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Leah Gardner really breaks the mould of all the artists we have interviewed so far. She started learning to paint in March 2020 at the start of lockdown, and she’s made a career for herself and has an amazing social following, both on Twitter and Instagram, since then. She doesn’t follow the generally accepted advice to put herself out there, personally, on social media. She just puts her work out there and her adorable dog, Pinky. The style of her work is really distinctive and her work really resonates with her followers.
Our CEO, Stuart Waplington, had an amazing conversation with Leah about her unconventional social media marketing tactics that have helped her achieve creative success so early in her career. Leah offers some really interesting insights into using Twitter as her primary art sales marketing platform and the advantages it holds against Instagram.
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Stuart: Welcome, Leah Gardner and lovely to have you here on theprintspace’s podcast, Sell Out. You’ve been selling for us for a while using our dropshipping service, selling for your own store and your own social media, which has been incredible the way that’s taken off and with big admirers of your work, but also admirers of the way you’ve put yourself out there and the way you’ve marketed yourself and the success you’ve had. But as I understand it from looking at your site and things like that, you actually started painting only fairly recently. Is that right?
Leah: Yeah, so I basically started painting at the beginning of Covid. My sister called me out for this. She was helping me at an art festival a few weeks ago, and someone was like, when did you start painting? I was like, at the beginning of Covid. And she was like, actually, you did some paintings in the summer in high school, so technically no you didn’t. I was like, okay, thank you so much.
I had goofed off with acrylics in high school in the summer a few times, but beyond that, all I really did was draw. So basically like after I graduated college and then between maybe 2018-2020, around Christmas, I would do custom portraits in pencil, but that was it. Then at the beginning of Covid I got laid off and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. So that’s when I started painting. I don’t know what I was thinking because I was like, yeah, I think I’m just gonna be a painter now with no painting experience, and I wasn’t good at it. I had no idea what I was doing, and that’s when I picked up oils. So that’s how it got started.
Stuart: And how long did it take you to actually start to get the feeling that, Oh, I might actually be quite good at it.
Leah: I still don’t totally know if I have that feeling. I feel like the better you get, you continue to be just as critical of yourself. But I would say, so that was when I first started in March, obviously. But then I had a little local show, I wanna say, in either October or November. So I’ve been painting for, I don’t know, like six months or so. And it was at this studio that does like art classes and the owner of the studio, actually reached out and offered this, and I was like, okay I guess so. And again, I was still very new. I wasn’t very good. But I guess having that event and having people actually buy stuff made me think maybe this could actually work if I get really good at this. So yeah, I think that was the real beginning of making it a career.
Stuart: The style that you paint in, it really resonates with people. For example, the way you paint liquids, I find it astonishing, particularly as somebody with zero artistic talent myself. But it’s just like the way you get those internal facets and the light within liquids. Was that something you’d done before? Did you just learn that since 2020?
Leah: I did my first paintings that had liquid in them in spring of 2021 maybe. Maybe after. I’d say it’s relatively new, but like painting in general to me is still new, so in the grand scheme of life and whatever. But yeah, so the translucent liquid stuff is relatively new and I think people think that there’s some sort of trick to it, or they paint it differently from everything else. But my approach to painting it is really the same as painting anything else. I just paint what I see. There’s an expression in painting like paint what do you think you see? So you just literally look at everything that you see in front of you and paint that. So there’s really no secret to it. I don’t know how else to explain it. There’s no secret. Just you look at the glass or whatever you’re painting or your reference photo and yeah, you just try to copy it.
Stuart: Amazing. But how did you end up finding your style? I often think that the definition of someone having a style that they own is that you could show somebody a painting by them or a photograph by them and you’d say, okay, I know it’s Leah Gardner or whoever. And I think that’s very much true with your painting. If someone showed me one of those paintings, I would go, yeah, that’s Leah Gardner, isn’t it? And so how did you find that style? Did that develop over these last two years, or were you influenced by anybody?
