Gilakas’la, and welcome to my online arts portfolio, Lou-ann Neel Studio.

I created this space to show my artwork, which are all my original works.

I did have a few online shops until recently…but am currently in the process of reworking my business model, so I have temporarily closed all of my shops except one.

The shop that is still open is called Art of Where (see link below). I do receive royalties for each product that is purchased from my Art of Where shop – which I HUGELY appreciate, as this enables me to stay focused on creating new designs, while leaving manufacturing and distribution processes to the experts.

The best way to reach my Art of Where online shop is to copy the link below & paste into your web browser..

Items such as jewelry and handmade custom textiles  can be ordered from me directly; my email address is lou.ann.neel@gmail.com

Art of Where https://artofwhere.com/artists/lou-ann-ika-wega-neel


My thoughts about appropriation

This continues to be a topic near and dear to my heart, not only as an artist, but as a First Nations person working diligently to have OUR voices heard. So I decided to re-post, and will be writing more in 2018 about “The Epidemic of Appropriation”.


Okay, this won’t cover ALL my thoughts, but I want to share what’s on my mind right now about ‘appropriation’.

In the arts-world, appropriation is when someone copies another artist’s content or style and claims it as their own original work. We see this quite a bit as Indigenous artists; folks who have no artistic background whatsoever, and non-Indigenous artists who must have run right out of original ideas see how popular Indigenous art forms and styles are, so they copy it in hopes of sparking or re-sparking their practice (and oftentimes, in hopes of making some ‘easy money’).

There are a few problems with this — first of all, as an artist — a real artist — a key part of being able to call yourself an artist is having a strong a sense of professionalism and a commitment to originality. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s something we…

View original post 895 more words

2017 – that’s a wrap!

Don’t you just love it when you make an awesome plan for each new year and then you look back and realize it didn’t go anything like you though it would?!

2017 was like that, but I learned a few years ago (okay, maybe a decade ago) that it’s fun to make a plan and watch it evolve and morph into something completely new — equally as wonderful, and sometimes even more awesome than I could have imagined.  That’s living life on life’s terms, but not leaving everything to chance…we do, after all, still have free will to at least ‘try’ to shape things!

I started the year off by moving to Courtenay to work for a year at North Island College, filling in for a maternity leave. First thing I learned was to trudge through great big heaps of snow, followed by a big lesson in pacing it out when shoveling snow!

Once I got settled into my role as Director of Aboriginal Education, I got to spend some quality time traveling to Port Hardy, Port Alberni and Campbell River to meet the wonderful folks who volunteer their time to the college’s Regional Advisory Committees. It’s still one of my favorite things to do – getting out to communities and finding out what the college can do to help make a difference for Aboriginal learners who are interested in pursuing a post-secondary education or training.

I’m now in the final months of my work at North Island College, so I’m busy working on a few things that I hope will help to keep the good work moving ahead, and will continue to support our communities’ visions for the future.

Summer 2017 was a whole lot of fun with the BC Elders Gathering in July, followed shortly thereafter by 2017 Tribal Journeys…both took place in Campbell River.  It was so incredibly energizing to be amongst all our people from different First Nations – sharing our cultures and languages and knowledge with one another, and visiting – something we don’t get to do as often as we used to, but something that is definitely coming back into our daily lives (yay!).

Autumn was incredibly busy at work, so much so that I didn’t get anywhere near as much time to work on my art work or to create products for the holiday markets. At first I was sad about that, cause I do love the energy of those artist markets – but sometimes a gal just has to stay focused and direct all that good energy into something equally as meaningful, so I did just that.

As Winter rolled in, the loss of several really important people in our communities felt absolutely paralyzing. I felt the losses along with the families and communities, and spent a lot of time quietly praying for those beautiful souls and for those in mourning. And as the darkness of those days slowly began to pass, my prayers were to give thanks to those loved-ones…thanking them for the gift of their presence and their energies, and for the legacies they created during their time here.

And now, as 2017 draws to a close, I have had some quality time to rest my mind a little bit and think about the great plan I will make for 2018, and how it will evolve and transform itself with each passing day, week, and month!

