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  • Leah Sayles

2020: Where'd you go?

What a series of months! The beginning of the COVID-19 crisis all I did was continue movement – designing, drawing, promoting, and pivoting from everything I had planned for this coming year. I continued that process through the end of May, after completely my most recent portrait of Elphaba, below.

Around the time of completing Elphaba, I decided three things:

1) I wanted to step back to some of my traditional roots and move forward with sketching all of my work in pencil, inking my linework traditionally with nib pens and brushes, and digitally color from there. I’ve enjoyed my 100% digital work, but most of all I enjoyed coloring digitally, and sincerely have missed drawing traditionally.

2) I wanted to continue in the footsteps of some of my peers and artists who I greatly admire, and create a series of 100 portraits. In the middle of May, when Ahmaud Arbery's death in Georgia came to the forefront of the news, I knew that my next portrait would be of Ahmaud. 

3) I wanted to push my illustrations further and find out how to truly add narrative to my images, including my portraits. With that, I decided to take advantage of the masses of online courses being offered across the country, and take two classes with the School of Visual Arts’ Continuing Education Program, one starting in June and the other starting in July.

I didn't have a chance to share any of this with you in May, since the death of George Floyd and the issue of police brutality and systemic racism came to the forefront of America's collective mind. After May 29, when protests and riots started affecting my city of Atlanta, Ga as well as cities across the nation, my heart and soul was embedded in this social issue, and I could hardly do anything else other than work with my clients (which I still have even through the crisis, thankfully) and empathize. I wanted to march in the streets, but with COVID and caring for an older parent, I also struggled with knowing if that was the appropriate form of action for the safety of my household. 

Before I go on, with that I need to say, BLACK LIVES MATTER. That is not a political statement, but a fact. If you feel differently or don’t understand where this viewpoint comes from, I am happy to talk further to bring you up to speed. If you don’t feel this is true, then my work and community are not for you. I have a feeling many of us are on the same page and do not mean to isolate anyone, but I place my values in my branding and need to say this to all of you out loud.

After all of this chaos, and all of the decisions that I made last month, I find myself finally at a place where I feel comfortable re-aligning my goals for the 2020 year (or what is left of it). 

I’m currently working on roughly five pieces at once, each at a different level in the process, in addition to client graphic design work. These new pieces are complex, with concepts starting in pencil on paper, moving to a finalized pencil sketch, and then finally two finals: black & white traditional linework and digital color. I’m challenging myself to an extreme capacity so that I can incorporate the amount of detail in the environment and subject matters as well as create the proper sense of narrative that would be needed for potential publishing clients, individual commissions, AND for my own personal pieces and portraits. 

But what does all of this mean? What is all of this for? What this means is that, instead of convention and event year, this year has become a honing year, a year to taper my skills to a specific level of quality and content that I’ve been continuously moving towards. I’ll be doing this through excellent work ethic and constant incentive through my current SVA courses as well as my SmartSchool mentorship with Scott Fischer and Greg Manchess starting in September (which was offered to me after this year’s IMC was canceled due to the COVID crisis).  

This may not have been how I would have asked for this, but with my previous plans for the year canceled and a huge chunk of income cut, my best goal as an artist is to make better work so that when event opportunities are back and SAFE, I will have the work I need to propel me forward. This new work will also be multi-use, for both events and to add to my online portfolio, intended for art directors in the publishing / entertainment / tabletop gaming industries. 

With all of that being said, I’m really glad that, after all of this chaos, you’re still here supporting my work and dreams. This road has been so eventful and chaotic and WINDING, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world. 

Stay tuned for updates on my current pieces soon!

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