Leah: I would say it’s a combo of influence and also just like the little things that you personally do over and over again, like your handwriting. When you first start learning how to write letters, they look really bad all the time, and then you get better at them, but it’s still your individual way of writing each letter. I always try to paint realistically, like I’m not really going for any style per se, but I think it’s the colours I like or the colours I choose again and again. So maybe that’s one aspect of it. The way I hold the brush, that probably affects what my brush strokes look like. And then, yeah, of course different influences of artists I really like probably have influenced that.
I think it’s just a combination of your muscles, your colours, what your brushstrokes look like, and then maybe subconsciously artists you like play into it. But I think it really comes down to repetition and just getting into the habit of doing things a certain way while also trying to make it look as good as possible, if that makes sense.
Stuart: Did you set out, in 2020, in the back of your mind that you could actually make a full time career out of this? Or was it just a case of we’re in lockdown, what am I gonna do and I’ve been laid off and et cetera?
Leah: I think it was a combination of both things. I definitely didn’t know what to do with myself, I needed something to do. But I definitely think there was a sort of element of complete delusion of me thinking, Oh yeah, I could definitely do this professionally with absolutely nothing to base it off of. I don’t know if I was just losing my mind and it might have been like I had lost my job and that hit me hard. And then obviously there’s a pandemic, so maybe I just wasn’t quite there. Because when I think about it rationally and look back at my old stuff, it wasn’t good. I was a beginner. I had no business thinking that this should be my job ever. Cause at that point, I definitely was not good enough. And practice makes an insane amount of difference, obviously. But at that point I didn’t really know that. Like I shouldn’t have been thinking that I could do this professionally.
Stuart: And did you have any marketing experience previous to this, or did that again just happen naturally?
Leah: So I worked in digital content and marketing before this. So making the website, all that stuff, was pretty straightforward and easy. No big deal for me. And I think social media is definitely an extension of that, but what it really came down to for me, and I know things are weird right now with like algorithm changes on Instagram and all that, and a lot of artists are really upset, and you’ve probably seen that. For me in the time that I started, it really just came down to consistently sharing content. It’s what everyone recommends and it’s so true. But then, yeah, consistency and just quality content to post.
Stuart: I think I read that you do a painting a day and you post a painting a day. Is that correct?
Leah: So that was my approach when I first started, and I did that for maybe the first year and a half or so. But in the past maybe six months, I’ve definitely dialled back. I don’t force myself to paint every day. Got outta control. I also hurt my left wrist, which is a super major inconvenience when you’re left-handed and a painter. So I’ve slowed down because of that and I picked up a part-time job because I can’t say no to my old boss. She’s really nice and I like helping her out, but that also affects the amount of hours in the day, so that’s still going on. So a number of things took me away from painting every single day, and I’m fine with that. Like I think it was really good for getting a lot better in a short span of time, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a necessity to paint every single day. So I’ve been moving away from that. But I would say that doing that for the first year and a half or so made a huge difference for growth on social media. For sure.
Stuart: That’s what we say, isn’t it, with the algorithm, that if you don’t post for a while, when you start posting, they don’t start seeing your stuff.
Leah: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that is something you have to look out for. There’s so many weird little things, and the other thing is that now that Instagram has been so weird and finicky. Sometimes it’ll show a bunch of people your stuff, sometimes no one will see it. That’s also made me less motivated to crank out painting after painting because there just doesn’t really seem to be that much of a point in really killing myself to do that.
Stuart: So have you noticed a change in it over the last six months?
Leah: Oh, for sure. My growth on Instagram has pretty much stalled over six months. I’ve grown a little bit, but really slowly and granted I haven’t been posting as consistently. I haven’t really been into reels and I just haven’t been prioritising it as much. But still, it seems like the drop off in growth has not quite been proportional to the drop off in effort, so who knows?
Stuart: Yeah, it’s hard to know, isn’t it? So when you were doing the painting a day and then posting at the same time, that must have been really hard work. It must have been like a full day’s work every day, right?
Leah: Yeah. Oh, and I definitely burnt out on it. That’s why I stopped doing a painting every day, because I’m not one of those people who can just do like a 30 minute sketch and be like, sweet, like all done. I have to go all in and do something that’s more of a commitment. It was too much at times.
