“Sometimes I’ll stumble upon an object or a scene and know in that moment that I am going to need to paint it as soon as possible. Other days, I definitely have to dig it up and suck it up…”Leah Gardner
The following interview forms part of a series where I invite contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning and philosophy, and how those are expressed throughout their creative process.
This week, I talk to Leah Gardner, a Chicago-based oil painter.
What is perfection to you, in the context of your work?
I don’t think perfection will ever be possible, but the closest thing for me is that painting that comes every once in a while where I can look at it and feel that I have ‘leveled up’, in my boyfriend’s words. Every few weeks or even months, I’ll finish a piece and think, okay, wow, I actually like this one–and I can tell that this is a new personal best for me.
Paintings like that just feel like a reward for a given period of weeks and months of practice. That’s probably the closest feeling to perfection, at least for me. And then, a few months later when I hit that personal best again, I’ll look back on the last one and wonder why I ever thought it was good!
Does inspiration ‘come’ to you or is it found through searching?
It’s a combination of both. Sometimes I’ll stumble upon an object or a scene and know in that moment that I am going to need to paint it as soon as possible. Other days, I definitely have to dig it up and suck it up, and work from pre-selected photos, pre-staged still lifes, etc. that I prepare for those days where inspiration isn’t forthcoming.
What motivates you as an artist?
This is going to sound like a very unartistic answer, but my main motivators are my desires to make a living and to feel productive. I won’t lie, I like the dopamine hit (and the cha-CHING sound effect my Shopify app makes, haha) of selling a painting. I like the satisfaction of finishing up a painting and tying up loose ends.
If I didn’t enjoy the process, the colors, the sensory experience, and the creative outlet, I obviously wouldn’t have chosen it as a career, though–and there are times where I said I was going to take a day off but I actually get a craving to paint. Then there’s the elusive painting where, from start to finish, I just need to bring it to life and enjoy every part of the process! I suppose if that happened every single day it wouldn’t be a treat anymore.
What impact has social media had on your work?
I could write an essay about this, but in brief, it is a double edged sword. It holds me accountable to consistently put out work, and 99% of my sales come from social media. On the other hand, it can become unhealthy and obsessive in so many ways, and having an audience for literally all of your work isn’t necessarily the best thing ever. For me personally, the good outweighs the bad and I rely on it almost entirely to get my work out there.
What is the most unsettling work of art you’ve come across?
Every illustration from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books by Alvin Schwartz terrifies me, even the ones that aren’t specifically spooky subject matter. They’re by Stephen Gammell and make me feel almost nauseous. I say this with the utmost respect to the illustrator because he absolutely understood the assignment. (Here’s the eeriest one to me)
If you suddenly became a master in another material entirely, what material would it be and what would you make?
Pottery for sure, and I would make utilitarian yet dreamy, pastel-toned and whimsical cups and mugs and plates and such!