Interview: Leah Smithson


Have you ever wondered what goes on in an artist’s head?


It is a complex process that not only works the creative neurons but also births ideas out of thin air. A talent some of us have and others need more practice with. For this weeks interview I am having a chat with Leah Smithson, the creative mastermind behind Talon and the Suneaters about art, business, and the creative process.
Leah! Let’s kick this off with, who are you and what you do?  

I am an artist and designer for Talon and the Suneaters.

I use movement, color, and texture in my art to touch people’s emotions, transporting them to another place in time or a different dimension of perspective.

What is the first piece of art that you remember making? How old were you?

What first comes to mind is a project I did for myself. I transformed a notebook, when I was around 6 or 7 years old, into a portfolio of sketches based off of costume design from old classic movies. Each person I sketched was posed in a way that embodied the character of the costume. I even gave each design a new name. It was actually really funny, but I was terribly serious about my designs.

modern nothings blog leah smithson

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I really love hiking & biking on trails. Nature is important to me for finding inspiration. I also like wandering around cities, people watching or just being observant of my surroundings. It may sound weird, but things like looking at a flower closely may give me an idea on how to add translucent layers to my painting in a certain way. Or someone’s car may be leaking antifreeze fluid on black asphalt, the colors and shapes of the random fluids on the black background may spark a color combination and composition for a painting. All kinds of little things we take for granted can spark imagination. And I, of course, love looking at artwork by all kinds of artists, especially in person. I usually work on multiple things at a time. Even if I know exactly what I want to paint, I still tend to have points in the duration of making the piece where I need to give it a rest and work on it later with a fresh mind and eyes. It helps to work every day, whether I’m inspired or not. Creating is a muscle that works better if it’s exercised regularly.

modern nothings blog leah smithson

In what ways do you use your art to provoke people?

Wow, great question, because art actually connects to parts of the brain that feed our basic needs and emotions. Many times I may think of an emotion I want to access, then I plan out what color, size, texture and composition I will use in addition to the scene presented in the piece to subtly create a certain mood. I want the viewer to feel they’re in another world as they lose themselves staring into my piece. Especially portraits. It’s like one of the few times you can stare at a person without it being creepy.

What is the story behind Talon and the Suneaters…sounds like 3 musketeers to me!?

So, a couple of years ago I did a one art-piece-a-day for a year challenge connected to a sci-fi story I wrote to go along with the art. The story was about a forgotten intelligent life-form native to the earth. Talon and the Suneaters is named after one of the stories of a bird made invisible by tiny organisms that lived by eating the rays of the sun.

How did you transition art into a business? I feel like that is very hard to do because art has such a stigma of you’ll be “forever homeless artist” attached to it.

There’s a lot of generalizing when it comes to many people’s ideas about art as a profession and artists themselves. Art permeates almost every aspect of our lives and influences many decisions we make. For example, there is an artist out there that made a decision on the design of the sheets we sleep on, the house we live in, our tooth brush, tooth paste, the design of the cups we use to drink coffee, even the street sign that tells us if children may be playing nearby. I think all of us, in general, take it for granted. People don’t even realize that artist do all those jobs.

So as far as transitioning, I can’t imagine a time period when there won’t be creative jobs out there. I went into graphic design as I would paint and sculpt on the side. That ended up being extremely valuable because creativity & art is a skill like any other. It’s important to exercise and hone it. It can be competitive, because everyone is different. You can’t be good at it just by copying someone else. You have to create your own style. So for me, I’m always challenging myself to grow.

modern nothings blog leah smithson

What is the most challenging and the most rewarding thing about having your own business?

The most challenging thing is having to figure out everything yourself. But it’s also rewarding because you are your own boss, and it feels good being able to create for other people without anyone holding you back from doing it in a way you know it should be done.

What is the best piece of advice that has been given to you that you actually stuck by? What advice would you give to someone else?

I know this is extremely corny but it’s so important to be authentically yourself. When we create, any insecurities we have come out in that specific art piece, watering it down. Not unless we are extremely honest about them like Frida Kahlo. The only way our work can be strong is by letting all of that go, which can be a big process.

As far as advice, I totally would tell someone else the same. In addition, lots of rejection comes with success. We have to get through a hundred “no’s” to find a “yes”. That’s normal and it’s ok. There are a lot of reasons people say “no” and most of the time it’s not personal. If it is personal, it doesn’t matter, they’re just another human being like you are. That being said, it is important to stay humble and learn from those “no’s” so you can get to a “yes” more quickly.

modern nothings blog leah smithson

What does “being alive” mean to you?

Being happy and allowed to feel everything with the people I love.

What is something you love about yourself?

I’m stubborn, which could be bad, but comes in handy.  When I want to do something, even if I get discouraged, l can’t stop trying. I may have to take a break, but I won’t quit.

And my eyes…they’re not too shabby either!

What hobbies and interests do you have outside of the art-sphere?

I’m very much a foodie. I love finding new places to try. I also love music, dancing, and singing!

If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?

I honestly have no idea. I can’t imagine my life without art. But if I had to pick, I almost went into Court Reporting which is hilarious, because it’s the opposite of being creative. On the other hand, being a dancer would be phenomenal.

modern nothings blog leah smithson