Stuart: Yeah, I can imagine. And you’re saying that you haven’t done so much of the kind of real stuff, and I’ve seen some of your reels, I think it was one of the pigeon ones that got like 120K views. So is it more time consuming to do reels? Cause I was looking at that pigeon one, for example, it’s a whole like time lapse, isn’t it, or speed it up I think, or like parts of the painting cut together. So you have to film it and paint it in such a way that you’re filming it from above. Does that sort of interrupt the creative process and does it make it harder?
Leah: Yes, and that’s a big part of why I don’t really do many reels. I think the one you’re talking about, I did it for a collaboration with Michaels and it was like a paid collaboration. So that was like for sure worth the time taken to make a reel, but it takes hours to edit a reel, and that’s not including the time it took to actually do the painting that you’re making the reel of. So it’s just another layer of work and it stinks for artists. When I think of Instagram creators, I think of fashion influencers because that’s what I see on my feed and their job is taking pictures and videos, but when you’re an artist, your job is actually making the art. Obviously you don’t have to do it, but if you wanna grow on Instagram, you have to do it. So it’s just a tricky spot to be in. And obviously you have to think that social media companies don’t really care about a small subset of the people who create content for their site, like they are worried about their bottom line or whatever, that goes with that saying. But it is disappointing when your platform is this website that used to be great and then now it just isn’t.
Stuart: Do you still sell work through Instagram? Is it still a really useful platform for doing that? Or is it just slightly less useful? It’s just slightly dropped off a little bit or something?
Leah: Yeah, so for me, I’ve actually been using Twitter for not quite as long as Instagram, but I started pretty early on using Twitter and I think I probably sell more through Twitter. I’d have to look. So for originals, I pretty much always will post an original, as soon as it’s finished, on Twitter. Like I don’t have a time of day I post. So usually Twitter will see any given painting before Instagram does. And I think for that reason, originals probably sell better through Twitter just because there’s one in stock and whoever sees it first is gonna get it first. So in that sense, it hasn’t been that big of a deal for me to sell originals. But I would say it probably affects my print sales. But again, I have Twitter and Twitter continues to grow.
Stuart: I noticed you had Twitter and it is actually quite unusual. We don’t see too many artists being so active on Twitter. And secondly, with that level of engagement on Twitter that you’ve got is insane, do you find that posting at different times of the day on Twitter sort of affects that? Or is it just random, the engagement you have on there? Or is there a specific pattern where you know, okay, this is gonna really get great engagement, this thing I’m about to post?
Leah: It’s hard to say because I don’t really pay as close attention to Twitter analytics. I don’t even know if you can check Twitter analytics. You can, but it’s not as extensive as Instagram. So I don’t really pay much attention to Twitter. Like I just tweet when I finish a painting. I don’t really care what day it is, what time it is. I think I would probably say that if I post after 5:00 PM and before 9:00 PM in the evening, It’s probably going to have a better outcome and then like weekends. But I haven’t really noticed a huge correlation between when I post and how it does. And then I’ll have a certain painting where I’m like, Oh, this is gonna do well. Like I know Twitter’s gonna like this, but that’s true for Instagram too. Like at this point I have a good idea of what performs well and what doesn’t.
Landscapes, not even worth my time. I do them sometimes because I like them, but if I’m after social media engagement, that’s not gonna happen from a landscape for me. But I know pigeons are gonna do well. And then like a colourful still life almost always performs pretty well. So at this point, I know when I’m painting something if it’s going to be very social media appealing.
Stuart: It’s just really interesting to see that level of engagement on Twitter, and I think artists are looking to different platforms now and they’re looking around and saying, what else can I engage with? Do you make different content for Instagram and Twitter, or is it always the same?
Leah: It’s always the same. Sometimes I’ll do a different caption and then I’ll do a lot more reposts on Twitter than I would on Instagram. I just feel weird about doing reposts on Instagram maybe cuz you can see the feed with everything on it. Whereas with Twitter, things get buried, they get lost. So I don’t feel as annoying when I do that. But yeah, other than sometimes changing the caption, I just post all the same stuff besides video content. I don’t really put any video on Twitter, which I probably could. I don’t know why I don’t. And then sometimes I’ll do like little sets of four paintings together on Twitter cuz it looks good that way.
