Leah Duncan has created her own lifestyle brand — centered around her beautifully illustrated textiles. Having worked as a graphic designer for advertising firms and screenprinting companies, Leah changed direction in 2008 and decided to pursue a career in illustration. Starting with an online Etsy store selling artwork, she has since become a creative force — designing her own home goods line and collaborating with brands such as Schoolhouse Electric, O’neill, Land of Nod, and Urban Outfitters. In her interview Leah discusses her innate draw to be an artist/creator, how she has developed a business/brand around her illustration, and she even gives a nod to Etsy’s positive influence on her career. Thanks Leah for giving us this view into your life as an artist and designer! -eden
Where are you based?
What three words would you choose to best describe your artwork?
organic, quirky, soft
Have you had a formal art education?
I am completely self-taught, besides working as a graphic designer after college where I was able to pick up illustrator and photoshop skills.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist?
No specific moment. I feel like it’s one of those things you’re just born to be. You’re drawn to it for some reason and love it so much it’s hard to focus on being anything else.
What was the first piece of art that you sold? How did the sale come about?
Oh, gosh, I can’t exactly remember! It was a print on etsy, but I can’t remember which one. I do remember that I had a brief stint as a mixed media artist and it was terrible. I’m glad I found my way and started drawing instead.
Tell us about what inspires your work.
Nature, color, and the small moments.
When you feel a lack of inspiration, how do you find it again?
Most days I’m a sponge who is constantly absorbing new ideas, but there are definitely times when I feel completely deflated from a lack of inspiration. I’ve always found during those moments it’s best to walk away. Sometimes that means going for a walk, other times it means sitting down to dinner with my husband, and other times it means just curling up on the sofa to relax. This allows me to come back again for a fresh start.
How do you make money through your art? Please explain what works for you and why. (For example: selling originals or prints online or in galleries, doing commissions, working with major brands, etc.)
I sell my work online as well as have a wholesale line of textiles and home goods that I sell to shops. I also license my work to brands for various uses like bedding, linens, wall art, and clothing. I also have several fabric collections that I release twice a year. It’s a tough balance but I feel very lucky to make a living doing what I love. I’m slowly finding my way and would like to start narrowing things down so I don’t always feel so scattered.
Do you “make a living” as an artist? If not, how do you primarily support yourself?
What have you found to be the most successful way(s) to market your art? Do you have any tips to share?
Etsy opened a lot of doors for me and helped me connect with my demographic and get my work out there. It hasn’t worked so well for everyone I know, but I think it’s a great start. I’ve been very lucky to have the right people find my work and feature it in magazines and on blogs. I think the most important thing you can do as an artist is have a very clear voice and aesthetic so people recognize your brand and come back to it.
How would you describe the “business” of being an artist?
It’s tough! I’m not going to lie here. Being a business woman and thinking with a business sense has been my biggest fault. The good news is I’ve learned a lot along the way and each day I grow more confident and savvy when it comes to negotiating contracts, being firm, and making tough decisions. It’s been a challenging journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist?
Being in control of my “talent” I guess. Being able to make sure I reach my full potential and am doing what I was meant to be doing all along.
Who have been your biggest supporters?
My husband has always been there for me and been my biggest supporter through all of my doubts and fears. I’ve also met many fellow artists, designers, and small business women along the way and am lucky to now call friends.
Do you collect artwork from other artists? If so, whose art do you own?
(Please limit your list to 5 names.)
I collect a lot of work because I’ve befriended so many fellow artists. Just looking around the room I see Ana Raimundo, Abby Powell Thompson, Michelle Morin, Berkely Illustration, and Keiko Brodeur of Small Adventure.
Do you have any current obsessions, art or non-art related?
peperoncini peppers : )
What piece of advice would you give other women who are pursuing careers in art?
Love it. To make it work it truly needs to be your passion, because it isn’t the easiest path. That said, things that are scary in life are usually worth doing. Those of use who have succeeded are the ones who just never stopped trying.
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