I’ll hit the ‘reset’ button and prepare for 2018 to be truly magnificent. I’ll pack up my belongings and prepare to move again (and ya, I’m about done with moving every year), so I’ll be working hard to land, unpack, settle in so I can have a good artist studio space, and get moving on a few things that have been on my ‘to-do’ list for more than a decade!

2018 – whether you’re ready or not – look out! I’m already ready for ya! Let’s start off by howling at the moon!

Howling Moon 2018

Summer 2017

This summer was SO inspiring! Graduations and my brother’s wedding in June; birthday parties and the sunny days of July; Tribal Journeys, Perseus meteor showers, and an amazing conference in August; plus visits with family and long-time friends all along the way.

Every now and then, I’d get a few hours to process all the great adventures through digital doodling – and a little bit of textiles work too.


Heat Wave LNeel

Tribal Journey

Strawberry-MoonWarrior Woman 1


Just another Saturday in July

Our Home ON Native Land-3.jpgFor me, this year’s “Canada Day” will be just like any other Saturday.

I’ll get out my sketch pad and pencil, and doodle as I enjoy my first coffee of the day.   I’ll probably go walkabout with some basic art supplies, and will be inspired by many things…people, places, sunshine, trees, water…and will process hundreds of thoughts as I watch folks engage in a range of  celebratory events and activities.

As I work my way through the crowds of citizens sporting red & white paraphernalia of every variety (likely made in off-shore sweat-shops by enslaved women and children), I’ll wonder if any of them have ever communicated directly with their Member of Parliament or provincial MLA. I’ll wonder how many of them cast a vote in the last federal and/or provincial election; and I’ll wonder how many of them actually know what a treaty is.

My inquiring mind will wonder how many of these folks know the true, entire history of the country called Canada, or if they prefer the sound-bite version contrived by spin-doctors in the corporate world, and popularized through their bought-and-paid-for ‘mainstream’ media outlets.

I’ll probably make a few polically-incorrect word-art sketches about catch-phrases like ‘new relationship’, ‘reconciliation’, ‘moving-forward’, ‘cultural genocide’ and ‘appropriation’; and I’ll giggle to myself, because I know that only me and my sketchbook will be privy to the cheeky thoughts I have about the world around me.

There will be speeches made about Canada and what a great country it is…what an inviting, accepting, multi-cultural, benevolent, courteous and polite society it is. More sketches.

I’ll find a space with a good view-point of the masses as they laugh and dance and sing and toast to all-things-Canadian; I’ll click a few pictures of the crowds, cause I know this will somehow help me to process what I might say to colleagues and groups later on when I present at various cultural awareness and cultural safety workshops and conferences. Still more sketches.

And when the day is done, I’m fairly certain that I’ll still won’t have the answers to  questions that have been on my mind for many years:

  • Why do Canadians like our art but not us?
  • Why do Canadians think First Nations people are all lazy, drunken, welfare recipients completely dependent on taxpayers?
  • Why do Canadians think that First Nations people don’t pay taxes or aren’t taxpayers?
  • Why do Canadians think First Nations people don’t pay for anything, believing that First Nations people receive free EVERYTHING (i.e., medical, education, housing, transportation etc.)?
  • Why do Canadians think First Nations people need white people to help ‘build capacity’, or that First Nations people don’t have ‘capacity’ (read ‘intelligence’) in the first place?
  • Why do Canadians think First Nations people have no right to assemble for peaceful protest?
  • Why do Canadians think they have to speak FOR First Nations people (i.e., in storytelling, movies, news bits, academia etc.)?
  • Why do Canadians say ‘Our First Nations’ (or Native, or Aboriginal, or Indian) people, as though we are possessions of some sort?

I’m not going to attempt to respond to any of these questions; I’m not going to speculate or attempt to educate or inform anyone about what I think has caused an entire country of citizens to have such one-sided, xenophobic, ill-informed beliefs. What I will say is this:

Democracy: If you are a Canadian citizen, you have a duty and responsibility to know the TRUTH about the real, full history of Canada, and to develop an informed, intelligent perspective free of rhetoric. It is YOUR duty to communicate with your elected officials to ensure the idea of democracy remains true to its meaning. The work doesn’t end the day after an election.

