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Brit Bachmann

Words  Zarah Cheng
All images from Brit's portfolio.


As we browse around Brit’s studio a couple blocks down from Victory Square, she tells us the story behind each illustration pinned on the white walls.  From first kisses to heartbreak, her works explore a range of emotions and memories that we have all been through.  Inspired by the strangers and pedestrians around her, she is unafraid to use unconventional methods of collecting subjects.  Influenced by situationist theory and continuous narration, Brit Bachmann pushes boundaries in a refreshingly subtle way.

How would you describe your art?

I create continuous contour line drawings, hand-cut vinyl installations and limited-edition zines. My subjects are generally filmed without consent through methods of voyeurism and surveillance, or taken from photos I find online or in books. I consistently use my line as a metaphor for qi, or prana.

How do you incorporate situationist theory into your work?

Early concepts for Situationist International were based on ‘psychogeography,’ a term Guy Debord wrote about in the 1950’s to describe new ways for pedestrians to explore the urban landscape based on individualized experiences rather than fixed geography.  It was a modern response to the vanity of the flâneur, or someone in a state of privilege who strolls just for the sake of it. Psychogeography grew into dérive, which are routes completely directed by the emotions and intuitions of an individual pedestrian. My art practice is dependent on spending days walking around a city and filming strangers, thus providing meaning to places and situations that others may consider mundane. Situationist International became radically anti-capitalist in its later years, and I’m not sure how that will manifest in my work. 

A lot of your art is very tactile.  What influences your use of materials? 

Honestly, constant experimentation and a hyper active imagination. I am attracted to materials that produce or mimic fine line. Thread, for instance, can be indistinguishable from an ink line if used in a certain way. Combining pen, felt marker, gouache, crayon, scotch tape, watercolour, and any other material I can think of is my attempt at channeling some textural intimacy with my art. 

I love your Awkward Kiss series. What inspired these drawings?

Awkward kisses. I wanted to emphasize the excitement of kissing someone for the first time by highlighting the ‘point of impact’ with sequins and embroidery thread. My subjects were taken from photos of strangers that I found searching ‘awkward kiss’ on Flickr and Tumblr. This is an ongoing series that I am not satisfied with yet; I want future Awkward Kiss drawings to become even more gaudy and absurd, with the end result embodying the spirit of severely awkward adolescence. 

Has your work ever been influenced by a muse?

While Nancy Drew has always been a silent muse, I don’t know the name of my current one. I fell in love with voyeurism watching a woman through a window in Paris. At the time I was living in a chambre-de-bonne that shared a courtyard with a finance building. One evening I saw a woman working late. She was on the phone. As soon as I started filming her she hung up and started crying. After a few seconds, she started talking to someone I couldn’t see with expressive hand motions. It was the most beautiful and intimate thing I had ever captured with a camera. I drew it, and thus began my long continuous contour drawing style. That was over three years ago and I still think about her often.

What was the inspiration for your Sketchbook Project submission, Strangers ?

I was looking out a window towards a coffee shop. After an hour of surveillance I saw a man drive up and get out of his car. He looked around, very skittish. Rather than enter the coffee shop, he leaned against the back of his car, lit a cigarette and started reading a book. He stopped reading and left once the cigarette was done, not even entering the cafe. It was such odd behaviour that it seemed like the perfect response to the Sketchbook Project topic, Strangers. My decision to incorporate different types of paper was the direct influence of Antigonik by Anne Carson, which I was reading at the time.

Do you feel that Vancouver provides the support and opportunities needed for blooming artists?

I do. It has taken diligent socializing to understand which collectives, galleries, and organizations to invest in. Vancouver has networking resources that many towns can only aspire towards. I chose Vancouver post-BFA because it offered an immediate job, illustrating subTerrain Magazine issue #66. I relocated from Kelowna where I had experienced very little support for emerging artists, except for the efforts of a few organizations. There was a general air of conservatism and censorship that was suffocating, but Vancouver has a lot less of that. By moving from a smaller town to a city like Vancouver, I have started out completely invisible to this art scene. Lucky for me, I use invisibility as a motivator. 

Your Friends & Strangers series contains several images that feature a time lapse.  Is storytelling and narration an important part of your work?

Incredibly. My continuous line drawings are my attempt at narrating a few seconds or minutes at a time, in a similar way to animation. That being said, since my drawings are usually based off surveillance I don’t even understand the context of the moments I document. I can only speculate the story lines. A more spiritual interpretation of my art practice is that my line symbolizes a universal narrative- the continuous flow of energy from one organism to another. 

You are a co-founder of the Studio One11 zine collective.  How did this project start and what do you hope to accomplish in the future for it?

The idea for Studio One11 began when I overheard Lorna McParland, the director of the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art in Kelowna, talking about getting rid of an old Xerox. Within 24 hours, I had written her a proposal for a provocative zine collective in the Alternator’s available studio space. Membership with Studio One11 was a revolving door, but co-founders Lucas Glenn and Jeff Ellom provided the project with life and legs. We promoted indie publishing by hosting all-ages zine launch parties. Studio One11 is currently inactive; we gave up our studio space and ditched our broken Xerox at the door of a recycling depot in Kelowna. I don’t think the collective is completely dead, though; Lucas and Jeff are both still using concepts generated in Studio One11 to inform their independent and collaborative art practices. As a group we had participated in zine exchanges all over the world, and created an archive we want to display permanently one day. I hope that for some young artists in the Okanagan, Studio One11 demonstrated that low-budget art can overcome geographical limitations. 

The role of the Institution is always a topic of discussion among art circles.  How has your time at UBC for your BFA influenced your development as an artist?

The following opinions are exclusively my own. While I believe the artist is a researcher and should be surrounded by a variety of stimuli, I am not convinced that art schools should attempt to fit an academic mold for the sake of generating interdisciplinary artists. I’m not even sure art schools with hierarchal structure should exist. The Visual Arts Program at UBC Okanagan helped me realize my independence as an artist, but not because of its resources as a university institution. The instructors gave me the freedom to experiment outside the curriculum because I demanded more from my art education than they could teach in a stiff institutional setting. The UBCO faculty is absolutely brilliant. They could impart so much more wisdom on young artists if given more flexibility in the restrictive university environment.

What do you do to combat the artist’s equivalent to “writer’s block”?

I like to dance it out, either with my friends or solo in my studio. There is no block that a cranked stereo and an aggressive playlist can’t dislodge. I get my best ideas jumping around. 

What do you hope viewers take away from your art?

Children have the most animated and excited reactions to my drawings, perhaps because they understand them immediately. I always hope adults channel that same sense of wonder for simplicity that children do. My drawings (especially my figures) are merely suggestions of the real, but not realistic. As humans, our brains fill in the gaps to see what we want to see. My imperfect line enables that process to happen. 

Who is your favourite artist (fine arts, not music), dead or alive?

Sophie Calle, a conceptual artist and writer from Paris. She is very much alive. If ever I see her in the street I will fall to my knees and offer myself as a minion, or at least an unpaid assistant. Everything I create is either consciously or subconsciously for Sophie.

What music do you listen to in the studio?  

I always bounce back to a quote I read from Devendra Banhart, where he describes a single creative impulse as being able to start as a song and end as a drawing, or vice versa. Because of that, I constantly mix up my playlist; I believe that the music I listen to subtly weaves into my drawings. I enjoy streaming Strombo Show, which is the perfect collection of new and old music, and cultural quips. It keeps me stimulated without distracting from my line.