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5 Things To Help Improve as an Artist in Northwest Coast Formline Design

Books on Northwest Coast Native Formline

Many people are drawn to our Northwest Coast Formline style, understandably. It's got a unique elegance.For some, it's not enough to admire, they wish to learn how to create their own work in this style. If that's you, hopefully this post will be helpful.

Non-Natives should be aware that our clans have what is considered at'.oow (sacred clan emblems). Please be respectful, and become more educated on the issue of cultural misappropriation.

1. Find a Mentor

Tlingit art has been handed down through an apprenticeship system. This is still the best way to learn.  Apprenticeships are fun as well as rewarding, Check out Alaska Council on the Arts Grants to Individual Artists

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice. Practice the basics, the formline elements: Ovoid, 'U' shapes, and their endless variations. Save Your Work. Keep a sketch diary. Date your entries so you can look back on your progress. Trace. There's nothing wrong with tracing; it helps you get used to drawing shapes correctly. Kinesthetic learning.

3. Build a Library


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NW Coast Formline and Printmaking


I've stated before my love of teaching our Tlingit formline design. I teach about the uses of our art as clan crests. I teach about the basic rules in order to start designing within this art style. I try to make it interesting, meaningful and fun.

So I was thrilled when Tara Alcock, the Petersburg Borough Librarian, contacted me in September to see if I would teach a workshop at the new Petersburg Public Library! It's a beautiful building inside and out, and I was eager to see it. Take a look. I was pleased to see all the artwork installed. Art belongs in public places. The library has a very inviting and cozy feeling to it. My brother and I got a guided tour from our cousin Ross Nannauck (Ross on Facebook) and he has a paddle that's part of the permanent collection there.

As soon as I knew I was definately going to Petersburg, I wanted to make the one day workshop into a little more than just design. I had been wanting to teach printmaking as part of a formline class, and this was the perfect opportunity, especially when the Petersburg Library was in a position to purchase some beginner block-printing kits from Dick Blick. They're really good about publicizing events in Petersburg and even a few weeks prior, I was interviewed over the phone and the Petersburg Press ran an article on the workshop.

My wife and I learned some really simple, cheap and fun techniques during Sitka Fine Arts Camp when they had their summer camp instructors teach evening classes for adults. That was the greatest idea, whoever came up with that. It allows community members to also learn (and have fun) from their camp instructors. When we saw Printmaking being offered for adults, we jumped at the opportunity. Jessica Krichels was the instructor. I have to say, after a long day with the kids, she tolerated us adult kids really well. Here's some of Jessica's prints.

Teaching in Kake

In addition to my Petersburg trip being a good opportunity to add printmaking to a Tlingit formline class, I turned it into a short side trip to my hometown, Kake. Kake has been called the "banana belt" of southeast Alaska because of its micro-climate. It's not only got some of the most breath-taking scenery, it is slower paced and quieter. I find it much easier to get back to nature in small villages. I am fed by the things that fed my own ancestors. Our art comes from that taproot.

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