Friends of Kickstart: Indigenous Peoples Day Edition, Featuring Karlene Harvey

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This month’s Friend of Kickstart is local indigenous artist Karlene Harvey, who we recently collaborated with to create some original art to commemorate National Indigenous People’s Day. We want to celebrate this day and acknowledge that our studio is located on unceded indigenous territory, and also honour those impacted by the legacy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

You can see the rad illustrations that Karlene made for us at the top of this post, and you can check out her other work on her portfolio site and her Instagram.

Tell us about your personal projects.

Right now, I’m working on self-publishing a children’s picture book that’s written in my Indigenous language, Tsilhqot’in. My cousin is organizing an event on my home nation later this summer and so I want to use that gathering as a means to distribute these books to the elementary school located on my home territory. The on-reserve school has been really active in coordinating language immersion lessons for the kindergarten to grade 2/3 students. That being said, i’m not fluent whatsoever so I’ve had lots of nerves about the book not reading correctly! I think I just need to bite the bullet and print it and take any feedback that folks need to give me.

I’m also going to be participating in the zine event for Unibrow Comedy and Arts festival happening in late August. I’m hoping to produce some short comics for that event. One of my concepts is a comic series called, the existential cat, which is about one of my cats having an existential crisis. The other comic is going to be a first-go on a longer series about a group of Indigenous skateboarders who hacks online systems for information about their ancestral heritage, it’s going to lean hard on Indigenous futurism story tropes.

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Representation is a common thread throughout your work, what would you like someone reading this to consider when it comes to representation in art and media that they may not have thought of before?

Some questions I try to reflect on when I’m looking at work is, why a particular character must be portrayed in a certain way. Is it necessary for the overall storyline or is it simply defaulting to a societal normative of representation? I also try to ask myself who isn’t represented in terms of body types, gender, ableism, or ethnicity. For a long time, when I was younger, I used to automatically draw perfect-bodied, white people. The hour-glass figure was something that I’d automatically default my feminine-inspired characters to.

I remember back when I was in my first-year of university, a friend asked why I always drew white people, especially since I wasn’t white. I had a minor self-identity crisis of “WHO AM I” type questions and even though it felt awful, it seriously helped me think about how to portray people of colour in my drawings. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that we are all influenced by how mass media portrays ideal body images and particular ethnicities, even if we don’t want to subscribe it — and it takes time (and personal self-work) to start thinking critically about it.

Ableism is something that I want to really focus on in the next few projects that I work on, it’s also a topic that I need to educate myself better about. I think critiques about physical depictions of various able bodies is going to be the next wave of awareness that will significantly impact popular media. It was interesting to see the blips of conversation that came up regarding ableism after the 8th season of Game of Thrones — regarding both Tyrion and Bran. I think it’s just the beginning of a bigger dialogue that will percolate through examinations of pop culture and media.

What's your favourite colour combination?

This is such a terrific question. I used to love cyan and red and orange together but lately I’ve been gravitating toward pink and yellow/orange hues. I know that colour theory nerds have been widely discussing the popularity of millennial pink and I’m glad there’s colour artists out there who no longer attach it specifically to gender anymore. Pink is such a compelling colour — Whether it’s Wes Anderson generously using pale pinks throughout his set designs and palettes to evoke wonder and whimsy or whether it’s the neon pinks used frequently in supernatural or science-fiction films alluding to eerie apocalyptic moments or urban haunts in a city.

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What are you trying to improve in your work?

I’ve been making work digitally for two years, so I’ve had some time to find my style but I have so much more to learn. I want to get better at shading, in a more sculptural context. I’m a real fan of outlines, and how this makes drawings look very comic-like so I don’t think I’ll ever lose those, but I want to figure out a way to meld the two. Lighting is something that I’m trying to be more mindful of and how this contributes to building atmosphere in the scenes and portraits that I create.

What's your most memorable non-art related job?

It’s definitely my current position. I worked in the arts for a great deal of my career but as of these last few years, I have been working at UBC as an advisor for Indigenous undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts. I get to have conversations with Indigenous students every day, and work in a capacity to address equity and gaps in institutional structures. Young people are so amazing, the people I get to know are hilarious and super intelligent. So many of them are developing ideas and opinions about what social justice means for them and I do my best to help them find spaces to build community amongst each other and create Indigenous-centred events.

You're stuck on a desert island with a laptop and a USB stick containing the entirety of one cartoon - what show is it?

Adventure Time, hands down. I could watch this show every day and never grow tired of it.

What have you consumed lately that inspired you to create?

A lot of times, when I’m drawing at home, I consume television like crazy. Having background noise while I’m drawing is really important for me to work. I recently binge-watched Chambers, a netflix series that’s somewhat supernatural and starring an Indigenous girl as the lead protagonist. It had this perfect amount of spookiness to half-watch and half-draw to. I also watch a lot of action and sci-fi movies because I find inspiration in the quicker pacing, the colours and changes in environments.

What's on your work playlist?

A few of my top songs are:

  • “Seventeen” by Sharon Vont Etten,

  • “Different Now” by Chastity Belt

  • “Crazy, Classic, Life” by Janelle Monae

  • “Big Big Blood” by La Luz

  • “Kitana” by Princess Nokia