Julie Flett is a Vancouver-based Métis artist and illustrator who incorporates photography, drawing, and painting into her practice. Born in Toronto, Julie has spent much of the last two decades in Western Canada.
How does your Cree Métis heritage inform your work as a children's book artist?
I think whether we are raised in traditional (indigenous) ways or somewhat removed from them as we are growing up (in urban settings) we want to honor that connection. I have a very mixed ancestry, Cree, Métis Scottish, French and Inuit. I'm always looking at where I come from and what it means in the work, to the work. Each project is a place for me to explore my roots, talk with elders, and make connections with my community.
How would you describe your artistic style? Do you have a favorite technique?
Mythology and folklore played into my work early on and have been finding their way into my current work. I am fascinated by what can be conveyed in spare forms, both visually and in terms of content.
As far as the mediums go, it's pretty mixed. I have a background in film, painting and textiles, so I really like to play with materials, combine, collage – whatever works for a particular purpose. I'm always experimenting, so I think the next couple of books will have a different feel. Generally the work starts on paper. I’ll sketch out the drawings, paint backgrounds, gather collage materials... then I transfer each of these elements onto the computer to finish the work (I use Adobe Illustrator). Once I trace out all of the images, I have the option of moving them around on the page. It’s a bit like working in animation.
How did your upcoming book, Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet, come about?
For years I'd been thinking about how relevant language is to understanding culture. As I started to learn more about the Michif language, I was fascinated by how our people came to this very unique process of mixing languages. Michif really doesn't fit into any of the known language classification categories. As linguist Peter Bakker, author of A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Metis puts it, "Michif does not belong to any single language family and looks completely different from other mixed languages of the world. Michif is not simply a dialect of Cree or French, or a mixed dialect that switches back and forth between the two languages. While it does incorporate elements of both Cree and French, Michif is neither: it is a language of its own, with all the order, chaos, complexity and beauty of any other.”
Any new upcoming projects that you would like to tell us about?
I'm working on two Métis children's board books for Simply Read Books, and have a couple of collaborative pieces (possibly a series) in the works with fellow artist and friend Christine Corlett. And Métis Elder Grace (Ledoux) Zoldy, Michif speaker Heather Souter and I have plans to work on a couple of traditional Métis stories as well.
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