Interview with Leah Gay

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Leah Gay is a self-taught, Brisbane based artist who grew up in Melbourne. Her love of lines can be seen through both the nudes and landscapes that she paints.

Kat and I were invited to the Southside Art market to meet other makers and artists. It is here that we met Leah. Her calm demeanour and welcoming presence made it easy to approach her and set up this interview. I enjoyed hearing her strategies to get into the ‘work’ mindset as well as where she gets her inspiration from. It’s incredible to be able to connect with other makers and see what tips and tricks they can share with us.

What inspires your art?

Lines and light tend to inspire me to want to paint.  There is so much beauty around us that we’re just too busy to enjoy.

You draw nudes as well as landscapes— two things that are entirely different to the naked eye. Where do you get your inspiration from?

I like to think that I’m not limiting myself to one genre.  I have been doing my figures the longest— that’s where my expertise is if you like.  I am experimenting with my landscapes more now and starting to see the similarities between the two.  Both have beautiful lines and shadows that can be undulating, curvy and beautiful. I’m using the techniques that I have developed over the years with my nudes and translating that into my landscapes. I find painting landscape is really pushing the envelope on my technique and is improving my figures as well.

I attend a life drawing class a few times and month. One thing that we talk about is how great nudes are for practising your observation skills. Continuing this practice is continually improving my drawing of light and shadows.  It’s something that I am now noticing more of when I go out for walks or away travelling and it influences all my artwork. There is an argument that you should find your “voice” and have an identifiable brand with your artwork to be successful.   I am still working on this idea, but I love painting too much to stick to the one subject matter.

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The majority of your paintings and drawings are of women.  With unrealistic expectations of body images from the media, we often struggle with being comfortable in our bodies. Do you find that art helps you connect to yours?

As a teenager, I started doing life drawing when I was doing a student exchange in Sweden.  I was taught to see the body as lines and shadows, rather than as a nude person. From this bodies to me became beautiful lines and shapes and it helped me shift my idea of my own body. I was also inspired by other artists and how they represent the female form.  An artist that I love is Brett Whiteley. He painted women with beautiful lines and shapes. To be honest curvy women are a hell of a lot more fun to paint and draw!

I’m incredibly sad about how much we modify and objectify peoples’ bodies. There shouldn’t be one standard type of beauty.  I don’t think we do this just with women either, although there is more publicity about it.

Have you had any negative encounters with social media when it comes to your nude art?

I love how supportive people have been on social media. You hear so much about people trolling other people’s work but people are actually very generous and supportive.

As an artist, if you’re able to get outside of your own ego, you’ll realize that no one is going to do exactly what you do‚— they aren’t in competition with you. You can have the attitude that there is a limited amount of money out there, or you can have the attitude of abundance and believe that there are people out there who will love your work as much as you do.

I don’t see other artists as my competition— I see them as my network. They are my community.  All art is subjective, one view of the world. It’s astounding and amazing how we all see the world differently. I find it inspiring.

At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their opinion and not everyone will love what I make but that’s okay,

How do you choose what materials you use?

I love colour so most of my work has been created using materials that make colourful images.

For my artwork, I will always start with pencil to work out my composition. After 25 plus years of drawing, I still struggle with fitting a whole figure on the paper. I could be using A4 or A1 and I’ll always run out of room.

When I am doing my life drawings, I tend to use oil pastels, charcoal, or pencil as they are quick and effective ways to render shadow and light.

I love painting with Gouache because it can be used as a wash as well as in a thicker consistency to create bold blocks of colour.  It has a beautiful creamy consistency that is fun to paint with. I paint on watercolour paper, although I am experimenting with finding a way to use gouache on canvas.

I make a point of choosing good quality materials no matter what I use as integrity is a big deal to me, I wouldn’t want to sell a piece and have something go wrong with it in a few years.

What are some of the things you do/ use when you have a block?

I take a lot of photographs. I use my phone a lot when I am out and about—  I’ll snap a photo of anything that evokes an emotion from me or captures my attention. I am fortunate enough to have traveled a lot in my younger years, so I have quite a collection of photographs. If I am struggling with how I want to express something, I’ll often turn to my art books or Pinterest for some ideas.

Most blocks that I have faced in my career are common things like not having enough time to paint. I’m a wife, a mother, and an artist— things get tricky trying to juggle everything.

Whether or not I am in my studio, I am always trying to listen to my favourite podcast called the Savvy Painter. I find it helpful and inspiring to listen to what other artists do when they have a block—It is nice to know what you’re not alone in that sense.

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How do you come into your space and make sure you’re productive?

My office studio is the sun-room at my house.  I think that because I do work from home, my art is more integrated into my daily life.   I have paintings and drawings scattered everywhere on the walls throughout my house.

The two days that I set aside to work on my art are the two days that my son is at daycare. The moment that I walk in the door from dropping him off, I am in work mode.

I’m  conscious of the resources that I am taking up., This is time that I could be spending with my son and husband. I could go out and find a part time job, but I am choosing to follow my passion and I need to take it seriously, it helps to keep me motivated. 

Aside from art supplies, what are some of the things that you have to have in your studio?

Coffee! I have to have a cup in the morning. Light is most important though. If I don’t have the right natural light, it just doesn’t work for me.

What podcasts and books do you use for inspiration?

The Savvy Painter by Antrese Wood is one that I listen to regularly. It’s a podcast from the US that is hosted by an artist interviewing other artists. It helps listening to other artists who have been where you are and it helps to get into the business side of it as well.

I have a big collection of art books that I turn to sometime but mainly I’ll look through my old photographs and they tend to spark the next idea.  

What is someone that you look up to and why?

I tend to take snippets from many different people. They all offer something that you can learn from. I really like Tamara De Lempicka for example.  She painted the female body in an era during the 1920’s in Paris. She created her own fabulous identity and pushed the envelope to do what she wanted to do regardless of what people thought of her.

I love the creative community and how inspiring everyone is. I have found some amazing Facebook groups and my experience is that everyone is trying to help build each other up.

What is next for you and your art?

I am mostly working on putting myself out there to sell my artwork. I want to participate in more group shows and markets this year. It’s important to me that my artwork is shared and on display for the people that love it. Brisbane's’ art scene is changing and evolving, I am wanting to be a part of it as it grows.

If you would like to connect with Leah you can find her on Instagram and Facebook. Her paintings are available for sale on Etsy.


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