My strategy between the two of them really isn’t that different in terms of the content I post and how I caption it. I would just say I’m definitely less regimented and rigid with Twitter. Painting’s done. It’s going on Twitter. I’m not really gonna think about it. I may not even look at it for 24 hours. I forget when I tweet. I don’t know why I have such a different attitude between the two apps.
Stuart: So when it comes to Instagram, you’re actually monitoring how it does, but with Twitter you’re just, okay, I’ve tweeted and just off I go kind of thing.
Leah: Yeah, exactly. And I do try to reply to people on Twitter and engage with people on both apps. But I think when you look up how to succeed on social media on YouTube, everything is focused on Instagram and these rules about how to do Instagram get hammered into your head. So for me, I post on Instagram, I know I’m gonna go back, I’m gonna read the comments, I’m gonna throw them a like. And then six hours later I’ll go back and respond to the comment; A, because I’m not just gonna ignore someone who left me a nice comment, but B, because after a certain amount of time, if you go back and engage again, it supposedly gets the post back into the feed. They’re just all these little tricks that who knows if they work. But they’re just so drilled into my head at this point that it’s just how I do it.
Stuart: So it sounds like it’s quite an engaged job, isn’t it, to do that kind of following up. When you post on Instagram, often we hear from artists about how they find that autobiographical content does really well and so does sharing a lot of personal stuff. I think it’s really interesting when I look at your feed, cuz it’s really mostly about the work and you let the work speak for itself, and then it’s about Pinky as well. So you’ve got the work and for anyone who doesn’t know Leah’s feed, but you’ve got a lovely dog called Pinky. What breed is she?
Leah: She is just a mix of all sorts of stuff. We adopted her and I guess she was in a hoarding situation, so she’s like extremely inbred and a bunch of different things. Like she literally looks like her own type of dog. I think her most predominant breed is Jack Russell, but yeah, she’s just really weird. She’s like an alien the way she acts sometimes, like very humanoid and strange. And people really like that on social media. She’s very expressive and has a personality so Pinky content is always very well received.
Stuart: Yeah, I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that people really engage with it. Is it like a deliberate strategy to not talk too much about yourself? It’s really to let the work speak for itself. Cause I think there’s a lot of artists out there who see that advice of, Oh, you’ve gotta put yourself out there, open up yourself and be autobiographical. But for some people, that’s just not what they want to do.
Leah: Yeah, I definitely don’t wanna do that. And it’s not like an act of strategy or anything. I just haven’t, because A, I feel like if you put yourself out there, on the internet, someone’s gonna find you annoying. And even if they like your artwork, they’re probably gonna unfollow because they think you’re annoying. And then someone is going to personally attack you no matter what you do. And that’s fine. I know these are like miserable people, but I don’t really care to open myself up to that. I don’t need to have my personal life questioned or picked apart. And then also, I guess I don’t really feel like anything in my personal life is relevant to people who follow me for paintings. Why would they care? And I don’t mean this in a mean way or anything, but like when other paintings post personal life stuff, 80% of the time I’m just like, okay that’s cool, but I don’t really care. Like I’m not following artists for their personal life. I don’t really follow many influencers for their personal life. It just doesn’t really interest me that much. So maybe that’s why it’s not a conscious decision. I don’t want my life to be anyone’s business.
Stuart: That’s totally valid. I actually think for a lot of people listening to this, that’ll be really great for them to hear because sometimes people who do open themselves up a lot on social media could do very well. But then again, it’s clearly not required to. You’ve built a huge following. Over the course of two years, you have well over a 100K followers on Instagram and you haven’t done that. So I think it’s really encouraging for other people to see that, okay, if that’s not what I wanna do, I don’t need to do that.
Leah: No, I don’t think you need to do that. A lot of my favourite artists on Instagram, I know literally nothing about them as individuals, but I get really excited when I see their stuff. And there are certain artists on Instagram where they are over inundated with content about their personal life. That isn’t a bad thing. But again, like I said, I just don’t really care to see people’s personal lives online. If I want lifestyle content, I’ll follow a lifestyle influencer. So yeah, I really don’t think it’s necessary.