Freedom of Speech: If you are Canadian and value freedom of speech, you will appreciate that attempting to silence, dismiss or ignore First Nations peoples’ voices is contrary to this value and quite frankly, hypocritical. You don’t have to like or agree with everything you hear, but disliking someone’s opinion and trying to silence someone for their opinion are two very different things.

Human Rights: If you are Canadian and value the traditions, heritage and culture of your family and your country of origin, then you must also accept that people other than you – including First Nations people – also share these values and have a right to protect their respective traditions, heritage and cultures.  Your values don’t supersede the values of others.

Appropriation: Stealing, counterfeiting, and co-opting someone’s traditions, heritage, culture and/or artistic practices is not only morally wrong, it’s illegal. Brush up on Canada’s laws…’not knowing’ is not a viable excuse.

Celebrate, or don’t celebrate…Sunday, July 2, 2017 will come around either way.

By Sunday morning, I’ll probably flip through my sketchbook and begin to transform my sketches into new works that will enable me to continue processing my questions and my thoughts in the best way I know how – through creativity.

And when the holiday long-weekend is over, when the calendar reads 150 years + 3 days, I’ll get back to work, being a contributing member of society, paying my taxes, and connecting with folks from all walks of life.

And maybe, just maybe, the conversations will shift…maybe.


My Carving Apprenticeship

For the past year (May 2016 to May 2017), I have had the joy of working with my brother, Kevin Daniel Cranmer, apprenticing in the art of carving.  It was the start of something I plan to continue learning and practicing for the rest of my life.

My work schedule is always so busy, and doesn’t leave nearly enough time in any given day to do what I love to do most, which is to create art. But in the summer of 2016, I found myself unemployed, so I decided to apply for the YVR Art Foundation’s Mid-Career Arts Award, and was absolutely thrilled when I found out I was one of two artists selected to receive a $5,000 award.

My proposal was to apprentice in carving with my brother, and to work on a replica of the Totemland Pole that my grandmother, Ellen Kakasolas Neel created back in the 1940’s.

Over the course of the year, I sat with my brother and re-learned some of the carving basics I had started to learn all those decades ago; and was introduced to some new techniques and skills that would enable me to continue practicing on my own.

I will be forever grateful and thankful to my brother for his patience and all the time he spent walking me through each step it took to create the Totemland replica.

I also want to acknowledge and thank Phil Nuytten for writing and publishing his book “The Totem Carvers”, as it was the step-by-step photo collection in his book that served as my starting point and ongoing reference point for my project. Gilakas’la, Phil!

And I am also incredibly honored and thankful to the YVR Art Foundation, it’s Board of Directors and 2016 jury for this award…without this award, I’m not sure I would have been able to undertake this project during this time period, so I extend my sincerest thanks to you for making this possible.

I want to thank my mum, my sister Sandra, and my sister Joani, who are ALWAYS there to encourage me in my work as an artist. These three beautiful souls lift me up when I feel like giving up; they always have big hugs for me, and keep me in their prayers every day, and I have no doubt that their energies are the force that keeps me moving forward through good times and through challenging times.

And finally, I thank my grandmother, Ellen Kakasolas Neel, the only Kwakwaka’wakw woman carver of her era. Her work inspires me every day, and motivates me to continue my lifelong journey of learning.

Here is my photo journal of my project:

