The work of Leah Palmer Preiss is comprised of several themes and concepts. The Raleigh, NC based artist has made some whimsical and highly detailed visuals in the realms of calligraphy, illustration as well as gallery and personal works. Using blogs as a source to publish most of her works, she releases her Oddments (odd creatures on odd days) and Curiotypes (alphabet letter-based creatures) as well as many others. Preiss granted Hi Fructose a few minutes from her busy studio schedule. By Nathan Spoor
You’ve been quite a busy bee these last few months, with what looks to be a number of series or bodies of minutely rendered and detailed work. How did you come to be so prolific and work as such a small scale?
Ever since childhood I’ve been compulsive about drawing and making things, and I’ve always preferred to work small. But I’m really quite shy so I rarely shared my doodles and sketches. The main thing that has changed recently is that I’ve given myself permission to let the curious beings in my sketchbooks run around in public!
Last June I started a new blog called Oddments & Curiosities, where I post “odd creatures on odd days.” Some are straight out of my sketchbook, some are more finished, some are part of bigger projects, others stand alone. The concept was inspired by Noah Scalin’s blog. I have a couple of older blogs, but this is really the first time I’ve ever been disciplined about getting my art online on a regular basis, and it’s been very good for me in a lot of ways.
For Oddments, I created an alphabet of figurative letter-creatures illustrating science words, Curiotype. I have an ongoing series using found objects, Her Odd Materials, & I participate in a couple of group challenges, most recently AlphaBeasts! I was also invited to do a mini-series for AWordADay illustrating the vocabulary words for that week with Curiotype creatures. (I’d love to continue a full alphabet of those at some point.)
Studio Drawing Table
How did you begin working as an artist or illustrator? Could you please tell us a little about where you’re from and a little about your background?
I was born in Austin, TX, but I lived all over the place as a kid, including half a year in Denmark where I attended a Danish school. I’m sure all that moving contributed to my compulsive drawing, since paper and pencils were always there no matter what changed in the “real world.” I moved around quite a bit as a young adult too, but I’ve now put down pretty solid roots in Raleigh, NC.
My mother illustrated a children’s book when I was about eight or nine years old, and from that moment on, I knew I wanted to illustrate. I also started studying calligraphy around then, and that’s actually how I made money at first. I did lettering jobs for extra cash when I was still in school (Smith College, Northampton MA)– addressing envelopes, doing certificates and invitations, that sort of thing. I would do pretty much anything that involved a pen and a paycheck! Thank goodness I don’t have to do much of that any more, but I still really enjoy creating book titles and I do quite a few of those every year.
After graduating, I did art for greeting cards for a while, and then moved into books and magazines. I’ve also done a fair bit of advertising work, but always preferred the publishing side of things.
It took me years to learn that I could seek out stimulating, creative work, instead of passively executing other people’s ideas. And strangely, it only recently occurred to me that I could make art for gallery sale. It has been a hugely liberating experience and I wish I’d started years ago!
How do these new ideas begin for you in order to start a singular piece or a series of works? Do you begin primarily from an open-ended idea or do you follow a predetermined narrative towards a given end?
I much prefer to work with an open-ended approach. I like to be surprised by new ideas as I work. Even when I have a project that demands extensive planning (like a book) I try to leave room for little surprises along the way. It’s one reason I have a lot of hidden images in my illustrations– because I can make them up as I go along & it keeps me interested.
As to where ideas come from, the only real answer is everywhere. I read a lot, collect old books and odd things, listen to zillions of podcasts and audiobooks, & love to look at all styles and eras of art as well as everything in Nature. All that stuff just swims around in my head together until I start sketching, when it flows out in unpredictable combinations.
Tell us a little about what you’re pursuing now. Is your current work for a personal or gallery perspective, or do you prefer more illustrative pursuits?
I like to mix it up, with calligraphy, illustration and personal work going at the same time, so that I can keep all my creative muscles moving, so to speak. Also I’m a somewhat restless person, and I find I’m much more productive when I can switch from one field of focus to another during the day in order to keep things fresh, whether it’s the style, subject, audience or media that’s changing. I do find that my proportion of personal to commercial work is steadily increasing, largely because I’m finding new ways to get the personal work out there.
What is your studio space like, do you have more than one place that helps you feel most creative?
I have a room in my house set aside for painting, and another space for computer stuff. When I’m doing any sort of finish work I need a quiet, private place to achieve deep concentration. But when it comes to sketching, it’s anywhere and everywhere. I always have sketchbooks on hand for doodling, capturing ideas or drawing from life. I get some of my best ideas when I’m half-asleep, but I have to be very much awake and focused to bring them to a finished state.
Thanks for letting us into your world for a peek. Where can we find you in the future and what do you have coming up?
I should be thanking you– Hi-Fructose is a huge source of inspiration for me, and your questions made me think!
At the moment I’m hard at work on a large commissioned painting, and I have a children’s book coming out later this year. (The Old Man and the Cat, by Anthony Holcroft, Penguin NZ.)
When I finish the commission I’ll get back to work on a series of gallery paintings I call Zoorobotany, begun in 2010 and I have a top-secret plan for my Oddments blog that I will reveal once I’ve completed a full year, this coming June.