In our ongoing look at First Nation artists, TVOParents spoke with four writers and illustrators whose work is influenced by their Aboriginal roots. Here, in our Spotlight Part 2, we feature writer Jordan Wheeler and illustrator Christopher Auchter. You can read about writer Catherine Jameson and illustrator Juliet Flett in Spotlight Part 1.
Jordan Wheeler is a writer and storyteller. He currently lives in Winnipeg, Man. His family is originally from Gordon First Nations in Punnichy, Sask. Wheeler is the author of several children’s books including: Just a Walk and Chuck in the City.
Christopher Auchter illustrated the books Just a Walk, Chuck in the City, and Jenneli's Dance. Auchter is a Haida and grew up in Haida Gwaii, B.C. He currently lives in Burnaby, B.C.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer/illustrator?
Jordan Wheeler: “I made the decision to be a professional writer in Grade 12 but I’ve been writing poems and short stories and episodes of Star Trek since Grade Three.”
Chris Auchter: “I have drawn as long as I can remember. [When I was a child], if I had free time I would draw; it was an outlet for my imagination I think. There was this one time though, I was in Grade 10 or 11 and I was thinking about what I would like to do for a career. I realized that drawing is what I liked to do best.”
Has your background shaped your work?
Jordan Wheeler: “Definitely it has…having grown up in the Aboriginal community and being exposed to both the urban life and, to an extent, the Reserve – that has influenced pretty much all of my work.” Also, “I’d like to say that I tell a story to serve itself but I’m always keeping an eye out on the environment… there’s also [a desire to] promote Aboriginal issues; hopefully, in a sublime way.”
Chris Auchter: “I am from Haida Gwaii. A beautiful place. I think it has helped shape my work in that I seem to draw ravens a lot and they seem to be the subject for my art in many instances. I think Haida art has helped shaped the flow of my characters.”
Do you have an overall goal as an artist i.e. to educate or to entertain?
Jordan Wheeler: “I’d like to say that I tell the story to serve itself but I’m always keeping an eye out on the environment…Also, if [I’m doing a reading at] a school on a Reserve, my goal may be to inspire some would-be writers in the room to keep going and to think in that direction. And, if I’m going to a suburban, upper class school in a big city, I’m exposing them to a world that they don’t get to see very often.”
Chris Auchter: “I do have goals as an illustrator animator. I do want to entertain and share personal stories and traditional stories through my work. I like it when the things I create can have a sense of meaning to them – like this work might make a difference some how.”
Have you received any meaningful feedback on your children’s books that you can share?
Jordan Wheeler: I’ve been doing readings for 20 years now and, I think what I get back most is the interest and the audience participation from the story telling process…[sometimes] you want them to leave excited, with a smile on their face, as opposed to getting into a deep philosophical discussion about something their supposed to learn.”
Chris Auchter: A mother came up to [a friend of mine] and said that her children just love the illustrations in Jenneli's Dance. This woman said one of her daughters, who is very artistic, spent a great deal of time looking over each illustration closely, at the little details I put into the work. I loved to hear this, it is very rewarding.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
Jordan Wheeler: “If I’m reading to students at a school on the Reserve, I [try to] inspire some would-be writers in the room to keep going and to think in that direction. And, if I’m going to a suburban, upper class in a big city, I’m exposing them to a world that they don’t get to see very often.”
Chris Auchter: “The feedback I have heard has been very encouraging. Parents seem to like my work as well. This is great because you need to leave an impression on both parties in order for a book to be successful.”
Be sure to check out Gisele’s Big Backyard Book Club to learn more about great books for kids!