Guest Artist Series: Q&A with Tara Leaver, Your New Artist Spirit Guide

Guest Artist Series: Q&A with Tara Leaver, Your New Artist Spirit Guide

For those of you who have followed my blog and Instagram, you'll know that one of my favorite artists is Tara Leaver! She is from the UK and I found her online back in 2016 when I was googling things like "how to make art that I like." Tara has an amazing blog and I took TWO of her courses, one of which is relaunching! I'm super excited to share with you this interview. As a fan of Tara's work it was awesome to pick her brain a bit about her creative process and how she views her work. You can learn SO MUCH from her! Check out this interview, head over to her blog, and sign up for all of her courses, k thanks.

  Tara Leaver in her studio.

Tara Leaver in her studio.

Guest Artist Series: Q&A with Tara Leaver, your new artist spirit guide.


TAY: For my readers who may not know who you are, will you introduce yourself?

TARA: Hi, I’m Tara, and I’m an artist and online course teacher living in Cornwall in the UK. I paint expressive abstract landscapes inspired by the coast where I live, and create and run painting courses online for people who want to express more of their true selves through their art.

TAY: What snacks are your favorite?

TARA: I love snacks! Quite often more than actual meals; I like to embrace the ‘little and often’ approach! Favourites would be pretty much anything cheese related, and I love the saffron buns we have here in Cornwall.

  Tara Leaver in her studio.

Tara Leaver in her studio.

TAY: Your favorite color?

TARA: Aqua, or most colours in the blue/turquoise spectrum.

TAY: Here’s one of my favorite questions to ask artists: what is your earliest memory of creating?

TARA: I went to a Montessori school below a local church in London from the age of three, and I remember painting at those A frame style children’s easels. We had colourful plastic aprons, big plastic pots with coloured lids which had holes for the brushes, and I remember the feel of the brush on the sugar paper attached to the easel. I also remember the smell of plasticine very strongly! Art is a very sensory experience and most of my memories seem to be related to how things smelled or felt under my hands. Perhaps that’s why I’m so obsessed with and fascinated by process now.

TAY: Was there a moment when you realized that you wanted to be an artist? If so, what was that like?

TARA: I don’t think there was a specific moment. It was always my most normal and natural state as a kid; I was always drawing and painting and making things. I studied art until around age 21, and then it went dormant for a while as life events took over. Then ten years ago I was recovering from what was to be my last serious depressive breakdown, and found myself wanting to paint again. I don’t think it ever truly went away; it just got pushed down for a while. But since that time a decade ago it’s been one of the most important things in my life and always will be now.

TAY: One of my favorite parts of the Abstractify course I took was when you discussed other artists and what we could learn from them. Who are some of your influences from art history?

TARA: I love art history! The stories, lives, and processes of other artists are fascinating to me, alive or dead. I think context is important as a learning tool as well as simply looking at who’s gone before us and the trails they left. One of my longtime loves and influences is Egon Schiele. Although I don’t do figurative work so much now, it used to be my great passion; but mainly I love his linework, and that does still influence me.

I also love the work of Peter Lanyon, a Cornish painter whose work was about both the landscape and the lives of those who lived and worked in it. It’s very multidimensional and expressive. He used to go up in a glider and look at the land from the sky, and that perspective strongly influenced his work. I have plans to do the same actually!

  "A Sense of Space," Original Artwork by Tara Leaver

"A Sense of Space," Original Artwork by Tara Leaver

TAY: I remember you pointing out a great Van Gogh movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Loved it! I’m a huge fan of Van Gogh. Can you tell me what interests you about his work?

TARA: That’s an interesting question, as I’m more interested in him as a person and the impact that had on his work than the work itself in purely aesthetic terms. I think that in spite of, or more likely because of, his inner torment, he also had access to extreme states of bliss and a deeply felt sense of beauty, all of which comes through in his work and his writings. If you look at his early drawings next to the later work, you can really see the progression of his understanding of how to make art that works, which is encouraging for the rest of us!

He worked hard against tremendous odds to make his art, and while I don’t believe suffering is necessary, I do think he left a powerful legacy in terms of ideas around what it means to be an artist, perseverance, the struggle so many of us experience, the link between mental health and self expression through art, and powerful paintings.

TAY: You talk about creating representations of what freedom feels like. Can you tell us a bit more about how that concept came to you?

  "Anything Can Happen," Original Artwork by Tara Leaver

"Anything Can Happen," Original Artwork by Tara Leaver

TARA: I think I was always looking for freedom, first in my own life and then through my art, but I only realised it consciously a couple of years ago. I was coming out of an intensely interior period, when I had to all intents and purposes stepped out of my own life to do some essential healing and recalibrating. I tentatively started leaving the house {!}, and then doing a little travel - a lifelong passion that had had to take a backseat for a while.

