Justien Wood, 26, has been making art for as long as she can remember, but until recently she never really believed she could make a career in it.
It wasn’t until 2007 when she got into the carving program at the Northern Cultural Expression Society – then called Sundog Carvers -that she began to seriously consider art as a viable profession.
“There was an ad in the newspaper about learning how to carve and I thought it would be cool,” she said.
At that time, she had never carved anything.
“I went in with my sketchbook and some old drawings, showed them, and got accepted into the program,” she said.
Her instructors in the program, Calvin Morberg and Vernon Asp, were a source of profound influence and inspiration, she said.
But it wasn’t easy to learn how to carve.
“I’m definitely a slower learner,” she said. “It took me a while to catch on.”
But catch on she did.
This weekend, Wood is having her first solo show at the Northern Cultural Expression Society’s studio.
“I’m a little nervous,” said Wood, while taking a break from setting up for the event.
For the show, Renewed Energy, Wood derived much of her inspiration from the natural world.
“I’m a strong believer in the power of thought,” she said. “Humans have the power to control their thoughts and change their negative thoughts to positive, but sometimes we can’t always do that on our own within ourselves … We can gain that energy, and those positive thoughts, from things like the wind, the rain, the sun, and all the natural resources that the creator has given us.”
Although Wood is a member of the First Nation of the Nacho Nyak Dun, much of her work has a coastal flavour.
“It has the formline, with a little bit of Justien in it, I guess,” she said. “A lot of my teachers are from the northwest coast, like Wayne Price is Tlingit from Alaska.”
In 2009, Wood got a chance to undertake an apprenticeship on Pender Island, B.C., with Victor Reece, a renowned Tsimshian artist.
“I worked with Victor for a while, he’s actually passed away now, but he was a really good friend and a lot of my work is influenced by him,” she said.
Wood credits the Northern Cultural Expression Society for opening up many doors.
“I’ve been really lucky to have a lot of good teachers along the way, through Sundog, and just opportunities opening up more opportunities,” she said.
Her own First Nation has also been very supportive.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go down to Pender Island and work with Victor Reece if it wasn’t for Nacho Nyak Dun.”
While much of her work to date has been heavily influenced by the form and style of coastal First Nations, she’d like to start exploring some of the traditional mediums, like beadwork and moose tufting of her own First Nation.
Silk screening and fabric painting figure in her goals for the near future.
“I actually ordered some fabric paint, and I wanted to try it out, but I won’t be doing any pieces for the show.”
There will be about 20 pieces in the show, though there could be more.
“I’m still working on some now,” she said last week.
Most are for sale, with prices ranging from $5 to $2,000.
“I’m really trying to make it affordable,” said Wood. “There’s something for everyone, even little babies.”
Though much of the society’s work is focused on carving, Wood’s show is made up primarily of paintings – although several of them are painted on reclaimed wood.
“I’ve been doing a lot of painting lately,” she said. “I’m still doing some carving, still using my knives, but mostly just painting.”
That’s when she can find the time – something that is hard to do with an 18-month-old son.
“Being a mom, I work on something for half-an-hour or so and then baby needs me,” she said. “I do it kind of 10 minutes at a time.
“Sometimes I’ll be painting and he’ll be shaking the table. He likes to look at all my art, though.”
Wood’s show opens Saturday and runs until Oct. 8 at the Northern Cultural Expression Society’s studio.
Contact Josh Kerr at