Creating a Life as an Artist: Jordan Stranger Sketches a New Way Forward
“I grew up with a pencil in my hand all the time,” Jordan Stranger recounts. He is a visual artist, graphic designer, and self-employed business owner from Peguis First Nation who lives in Winnipeg. Drawing was a creative outlet for him which allowed him to communicate. He grew up poor and didn’t have sports or extracurricular activities but what he did have was drawing, from comic art to cars.
Art class was where he found his peace and his teachers were good. “Without them, I don't think I would be here. They saw my talent and pushed me to aim a little higher every time,” he remembers. He went to Red River College for graphic design for two years and found he loved drawing and illustrating with pencil crayon on black paper. After he graduated, he worked in advertising for nine years, having fun and learning about sales.
Outside of work, he drew for hours every day and promoted his art. He decided to have some art shows, even though it was hard as a new father with a day job. He generated enough interest to quit his day job and live off his commissions. Now he works with companies, creating art and helping them understand Reconciliation and the struggles of indigenous people and artists in a peaceful way.
Going independent with his work was a little bit scary, he admits, but he made the decision for his own personal and artistic development. “The work and the stories I want to tell, I feel are universal and they are a lot about human emotion. Culture is the main root of it. But just allowing people to connect in another way is something I wanted to do through the work that I provide,” he explains.
“I felt that we know there needs to be more voices out there, people of Indigenous backgrounds to share those stories visually and, if not, speaking, or singing, through ceremony and so on.”
Red River College was intense but instilled in him a strong work ethic. “It really shaped me into the designer I am today,” he reflects. He learned about technology, design, composition, line, colour and shape. Learning from the faculty was inspiring and gave him the drive and consistency to keep going after college.
“I’ve got to keep going. I’ve got to keep trying, because I have all this skill and the things that I've learned I could put to use.”
He moved to Winnipeg, where the college is located, in 2001. His dad decided they needed a change from the reserve, as they struggled to get by on welfare. “He sat us both down in the kitchen and said, ‘I'm going to show you guys how to make a living. I'm going to go and get an education. You're going to come with me and you're going to watch and learn,’” Stranger shares.
The transition was tough. Scared and feeling alone, he didn’t know how to take transit and they were living in a rough neighbourhood. “I had to grow up really fast. I got really tough. I had to be smart. I had to defend myself. I was a brown kid in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That's a tough existence for a lot of people of colour here,” Stranger recalls.
His dad advocated for him at school until he graduated on time. School was challenging but he enjoyed graphics classes and creating art with an airbrush machine. His art teacher pushed him to try harder and what he learned served him well in college and beyond
His advice to youth leaving home to pursue their studies and careers is to stay focused on their goal. “Remember why you're away from your reserve. You're doing a lot of work, not just for yourself, but for your family, for the ones that are on the reserve, and not just family, friends and people of the community. You're setting an example and a precedent for those that are to follow,” he advises.
“Don't forget where you come from, know that those people are there and the family will always be there. That land, that beautiful land that you're from, it'll always be there. Don't forget to visit every once in a while,” he continues. He warns against distractions and reinforces the value of sacrifice for the sake of passion.
“You can’t please everybody. That's impossible. Just do your best.”
If he could go back in time to tell his younger self a message it would be, “Rest more. Take time for yourself. Ask more questions.” He was shy and quiet, lacking confidence but reaching out and being open to hearing from more people helped him gain more confidence. Eating well and taking care of his body are factors that he found made a big difference.
To stay well, he avoids the distractions of the internet and the news. He stretches and does yoga, stays away from gluten and reads to learn more regularly. Stranger sings and plays guitar, jamming with his dad when he can. He golfs in season and advises finding a variety of hobbies so you always have something to do.
He’s inspired by people he knows and the things they create and achieve because it shows him that more can be done. The quality and creativity of other artist’s work drive him to improve as an artist, too. Reading a book or visiting someone he admires also brings inspiration when he’s feeling stuck. The healing and hard work of Indigenous people and communities inspire him also, watching them educate and help others. “We as Indigenous people are very, very strong and our light is being shown on things that need to be seen,” Stranger elaborates.
These days he’s working on a new body of work, paintings and some installations for a future art show titled Manitou Spiritual, about his personal journey, culture, healing and happiness. Jordan Stranger grew up poor with a pencil in his hand all the time, and now he’s working as a full-time artist, rich in talent and able to support himself with his creations.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.