Monday, April 23, 2018

Leda Black, Digital and Graphic Artist, Tells Her Story

I have always had two main concerns: the limitations of rigid mental categories (subject/object, female/male), and language, or more broadly, communication. It seemed like studying philosophy would be the way to find out about this stuff, so that’s what I did in college, concentrating on the philosophy of language. I wasn’t very good at the academic mode and it was hostile to women. Later I thought I was abandoning philosophy to do creative work but I now consider my art practice to be the performance of philosophy. I started out wanting to stretch language to allow meaning to expand, so that our understanding would be less limited by the rules of language. I made physical texts as a book artist while honing my craft skills: letterpress printing, hand bookbinding, typography, printmaking. At that time digital tools were just beginning to be used for graphics, and I have used them since as a graphic designer.

Poetica, from: "as in queen, the abecedarian of a typophilliac"

The basic idea of the book is that the Q is what we call nowadays “gender fluid.” I didn’t know the term at the time, I think. I do remember using the idea of continuum—that gender is a spectrum (rainbow!). The circle shape is “feminine” and the tail shape is “masculine.” The voice of the writing is of someone in love with the Q, celebrating its fluid, unfettered, trickster character.

Finding my “home” medium—printed digital art—had to wait until the tools developed in sophistication and affordability. In the early 2000’s I embraced photography as a central mode of image making, maybe because I had a small child then and needed to work fast. Soon after I sold my letterpress equipment before moving to the DC area and converting to (mostly) digital tools. This is when I started to really find my artistic voice. I found the “veracity” of the photographic image useful for playing with the idea of reality, and the digital manipulation tools I had learned as a graphics professional helped me mess with mental categories by making visual mashups.

Pseudomorphs: Specimen 4

This series was an experiment in 4 parts. My goal was to create something outside of categories (animal, plant, manufactured). I ended up making a new category of thing, so I had not escaped categories at all.

As for my interest in communication, I continue to use the visual embodiment of words for artistic and political effect. This is a rhetorical tool I use in my current and biggest project, the Female Power Project (FPP), to express the time period, urgency, message, or the character of a person. I try to distill a message into as few fresh words as possible.

I started the FPP in 2015, integrating words and images into complex digital designs on shawls to embody the attributes of remarkable females. These messages can be worn on the body and incorporated into an individual’s life. Two years later, smooshed in the crowd at the DC Women’s March, I knew I have to work faster because of the speed of events, so I began making digital prints. First I made a series of complaint graphics. Then I went back to the Female Power idea and focused on POSITIVE actions.

I pluck messages out of the rushing flow of events and solidify them in my pieces. The messages are general, but most prints are about specific women or specific events. Sometimes I take current memes and relate them to past events. An example is “Nevertheless She Persisted” applied to Ruby Bridges on the steps of William Frantz elementary school in 1960. “Ruby Bridges Persisting” therefore becomes an archetype AND a demonstration of what is at stake politically. Nasty RZY (“Rosie”) works use an image based on a well known “Rosie the Riveter” graphic to express something traditionally problematic in women: anger. I use embroidery as a medium expressing “femininity.” I’ve discovered that I really really like to embroider letters. I love type so much. Also, embroidery turns out to be a lot about stabbing with a sharp object.

Nevertheless She Persisted, honoring Ruby Bridges, perSISTERS series in the
Female Power Project

Dissent, honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg, perSISTERS series in
the Female Power Project

 Nasty RZY (“Rosie”), embroideries with stenciled spray paint in
the Female Power Project

The FPP is connected to the place I am (the DC area) and where I directly sell my work (my retail studio, Black Lab, and art/craft fairs). Interacting with the public about the works is part of a social practice that feeds the development of the objects and performs a service to the viewer. When people see my work they are moved to tell me their stories (e.g., a Katrina refugee from New Orleans) or stories about women they know (e.g., a man who works at the National Archives and knows about many interesting important women most people don’t know about). Workers at Department of Justice crowd my booth needing prints about Ruby Bridges to reinforce their commitment to educational justice. Ruby’s story is part of their origin story. In the Female Power Project, commercial exchange is a social practice and messages about women as leaders are absorbed into the lives of my “customers.”

The Female Power Project is about the creation, dissemination, and amplification of feminist messages using techniques of visual, verbal, and performative rhetoric. I started using the tagline “Imagination is the Seed of Power” because it is what I believed, but I felt like maybe it was a bit goofy or moon-glow. But then I heard about implicit bias research, which I refer to in the next paragraph. It is cognitive SCIENCE, y’all!

