Ryan Hughes is an urban Indigenous youth in the City of Surrey and is from the Snuneymuxw Nation. He is an up-and-coming multi-hyphenate artist who is honing his skills in wood carving, digital art, shading and colouring, as well as some painting.
Through the Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week mentorship program, Hughes was able to meet his mentors, Chris Sparrow and John Velton, and learn technical skills in wood carving and digital art.
“I was part of a mentorship program at the Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week. Chris Sparrow was there, and John Velton, another artist, was there as well.[Velton] actually taught me how to use Adobe Illustrator,” says Hughes.
“I already knew Chris, and Chris already knew me because I met his uncle in the wood carving class. So, I introduced myself and we made the decision that I was going to start going over there to carve.”
After meeting at Indigenous Fashion Week, Hughes went to Sparrow’s studio where Sparrow taught Hughes the fundamentals of carving, such as making eyes, straight lines and shapes that are consistent with North West Coast styles. Eventually, Sparrow passed a project along to Hughes to take over.
“He gave me a hummingbird head that he didn’t want to do anymore because there is a crack in it. So then he coached me through how to do this hummingbird. And after that, I was like I want to start Eagle head and then he coached me through that as well,” says Hughes.
Photo Submitted by Ryan Hughs
Hughes had met Sparrow’s uncle at the Queen Elizabeth Secondary wood carving class when he was a student at Kwantlen Park Secondary. This was Hughes’ introduction to wood carving, although he did not take the art form at first.
“I was super, super bad [at wood carving],” says Hughes.
Hughes initially gave up wood carving and focussed on digital art. He built an audience through his Instagram, ryansalishart. Instagram continues to be a venue for Hughes to showcase his art work and receives commissions. However, at this point, he is taking a slower approach to art and focusing on his wood carving skills he learned from Sparrow.
“This year, I am slowing down . . . taking a step back and not focusing on the selling aspect. I’m focusing more on making things just to make them and having fun right now with my art,” says Hughes.
“I’m going to be taking my time instead of rushing things, perfecting and honing my skills. Eventually, I want to be able to make a mask.”
Photo Submitted by Ryan Hughs
Learning how to carve was also an opportunity for Hughes to learn about his Snuneymuxw culture. He did not know too much about his culture before taking the wood carving class at Queen Elizabeth Secondary wood carving class when he was a student at Kwantlen Park Secondary.
“[The course] was offered to me when I moved schools to Kwantlen Park. Every Indigenous student in grade 10 to 12 can join the course. I just showed up, started going and stuck with it,” says Hughes.
“I was doing surrealistic [art], but nothing to do with my culture. I saw the opportunity and [thought], ‘it would be really cool for me to learn because I am already doing art anyway,’ I’m just not connected to [Indigenous art] because I live in Surrey,” says Hughes.
The City of Surrey has a large urban Indigenous youth demographic, where some folks are living away from their community, culture, and language. Through programs and community organizations, urban Indigenous youth are able to reconnect with their cultural ways of being, including the creation of art. Hughes still goes to the class and helps out other students who are just beginning their carving journey.
“When I go there now, I still go to the class, I don’t take it anymore, but I help people. The [students] are always like, ‘Oh, my carving is terrible.’ And I tell them, ‘you should have seen my first one! I had the worst carving I’ve ever seen.’”
Hughes advice to urban Indigenous youth learning to carve or starting something new, especially something creative, is just keep on practicing!
“People say that all the time they’re just not creative enough to do that. I want everybody to know that creativity is a skill, not a talent. I was not creative when I first started at all. You just have to keep practicing.”