Alison Garwood Jones

Say no to racism

July 11, 2018

I grew up in a multi-racial family.

The Garwood-Jones family at the Huron Haven in Southampton

From left to right: Catherine, Alison, Richard, Trevor, Peter, and our 1972 orange Volvo wagon.

My brothers and I were born at time when Martin Luther King Jr. was doing his most important work, standing up to segregationists in Georgia and organizing non-violent protests in Alabama. Meanwhile, a young couple in Dundas, Ontario — he from London, England, she from Cape Town, South Africa — offered up their bungalow to three babies whose DNA pointed them to Holland, Ireland and Jamaica.

By the time Dr. King’s message became a national, then an international movement, Catherine and Trevor Garwood-Jones were already aligned with the Civil Rights Movement. Mum had travelled between Cape Town and London as a child in the 1930s and forties, but stayed away from South Africa as an adult because of her opposition to Apartheid. She was dead set against ever setting foot in South Africa again until it embraced racial equality — so much so, that when her mother died in 1974, her brothers had to talk her into flying down for the funeral.

I didn’t know this about her until my cousin told me last year. But it made sense. Mum’s opposition to racism played out in the choices she made and the life she lived and the behaviour she spoke up against. Her heart was big and her voice was stern. We all listened and aspired to live up to her standards and expectations for the human race.

In 1960, nine years into their marriage, Trevor set out for Africa and applied his knowledge of construction to some community building projects in Ghana. He was gone for a year — during which time mum became a chain smoker — but he came back with a renewed sense of the harmony and good work human beings were capable of.

Africa wasn’t our parents’ only focus. Dad had an intense connection to the voice and message of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel. Every Christmas, he sat at the kitchen table and re-read Wiesel’s Night. Dad wasn’t a crier, and he knew what effect this book would have on him, but he waded in anyway. He seemed to make a point of re-reading Wiesel every December so as to renew his strength in opposing the forces that, when the time is right, sink many into a state of utter contempt for humanity. We’re in that time again.

An anecdote: Back in the late 1980s, my brother Richard and I took one of our many trips on the Go Train to Toronto. On a window-shopping stroll down Yonge St., I convinced Richard that we had to go into Stollery’s at the corner of Yonge and Bloor. “They’re having a sale on Lacoste socks!” (I wore alligators on my socks back then). While I was gleefully going through the rainbow assortment of socks, a sales associate had taken Richard aside and told him, “You don’t belong here. Go shop down the alley.” Here we were, two kids who had sat at the same breakfast table that morning and poured our cereal from the same box being treated as polar opposites. Apparently, I was good for business. Richard was not. “Let’s get out of here,” my brother said. We left the store in stunned silence. Or, at least I did. I would slowly learn that this was one of a thousand cuts and arrows Richard had taken (probably to heart). When Stollery’s was demolished in 2015, I privately cheered. But too many old walls are going up again.

I didn’t have the words for my brother outside the store back then, but I do now. Say no to racism: to all the throwaway comments in our daily interactions that some people think are true or funny or OK. Correct them and speak up as you move along. Canadian actor, Andrew Phung, did the right thing this week when he called out a Toronto police officer for mocking a citizen’s driving abilities and yelling at them to “go back to your country.” Phung didn’t out the officer on social media by posting his photo. He showed restraint. Instead, he made a point of describing the incorrect behaviour (and it’s ability to scale) and explaining why it was wrong. He then sent a photo of the officer to Toronto Police Services, and called for disciplinary action.

I grew up in a multi-racial family. But I would later learn that our experience with diversity went beyond my brother Richard. In the early Noughties, my mum’s brother paid us visit from South Africa. On that same kitchen table where I shovelled down cereal with my brothers Peter and Richard, and dad cried over Wiesel’s experiences at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, my uncle laid out documentation and a hard-cover biography from the Cape Town Archives that showed how my mother and he were descendants from a black woman living on Robben Island in the 1700s. The same Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated before the fall of Apartheid.

My first reaction was joy for Richard. My second reaction was joy for our family. We really are the world.



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Creative Entrepreneurs: a mutual support society

June 27, 2018

Pen Jar Productions is the print-to-order design studio of Alison Garwood-Jones. Imagine her one-of-a-kind drawings on your throw pillows or tech accessories.

The nice thing about being a creative entrepreneur, other than the creative freedom, the distance from office politics, and the casual wardrobe (I also like to randomly drop and do sit-ups, which I wouldn’t do in an office setting) is the sense of camaraderie with fellow freelancers.

We hire each other, and pay with cash or barter for food and beer, or services. When I started my new Shopify store, Pen Jar Productions, I brought my longtime friend and web designer, Kathryn Barlow on board to perform some CSS surgery on my template.

