Leah Christine is a visual artist based in San Diego, California. She graduated with a BA in Art from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Although she loves the traditional canvas, her art has taken a new direction and dimension. Most of the paintings she creates now are actually three-dimensional! Read on to find out about her creative process, her work, what inspires her, and more.
Can you explain the creative process that took you from a more traditional canvas to a three-dimensional canvas?
Honestly, it started as a class project. I was at UH Manoa, and it was the year I was going to graduate. My professor, Wendy Kawabata, told us we were too comfortable with our traditional square and rectangular canvases. She wanted us to "break the edge". (In other words - make anything but a square or rectangle!!!) Most of my classmates either created a unique shape, like an octagon or rhombus, or took a notch out of one of the sides or corners. I went another direction. I was in one of those moments where you feel your mind open and try to absorb everything. Maybe that philosophy class that I enjoyed but thought I'd never use was worth more than I had thought! That open mindset combined with the project guidelines sparked new questions for me. Why does it have to be just the perimeter that has to change? If we are too complacent in the traditional square or rectangle, doesn't that mean we are much too comfortable with the flat surface too? I pitched it to my teacher, to see if she even thought it was possible. As I was talking to her about what I wanted to try, I saw her eyebrows start creeping up her forehead. I think I really startled her by asking to try this! But there it is. That's really how my 3D canvases came to be! Ribbons was the first 3D canvas I made, and I learned so much from it. I still learn from creating them today!
The titles and colours of some of your work (Autumn Waters, Flow, Serenity) seem to focus on water and restful themes. You attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa and graduated with a BA in Art. How much of your work was inspired by your location?
Water has always been important to me. It doesn't matter if it is an ocean, a large lake, a waterfall, a thundering rainstorm or a gentle babbling brook, I always feel more peaceful, centered and revitalized looking at or being around water. I would say that living in Hawaii had a direct influence on my art - especially since the 3D canvases started as a project for class. It's interesting that you picked those three as examples for your question, because both Serenity and Autumn Waters were created while I lived in Maryland! I was smack dab between DC and Baltimore, and I think I turned to painting to find that inner peace.
Do you think that a formal education is required to be an artist?
While I was going to UHM (and paying for those classes), yes, that was what I thought. But that doesn't hold true for me anymore. We probably approach art slightly differently, but that's the beauty of art! There are SEVERAL artists I love who did not have a formal art education. It doesn't make their work any less valid or beautiful or inspiring. Debbie Mason (SerendipityArtsWI on FB and IG) wasn't classically trained in art, but I love and actually own some of her work! Everyone has a different road that they travel in life. I'm just happy that these artists found something they love doing, and they share it with the rest of us!!
What is the arts and culture scene like in Hawaii?
Let me start by saying, I haven't lived there in a few years, and while I was there, I was a broke college student with my nose to the grindstone. I'll do my best to answer, but take it with a grain of salt. I think a lot of it has been commercialized. Most of the galleries I saw were full of talented, commercial artists whose art was focused on the island. The fine art is present, but you absolutely had to know where to look. The places I could see it consistently were the museums and the university. The performing arts, I unfortunately, didn't get to experience as much. I was able to go to a ballet and a live performance of the Lion King while I was there, and both were wonderful! There are also "tourist traps" that allow you to experience the Hawaiian culture in a canned form. Overall, I felt like the arts and culture scene was alive and well! I just didn't have the time to experience it.
How long on average does it take you to create one of your three-dimensional canvases?
Good question. It really depends on the size and complexity of the piece. I did make a 27x52 inch commission that took 3 months from sketch to hand delivery. In the last 5 months, I've made 6 pieces that average around 16x20 inches. It also depends on if my husband is home or not. He is in the military, and is frequently gone. I always throw myself more into my art when that happens, so I usually churn out more pieces then.
What's the most interesting piece you've ever been commissioned to create?