“One of the less intuitive revelations of recent work in cognitive science is that a failure of imagination can actually produce a failure of vision.”*

*Lili Loofbourow, referencing the work of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in her article, “The Male Glance.” Read it here:

I create fast and history moves fast too. I made the first design honoring Emma Gonz├ílez before the March for Our Lives, using her words about how her comrades were “using our words.” But then she used silence so well at the march that I had to make another design about that.

My goal with the Female Power Project is to expand our imaginations so that we can see that women are leaders. Female Power Project objects remind us that women are strong and capable and have always been taking action to improve all of our lives, including the action of expressing anger. Because of the history of women’s oppression, these actions are often heroic and are messages we should celebrate. Women’s experience is human experience. Our species and our self-knowledge can ONLY be ENRICHED by the inclusion and validation of the experiences and viewpoints of previously marginalized humans. Our arbitrary categories are holding us back and we need to enlist the creativity of everyone to face our planet’s problems.

You can read about all of my FPP designs on my blog at, including the deep research I did on particularly powerful females for the shawl designs. Here is the account of my journey to FEARLESS honoring Harriet Tubman.

Fearless, Caroline D, featuring the Fearless shawl honoring Harriet Tubman

This is Week 15 of 2018 ArtistsTell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Leda’s story today. To connect with Leda and see more of her work, please visit the following links:



Friday, April 13, 2018

Mollie Jones, Watercolorist, Tells Her Story

Rosebowl and Berries, 22 x 28

Watercolor is my medium of choice . . . painting light and reflection and anything red has obviously become my passion in my work. It seems that the more complicated and involved my compositions have become, the more I love to paint. There is a thought that keeps repeating itself in my head and it's very worth repeating, "paint what you love, and you'll always love to paint". I really think it is that I'm proving to myself that I can "still do it". But let me share the beginning and progression as with so many artists of my generation, life got in the way of my art world at an early age.

When I was four or five, I saw Santa put an easel under the Christmas tree at my grandmother’s house so I've always known I was an artist. Santa must have known too. During school days (back in the dark ages), I was the girl who drew the scenes on the blackboard with colored chalk for all the holidays, as was the custom of our time. My loving dad thought artists were somewhat "kooky" so I was not able to have any formal art education during my school years, but I was forever drawing, painting, or doodling with anything that would mark a paper. During my college years I met and married my husband and immediately life started getting in the way of any art aspirations I may have entertained and this continued for the first 15 years of our marriage. We started several companies, one being a pet food company where we shipped product all over the US. But, in the 80's the recession destroyed many small business, and ours was one.

Somewhat out of desperation, I decided that I could draw (I am a good "drawer") and produce enough work to attend some street fairs that were common in Texas and sell my work . . . and it worked!! I specialized in pen and ink wildlife of ducks, birds, dogs, cats, deer, anything that caught my fancy and to my delight, my work was very successful. I raised children during the day and drew (with The Eagles, ha ha), at night. I had black and white prints made, hand-colored each print in the limited edition, matted and framed each, and basically hit the road showing in large festivals all over the US.

Great Horned Owl, pen/ink, 16 x 20

For twenty years, I traveled with the art show circuit and I must say in hindsight, I loved every minute of the travel. Artists are a special bunch of individuals, we all have our likes and talents and personalities, and I was fortunate enough to meet lovely people,  many whom I’m still in contact with today. But, as the advent of the mini mall and art/craft booths grew common, the major art shows declined and I changed my focus to calligraphy (still in the detail mode obviously) and began a new direction. To my delight again, it was a successful move. And, as the years flew by, I was able to educate two children with the gift of degrees from Texas A&M and Ole Miss all from the fruits of the art world that I love.  

Fast forward to 2009 when I was fortunate enough to begin my watercolor journey and join a blog on Facebook called Artcolony, which included a good number of major watercolorists in the US. I had begun dabbling in watercolor and had found a family so I worked at my "craft" diligently in order of like souls. When you surround yourself with really talented artists you have the bar raised tremendously to try to stay caught up with my new friends. I found that the color red began showing up in all my paintings and if there was a reflection or glass involved, all the better.

Ritzy Rose, 11  x 15

I was fortunate enough to attend two workshops early on with Joyce Faulknor and Paul Jackson who were marvelous teachers and really explained how you look for certain things in crystal and glass and translate them to paper, and I caught on pretty quickly. 

When my work began being accepted into national exhibition competitions, I was further inspired to try to get better and better as with watercolor, you never learn it all. But glass was my passion, followed by silver. And it was actually no work at all, only fun! There were many days that I could paint 10 hours almost straight and being 5' tall, I stand when I paint. The hours fly by even to this day. Glass became an obsession to find in junk shops and flea markets, or in the case of some gorgeous crystal decanters, a friend's well stocked bar.

