Joseph living her dream as an artist and teacher

Sept. 11, 2019

When Carla Joseph tries to trace a line back to the beginning of her fascination with brush and canvas or pen and paper, the line gets fuzzy. Quite simply, she has loved the artistic process for as long as she can remember.

One thing Joseph knows with certainty, however, is that her elementary and secondary school days fired up her passion for all things art and made her want to build her life around it.

“I’ve always wanted to be an art teacher, ever since I met my art teachers,” said Joseph, who attended Meadow Elementary, King George V Elementary and Duchess Park Secondary schools in Prince George.

“I just remember entering all the logo contests they had or (doing) Remembrance Day posters and Christmas concert programs. They used to always get me to design the covers of them. I used to really love that, or doing the cover pages for Grade 6 or Grade 7 when you had to write an essay or a story. They used to always make you do a title page. I don’t think they do that anymore.”

Joseph graduated from Duchess Park in 1994 and went on to establish herself not only as an art teacher but also as one of the most respected painters in Northern B.C. Two of the people who influenced her most were Duchess Park art teachers, Mr. Leech and Mrs. Graham.

“I still remember they used to tell us to keep going, and never sell your art for cheap,” Joseph said with a grin. “They showed us all the different techniques and stuff and they let us use all the (supplies) at school because we never had any of that at home – we couldn’t afford any of the stuff.

“In high school they let us explore everything – water colour, acrylic, to try to see what you were best at. Charcoal sketching too.”

These days, Joseph routinely leads art classes for children and adults. Her own work earned her the title of Artist in Residence with the Prince George and District Community Arts Council in 2016 and has given her two Prince George Art Battle championships (2016 and 2018). Joseph has also been the talent behind at least 20 murals in Prince George, some of which liven up the walls of the University Hospital of Northern B.C., the Child Development Centre, Quinson Elementary School and Nusdeh Yoh Elementary School.

One of Joseph’s major clients is the Prince George Native Friendship Centre. She has painted murals for the organization, has designed its drug awareness posters and T-shirts and has been the creative force behind its Prince George Aboriginal Head Start Program logos. Joseph has also done work for the Aboriginal Head Start Association of B.C., Northern Health, the First Nations Health Authority and the University of Northern British Columbia. She has even illustrated books, including, most recently, Leona Prince’s A Dance Through the Seasons, which was launched in May 2019 at UNBC. Prince is a UNBC graduate and the current Principal for Aboriginal Education in School District No. 91 (Nechako-Lakes).

When Joseph has a canvas in front of her instead of a book project, she prefers acrylic paint to watercolour or oil because she likes the fact acrylic allows her to work quickly. Her ideas come from all around her.

“Just from everyday life,” she said. “I love birds, I love animals, trees. My kids (23-year-old Becky, 21-year-old Leanne and 14-year-old Jenney) think I’m nuts. I’m like, ‘Look at that beautiful tree’ or ‘Aren’t the rocks nice.’”

Joseph’s daughters have her same love of art. The oldest is a painter and the younger two enjoy sketching.

“They’re better than I was when I was their age,” Joseph said. “They’re so much better. They do people and everything, and hands. Like my 14-year-old can draw hands and feet and faces and I can’t do that.

“It would take me half an hour to draw a good hand. It takes her like maybe five minutes, four minutes. She’s really good at it.”

Joseph’s twin sister, Karen Erickson, is another family member with a beautiful touch on the canvas.

In her career thus far, Joseph estimates she has painted at least 500 individual pieces, including more than 200 drums (for the Prince George Aboriginal Head Start Program and clients who place orders).

One of the next artistic challenges on Joseph’s calendar is the 2019 edition of Prince George Art Battle, which will see her try to defend her title from last year. Art Battle is a speed painting event in which competitors have 20 minutes to turn a blank canvas into a completed work. Preliminary rounds march toward the final round, where a winner is decided.

This past school year, School District No. 57 held speed painting competitions for the first time. Prince George Secondary School student Raquel Pokiak – who used negative space against a forest-green backdrop to create the face and shoulders of a black-haired, pale-skinned woman – claimed the district title in late June. Moving forward, the plan is for the school district champion to be given entry into Prince George Art Battle. It’s an idea Joseph likes.

“I think that’s a great opportunity for them,” she said. “They have such young minds and new ideas. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

“It’s really hard the first couple times because you’re just shaking – you’re so nervous. But after you do it a couple times it’s so easy. You can just zone-out everybody. You just put headphones on or something. You know you have to paint fast and it goes by so quickly because of all the people there and the noise. When they say ‘Five minutes left,’ you know you have to put the last details in so it pretty much works out.”

Anyone interested in seeing samples of Joseph’s work is invited to go to her Facebook page, Hummingbear Cree-ations.