Stuart: What about TikTok? Have you thought about TikTok much and or is that just another thing that is gonna eat up time?
Leah: Yeah, it would eat up more time. And honestly, I don’t wanna ruin TikTok for myself. Like I have a lot of fun on TikTok looking at things that are no way related to art, like funny stuff. And I just have no interest in turning that into work. TikTok is like my happy art free place, so I don’t anticipate getting on that unless something really bad happens to Instagram and I don’t have a choice. But I’d really rather not.
Stuart: Especially as the algorithm just serves you back, what you look at.
In terms of your sales, you’ve got your website and you’ve got Twitter, and you’ve got Instagram and you’ve got newsletters sign up on your site. Do you use the newsletter much to sell prints as well?
Leah: I have yet to send out a single newsletter. I have had it on my to-do list for such a long time and I know I’ve been collecting emails, but I get so annoyed at emails in my inbox. Not from small artists. I actually get really excited when artists I follow send out a newsletter. I’m like, Oh my gosh, yay, what’s this? But I’ve signed up for so many email newsletters that I’m just like, How did this even get into my inbox? I think it’s made me afraid to send my newsletter out into people’s inboxes, cuz I don’t wanna annoy them and I know I need to get around to it, but I can’t speak to that because I have not sent out a single email from my newsletter.
Stuart: So the newsletter list is growing then?
Leah: It’s growing. Yeah. Someday there will be an email that goes out to a good amount of people, but I haven’t done it yet.
Stuart: The expectation is growing.
Leah: Yeah, I know. It’s getting scarier and scarier.
Stuart: You sell originals and prints. How do the two work together? Do you sell prints of the originals and how do you price the original compared to the print?
Leah: So, I sell both. I sell originals. I sell prints. Normally I’ll wait until the original has sold until I sell prints, but not always, just as a general rule. And both my prints and my originals are priced based on their size. So I think what I did when I was figuring this out was, I guess the most common painting size is a six by six inch, and that’s usually around like $300. So most of my paintings are priced in multiples of a six by six inch painting. Like how many six by sixes could I fit on this surface? And I don’t really do that many larger paintings, so it’s just how I always do it, because I don’t have to do it very often. So those are based on size. If something has less content on it, then it’ll be cheaper. If it’s really intricate, it’ll be a little more, but it’s usually in that realm. And then for prints, same thing. And they’re based on size. Actually a lot of my eight by eight prints are just slightly enlarged six by six paintings.
Stuart: So like the paintings go bigger as prints. Right? How do you digitise them? Do you have a scanner or something?
Leah: I just have a really nice camera that I use.
Stuart: Okay. So if you sold the original for $300, would you do a bigger print edition at eight by eight? And how much would they roughly be? Would you have an edition of 10 or 20?
Leah: Oh, I don’t really do editions. I know if I were to do an art fair, sometimes they make you do limited edition runs for that specific event. So if that was the case, I would do that. And I occasionally will do a limited edition print of a collection of minis or something like that. But my approach is more like I have a revolving door, so I’ll have my favourite best sellers that always do well and those will just stay up like until, I guess they don’t sell anymore or I just am really sick of seeing them. For the rest of my prints, like I said, it’s kinda like a revolving door, so every couple months I’ll go through and just swap some of them out based on if I personally like the painting and I am okay with continuing to see it, or if I’m just like over it, don’t wanna see it anymore, it’s not really selling that well. So yeah, I just swap things in and out and keep it fresh.
Stuart: And how much would they be priced at? Are they priced a lot lower than the original?
Leah: Yeah, so an eight by eight inch print is $50. Definitely lower than the original and also a little bigger.
Stuart: Yeah. So what kind of questions do you get asked when someone buys some work from you? What do they want to know? Or do you not get asked that kind of thing? They just buy it.
Leah: Yeah. Most people just buy it. Cuz I’ll post multiple pictures of an original, usually if it’s different in different lighting or whatever. I get asked about if I ship internationally a lot, but most of the time if I get asked a question, I’m like, Oh, that’s a reasonable question. I’ll just add it to my website. I’ll either add it to the description of the product, or I’ll add it to the banner at the top of my website page. I used to get asked a lot about if I shipped internationally, so I wrote in my website banner that I shipped internationally and now I don’t really get asked that very often anymore.
