Inseam: Liah Paterson
For those that don’t know you, could you explain a little bit about who you are and what you do?
I'm a creative who specifically works with illustrative visual styles and kind of crappy fiction and poetry writing. My work is meant to empower the person inside of me and others (especially women or femme identifying people / those who are members of the queer community) who have struggled with the validity of themselves.
How did you find your way into illustration & creative work in general ? Do you do any other creative work?
My parents are both creatives. They owned an airbrush shop together before I was born and my mom used to take me to her visual arts classes at the local community college. I couldn't have been much older than three and I used to sit under her desk eating goldfish crackers while she worked. One of my earliest memories is waking up at 1 AM when I was very small and my parents setting me up with crayons and paper in the middle of the night without question. When I was a teenager I went away to a boarding school for the arts where I studied creative writing. I wrote and self published a book of poetry and haven't really written a poem since. Illustration, now, is something that I began focusing on in order to fill the hole that poetry left.
There is an ethereality to the figures that you paint that has a softness and sharpness to it. How have you developed this particular style? I think many people turn away from creative practices because they are not good at drawing like the traditional things we see as “art” do you think there’s something to be said about seeking out what works for the individual artist?
I am awful at drawing in a realistic art style and for a long time I really believed that old adage "You need to know the rules before you can break them." but I just couldn't do it. Depth isn't one of my strong suits and our visual world is nothing but depth. My inability to mimic my surroundings, however, didn't stop my need to create so I started obsessively studying nothing but illustrative styles. I took out my favorite children's books and I dove into some oddly specific artist directories online. I compiled everything that stuck with me. Most of it was flat, simple, and obviously drawn with colored pencils and crayons. A lot of it was artwork that mimicked the human form but didn't completely copy it. I'm an extremely thorough person when it comes to understanding why I like the media that I like so I began cutting the artwork I'd collected into pieces. Hands here. Eyes here. Facial shapes and the curves of the human form broken down into their most basic lines. I asked myself questions such as "Why do I enjoy this piece? The legs are too long so why do they work? The hands are dynamic and squared, the fingers bend in a way that they could only do on paper. How does this contribute to the composition of the scene?" I think that an artist's style, no matter how far from the traditional, does not necessarily need to mimic the physical world because it is meant instead to represent way an artist's own world is imagined.
Are there elements of your identity that influence your work?
Ten months ago I was drawing only subjects doing magic represented with swirls and soft lines. Now the subjects in my artwork are often depicted as wielding fire. Both mean something powerful to me in different ways. Ten months ago I was passive. As a queer woman I feel I can no longer be passive. I feel that I must not just feel power but I must allow this power to radiate from myself. This has always been the case. My sense of self as always been muddled by the world’s expectations of me and I work every day to retake my womanhood and my sexuality as no one’s but my own.
Moving into more of a craft discussion, what sorts of techniques/approaches/habits have helped you grow in your field? How have you navigated the professional/business side of being an artist?
I’m definitely an accidental professional artist. I’m terrible with setting timelines when it comes to personal projects and I’ve got no specific highly effective habits besides drinking unsweetened chai before I start an illustration. One cup of tea a day equals one (at least) half finished illustration. Breaking into the professional side of creative work was also by mistake. A friend of a friend reached out to commission me a little over a year ago and I haven’t stopped taking commissions since. All I can say is that it’s important to create if you want your work to be seen, I guess. If you have difficulties with accountability in creating then having someone pay you and setting a deadline (and also needing that money to pay your rent) is a sure fire way to get you there.
Do you have inspirations? People that have influenced your work? (could be from any sort of genre or outside of the art world altogether)
Okay, this is going to sound maybe like the least inspiring answer, but what inspires my work the most is television and film writing. I love characters who find power over long periods of time and I love watching their journeys to this power. I find that in television especially, self determination can be depicted as something otherwise mundane. The ability to see it reached is what makes it matter so much. Most of my artwork is meant to focus on the power of self from within, the opening up of oneself, and using one’s unique personality, skills, relationships, and views as a weapon. My artwork is the end of these stories, the moment that a character realizes they can use themself as a weapon. Think: Pam’s coming out of her shell in The Office, Hank Hill’s slow acceptance of his son in King of the Hill (the relationship between them), Olivia Benson’s finding control in career, family, and justice (often times for women) in Law and Order SVU, Angela’s learning to make choices that work for her in My So Called Life, and in film the power of overcoming obstacles that arise from womanhood in The VVITCH. I think that in order to understand how stories can form in any creative medium, you need to understand how these stories translate to or from another.
Many young artists have come to me wondering about the validity of pursuing something creative, do you have any thoughts or advice for young creatives?
Do it! Do it every day! You don’t need to constantly create but it’s so important to open yourself up the ideas on the inside. Do it even if you need to pick up another job to pay the rent and pay for dinner! If you feel the need to pursue something, anything, it’s so important to try it out. It’s important to validate one’s own interests, especially if these interests are an expression of self. The worst thing that can happen is that you find out you don’t like it. And even then, you know something about yourself that you didn’t before. I think that creative work is the scariest thing to focus on because you are constantly told that this cannot be a career but like anything else, there is no surefire promise that it will work. There is no surefire promise that it will fail either. You cannot fail by learning something new about yourself. Finding that something doesn’t work is not failure. If creating something makes you feel like you have a weapon no one else has then it isn’t really a risk, is it?
And, to conclude this great discussion we like to ask all of our artists, What do you do for self care?
I watch TV. I keep a bullet journal and rewrite project ideas over and over. I keep plants and I swim laps at the public pool. I write academic style essays on video games. I eat endless amounts of candy and I sit in the dark for long periods of time. I allow myself to think about art every second of every day without applying pressure to my creation of it. When it comes to self care, it is important that I allow myself daily pleasures without silencing the part of me that is always thinking about creating. It continues to be a struggle but I treat all that I do as if it will help grow my creative ideas and in that way I sometimes feel moments of complete wholeness.