Art from his heart is a passion that 19-year-old Quinn Smith has been creating since he was a young five-year-old. His skill with an art pen has recently won him a Traditional Knowledge and Medicine poster design award, from FORED BC Society.
The annual contest is open to Indigenous youth around the province and as a Lax Kw’alaams member, Quinn was inspired to create the poster of his clan crest, the killer whale. As one of four winners, Quinn’s work will be on display in the provincial Ministry of Education offices on National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21. The award comes with a $50 cash prize sponsored by the B.C. government, Vancouver Foundation and FORED members.
Using art as a communication tool, Quinn’s mom Robert McKinnon, said Quinn didn’t start talking until he was five years old. He was diagnosed as being autistic.
Roberta said she knew Quinn had a unique gift when as a very young child he drew a detailed picture of the characters in the TV show Seinfeld.
“That’s how we knew. He drew a great George Costanza. We had to keep him supplied with lots of paper, pencils,” Robert said. “That’s the only thing he does. That’s how he expresses himself. He is actually really gifted.”
From an early age, Quinn’s uncle would send him art supplies and books. It was one of the First Nations books about crests that inspired his award-winning art poster, Quinn said.
The book planted the seed for the young man to try Indigenous art design. The poster he won with was just his second attempt at traditional art, his mom said. Quinn’s artwork also appears in a School District 52 colouring book and around his school, Charles Hays Secondary.
Quinn is proud to tell you that he loves school and made the honour roll five times in 2020. He has accumulated a binder full of certificates throughout his 13 years at school.
When his teacher at school told him of the contest back in March, he went home and told his mom about wanting to enter. He was excited, and from the beginning, even before the picture was drawn, he said to her he was going to win.
“Quinn is autistic, but that has never stopped him from doing his best at anything he puts his mind and artistic talent into,” his mom said.
One of nine children, Quinn is the youngest and had a much easier time once the family moved to Prince Rupert when he was around seven years old. He was able to access medical and educational support that couldn’t be provided in their previous location of Vanderhoof. Quinn started to learn Sm’algyax as soon as he started school at Roosevelt and has carried it on through each grade keeping cultural traditions close to him.
Roberta said there have been a lot of people helping them over the years and she is proud of all of the accomplishments her son has made through the learning services and school district support.
“Quinn has such rare focus and has developed his artistic proficiency through sheer repetition,” Ben Barak, one of Quinn’s teachers said. “When you see him work he is unhesitating. He gets right into it.”
Quinn said in his spare time he does artwork. As well, like any other youth, he plays video games with his friend Jace whom he has classes with and whom he wanted to be mentioned.
Barak said when the two work together the productivity increases.
“I think particularly in art, when you’re working in a group, having someone else who’s also working right next to you, you can really feed off of each other. I noticed whenever I have both of them in my class, they both work with much more focus. Their productivity increases. So I think that is a big, big part of their friendship,” Barak said.
While traditional art won him the poster contest, Quinn said he is also learning manga and other types of drawing such as dragons and characters from My Hero Academia. His favourite type of art is drawing and he uses different art pens and pencils to create his expressions on paper. He really wants a special pen set from the art store, but it costs $350 he said, so he will have to save up for it.
“Because of the sheer volume of production that Quinn does … having Quinn do art is much closer to the realm of professionalism, in my opinion,” the teacher said.
Barak said Quinn has built his impressive confidence through his own motivation. Pen on paper is not the only artistry in his growing portfolio.
Quinn has completed artwork by assisting to create visuals for the lifestyle class and has completed promotional artwork with posters and ceiling tiles for future trades training which are on display around the school. Last year at school Quinn painted video game cabinets with characters from Teen Titans when the class made emulations of games.
“If you set him a task, he dives in, he does it. He knows what he’s doing and it’s quite impressive to watch,” Barak said.
When school finishes in a couple of weeks Quinn will leave the support structure he has come to know and will move forward to start future projects with Community Living Services.
Roberta said ‘special needs’ doesn’t stop him and if he can do it, anyone’s child can. Quinn himself, and his family have never labelled him as being autistic.
“While everybody knows that, we don’t say that. Quinn says ‘I’m an artist’. We don’t treat him any differently. That’s what he is,” she said.
“He makes his voice clear. It doesn’t stop him. Autism does not stop him. He is just Quinn,” Roberta said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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Charles Hays SecondaryHeart of our CityPort of Prince Rupert