I would say since I linked my store to my Instagram page, I get asked a lot less about pricing cuz it’s right there if I link the product in on Instagram. One commonly asked question is, I see your print is shipping from England. I am in the US. Are you a scammer? And I’m like, it literally says in the description that my prints ship from England and Germany, because that is where my studios are located. No, it’s not a scam.
Stuart: The people are really nervous about buying online, aren’t they?
Leah: I can’t blame people especially like, it’s not like I have a better business bureau rating, like I’m one person. So definitely, shopping from a small business like that can be a leap of faith. So I totally understand any concerns.
Stuart: Yeah. But then again if they’ve been engaging with your Instagram for a while, then they would know. That must be a really elaborate scam.
Leah: Yeah. I’m not a bot. I’m like, I’m assuming you found me from Instagram, in which case you should probably know that I am not a scam. But no, most of my questions are very reasonable and very polite. Completely logical.
Stuart: Do you have a point of when you launch a new print and you post about it on your Instagram, or at what points do you tell people, Okay, you can come and buy this original, you can buy this print. Do you keep repeating that in stories and stuff like that? Or do people just go through the link in bio and they just assume that you’re selling?
Leah: Normally when I make a print, it comes out a few days after the original was made available, and a lot of times by then the original is sold. And so whenever I had posted the picture originally on Instagram and I get multiple comments that are like, Can we have a print of this? That’s when I know, Okay, I should make a print of this. Sometimes I’ll just personally like the painting and be like, Yeah, I’m making a print of this cuz I like it. But for the most part it’s like by request. So what I’ll do is two or three days later, I’ll have the print all ready to go once I get around to it. I’ll go and make a story about it on Instagram, linking to it. I’ll reply to all the comments saying the print is now available. I’ll go on Twitter, reply to all those comments asking if prints will be available with a link. And then I’ll tweet it out again saying, Okay, prints are available.
So yeah, that’s pretty much like what I do on the first day, for a new print, and then every now and then I’ll do a story where it’s, hey, these prints are available, these are some of my favourites or whatever. And just share a few prints that I have. And then every now and then, like if I do a repost on Twitter, I’ll repost the images and be like, Hey, some of these are available as prints, in a comment below, and then link to the prints. So I will remarket them a little bit, mainly by doing repost.
Stuart: Do you see that when you make the post about, okay, I’ve got this print for sale, that’s when you make your sales, right? You make it in 24 hours or something of that post?
Leah: Yes, I will make a handful in the first 24 hours that the post is live. I’m not really sure, like on days where I didn’t post anything on any social media and I still get print sales, I’m like, how did you, what made you think to go onto my website and buy a print or maybe they had it saved or something and then they got an email. Cause I do like an abandoned cart email with a discount, but that doesn’t happen that often. So yeah, I don’t know how people find my shop on days where I didn’t post anything. I’m always curious about that.
For the most part, like when I first launch a print, most of the sales come in the first like one or two days when the tweet is still making the rounds. But then for like my overall best selling prints, those just sell fairly consistently without me posting anything. But there are also a lot of times like things that have gone semi-viral on Twitter in the past or something like that. So they still do circulate to an extent.
I guess I haven’t really mentioned this and part of it is because I can’t really see the analytics on how many sales it leads to, but I’ve been using Pinterest and I think some people come from there. Again, I don’t know how many, but I think because of the nature of Pinterest where things are always circulating instead of sort of hot for 24 hours and then gone, I have a hunch that it may contribute to some sales. I just dunno how many.
Stuart: Yeah I noticed you did Pinterest. Does that take a lot of time or is it just taking the content that you’ve created for Instagram and putting it on Pinterest?
