As Leona Belleau unveiled four paintings she has created for the Cariboo Chilcotin Child Development Centre, she said she was going to miss them.
The 26-year-old Indigenous artist from Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) was commissioned to paint a moose, a bear, a raven and a squirrel for display in different sections of the centre.
She delivered the paintings to the CCCDC on Monday, Feb. 3, and was glad to learn from the staff she can come back and visit the paintings anytime.
Each animal features traditional Indigenous design with scenery inside.
Belleau explained how she worked with the staff to come up with the four animals that were chosen.
“We had a few meetings. I was given a few words, and each animal represented one of the words.”
The words came from the CCCDC’s code of conduct, said Trish Morey, community outreach program co-ordinator.
“We have words that we use to represent how we conduct ourselves,” Morey said. “We came up with family which was the bear, the raven which is respect, the moose is integrity and the squirrel is trust.”
The moose design featuring blues, black and white, and was Belleau’s first ‘strict’ head shot of an animal.
“I wanted to make sure it was a moose because I painted a smaller picture of a moose and everybody called it a donkey,” she said chuckling.
Inside the moose design there is a waterfall scene with the moon shining above.
Belleau wanted to make the painting feel serene she said, adding all four paintings are supposed to be calm and peaceful.
A raven featuring purple and fuchsia hues, white and black hues, contains scenery inside of it in two separate spots, which was something new for her to tackle.
“I did the same thing with the raven,” she said. “I did a few at Sxoxomic School at Esk’et with the design in the body of it which I still like, but this new one feels more dynamic, like that it’s an actual window that you cannot enter. Honestly that’s what I usually aim for.”
Out of all four of the pieces, her favourite is the squirrel, she said, adding “I know I’m not supposed to pick favourites.”
The squirrel feels like it has the most depth, she said.
For the bear she used browns, black and white with a scene inside featuring a home, mountain and the edge of a large tree.
“Can I just say I’m so proud of this bark. It’s a nice bark on that tree.”
Support for the project came from the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society and executive director Leah Selk was there for the unveiling.
“You’ve done a really great job,” Selk told Belleau. “The tonal range, keeping it monochromatic with each colour and the full range in between. It’s really beautiful.”
Pointing to the moose, Selk said “I just cannot stop looking at the water.”
It was a broken foot that resulted in Belleau first starting to draw when she was 12.
“I started drawing people first and then when I turned 16 I was introduced properly to art. I had a teacher who taught me all the fundamentals and learned that acrylics are one of the most forgiving mediums.”
A workshop with Dakelh artist Clayton Gauthier at Esk’et two years ago taught Belleau how to do Indigenous design of animals.
A frog design created by Belleau during the workshop with Gauthier is featured in an art card collection sold through Esk’etemc.
“As we were learning from him he was showing an example of scenery with a native design over it,” she recalled. “It was overlayed with this pretty scenery.”
She decided to make the Indigenous design and put the scenery inside, developing her own flavour.
“Honestly, when I’m painting the native design it’s very soothing because it’s straight forward.”
Whereas when she is painting scenery she has to think of the techniques, the tones, and the colours and make sure everything is defined.
“After I’m done painting the scenery it’s just nice to go about painting the simple solid colours and lines. In the end it’s just a nice balanced work to me.”
Depending on how complex the scenery is will judge how complex the Indigenous design is, she added.
“I never want them to be clashing in complexity.”
Paige Lennox, mobile outreach co-ordinator at the CCCDC shared some new signage that will accompany each painting as the name for a particular room in the centre.
They are: The Raven Nest, The Bear Den, The Moose Meadow and The Squirrel Burrow.
Belleau said she will be working on creating art for the youth centre at Esk’et next around the theme of a Sasquatch.