Katie Leahy and her masterpiece Make A Wish (2017)

Written by Elise Olmstead

Katie’s art can be described as whimsical, but it is also full of heart.  Though once aspiring to emulate the photorealistic style and advanced skills of the masters, along the way she found herself with a ballpoint pen and a sketchbook that led her to creating in a way the fulfilled her soul. Her soul was needing this release more than ever after a recent car accident left her terribly injured and on best rest for 6 weeks. The touching strength and beauty of her feminine characters are beautiful representations of the artist herself.

Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?

I grew up in the suburbs of Richmond, VA. My early childhood I can remember filled with friends, laughter, art, and the weirdest, imaginary games. As soon as I was in middle school, though, my life turned darker.  I don’t like talking explicitly about most of it (maybe a reason why imagery and symbolism has always drawn me in so strongly), but I experienced a fairly wide range of frequent trauma and/or abuse until early adulthood.  Despite this, I consider myself lucky to have grown up in an area and and a family where my love for art was often encouraged.

The Creation of Being (2017)

When did you first start creating and find your passion for art?  When was the moment that you decided you wanted to pursue it as more than a hobby?

I’ve been making art my whole life. I can easily say most of my earliest memories are of all the weird arts and crafts they let kids do in pre-school.  Ever since then it’s been a crucial part of who I am.  I’ve questioned and doubted so many aspects of myself, but art has been the one constant pushing me through life.  There’s never been a moment in life where I thought my calling was anything other than visual arts, but I have definitely juggled with what specific career path I planned to follow within that world.  Still, the idea I could ever make it selling my own art seemed far-fetched.

The moment I had the confidence to start selling my own work was fairly recent, around 2016/2017.  Due to a culmination of different events, I gained confidence in myself and my work while also discovering live painting. Even then I didn’t anticipate my work being accepted, I just loved that it was the perfect duo of my two favorites–live music and painting.

Live painting stayed a hobby for a while, though.  I continued to work 40-60 hours a week at various jobs over the years, working hard to make dreams come true for other people.  Meanwhile, my own dreams sat on the back burner.

This March I committed myself more than ever before to creating my art for a living following my recovery from a pretty horrible car accident.  Some of my most recent work explains more in-depth about that experience on my social media accounts, but it gave me the courage to stop procrastinating my goals with excuses or self-doubt, and just jump in.  Time is not guaranteed, and I plan to make every day count.

Live painting of ‘Into the Void’

What artists inspired you growing up? What artists inspire you now?

As a young child I would say my oldest sister was my biggest inspiration.  She used color, poetry, and fantasy in a way that endlessly fascinated me at a young age,and still influences my work today.  At that age, I also decided to that as an adult I would be painting at the skill level of the Renaissance or Classical masters.  It’s safe to say I set some unrealistic standards for myself at a young age.

As I grew up, psychedelic and surreal art drew me in visually. Intellectually, symbolism in art and literature became one of the most intriguing elements to piece out of a work and analyze, so Frida Kahlo’s emotional self-portraits have long held a special place in my heart.  Nowadays, I constantly try to learn and take in something I admire from almost every artist I encounter.  I believe every artist has something to learn from each other, whether that lesson manifests in technique, philosophy, marketing, display, or so on.  One incredible thing about the internet age is how easily accessible art around the world and throughout history has become; that also means I could type up a list a mile-long filled with every artist influencing my work and career today.

Connecting My Dots (2018)

What subjects and themes do you choose for your art and why?

The concepts behind my drawings and paintings tend to revolve around whatever place my head happens to be in at the time.  Since I draw from my life experiences, emotions, and daydreams, a figure or portrait is usually present in my work.  As my mental health has improved over the years, these figures have gradually evolved from malformed and androgynous beings into strong, alluring feminine representations.

Usually I choose to turn emotional or physical pain into something of hope and beauty. For me, it’s an unbelievably cathartic process.  It helps me to fully overcome whatever life throws my way.  Even if I don’t spend days researching a concept, I get lost in the process of the painting anyways.  Usually this manifests in as vibrant of colors as I can possibly mix up and a canvas that changes and grows as I do.

I briefly mentioned this in another answer, but I was in a gnarly car crash in March of this year.  I fractured my neck, temporarily lost my ability to make art from nerve damage, along with a few other injuries.  After 6 weeks on bed rest and no way to create the pain away, I finally healed up enough to start drawing .  From then until the neck brace finally came off, I pushed out “The Survivor Series” as a way to finally, belatedly, process the dark, haunted places I found in my mind during my recovery.  The color palette is dark and the imagery is grotesque, but they wound up being one of the most healing works I’ve ever made.  I’m still recovering, growing, and coping with the accident in my everyday life so I expect my art will slowly brighten as my life continues to fall back on track.

