9-year-old N.W.T. artist follows father's footsteps, one brush stroke at a time

Joshua Wedzin has watched his father, well-known Tlicho artist James Wedzin, paint the northern landscape. Now the youngster is creating — and selling — his own works of art.

'Before I started painting, I thought I can never do this,' says Joshua Wedzin, whose work has sold for $150

Joshua Wedzin, 9, paints alongside his artist father in his Behchoko, N.W.T., studio. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

When nine-year-old Joshua Wedzin of Behchoko, N.W.T., isn't watching TV, playing with his brother or at school, he is at work in his artist father's studio, painting the stars.  

His father, James Wedzin, is a well known Tlicho artist who taught himself and then trained at art school in Victoria. He draws inspiration from the landscape around Behchoko.

James said his son began watching him create artwork a few years ago. James said he would get up at 4 a.m. and head over to his studio to work on a carving or painting, and an hour later his son would get himself out of bed just to watch him work.

Joshua's father James Wedzin, a well-known N.W.T. artist, taught him how to mix and match colours and how to handle a paint brush. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Joshua recalls being mesmerized by his father's artwork.

"His painting was beautiful was [what I thought] when I first seen them," he said.

James, 43, had been teaching others before deciding to take a break. That gave him the opportunity to teach his son.

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"So this one day I asked him 'would you like to paint?' First he says 'I just want to watch first.' And then I painted and talked with him... I didn't bug him to paint at the time... and then finally one day he came in and says 'I want to paint northern lights.'"

James taught his son how to mix and match colours, how to handle a paint brush and more importantly, why he makes art.

"I tell my son often being an artist is really important... artists have a story to tell without speaking. It comes from the mind and what you love doing. If you love the landscape, or the animals, then you put them on the canvas with paint. And then you tell your story through your art."

His encouragement seems to have paid off for Joshua.

"Growing up watching my dad I felt kind of happy that I was painting. It was fun and exciting to paint," said Joshua.

Art by Joshua Wedzin. His first painting was of the northern lights and he says they remind him of his grandmother. He once woke his dad up at 2 a.m. because he was struck by an idea about how to make them look brighter on canvas. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Joshua said he was nervous when he started working on his first piece and tried not to accidentally paint a line through it. But that didn't worry his dad too much. James said his son is very patient and pays careful attention to detail.

"He is a natural."

Joshua's first painting was of the northern lights — he said northern lights remind him of his grandmother. He also likes the colour blue.

The painting sold for $80.

"I felt kind of glad cause I was following in my dad's footsteps," he said.

Joshua has since sold five paintings. His latest piece fetched $150. He is saving up money for a trip but is also spending a little on snacks and entertainment.

"Before I started painting, I thought I can never do this, what I did. And then I felt kind of good that I actually finished one that was kind of good."

Joshua and James Wedzin with some of their art. James says watching his son work is influencing his own art. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

James said he is extremely proud and not surprised by how talented his son is. Now, watching his son has influenced his own work, he said. They are teaching each other.

"Watching him taking time doing stars, that gives me ideas to do my stars," he said.

"Watching him go slowly on the line or the landscape or the light, how he blends it in, gives me the idea to calm down, slow down."  

James said Joshua is so motivated that he woke him up at two in the morning once to tell him he had figured out how to make the northern lights brighter.

"I said 'it's two o'clock in the morning, let's go back to bed,'" he laughs.

The next day the two sat down and tried out Joshua's idea.  

"It makes me really happy to see my boy hanging out with me in my studio and doing art."  

James said the next logical step for Joshua is to showcase his work at art shows. He said it will be up to Joshua to decide when he is ready, but "it will be good to see a young artist like that in action."  

Editor's note: After numerous requests for contact information, CBC has confirmed that anyone wishing to purchase the Wedzins' art can contact them through their Facebook page, True Northern Art.


Curtis Mandeville is a reporter for CBC North based in Yellowknife. He is from Fort Resolution, N.W.T.