Leah: So what I do with Pinterest is every four or five weeks I’ll just sit down for like 45 minutes and upload whatever has accumulated in that span of time. But then also it’s linked to my shop. So if I post a print, it’ll automatically connect to Pinterest. But those pins are like shopping pins, so I don’t know if they’re repinned or shared in the same way, but I do know they’re on Pinterest. And again, I don’t really look that much into Pinterest. I don’t really understand how it works, but I know it’s doing something because I’ll go on my homepage and I have 2 million views a month. So that has to be resulting in some sales. I just don’t have good analytics on it. If I don’t know where to find them, I’m clueless.
Stuart: And you would think that Pinterest must be contributing cause I know a lot of people use it for interior design, sort of mood boards and stuff like that.
Leah: It has to be doing something. I really wish I knew. On Shopify I can see exactly how many sales came directly from an Instagram link or from a Twitter link, I guess, if they didn’t open it in a new tab or something, but I just don’t know how to figure that out with Pinterest.
Stuart: What about press and PR? Do you get people writing about your work much?
Leah: I was actually a journalism student. That’s what I studied in school. So if a student asks me to answer some interview questions so they can write something for a project, I’m always like, absolutely yes. Just ask me your questions. So I’ll do that kind of thing for students. Occasionally a small magazine will email me some interview questions. A lot of times I don’t really get any follow up on it, so I don’t really know what became of it, but I don’t really actively seek out press opportunities. I just don’t really turn them down if they come up.
Stuart: Okay. And how about exhibitions and art fairs and things like that? Do you ever do offline stuff?
Leah: Yeah. This summer/fall I’ve done one art fair and then I have one next weekend and then I have three or four more lined up for the fall and winter and that’s something I’m just starting to get into. I did one last summer and that was my first one ever and it went quite well. And then I have a small popup event, so I’m still new to that. Like I just bought my first tent and stuff, but I’m definitely getting into that. I think it’s really cool and it’s fun to meet other artists in real life, cuz it’s a very lonely job. Like I don’t have any coworkers and my studio is at home, so I work from home. So yeah, so I’m doing art fairs.
As far as exhibitions go, I don’t work with any galleries or anything like that. It’s not even something I really think about because when I do a painting, normally it sells. If it doesn’t, I’ll eventually put it on sale. But everything sells eventually. So I don’t really wanna have to pay someone a commission for things that are already gonna sell on my website, if that makes sense.
Stuart: Do you get approached through Instagram and things like that?
Leah: Yeah and email.
Stuart: It makes total sense. That’s what we’re always saying to people that if a gallery has a huge platform and you need help getting going, then maybe it’s worth thinking about. But if you are already selling or you have the potential to sell, why would you? And really, all that gallery is gonna do is post your stuff on social media. Then you can do that.
Leah: Yeah. Also, I don’t paint very many big paintings. Like the biggest painting I’ve ever done and actually just sold was 16 by 20 inches. I think that’s what it was. And to me, it seemed really big. But my stuff is small, so for that reason it’s on the more affordable side for original artwork I would say. So it’s not like one of those things where I need a brick and mortar gallery for people with money who are trying to buy a bigger, more expensive painting to find my stuff just isn’t really necessary for the scale of my stuff. But yeah, it’s not something I would like to completely rule out, especially if I start painting bigger and find that it’s harder to sell larger work. But right now it just could be like giving away money.
Stuart: Yeah, exactly. There are obviously some great galleries out there, but I hear experiences of people going on to say, for example, those big platforms where they’ll have hundreds of artists and they’re not really selling that much cause they’re mixed in with loads of other artists. And then they get asked to send over some content so the gallery can post it on social media. Why don’t you just post that content yourself? Cause you’re having to make it and then they’re just posting it.
Leah: Yeah, I’m paying you a commission to do this stuff for me. That’s the idea anyways.
Stuart: Totally. I still think if you talk about, as you say, things which require really big space to appreciate, huge installations and also stuff where I guess there’s a very select collector base. You know where you’re talking about pieces of $10,000, $50,000, where it’s really about a network of a thousand people in London that paid out that much for art. They’re not gonna buy it on Instagram.
Leah: They don’t have time to go on Instagram and look for a 26 year old artist who doesn’t really know what she’s doing.
Stuart: It’s knowing your market, isn’t it? Knowing who you appeal to. Where does your work get sold? Does it get sold internationally?
Leah: Yeah, all over.
