CHANGE OF ART: Talented Surrey teen paints his way to exciting new future

SURREY — Cans clink as they’re shaken and paint fumes dominate the air.

The unmistakable sound of paint leaving the spray can comes from all directions.

Greens, blues, reds, purples. A plethora of colours are plastered across the worn walls. The skull of a bull takes over one side of the room. A hop, skip and a jump away is a lizard riding a horse in cartoonist Vaughn Bode-esque style.

On the walls of the Alice McKay building on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, where bleachers once were, a half a dozen lifelong graffiti artists are leaving their mark through rodeo-inspired pieces that will come together to make a mural.

But among the men was Ian Ireland.

And his story is a little different.

Ian is 15 years old. The other guys have been tagging longer than he’s been alive.

Coming from a family of creative people – his father a florist, his mother a wedding dress designer – Ian grew up drawing. It’s how he expresses himself. It’s how he makes sense of the world.

A passionate artist by any definition, the Semiahmoo Secondary student was heading down a bad path before something special happened.

See, Ian’s not a skater. But his friends are. He’d hang out at skate parks and didn’t really know how he fit in. Until, one day, he stumbled across a can of spray paint in a park. It didn’t take long for him to take to tagging.

"It was about the rush," the teen said. "It’s also about expression. Leaving a little bit of you somewhere.

"It had just become a bit of an addiction. I got lost in the art of it."

Things came to a screeching halt when he got busted for vandalizing his school. A teacher recognized a tag from Ian’s sketchbook he fills with his drawings.

He was told he’d have to pay for the damage, and a police officer would be coming to see him.

Cst. Troy Derrick would answer the call. Ian laughs as he recalls Derrick showing up in full uniform – bullet proof vest and all.

"Oh crap," he recalled thinking, likening the experience to a TV show where cops try to scare kids out of continuing to commit crimes.

Ireland mural graffiti
Ian Ireland, right, works on his whale mural in the Alice McKay building with Cst. Troy Derrick, who helped the teen find a clear path in life. – Amy Reid

"But Troy changed his mind as he was talking to me. He noticed I had talent," he continued. "He said, ‘I’ll help you fill out a resume, we’ll get a reference letter… as long as you don’t do any illegal graffiti anymore. And I’ll give you space to paint.’ He gave me an amazing opportunity."

Derrick, who uses skateboarding and art to connect with youth, said he noticed Ian’s talent and drive right away.

As a graffiti-style muralist himself, he decided to take Ian under his wing instead of laying charges against him for painting up the high school.

And as Derrick quite simply, but masterfully, puts it: "The difference between art and vandalism is permission."

So it was with permission – and Derrick’s guidance – that Ian got a break.

"Ever since Troy came along, it’s shown me a clear path in what I want to do in life," said Ian. "I want to become a concept artist or muralist. I want to be able to influence and inspire people with what I do. I want to show people that there’s nothing to life without the spice of art."


Ian and Derrick are set to participate in a graffiti contest during the Cloverdale Rodeo this May long weekend.

Mainroad Group, host of the contest, is inviting graffiti artists to come out and tag about work zone safety – such as distracted driving or slowing down in construction zones – on 8×20 foot walls the company will be erecting. The winner will take home $500.

To sign up, email

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