As I made my first baby steps back into the world as a very different person, I found more and more that I could see patterns across my life, and one of those was the search for freedom. It was showing up in my art before I consciously realised what was happening; there was a shift from making art with more outward reference to something that came more from internal processes and experiences. I still reference the outside world but the inner perspective and understanding is different. It’s very subtle and quite hard to put into words!

TAY: Do you have a process for coming up with ideas for your series/collections? Or does it sort of happen? We’d love to know more about that.

TARA: I find that they tend to just happen; the times I’ve consciously decided to start a series around a specific idea I’ve ended up feeling stifled and haven’t continued with it. The way I operate tends to mean that the work evolves and I start seeing a pattern or group. It’s not that every series is completely different - there’s always that common thread of freedom, and I tend to gravitate towards a certain palette, shapes, and marks too - it’s more that some paintings naturally fall together, like the Morning Paintings.

Some paintings are not part of a series. I call these ‘Paintings from the Inbetween’. Basically I make the work and sometimes there are several pieces along the same lines, and sometimes not! It’d be more organised of me to create in specific series but I apparently need greater freedom than that. ;)

  Tara Leaver in her studio.

Tara Leaver in her studio.

TAY: I’m personally of the camp that believes that creativity is a habit and that research and practice lead to the best ideas. Others believe more in the concept of the muse, of creativity being a deity that comes to you. Which of these camps do you subscribe to, or rather, what are your beliefs about creativity and your agency?

TARA: Oh I definitely wouldn’t wait around for the muse to grace me with her presence! ;) The way I see it is more in line with what Picasso said about how ‘inspiration exists, but it has to find you working’. I find with painting, the more you do, the more you do, and the less you do, the less you do. It’s very easy to lose momentum, and with it confidence and motivation. Inevitably some days don’t have painting in them, but I keep an ongoing thread that connects me to the art, whether that’s actual studio time, drawing or painting in a sketchbook while out and about, or just looking at art, thinking and talking about it.

There’s no substitute for doing the work though; that’s the core of everything. It’s what grows you as an artist, it’s what teaches you about who you are and how you best express yourself, it’s what will create the body of work you want to exhibit or sell. For me, if you’re serious about your art, you will give it priority in your life and you’ll do it even on the days when you feel like a fraud and it feels like everything you make is a disaster. Nothing is wasted.

TAY: One of the things that drew me to your work was your ability to use that add and remove technique so freely. Did this inform your materials or vice versa? This is sort of a which came first question.

TARA: What an interesting question! I was going to say the materials came first, and I think that’s true, but I think also that as my work has evolved so too have the materials and the way I use them. I used to paint solely with acrylics, but when I discovered mixed media I found that really appealed to my love of freedom {not that I had articulated that at the time!}. I can express myself so much better if I bring charcoal and other tools into the process.

And more recently my discovery of the Catalyst wedge has made a huge difference to the way I work in terms of adding and removing the paint. Both mixed media and the approach of repeatedly adding and removing are very forgiving; they allow for experiments, and even if they don’t work, the painting becomes richer layer by layer.

  A snapshot from Tara Leaver's studio.

A snapshot from Tara Leaver's studio.

TAY: I so admire your passion for teaching. Can you talk a little bit about your goals as a teacher?

TARA: It’s funny, I didn’t intend to be a teacher; at least not in the sense that I am now. In some ways I still don’t really think of myself as one. Initially I was certain I couldn’t create online art courses because I didn’t know enough, so I’m grateful my curiosity got the better of me! I always just wanted to be creative and help people; that was my mantra for a long time, way before I was in a position to do that with any kind of effectiveness or had any idea what it would look like. I taught Montessori for six years, so the teaching aspect was probably always there, it’s just a different age group now!

I’d say my goals as a teacher at this point in my life and work are to be a source of encouragement and enthusiasm, to use my own experience to demonstrate what’s possible and to reassure, and to guide people wanting to express themselves truthfully through their art to do it with confidence, ease, joy, and an open mind. But I think I’d be doing these things in some capacity whether or not I was actually teaching courses. I love the connection and sharing aspect of art.

TAY: What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?

TARA: I’m currently creating a new course, Loosen Up, which speaks to a very common problem I see people struggle with - letting go of the long ingrained habits of realism to make more expressive, more abstract art. It’s going to be a really fun and experimental approach to shaking up your art and moving away from the limitations of representational work if that’s the way you want to go.

And registration for Touchstone reopens April 11th  - this is the course that returns you to your artist self and shows you how to integrate that into your life, whatever it looks like. Part deep dive and self investigation, part practical project, Touchstone is a multimedia experience designed to help you clarify and become the artist you want to be, whether that's for your own pleasure and sanity, or in a professional capacity.

TAY: Can you please drop links to where we can find you (insta, pinterest, website, etc)!






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