Cosmic Doggo (2018)

Do you have a studio at home?  What is your studio or painting area like?

I think my home studio lives just as random a life as I do.  Right now my studio is set up in a corner of my bedroom, with some lights and a window for ambiance.  When I moved into my current home, I turned an old TV stand into my desk, placed colorful fabric on top and stickers on the bottom, then dubbed it my studio. It doubles as a vanity, and is overflowing every which way with sketchbooks, art supplies, and in-progress canvases.  The flexibility it allows me is crucial to my life.  Having a studio in my room makes it easy to have random 10-minute paint sessions in between errands, work, or friends.  Conversely, it’s just as easy to take a quick 10-minute pause every now and then during longer sessions. I cover my walls with as much art as I can fit, both my own and artists who inspire me.  When I’m brainstorming new ideas, the art all over my walls turns into an over-sized bulletin board reminding me of all the places I’ve been in art, and all the places I plan to be in the future.

Butterflies (2017)

What do you like about live painting and what music do you prefer to live paint to?

Even though I’ve never been lucky enough to have musical talent myself, live music has always felt like home.  I started out at indie and punk house shows till about 2014, when I wandered my way into the jam and festival scene.  I’ve changed so much over the years, but my love for music and art has always been constant.  To say I am overwhelmingly grateful can’t even begin to cover how lucky I feel for finding a path that lets me live and breathe my two biggest passions in life as one.  Most people spend their whole lives searching for what I’ve found.

My music taste tends to be as eclectic as my personality. At home in my studio space I usually focus on detail work or new ideas while listening to indie, garage, and old school punk music.  For shows, especially festivals, I try to have newer canvases with me.  A newer canvas means I’m still developing the movement in the piece and gives me the freedom for wider, more expressive brush strokes.  So for live painting, music that gives me the itch to groove and flow is my favorite.  To me that means something funky, especially if they break out a sax; or, some upbeat folk music, especially if there’s some banjo strumming.

Solasta 2018

Did you go to school for art, or are you self-taught? Tell me a little bit about how you learned the skills that you practice today.

In middle and high school, I dabbled in so many different mediums and forms of art it was hard to keep up.  Pottery, gauche, oil and chalk pastels, film photography, watercolors, oil and acrylic paint, scratch-board, colored pencils, charcoal, and mod-podge messes are all included. I even tried my hand at poetry and sewing.  Bright, neon colors managed to permeate through any medium I touched; no matter what I experimented with though, drawing and painting always pulled me back. Back then I was so consumed with realistic perfectionism and outside approval it often added unneeded stress to my creative process.  For balance, I began to use ballpoint pen and notebook paper to doodle out silly characters in class as a fun, creative outlet.

After high school, I received a full scholarship to VCUarts for Painting and Printmaking from 2011 – 2014, but left in my junior year to focus on some overdue healing from my past. I would easily consider conceptualization of art as the most important skill I took away from my time there.  After I left the university, I slowly found my way back to those silly ballpoint pen doodles from high school.  I started to bring my sketchbook everywhere I went, drawing under the influence of many moods and states of mind, until I finally unlocked my ability to create art that truly soothed my soul.  It was the first time in my life I can say I ever made art for myself, and only myself.  I eventually translated this drawing style into paintings around when I first tip toed my way into the live painting scene in 2016. Now, in the past year or so, I’ve been looking to find a happy balance between the perfectionism my mind craves and the funky style my soul needs.  I can honestly say I’ve never been more confident in my ability to create whatever I want, and have never enjoyed the creative process more.

Floating on Stardust (2018)

What is your favorite medium and why?

Acrylic paint. With it, I easily satisfy my life-long obsession with color, and the excessive layers I add dry much faster than they would with oil paints.  As opposed to drawing, I find it comforting to know that nothing needs to be permanent with acrylic.  There is always the option to go back and rework a problem area if needed, even though these days I do my best to live by the words of the great Bob Ross–and turn every mistake into a happy little accident.

Oh, Honey (2018)

What is a medium that you haven’t tried yet that you would like to explore?

I’m torn on this one.  There are only two mediums I haven’t had experience with, and it’s a tie between tattoo art and spray painting murals.  I hope within the next few years to try my hand at one, and would be over the moon to be able to try out both.

Dissociate (2019)

Will you be painting more events in 2019? 

Yes, so far for August and September, I will be painting at Big What?, Valley Fusion, and Pasture Palooza, along with smaller events around Richmond, VA.  I’m hoping to be able to announce more soon!

Duality (2014-2019)

Where can we view or buy your art?

Instagram: @kaylaycreated

Facebook: @kaylaycreations

Online Shop: http://kaylay-creations.square.site