. Some individual clients ask for specific images, but most have a concept in mind.

One such concept was for a pilot. “A customer saw my work online and said, ‘my brother is a pilot, what can you do?’” The resulting birthday gift wasn’t a specific plane, but a 130-piece composition creating a set of propellers framed by antique engine blocks. 

Jaycock boasts a returning client, Lieber Canada, that regularly purchases office art featuring the company’s large crane equipment. “These are very intricate pieces; two to five layers of metal creating a three-dimensional piece. Every time I drop one off, they order several more,” he says.

Much inspiration comes from the Canadian North. “A love of the Canadian outdoors and the mid-century modern aesthetic come together,” Jayco says, who is currently working on a Canadian series inspired by white pine and birch. “A junction of my loves in life.”