Leah Davies studied Printmaking for 5 years at art school before finding her way through experimentation and painting in gouache to her current standing as a highly reputable pet portraitist in oils. Leah shared her thoughts on how she navigated from printmaking to gouache to oils, and the reasons why each of these mediums have inspired her.
After leaving art school, and spending the previous five years studying printmaking, I experienced a moment of grieving – standing in my tiny apartment, I was broke and couldn’t afford to rent studio space to continue my practice as a printmaker. The easiest way to get over that was to pull out my cache of art supplies and make do with what materials and space I had.
Gravitating towards a cheap children’s pack of gouache paints, I began filling a sketchbook, not equipped to handle water media, with what could only be described as doodles. Page after page I explored the medium, working in washes, applying it as thick as I could. I saw what happened when I layered the paint, one colour on top of another. In time I knew this paint well, finding parallels between my printmaking methods and my new method of working in gouache.
I quickly traded in my children’s pack of paints for M. Graham gouache paints, made here in U.S.A. They were creamy, and boasted vibrant, clean colors. I also moved outside of my sketchbook, discovering that a piece of smooth, acid-free mat board was a perfect rigid surface for working in a water media, avoiding the buckling of paper. In my practice, I began to understand the permanence of gouache – upon applying the paint to a surface, its staining properties made it difficult to recover from mistakes. I resolved this by preparing my mat board with several layers of Winsor & Newton Lifting Preparation. This translucent layer would allow for washes, and even thick layers of paint, including the staining colours, to easily lift off the paper by simply dipping a clean brush into water and “erasing” mistakes or to bring out highlights.
My next step was to combine my obsessions into one joyous experience: my fascination with the flow and intricacies of flower petals, the excruciating need to capture every detail I could see with my eye, and my new love of working in gouache. This produced a body of work consisting of over 20 gouache paintings of flowers, plant life, and insects. I loved layering the gouache – a thin layer in wash. Then lifting to find a highlight. Adding thick, opaque blocks on top of the washes. Painting loose, and then finishing with fine details. I was fortunate enough to have a solo art show exhibiting this body of work in 2006. However, by the close of the show, I didn’t want to look at one more flower. I switched my devotion to the one that deserved it most: my new French Bulldog, Henry. That painting launched me into my current career as an artist, almost ten years later, as a pet portrait artist.
As years went on, I explored M. Graham’s oil paint and fell in love with what the new medium had to offer. It was so different from gouache. Now I loved the permanence, painting one solid layer on top of another solid layer. In the beginning, I would switch between gouache and and oil depending on which medium and style my customers were attracted to. I soon came to realize that it was getting increasingly difficult to change my state of mind when switching from to the other. As I painted more and more in oil, I picked up my gouache less. There came a moment when I could no longer make the gouache work for me as it use to. My mind had completely switched to thinking in oil. Now, I paint exclusively in oil – a new challenge, a new obsession, a new love, a new method to conquer and make my own.
Leah Davies’ Website can be found at leahdaviesart.com