This morning, this dropped on Facebook.

Kathryn, you can invoice me! I like to pay fast for good work.

Thank you,


“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Alison for years on her blog, which showcases her writing and illustrative talents. I was so thrilled when she launched her Shopify store, Pen Jar Productions to let others bring home a piece of that talent! From pillows to tech accessories, her unique illustrative style injects colour and whimsy to any room!

Alison is hands down one of my favourite people to work with. She’s bright, friendly, funny, and always excited to learn something new.

Check out her shop here: and be sure to give her a follow on Facebook


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Milton Glaser

June 12, 2018

Illustration and quotes by Milton Glaser by Alison Garwood-Jones

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Celebrity Body Parts

May 24, 2018


Inspired by back issues of Rolling Stone Magazine.

#GoldenAgeOfMagazines #PopCulture #Illustration #SocialChange #WatercolorArt


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An LA Sense of Time

May 7, 2018

How humans deal with time in Los Angeles. My latest Instagram book.

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Student Success Stories

May 1, 2018

Do what you love - Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

If you are on this page because you’re thinking of enrolling in my U of T  Digital Strategy course this spring I can see you! Seriously. I’m glad you stopped by.

Whenever I take a course — I took Creating Comics and Graphic Novels (2489) last fall — I always Google the instructor. I want to know who they are, what they are accomplishing outside of class, and if they have an original spark before I commit to spending several months with them.

I’ve been teaching Digital Strategy and Communications Management since the fall of 2014.

In that time, digital communications has evolved (and devolved) by leaps and bounds. My course has adapted with every twist and turn social media has taken, and it provides up-to-the-minute strategies on how to build and market your blog, vlog or podcast.

As a digital journalist, illustrator and the web series host of Willful, I know a thing or two about combining creativity with an entrepreneurial spirit, and how key digital tools are to showing your work.

U of T Learn More Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

Let me share a couple of success stories so you can see how some of my former students have leveraged the course learnings to start new projects, or to land some really cool gigs in digital, marketing and PR:

Andy: Andreanne was already an established beauty blogger at  A Certain Romance  when she signed up for my class last summer. Her goal was clear: she wanted to increase her visibility and get her first paid gig as a blogger/influencer. By week 2 of the course, she had crafted a focused SMART goal (take the course and I’ll explain what that means). By week 12, she had organically increased her subscribers by 54% and her pageviews by 140%.  Shortly after the course was over, Andy was offered an unpaid community management internship with a natural beauty company (which she declined). She also interviewed for a paid position as a community manager/content creator for a beauty distributor. She decided it wasn’t a right fit, so she kept looking. In the meantime, an offer to do her first sponsored post came in. This past spring, she hit the jackpot when she was picked to be the new Web and Social Media Editor at Canadian House and Home‘s French Edition, Maison & Demeure. This week, she got her business cards! Fun fact: for Andy’s first assignment, she was tasked with translating into French one of my feature articles from Canadian House & Home, then promoting it on social. The way I see it, we’re all in this together.

Photo of Andreanne Dion, beauty blogger

Photo: Andreanne by Nick Reynolds

Kamini: Kamini signed up for my class hoping to gain some new digital skills during her job search. She created a WordPress blog about her cat Hewitt. Do we really need another cat or cupcake blog. Yes, if it’s funny and well-produced. Last spring, when Kamini was preparing for a  job interview with Portable Intelligence, she was  used her blog as her portfolio, and reviewed all 12 class decks so she felt prepared. Things went well and she ended up showed her blog and some of her cat videos during her interview.  Last June Kamini said yes to Portable Intelligence and became their Digital Marketing Specialist. It was her very first job in Canada since moving to Toronto from India. Go Kamini! PS: She has since retired her blog URL. Hewitt has moved on.

hewitt the cat

Hewitt by Kamini

Julian: Julian was the first student I had who chose to use the course to set up a podcast. The idea of creating a series of  fun and plain-speaking interviews for young gays who were new to big city living had been percolating in his mind for some time. In the fall of 2016, Julian debuted The Sassy Gay. Since then, he has kept a regular posting schedule and the show has become a recognized source of support in the LGBT community. Posts include: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness and Coming out to your mom. He has also branched out and created a web series called Process where he interviews artists. Julian told me he was inspired by the class to challenge himself in the audio and video storytelling spaces. I’m proud of this guy.