Stuart: That’s interesting. And I suppose it mirrors your social following.
Leah: Yeah. Most of my social media following is everywhere. I must have a good chunk in Chicago cause that’s where I live. It’s just all over the place. As far as places that I sell originals, I feel like a lot of them go to London. A lot of them go to Paris. A lot go to the US. A lot go to Hong Kong. And then in the US it’s a lot of San Francisco, New York City. I see Alexandria, Virginia a lot, which is right outside of DC. So it is where you’d expect, cities and metropolitan areas.
Stuart: The pigeons go to the cities a lot, right?
Leah: Probably yeah. I bet if I looked at where those pigeons are going, it’s probably all like New York and Paris cause that’s where all the pigeons are.
Stuart: Yeah, totally. Question that I always ask at the end is if you could give two or three pieces of advice to anyone starting out their career right now, who wants to do what you’ve done basically, which is make a self-sustaining art career, giving yourself that freedom to create every day. What would you say to ’em? How should they start and go about this?
Leah: Okay, the first thing I would say, and this is probably mostly applicable to people who don’t have very much experience in whatever art format they’re choosing, are probably considered beginners, I would say: In terms of enjoyment and satisfaction, it definitely gets a lot worse before it gets better. For me, I went a straight year hating almost everything I painted and being like, Wow, I’m horrible at this. What am I doing? And I think that’s what’s called the skill gap. So maybe Google the skill gap and really convince yourself that it is very real and it’s normal to not like anything you’re doing at first, cuz you’ve got taste but no skill. I think everyone starts there no matter how innately talented you are. So don’t give up because you feel like you aren’t as good as you should be already.
The second thing, I guess I would say, I don’t know if this is really advice, but you are going to spend a lot less time painting or whatever art form you’re choosing, than you think you will be because there is so much admin work. You’re gonna be on your computer all the time. You’re gonna be packing orders, going to the post office, answering emails. Social media (should have said that first), that’s like the biggest one, marketing is such a time commitment. So be prepared for that.
Stuart: And then luckily if you use print fulfilment service. But you’re talking about the originals, right?
Leah: Yeah. And even with outsourcing all my prints, even with you guys doing that, there’s still so much to do. I physically would not be able to print myself. I don’t know how anyone does that. Let’s see, I gotta think about this for a second.
And then I think the last piece of advice I’m gonna base this off of what I get asked a lot is like, how do you find your style? And I think at this point I probably have a recognizable style, and this kind of goes hand in hand with you’re gonna be really bad at it before you’re good and happy with what you make. It takes a long time. And if you keep thinking about it, in terms of a way longer version than like learning penmanship or whatever, like I said before, I think that will be helpful. You have to develop the technical ability and do the same thing over and over before you have a style and develop that muscle memory that creates a style. So it comes with time and you need to be prepared for that.
Stuart: Just following up on that last point, because it sounds to me from what you were saying earlier, the development of that style, it’s not a conscious thing. It’s almost like you see it in retrospect. Is that right?
Leah: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever consciously said, this will be my style. I feel like if you look at all my paintings from two years ago to now, it’s like putting on glasses and things come into focus, if that makes sense. You can tell the old stuff is me, but the brush strokes were sloppy and the mixing was bad and the colours were off. But all those little mistakes and all those preferences that you have and that sort of natural essence in whatever you make, solidifies into something more polished and finished that is uniquely you over time. And I think that’s because you’re putting yourself into it over and over and that’s what ends up making it unique.
Stuart: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Leah and Pinky, thank you very much.
Leah: It wasn’t too bad. It could have been worse. Like she could have been a lot worse.
Stuart: Yeah, we could barely hear her, but no, thank you very much for your time today. It’s really appreciated that you would come on and give some advice and help other people to emulate the amazing success that you’ve had over the last few years. So thank you very much.
Leah: And thank you because I wanted to say, since I started getting prints from you guys, I seriously get so many compliments on things like the colours and how the texture looks so realistic. And I was just talking to my mom maybe yesterday, the day before. I don’t think I could do prints if I didn’t do it with you guys, So thank you.
Stuart: Amazing. That’s great to hear.