IMG_4267 3
The inspiration for my project; my grandmother, Ellen Kakasolas Neel with her Totemland Pole
Getting back into the groove by finishing a piece I started a couple of years ago when Rupert Scow offered carving lessons in Vancouver
Getting a better sense of symmetrical designing
Learning how to angle blade
I called this my ‘whittle stick’. I started here, following the photos in ‘The Totem Carvers’ so I could begin to formulate questions for my mentor
I felt that it was important for me to rough out my design using carving knives vs a bandsaw, partially because it was such a small practice piece, but also so that I would appreciate every nuance of the pole’s design
I followed the photo collage to this point and learned that I needed to learn more about how to map out my design proportionately
Again, using the photo collage, I sketched out the profile of the model pole
Measured every possible angle, and stared at it for a VERY long time!
Kev showed me how to sand the surface down before cutting
I wasn’t comfortable yet running the bandsaw, so Kev showed me how it was done
It was so cool to see my pencil sketch become the rough-cut of the model pole
Me and my bro with the roughed-out model pole, ready for me to start the process of carving
My ‘whittle stick’ and the full size model pole; I kept the whittle stick nearby all the time to remind me of what to do and what NOT to do
And then I started carving, and boy oh boy, there were many layers to be removed!
More carving
More carving
More carving
Still more carving
and more carving until the globe portion was fully shaped
Next step was to shape out the top and bottom figures
Then the wings were created and fitted to the back
My awesome bro checking my work and preparing for the next steps
Comparing again so I can see the differences after learning more about scale, proportion and most importantly, when to stop carving and move on to designing and painting
Checking various angles to think through my next steps
Rounding off the edges of the wings
Designing the wings
Comparing wing designs with various renditions of the Totemland Pole
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Studying grandmother’s designs; every nuance of formline, secondary & tertiary elements
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Examining another style of wing design
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Noting how grandmother finished the back of the pole
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Looking at the globe to see how it was portrayed
Comparing other pole styles, especially the shape of the wings
Looking at the variations on the way the profile looked
Checking out paint colors and deciding which shades of each color to use
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Phil Nuytten’s version of the pole which gave me a nice, clear close-up of each section of the pole
Beginning the process of painting
Setting out the black formline elements first to serve as a frame for the red and green filler designs
Painted the globe’s base color and formline for the wings
Moved on to the elements that were to be painted red
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Finished everything but the BC coastline
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Added the BC coastline and reflected on where I started with the whittle stick
A few final touch-ups here & there
The final piece (will be adding a base for the pole later on)

My thoughts about appropriation

Okay, this won’t cover ALL my thoughts, but I want to share what’s on my mind right now about ‘appropriation’.

In the arts-world, appropriation is when someone copies another artist’s content or style and claims it as their own original work. We see this quite a bit as Indigenous artists; folks who have no artistic background whatsoever, and non-Indigenous artists who must have run right out of original ideas see how popular Indigenous art forms and styles are, so they copy it in hopes of sparking or re-sparking their practice (and oftentimes, in hopes of making some ‘easy money’).

There are a few problems with this — first of all, as an artist — a real artist — a key part of being able to call yourself an artist is having a strong a sense of professionalism and a commitment to originality. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s something we actually talked about quite a bit when I was attending Emily Carr University of Art & Design.  I remember hearing very similar ‘personal standards of professionalism’ from other students who came from various countries around the world. It was something we all agreed was central to our respective practices.

Professionalism means NOT copying other artists’ work…not only is that unprofessional, it will actually have an opposite effect if anyone happens to notice that you’ve copied the work of another artist.  It may also cause you to be excluded from art exhibitions and/or other professional arts opportunities. It’s akin to plagiarism in professional writing, once people see you in that light, it’s hard to make your way back.

Making & maintaining a commitment to originality is one of the greatest challenges we face as artists…it’s hard work, and I get it that some folks don’t want to work hard (I have days like that too), but it doesn’t mean you get lazy and just copy the original ideas of someone else.

Being an artist isn’t easy work…you can go days, months, sometimes years without an original idea, but remaining an artist is a calling, and if you are true to yourself and the very idea of ‘art’, you’ll keep working at it, and inevitably will create something completely new. When you feel like you’ve completely hit the proverbial wall, seek out mentors, take a workshop, get more training…do something that will spark that magic inside of you…develop that artist inside of you…it will require you to dig deep within yourself, and the result will be hugely rewarding. But if you’re not willing to go there, then take a break from art and do something else until you’re willing to dig deep.

That’s another part of what I mean when I say that being an artist isn’t easy work, creating original artwork really is, in my humble opinion, a life’s journey that you MUST be willing to take. It’s joyful, yet sometimes excruciating; it’s playful, yet sometimes frustrating; sometimes it’ll rip your heart to shreds, but in the next moment will fill your soul in such a way that you instantly forget the painful path you traveled to get there.

