Ucluelet artist Justin Merk recently beautified Howler’s bowling alley with a life-sized gray whale.

Ucluelet artist dreams big

Justin Merk recently wrapped up a whale of a project.

A local artist recently wrapped up a whale of a project.

Justin Merk has boosted the ambience inside Kent Furey and Amie Shimizu’s Howler’s Family Restaurant by covering its walls with ocean-themed artwork including a life-sized 15-metre gray whale in the restaurant’s bowling alley.

“This is one of the first commercial pieces I’ve done and I thank Kent and Amie for really motivating me and giving me a lot of freedom and patience to make this happen,” Merk told the Westerly.

“I’d never done anything of this scale and it took a little bit of encouraging but as things progressed it became a really fun job and I’m quite happy with how it turned out.”

Merk said the alley’s wall was the perfect canvas for a life-sized rendering of one of the West Coast’s staple attractions and the star species of the annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival.

“To see it to scale that size, being right up next to it, you really get to appreciate the animal,” he said.

He hopes his art inspires the family restaurant’s patrons.

“I hope it inspires families and kids that come in to take on projects of their own and dream big,” he said.

“I’m excited for the kids that are going to be walking up to it, the client in mind were the families and the kids coming in.”

He said it took about two weeks to complete the colossal whale piece, though that included a lot of late nights at the easel.

“It really came together and I’ve been getting good feedback on it,” he said.

Merk moved to Ucluelet about four years ago and has been enamoured with the local art scene.

“As an artist it’s a great place to call home during the winter time,” he said.

“Living here, you’re exposed to so much rich culture…there are many artists and likeminded people around and people like Kent and Amie who appreciate art and encourage local artists.”

Having notched his first major mural project into his belt, Merk is eyeing other big projects.

“I’d like to keep the momentum going; if I can get involved in more murals. Now that I’ve done a big piece, I realize I really enjoy doing large pieces and that there’s a market for it,” he said.

“I’m going to keep working on my own projects and not shy away from what seem like intimidating projects at first but end up being very pleasurable, very fun as well as rewarding.”

He plans to submit an entry to the Whale Festival’s poster design contest and hopes to see other local artists take advantage of the festival’s artistic vibe.

“I encourage all artists to take part in this great event; it’s a great time to get exposure,” he said.

Howler’s co-owner Amie Shimizu was thrilled with Merk’s artistic infusion.

“We wanted to give to the community, and the people that come to check out Howler’s, something awesome to look at and take away from the place and something that represents Ucluelet,” she said.

“We just wanted something amazing on the walls that people can remember and some energy that’s alive… We’re very, very, happy with it; it’s turned out to be so amazing, the colours, the life-size whale, you couldn’t ask for anything more. He’s done an amazing job.”

She was stoked to give the budding artist an opportunity to beautify her restaurant.

“He’s only made this place better and we’re happy to support him and we’re happy to have him as a part of our family here,” she said. “We’re stoked all the way around. It couldn’t have turned out any better.”