When Durham College (DC) student Branson Schell returns to campus this September for his second year in the Animation – Digital program, he’ll have quite an addition to his portfolio. Schell’s water colour portrait of Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie went viral and is now being featured on t-shirts that will raise money for brain tumour research.
Downie announced in May that he has an incurable brain tumour; he’s now travelling Canada with the Tragically Hip on the bittersweet Man Machine Poem tour that will likely be his last.
An avid Tragically Hip fan, Schell was inspired to pick up his paintbrush by Downie’s music and circumstances. “It was only my second painting ever and it took about half an hour to complete,” said Schell. “I’m used to working with charcoal and pencil from my hand-drawing classes at DC, but I felt like I really need to use colour this time to capture him [Downie].”
After posting the portrait to his Instagram and Facebook profiles with the hashtag Gord Downie, Schell’s work began drawing attention and made its way to fellow fan Christina Parente who asked for permission to share the image on her Downie tribute website, deargord.ca. Next, popular music journalist Alan Cross included Schell’s painting in a poll to choose a Downie tribute image to be printed on t-shirts for a fundraiser in support of the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. Schell’s artwork was announced the winning fan-favourite on July 20 after earning nearly 60 per cent of the hundreds of votes that were cast.
“I’m proud of the painting, and the attention it’s getting is great, but I’m even more proud of how it’s going to help raise awareness and funds for more brain cancer research,” said Schell.
He and his friends will be watching the live broadcast of the Tragically Hip’s final concert on Saturday, August 20, at an outdoor event in his hometown of Cobourg, Ont. He plans to have some t-shirts on hand to keep doing his part to fundraise.