In our Indigenous artistic traditions, artists were very highly regarded professionals. They were considered very special and extremely gifted, and were called upon and commissioned very much like today’s professional artists.  However, our traditional arts structures were largely obliterated through policy-warfare from the time of contact with lost travelers from other lands, to present day.

To the lost travelers who became settlers on our lands, our art was not viewed as ‘art’; it became propagandized as ‘primitive’ and ‘artifact’, dismissed as uncivilized and savage. Yet at the same time, our most unique works were being stolen (aka ‘collected’ or ‘accessioned into museum and private collections’) as samples from a dying race. Because of this, our Indigenous art forms continued to be dismissed and disregarded by the ‘art world’ as truly unique artistic forms of expression, and this continued until about the 1960’s.

Unfortunately, another result was that the general public (around the world), continued to be fed the propaganda, and because there didn’t seem to be any laws against copying artifacts from a dying race, some folks decided to start replicating our unique art forms to make a quick buck.  This practice of copying artifacts actually started back in the 1800’s, and the mindset has continued to today.

The bottom line facts are this:

Indigenous art forms were always original to the Indigenous people who first created them.

Each Indigenous group had a unique style, which was further stylized by each artist.

The forms and shapes in most Indigenous artistic traditions originated from the land; those forms and shapes do not appear in any other ancient culture anywhere around the world (for example, ovoids and ‘U’-shapes, and indeed, that which we call ‘formline’ does not appear ANYWHERE in the world at any point in ancient history).

Indigenous art forms are part of what is now called ‘Intellectual Property’ and this is protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In Canada, visual artists who create original works automatically have copyright over their work for the duration of their life and fifty years after their death. This includes Indigenous artists.

There is no such thing as ‘only copying a small percentage of an artwork’ to ‘technically avoid copyright infringement.’

While there are only a handful of legal cases regarding copyright infringement of Indigenous designs, the precedent is very much on the books…but let’s face it, we shouldn’t have to sue people for copying, stealing, and infringing on our ancient artistic practices.

As I’ve said in response to some of the recent news articles where non-Indigenous artists claim to be simply ‘inspired by’ Indigenous art, or ‘reconciling’ by copying, or ‘honoring our native people’, or ‘keeping it alive on our behalf’…you’ve got it all wrong and need to dig a LOT deeper and seek out opportunities to educate yourself.

Yes, there has been a long history of propaganda against Indigenous people; and yes, unfortunately, we continue to be marginalized on so many levels, but the truth is being told, so listen, learn, become informed, and I guarantee, if you unlearn what you believe to be true, the original idea will ultimately find you.


Authentic Indigenous profile

Well I finally took a few minutes to update my profile on the Authentic Indigenous website…removed the old website link and replaced it with this blog address.

Here’s a link to my Authentic Indigenous profile: http://www.authenticindigenous.com/artists/lou-ann-neel

I sure hope both provincial and federal governments step up and support the Authentic Indigenous initiative…I am always being asked how the public can tell whether Indigenous art works are authentic (i.e., created by Indigenous artists and not simply ‘copied’ or appropriated by non-Indigenous artists or companies).

The Authentic Indigenous arts website was intended to be a resource for galleries, collectors, and the general public to find authentic Indigenous arts and to connect directly with artists…but maintaining websites costs money.

It also costs money to have authenticity labels provided to artists and galleries, and it is important for the public to be able to make informed choices about buying local, authentic, and directly from artists. Those who are supporters of authentic Indigenous artworks have said over and over again that they want to be sure the artist is also being paid for their work.

In BC, the Indigenous arts market has been a constant and significant contributor to the province’s identity and economy, yet we still see very little investment being made to ensure long term sustainability of the sector. Private businesses and corporations seem to make more money that the artists who create these magnificent designs, and this needs to change.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I know there are still some fairly straightforward things that can be done to ensure our ancient artistic traditions remain alive and are no longer appropriated, copied, or outright stolen from our artists.


Support the Authentic Indigenous Arts movement

Buy local, buy direct

Artists — let’s do a whole bunch of pop-up arts markets this summer!

Lets see some more Indigenous art content in all schools, including post-secondary

Museums – create visiting artist research grants so artists can travel to your museums and study pieces in your collections