Benoit Tardif: An Illustrator's Guide to Montreal

From spots to work and places to print to undercelebrated artistic curios, few people are better to offer a guide to Montreal from an illustrator’s perspective than this enigmatic artist.

Benoit Tardif: An Illustrator's Guide to MontrealPhotograph: Cindy Boyce

He may live in Repentigny now, but illustrator Benoit Tardif’s known Montreal intimately for over a decade. From humble beginnings in Saint-Eustache, his work’s since appeared everywhere from the New York Times and The Walrus to Habs jerseys and iconic drawings of restaurants and bars like Joe Beef and Burgundy Lion.

There’s no style quite as playful as Tardif’s: Vibrant, whimsical, and characterized by bold colors, imaginative scenes, and a playful use of characters and elements, each of his pieces feel both exaggeratedly cartoonish and nostalgic, like a carefully filled in colouring book.

“I’m just trying to do something unpretentious. I want to have fun, so I’ve developed a style where I know I’ll have fun,” Benoit says.

“When my son was four or five, I’d draw a lot with him and I fell in love with the spontaneity of a child. I realized then it was important for me and already in my work, and I wanted to keep that close.”

That said, there are few better people who could offer a guide to Montreal from an illustrator’s perspective.

An Illustrator's Guide to Montreal with Benoit Tardif

Lili & Oli (Little Burgundy)

2713 Notre-Dame Street West

"I may need to take notes someday to know why it feels good to work in a coffee shop, but this place always felt good to me. I just draw and draw here. When I have an idea, I like to avoid working at home, take a walk, go somewhere else—and this is one of the first places I’d go. I just feel good here: There are a lot of regular clients here, the staff is cool, the coffee’s good, and taking a table where the light’s right? I just love it.” 

Station W (Angus)

124-2600 Rue William-Tremblay

"This is around where my last apartment in Montreal was. I like to go even now as it’s nostalgic for me. I like to bring my son, and he fell in love with the breakfast sandwich there; he thinks it’s the best in the world. We go together, and I’ll draw while he watching shows, and we’ll have a great time together.”

Crew Collective & Café

360 Rue Saint-Jacques

"When I go to Montreal, I’ll need to take calls, but I don’t like to do it in front of people. Here, they offer cubicles you can rent for a couple hours, making it easy to meet up with clients. The coffee’s also amazing here, and the space is large—it makes me feel like I’m in a movie every time. It’s beautiful, yes, but the technical aspect of it is great as well.”


5605 Av. de Gaspé #301

Video: @atelierphotosynthese / Instagram

"This graphic arts workshop in the Mile End is where I print in small batches for clients. They’re super friendly and professional here, and the prints are always slick when they come from here. They work with all kinds of people too, from illustrators like me to architects, museums, and gallerists.”

Atelier Retailles

5752 Saint-Laurent Boulevard

"I had this idea a couple years ago where I could take all the paper I use and turn it into its own genuine paper and create a new art out of it. I can bring them my old sketchbooks and papers, and they used it to make materials I use now. It’s a beautiful product, and because I sketch on all kinds of coloured paper, my next batch should look even better than the last. They also have a store now you can visit, and you can take courses here as well.”


3915 Saint Denis Street

"This is who I’ve worked with for a long time now. They sell artists’ prints, graphic novels, children’s books—every time I go there, I always walk out with something. Working with the owner Jacthiyne, she was my first professional client. I met her at SOUK, and she proposed that I do Paperole’s logo, and it’s been more than ten years of us working together.”

Montreal Pool Room

1217 Saint-Laurent Boulevard

“When I think of place that have visual interest, I think of here and when my grandfather would bring me here. They have this illustrated map that includes Montreal, Toronto, and Quebec that’s a huge charactiture of Canadian geography and cities. It’s a great souvenir for me, and it’s still something that inspires me. Sometimes I’ll just go get a hot dog just to look at it.”

Metro Jean-Talon

H2R 1T7

“At this station, there’s this super geometric mural done by Judith Bricault Klein in 1986 you can see from every level of the station. Nobody ever talks about this when they talk about art in the metro, but this one is my favourite. It’s the colour, the shapes, and it’s even more beautiful to see in person.”

Liverpool House

2501 Notre-Dame Street West

“Of course I’d suggest this spot for the food, but I love the paintings by Peter Hoffer that they’re hanging. It’s this series of hyper realistic truck accidents, these semis that have fallen on their sides—it’s beautiful, but strange. There are at least five or ten of them, and I love how they just hung them there. I’m not sure why they chose them, but I love them.”

“I like restaurants like Joe Beef’s, they’re not existing in any specific time. You could’ve gone there in the 1980’s and wouldn’t feel lost or out of place.”

Follow Benoit Tardif on Instagram and visit his website.

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