Gin and Friends, 22 x 28

Next came invitations to teach workshops with societies around the country in watercolor, which I found I loved doing, and still do. The idea of sharing some secrets and techniques in painting glass and silver was appealing and it allowed me to travel again

The only negative is the time spent trying to book airline tickets. I was able to check one of my bucket list events off with the acceptance into Splash 18, a coffee table publication of the Best Watercolorists in America, with my "Blue Plate Special Pears" and a new love was found . . . painting old blue and white china. I keep going back to the combination of the reds and blues and fruits and glass and silver. I keep painting what I love.

Summer Pears, 22 x 28

Blue Plate Special Pears, 28 x 36

In the past three years I have been able to attain Signature status with Texas Watercolor Society, Southwestern Watercolor Society, Georgia Watercolor Society, WAS-H of Houston, Wyoming Watercolor Society, and have acceptances in Southern Watercolor Society, Adirondacks of NY, and also Transparent Watercolor Society of America.

I love having goals, it keeps raising the bar and at this particular time in my life. My art has been a true blessing. My newest painting was probably the most fun to paint to date and I was fighting my nemesis . . . green!  It seems that it just gets better and better when joy is involved.

Candlewick and Grapes, 22 x 28

More important to me than anything now is the support from my family and my art world. With the recent loss of my husband of 56 years, I have found a comfort that many will never know and it is solely the world of art that I am able to enjoy and know that I can continue to enjoy until the day I put my #8 Black Silver round brush down. My artist friends will never truly know how important they are in my life personally and how genuinely happy painting and everything that is involved with painting can be. Creative people find joy and beauty in most everything and I find that in art.  Everyone should be so lucky!

This is Week 14 of 2018 Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Mollie's stories today. To connect with Mollie and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Thursday, April 5, 2018

James Earley, Painter of the Homeless, Tells His Story

There are things in life that people do and they do not know why they do it, they can not apply logic to why they decided to do what they do, instead they let their heart speak and instead of doing what most people do and ignore it and choose to apply our “logic and reasoning” they push on, they let their heart speak, they allow doors to open into rooms that are unfamiliar and at first frightening and see the world in its purest form.

Mary, Oil on Canvas, 81cm x 81cm

I can not tell you what logic pushed me into painting the homeless, I have been asked by galleries to paint other subjects “anything but the homeless”. I have been told that nobody wants a painting of a homeless person on their walls, I have been advised that I could make a lot more money through my art by painting other subjects. Yet I am always led to painting the homeless. My heart tells me “this is what I should be doing” and I feel at ease and comfortable doing it. My mind is often like a sea in a storm, waves crashing, constant noise and movement yet the only time the sea calms is when I paint the homeless.

Clearance, Oil on Canvas, 80cm x 100cm

My first memory of a homeless person was a man that I saw on a park bench in Southampton, England when I was about 6 years old. I remember the colour, he was surrounded by blankets, carrier bags, so many colours, I remember the face, weather beaten, torn, cracked but above all I remember the smile, the smile that occurs as soon as eye contact was met. From then on I often sought out the homeless, spoke to them and eventually felt the urge to sketch them. I saw the homeless as humans in their purest form because materialism and “things “ were unimportant, survival was the closest thought to mind and this level of stress and anxiety was only forgotten when they were engaged in conversation, when they were told again that they were human beings and part of the “club”, when someone was interested in them. I could see this purity and  the power of humanity and kindness  deep in the eyes of the homeless that I met.

The Chaining of Joe Crow, Oil on Canvas, 100cm x 74cm

I have subsequently painted homeless people living on the streets of France, England, Spain, Holland and America, I always try to get to know the subject, I find it far easier to paint a portrait when I know the person, the history of the person and what their intentions are. I have found that most of the homeless that I have met are battling mental illness which paralyses them both physically and mentally and once on this slippery slope and with out any support they quickly fall. When I hear people say that they have no sympathy for the homeless I feel that it is this lack of humanity, this lack of kindness that has helped to push them on their path to finding home on a cold pavement.

Black and Red Lines, Oil on Canvas, 60cm x 50cm

La Vie est Belle, Oil on Canvas, 80cm x 60cm

I have had my paintings displayed in galleries in London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Madrid and I hope that my story helps to raise awareness of this issue. This is my way that I can help and I feel honoured and privileged that I can help in someway.

Matthew, Oil on Canvas, 100cm x 76cm

Violet and Blue Silence, Oil on Canvas, 54cm x 64cm

This is Week 13 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing James’ story today. To connect with him and see more of his work, please visit the following links:

Stop and Cross, Oil on Canvas, 100cm x 76cm