Pastel Self-Portraits and Life Lessons From a Loom: An Art-full Day for Young LEADers at Britannia

Art. The kind of magic that happens when a blank page becomes a celebration, when separate strands come together and are woven into something strong, magnificent and meaningful. Art is a great teacher. In the morning, the youth at Britannia, and the teachers too, learned from Quebec artist Deirdre Potash that it was OK to be the kind of person who colours outside of the lines in vibrant oil pastel, in fact she encouraged them to do so. In the afternoon the youth went on to learn some more life lessons from a loom and the ancestral weaving techniques of Candice Halls-Howcroft. 

Deirdre, inspired by the artwork of Norval Morrisseau, led the youth in a self-portrait activity via TEAMs from her studio in Quebec. They outlined a silhouette of their face, neck and shoulders, then, sketched, on a separate sheet of paper. simple shapes representing ‘spirit animals’, animals that resonated with them. After cutting the shapes out, she demonstrated how to compose the art and how to use the pastels to brush the colours and shapes onto the portraits. Youth were encouraged to choose colours that represented them and add symbols that told their stories.

The results are spectacular. 

We made an impromptu gallery and each student spoke to their work. One of the most poignant reflections was, “I chose butterflies because they represent freedom and because they are pretty, but butterflies can’t see their own colours, so they aren’t aware of their own beauty.” Another was, “I used all of the colours in the pastel box and made them like waves coming into my head. They represent my thoughts and experiences, I have so many of them all at once.” 

Candice taught us the importance and symbolism of regalia, that it needs to be respected and that the love you put into making it is the love you get back. As we wove, we experienced many emotions, joy, connectedness, frustration, failure, success… Weaving was more than an art-full, cultural experience, it offered many life lessons which were voiced in our closing circle. 

Both artforms taught us patience and gave us an opportunity to connect, demonstrating that art is not a solo activity, but can be collective. It gave those who had mastered certain skills a chance to step up and support others who were struggling, (some of us, myself included were all thumbs). It taught us, in the words of one of the youth, “it is OK to make mistakes, they can turn out to be wins.” It taught us to persevere and push through, that, “you can’t get everything right on the first try,” that “it is OK to ask others for help and that art doesn’t have to be perfect.” 

Art. A kind of magic. Enjoy the celebration our youth have created and the voices they have found and expressed in pastels and on the loom.