• Shiva: Shiva Kumar Shunmugam took my online class in the Winter of 2016. He was one of the most active and engaged students in this class of 35. So much of what Shiva did and said was rooted in kindness and his strong desire to help other students who were adjusting to the demands of digital communications in their workplaces. When Hurricane Harvey hit metropolitan Houston last August, Shiva, who manages the social media accounts for Beaumont, a town in northern Alberta. This Digital Strategy grad donned his superhero cape to help a family reaching out for help on their social media feeds. Here is a teaser from CTV:

BEAUMONT, Alta. — Shiva Kumar Shunmugam was wrapping up a lazy summer afternoon tending to social media feeds for the Alberta town of Beaumont when a strange request came into the fire hall’s Facebook page.

“Terrell houses are flooding need help,” it said.

Beaumont, Alta., a town of about 18,000 just south of Edmonton, doesn’t have a Terrell neighbourhood and the area hadn’t seen a drop of rain in almost a week.

Shunmugam quickly realized he was dealing with someone in Beaumont, Texas, a community not far from Houston, that has a Terrell Avenue and was hit by Hurricane Harvey.

A woman near Dallas was seeking a rescue for her daughter’s family of four who had floodwater rushing into their Beaumont home.

In her frantic search for help, the mother mistakenly happened upon the page for the fire department in Beaumont, Alta., 3,800 kilometres away.

Shunmugam swung into action. Here he is:

Shiva Kumar Shunmugam

You can read the full story of Shiva’s life saving community management tactics here. Suffice it to say, I’m proud to know this guy.

Since I started teaching, I have witnessed many success stories. One more pops to mind. A lot of people who come to my class are fleeing dying industries.  David was a copy editor at The Hamilton Spectator who felt confident enough with the new digital smarts he acquired in class to seek a job as a Communications Associate at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. “It was only a matter of time before the paper let me go,” he said. Like so many, David abandoned print media in favour of a communications job with more growth potential and stability.

Join me this winter is you want to learn how to adapt to the new digital economy, or apply a strategic mindset to an idea you have for a written blog, web series or podcast. I’m teaching the in-class section (075) this term.

I hope to see you soon,






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June Callwood

May 1, 2018

June Callwood illustration by Alison Garwood-JonesPeople I admire who happen to be female: June Callwood. She lived and breathed social justice and civil liberty. June was also one of the first journalists in Canada to write about the physical and emotional toll AIDS was taking on a generation of gay men in Toronto in the early 1980s. Her book, Jim: A Life With AIDS (1988, Lester & Orpen Dennys), still pops up occasionally in used bookstores around the city as a reminder of how we need to listen to and take care of each other. I think of June every time I pass down Isabella St. and Casey House, the hospice she founded that embraces and cares for patients dying of AIDS.



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In the beginning …

April 19, 2018

Watercolour drawing of a round brush by Alison Garwood-Jones

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Deepa Mehta

April 14, 2018

People I admire, who happen to be women: film director Deepa Mehta. I remember coming back from a press trip in Stuttgart and waiting forever at YYZ for a taxi. Deepa was waiting too and we gave each other the nod.

#IndoCanadianFilm #elementstrilogy #CanadianFilm #TIFF #fiercewomen

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Why I draw

April 7, 2018

Back in 2012, when I was leafing through the book, More Things Like This, an anthology about the intersection of art, writing and humour, I didn’t expect to find a painting of me scattered amongst the works of Art Spiegelman, Andy Warhol, Shel Silverstein, Kurt Vonnegut, and Leanne Shapton.

I later found out my likeness was featured in this anthology because Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber of The Royal Art Lodge (the now defunct art collective out of Winnipeg) had contributed their painting, “Poster Maker,” to the book.

Royal Art Lodge, Poster Maker, and its inspiration

Michael had found a kid pic of me drawing in a back issue of Elle Canada (where I was an editor) and reinterpreted my “little girl sincerity and focus” with an alter ego who pens big “Fuck Off” signs for her bedroom door. “It kind of mirrors the comedy of a dry journalist reporting on a funny situation,” Neil told me in an email when I followed up to get the story of how I ended up in this book. You can read the whole interview here.

I’ve told this story on my new Facebook brand page because I’ve come full circle. After a dozen years of chasing magazine writing assignments, I’m back to drawing, with all its visceral and subversive delights.

Words aren’t doing it for me during this cultural moment. Or rather, I’d say digital distractedness and the rise of fake news have conspired to turn me off language, and my only solace has been to reignite my ancient interest in mark-making and colour.

After I started posting my drawings and paintings on Instagram two years ago, wouldn’t you know it, offers to buy my art started to stream in. Can I just say, I really appreciate that many of you are feeling a connection to my work. Thank you.

When the world tells you what it wants from you, sometimes it’s best to listen. An Etsy shop will follow.

Finally, if you feel so inclined, please like or follow my new brand page.

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