Michif Women Packers by Leah Dorion | Image source: Leah Dorion/Eagle Feather News
In speaking to many school children, talking at conferences, and lecturing at community events I often am asked by my audience members, “What has your art career taught you? It seems many people are intrigued by the life of a practicing artist and desire to hear about the artistic process. After painting for almost eleven years and enjoying a lifetime of creative writing, I have learned many valuable life lessons, and I have shared Aboriginal cultural wisdom with many diverse people. I share my advice, teachings, and ideas that have helped me make a good life, as an Indigenous artist.
Making a Creative Space
My advice to every budding artist is to find an inspiring spot to guide your writing, sketching, and creative thinking. Search out your power places. I always tell my students to make a creative space, find a regular place, or time period, to create and manifest your creative expressions. I have a personal writing and painting routine that works for my lifestyle and I make it a priority. My space is sacred, my routine is comforting, and I feel happy in this space. When I am healthy and relaxed creativity flows. Another message I emphasize is don’t throw your rough ideas away put them in a folder, a special memory box, or an ideas drawer. For instance, there are art works and writing that I have sat with for over fourteen years before I returned to the original raw material and completed my final work. My children’s book, The Giving Tree, is a fine example of this long term process which was first written in rough notes which survived many personal moves and relocations all because I had that one “Special Box.” To this day, I still have rough hand drawn sketches or poem prompts on stained restaurant napkins just awaiting the day they become completed masterpieces. Every now and then when I visit these raw materials and see the food and coffee stains on the withered paper, I am humbled and reflect upon the meaning and the root inspiration that drove me to create. I still have five year old unfinished paintings which hang in my art room awaiting completion, and I know they will be done when the time is right. I bless and respect my creative space and I treat it with great respect and so do others, the children in my life all treasure their visits to my magical and messy studio space.
Art is Healing
My Indigenous people are in a process of healing, reconnecting with the land, resisting assimilation, and restoring our culture beliefs and values. We value the healing aspects of art creation and have used art to re-balance ourselves in our present world. As people who have been silenced, ignored, and oppressed, we often use the safety of art to say what we feel! As many others have encountered our society has not always been a safe place to feel and speak. In my art practice, I consciously work to share healing, peaceful, and harmonious imagery so as not to re-victimize or traumatize any person who may be coping with a very busy and violent world. I paint imagery to celebrate life, honor earth, women, and natural law. I believe the western world is more open minded to receive Indigenous philosophy, teachings and art imagery which makes our worldview tangible. The world is ready to listen to us, especially children, and I find that our Aboriginal cultural teachings regarding the human place in this existence is passed forward beautifully through art making with children. Children see the beauty in order and pattern and respond emotionally to color and concept in ways adults have lost or blocked due to life demands of adulthood.
Learn to Observe
All my life I have rushed to meet deadlines, finish tasks, and get chores done, and art making has directed me to slow down, be patient with myself, and see life as a process. Through both visual art and writing I have learned to develop the skill of silent observation. I have managed to not harshly judge my work or myself. I have created a gentle and compassionate art practice. If I let the inner critique take over, I would never have taken the wonderful risk to show my artwork to the public. There are many artists who disable themselves with excessive self-criticism, doubt, fear, and insecurity. I have always felt that Creator is at the foundation for my work so I have learned to generate self-acceptance and I put my work out there without worries about how others will judge it. I gently encourage my growing students to share their work with others, but only with people who are genuine, totally willing, and enthusiastic, who can give them honest and helpful constructive feedback, from a good place. I know that my writing is better today because of the great editors and trusted confidants in my life.
Discovery and playfulness are at the heart and soul of my artistic practice. I like trying new mediums, materials, and techniques. I enjoy using my Indigenous symbols in effective and meaningful ways. My mother always says I really know how to play with “color” and she calls me a “color risk taker” since I like to combine colors in sometimes unconventional risky artistic ways. I encourage all my students to have fun, explore, and experiment with art materials and with the written word. I try to stress that we all have a signature style and sometimes it takes a while to discover how it enfolds. I want my own students to be inspired by my art style but not to copy my work exactly I want them to put their own personal interpretation, or signature style in their art work. There is room for all of us, in the arts community. There is a space for everyone in the circle of creation it is not a competition! Sometimes our modern culture is so focused on being the best, or doing art the “right way,” that diversity and uniqueness in often overshadowed by our corporate iconic media driven world. My advice is to be open to moments of inspiration, be passionate, express your own identity in your art and writing creations, speak out, and celebrate your own special place in this world. Never be afraid to step back, take a deep breath, be grateful, and be creative.