Define interesting. LOL! Umm.. there are a couple that stick out. Each commission is interesting in its own way. Most of them have some unique twists or turns. My very first commission, I didn't have a contract. I had it sketched according to the specifications they provided, created the 3D structure, stretched and primed it-so it was ready for paint- when my art enthusiast told me the piece wouldn't fit in their home after all. She told me that, and I had a moment where my heart just dropped to the pit of my stomach. I was so afraid that they were just going to cancel the piece. I remember that phone call very well; I was heart broken and sweating and just devastated. It all worked out in the end! They still wanted a piece, just a smaller one- 27 inches wide instead of 38. I was so relieved! I scrapped the original one, started over and gave them something I like better than the original! ...actually that original one is still waiting for paint. It's leaning against the wall in my studio right now. The other "most interesting piece" is one I made for Music 4 More. They are a non-profit organization that helps veterans and school children. They repair instruments when they can, and when they can't, they give them to artists to turn into art. I got a hold of a drum and replaced the head, where you strike the drum, with one of my 3D canvases. That one was interesting to create and presented unique obstacles I hadn't expected. But I LOVED doing that one!! I had so much fun with it. I can't wait to do another!
What is your typical day like?
I usually wake up around 6:30 or 7. Nothing happens before I have my coffee. I do like the Kona coffee from Hawaii, and I was tickled to find the grocery stores in San Diego carry it! After coffee, I check my art page on Facebook and my email. Then I dive into my day job at Muir Way. I usually head home between 1 and 4pm, depending on how busy we are that day. Some days, I have a bit more work to do from home, and other days I only work from home. The mix of working out of the shop and from home is really how I like to operate. It's very flexible and a perfect balance for me. After that project is done for the day, it's dinner with my husband and some TV time. After he goes to bed (he always goes to bed early), I either do some work on the business side of my art or I do some painting for a couple hours. Then it's either a book or more TV before heading to bed around 11pm.
Oh! When I am creating the 3D structures in the garage, I try to do it on weekends in the middle of the day so I don't annoy the neighbors too much! Or I'll do it in the weekday afternoons, when I don't have a work project.
Who or what inspires you?
Oooh.. That's a tough one. There is so much!! Water, as I've already mentioned, is a big one. I love watching ballet, the graceful movements executed with exacting precision. Glass has been a big one for me too. I actually took a glass blowing class in college. It wasn't for me, but it helped me to understand and appreciate it more deeply. I love the interplay between light and glass, and I'm drawn to the forms that glass can make. I told a teacher of mine that I had been painting glass for years and never realized it. Lately, I've been really enjoying Serendipity Arts Facebook videos. There is something very mesmerizing and inspiring about watching an artist's work transform. I try to absorb as much art as I can. There is something about looking at art that feeds the creative part of me. hmmm... what else. Is it dorky of me to say that my art inspires me? Each 3D piece presents its own challenges, and it's a puzzle to try to figure it out. Usually, the piece I work on will spark 3 or 5 new things I want to try. Other than that, I find inspiration in the little every day moments, the swirl of the cream in my coffee, the wind that twirls the leaves down the street, the sunlight twinkling through the trees, the moonlight glistening on a cloud... those little moments that are so magical when you take a moment to enjoy them.
What is your dream project?
I don't know it yet. For me, right now, the dream is exactly what I'm doing - creating art. I just need to keep making and doing what I am doing. I will admit, I feel like there is some idea that is trying to grow deep inside me, but it isn't ready to let me know what it is yet. When it's ready, it will burst out, and I won't be able to resist whatever it is.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists and creatives?
Some advice that greatly affected me is what I would share - Keep making. If you are passionate about art, keep that creative part of you turned on. If you ever can't do the type of art that makes your heart sing, just find something to stop the gap and keep making. It doesn't matter if you keep it going with needlepoint or crochet or pottery or building sandcastles or watercolor or coloring or anything where you feel the tiniest twinge of that creative part of you working. Keep doing something creative. Something else that really helped me was finding an art or, more accurately, an artist community. They don't have to be local, it could be a podcast like the Maker's Collective or a Facebook group or really anything that will help you not feel so isolated as an artist.
I would also recommend taking risks and big leaps. You never know what you are capable of until you try. I thought the 3D canvases would be a one time flop! It was something I had never heard of being done, and I didn’t know how it would turn out. But it was an idea that really took hold. You just have to follow your gut and try your ideas. Sometimes, they’ll flop. That’s ok, because at least you tried. Sometimes you might learn something from it. Then you try again, and it either becomes this thing you love or it might spark a new idea! If you never try, if you never take the leap - you will never know and you will always wonder. So, there it is, keep making, find your artistic community, and don't fear risks.
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Interview by Glodeane Brown