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Painting a Hope-Filled Future for Youth

When you enter the lobby of the 1280 Seymour Street location of Covenant House Vancouver, the first thing that you see is the painting of a forest that was created by artist Diana Wilkes.

Born and raised in the Lower Mainland, Diana has always had an interest in art. “I was always encouraged to do my art. I believe that when you encouraged anyone to follow their dreams or something that they do really well, it fosters confidence.”

Diana’s parents and teachers were very supportive of her creative endeavours. “For as long as I can remember, there’s always been a picture on the fridge that I had done.”

Diana became an elementary and high school teacher after receiving her Masters in children’s literature and creative writing. She specialized in art, during her career, but never really had much time to pursue her love of painting.

 Diana is married with two grown children, who now have families of their own. Between her career and her family, Diana was very busy. Diana took early retirement from teaching so that she could travel and pursue her love of art.

In 2010, Diana began to really focus on her passion and participating in art shows. She now lives in Crescent Beach, which has a vibrant arts community. Diana mainly paints in watercolours and acrylics, but she also works in mixed media and collage.

“It’s interesting because I’m seeing my work evolve. I’ve probably done more realism in landscape and florals, but I’m becoming more and more abstract with some of my work.”

When asked what artists she loves, Diana said that globally she loves the French Impressionists, like Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Rembrandt. On more of a local level, she loves Emily Carr and The Group of Seven. Diana is inspired by nature. She enjoys playing with the images in nature to make them more dramatic and colourful.

When not painting, Diana is quite active. “I try as much as I can to balance my studio time with other interests. I really feel that too much of anything is hard on you.” Diana is an avid gardener. Living near the ocean, Diana says that she goes for a dip every day, either in the ocean or in her pool — even in the winter! “I find that a cold-water dip is very therapeutic for me.” Diana also does yoga, goes for walks on the beach, hikes, and spends time with family and friends.

Diana’s connection to Covenant House Vancouver (CHV) began with her volunteering. She also became a donor. When Diana had several pieces of art to sell, she would hold an art show and she would donate a percentage of her sales to CHV. A selection of paintings, where partial proceeds go to support youth at CHV, are available here.

Diana’s donations from her paintings caught the attention of a philanthropy officer at CHV who reached out to her to let her know that CHV was having a call for submissions. Inspired by a forest photograph that her niece took, Diana submitted a mock-up of her concept with her proposal.

“I was so pleased to be chosen. With the Covenant House painting, I was inspired by the forest photograph, but I wanted to make it a more mystical and magical place. I thought it looked like a journey. It looked like something hopeful. And that was the message that I had in my mind for Covenant House.

A lot of people are on a journey. If you look at the painting, it’s like you’re going through obstacles and you’re standing on a little bit of a darker side, but if you get over that log and through that path, you get to where it’s light and warm and bright. So that’s what I was trying to envision — to draw the viewer into the painting, so that they’re taken on a bit of a journey.”

Diana went on to explain where the idea of having a contest to name the painting came from. “I was having trouble naming it. It felt like it was Covenant House’s painting. It felt like the recipient [CHV] needed to be involved in this. And so I said, as I’m handing over the painting, that maybe it would be something interesting for the youth and others to be involved in. I am excited about that. I hope there’s some interest and some fun in it. I just hope that there’s some fun.”

“It’s my hope that the painting is enjoyed and appreciated and brings a hopeful feeling to the people that see it and that it draws them into the painting, and they have an experience themselves.”

Diana has a motif that she includes in nearly all of her paintings. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes you have to hunt for it. Hint: “In life, if we follow our hearts, that’s going to bring us the truest sense of who we are.”

“I’m so grateful for the work that happens at Covenant House. I know people who have come through their programs and that it’s been life changing. And the volunteers and people who work there, everyone I’ve met, have been the best of people. I think it’s something that’s well worth supporting and I’m very honoured to be a part of it. When I was selected, it was one of the highlights of my art career.

It blew me away that my painting was in such a beautiful place — such a place of honour. And we’ve had friends say that they’ve been stuck in traffic out in front of Covenant House, and they can look in and they can see my painting on the wall, which just is thrilling!

I’m lucky enough to be able to practise something I love and am passionate about, and to be able to share it with others. I’m honoured to have this opportunity to have a piece of art in such a beautiful building where they do such amazing work for some precious people.”

Thank you, Diana, for this beautiful piece of inspiration. If you would like to participate in the contest, email your ideas to info@covenanthousebc.org. Or, if you’re on Instagram, enter by sharing your suggested name(s) in the comments here. Enter as many times as you like. Contest runs from May 15–29.