Feb 14, 2023
Client Story

What do employment and origami have in common? They both start with a piece of paper and a community of support.

In employment, a first impression with an employer is made when a candidate hands in their resume, taking an unremarkable piece of paper and transforming it into a key to future opportunities. A community stands behind that first interaction between employer and candidate, in hours spent on mentorship, building bonds through networking, and pushing through barriers with help from employment support services.

In origami, a piece of paper starts the process. A variety of different paper squares make up the artwork titled “The Origami Bonsai”. A community of artists provided opportunities to learn, be inspired, practice, and share the art.

This is the story of the artists, Derek Didrikson and Curtis Shaw.

Although they both went to Canterbury High School for the visual arts programs and went through the Causeway Entrepreneurial Opportunity program, Derek and Curtis only met in 2017 after Curtis’s partner introduced the two of them. After that, they started hanging out quite a bit. Derek helped Curtis learn about weights in the Wellness Centre. They worked on digital art together and taught themselves how to use Photoshop.

Derek is a participant in Causeway’s Employment Supports Program and has been a member of the Causeway community for ten years.

Derek had originally trained to become an IT Technician but when he developed chronic fatigue, he found that he needed to re-evaluate his career path. He recalls originally feeling kind of lost, and needing direction. That’s when Derek came to Causeway. “You feel much better when you have a purpose, right?” Derek said during the interview.

He spent many years coming to the Wellness Centre, gotten jobs at two of Causeway’s Social Enterprises (Krackers Katering and Causeway Commercial Cleaning), and has formed his own art business through a former program – Causeway Entrepreneurial Opportunity.

Looking back, Derek expressed wishing he had pursued his passion for art earlier, but he has since gone back to school to study pre-animation at Algonquin College.

If Derek could offer advice to businesses looking for people to hire, he would say “I’ve worked in many places and I find the people who I work with here at Causeway are exemplary employees. Give people a chance, you might not be like a regular employee, and might take some more time to get up to speed. But if you give people a chance, they will respond by being so happy to do the job.”

Curtis first started at Causeway through the Causeway Entrepreneurial Opportunity; his goal was to create his own business as an artist. Before he started coming to Causeway, he felt lost doing business-to-business market research, but he has been operating his art and origami jewelry business for many years now and it’s been going well. Curtis still comes to Causeway to use the Wellness Centre with Derek and to access the Job Quest Program.

Curtis recently applied to go back into the animation program at Algonquin College. He started the course there in 2014 however due to the school’s lapsed time policies, he could not resume where he left off. He is currently on the list to restart the program. 

Since leaving the program, he has practiced drawing, digital art, learning software, and even reading comic books to get a better understanding of animation. He is confident that he will still get a lot out of taking the classes he’s taken before, because he is continuously learning and growing as an artist.   Curtis is going to strive to be one of the strongest students in the program. Although the expense of the program is a barrier for him, he hopes that at the end of the second or third year in the program, he will be able to find employment in the industry. Until then, he has sought out other employment opportunities with help from Causeway.

During the holiday season, Curtis found seasonal employment at Maker House on Wellington Street West. Curtis experienced nervousness while completing job applications. He stated that it would have taken him “probably a few years to get one job application right and then send that and realize … the job was taken.” After working with Nancy, his Employment Support Specialist, he learned that the key is to get more applications sent out, rather than sweating the small stuff.

If Curtis could advise businesses or employers who are looking for people he said, “I imagine there are people out there who are doing job applications on their own, and some of them could be very well prepared for the job and others not so much. People coming through Causeway get a lot of one-on-one [support], and planning, and learning about the jobs they are applying for, so they are prepared when they get the job. [Causeway’s participants] are reliable and they’re very much aware of the job before [they] start.”

To Derek, ‘Work. Regardless.’ means that “there’s always a job somewhere out there for you.”

To Curtis, ‘Work. Regardless’ means that “anyone and everyone should be able to get employment.”

Both Derek and Curtis are a part of the ‘In the Wind’ Art Collective, and they played off of each other’s expertise to create the beautiful artwork pictured below.

The Origami Bonsai

They talked about the sense of community they feel from the ‘In the Wind’ Art Collective. Before the pandemic, their art collective aimed to host a series of events called “Creative Café”. On January 27, 2023, they had their first one since the pandemic began at Psychiatric Survivors of Ottawa located on Bronson Avenue. The Creative Café series of events are open to anyone and brings the art community together to discuss their pieces, talk about business and share ideas. Visitors can enjoy a variety of visual art pieces as well as music and poetry.

Curtis stated “It’s very helpful to be around other artists, to go to shows, and have people come and ask you about your art and your process. As opposed to being at home, you can watch YouTube on art and do stuff at home, but it’s so much easier to work and come up with ideas when you have other artists around you to share work with, and talk about your work.” Derek chimed in and taught us that, “Even van Gogh, he went to Paris and he was with all those other impressionists, he tried doing that and [his art] jumped ahead.”

The Origami Bonsai is made through teamwork using regular printer paper, brown packaging paper and methylcellulose. For the branch they used brown packaging paper and then soaked it in methylcellulose, Curtis explains. “[Methylcellulose] is kind of like a glue that evaporates into nothing. We soaked this paper and then twisted it, so it would have that kind of a bark feeling.” Once the paper is twisted tight it starts to curve, at which point the artists used painter’s tape around it keeping it in the proper shape while drying. A day later it was completely dry, which is when Curtis and Derek took off the tape. Then they painted the branch.

For the flowers, Curtis and Derek modelled it after real flowers and put a thin layer of shiny sparkle paint on top. Then, to make it convincing, they used a glue gun to put the flowers onto the branch and then mixed the same colour paint as the branch and painted over the glue and slightly over the back of the flower, to give the illusion that the flower is coming out of the wood.

When asked what The Origami Bonsai should invoke, Derek replied “Well, the thing about art is, I believe, some people believe in God, some people don’t, but if you don’t believe in God there’s still something to take out of this world; you know, the best of this world. It’s just something higher. This origami piece is like a little window into a higher feeling. Higher beauty.”

Like origami, obtaining employment takes a thousand pieces coming together, but it all starts with your resume on a piece of paper, and a community to make it happen.

If you are interested in seeing more or buying Curtis’s work check out his Instagram @curtisshawtheartist. If you are interested in seeing more or buying Derek’s work, check out their art collective website, In the Wind, at

Check here to see when the next Creative Café is.

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