The Artists Way: Sue Leeming

The Artists Way: Sue Leeming


I was there to support Sarah Thornton-Smith and her group exhibition when I happened to run into a friend who was chatting with Sue. Again, there I was inviting myself over for a coffee and a front row seat to where Sue’s beautiful work is created.

For Sue, art has always been a part of her life. Growing up in a broken home and being of a quieter nature, Sue used her room as a retreat, a place for creativity to blossom and a place where Sue would look back for inspiration time and time again. You see Sue grew up in Taranaki, a province of New Zealand in which, no matter where you were, you could see the great Mount Taranaki. In fact her bedroom window had the perfect view. This view, now embedded in Sue’s mind along with the buzzing sound of the ocean, play a major role in the inspiration behind Sue’s work.

It wasn’t too long before Sue knew she had to pursue art in a more serious manner. She first attended workshops at the local Polytechnic with local artist Tom Kreisler (Argentinian) enjoying the opportunity to work on her own ideas and long conversations about life and art. Tom then introduced her to the work of New Zealand painter Michael Shepherd encouraging her to attend one of his workshops.  The workshop introduced her to 17th century Dutch painting technique’s, something Sue fell madly in love with, particularly Shepherd’s response to that knowledge. It was about this time (1987) that Sue decided to up and move to Auckland where she worked in the accounts office of the DSIR. She had also rented a studio space on site at the Mt Albert campus so she could begin working on a portfolio and continue to learn from Shepherd over the next three years. It would be this portfolio that was her ticket to the University of Auckland, Elam School of Fine Art.

The foundation units in Sue’s first year of study covered everything from photography to sculpting. Obviously, Sue already had a love for painting, but photography was another subject that caught her attention. Shooting mainly in black and white, Sue loved hanging out in hair salons, capturing intimate portraits of the ‘interviews’ that happen between the cutter and the client. Ultimately Sue decided that although she had a love for painting she was aware she had become heavily influenced by Shepherds passionate approach to oil painting and decided it would be beneficial for her to use a different medium and chose to major in Printmaking.

Printmaking allowed Sue to further explore and to find her own visual language – therefore defining her own artistic voice. For Sue her work was, is and always will be, about her own life experiences – a reflection of an authentic life journey. Sue also had a love-hate relationship with Printmaking. While she loved the dry point technique, as soon as something required acid or layers, Sue found the process became a barrier to her concept and slowly developed the more immediate approach of monotypes, working directly onto an aluminium plate and layering as she would with painting. Her post-graduate year was spent consolidating these ideas under the auspices of Paul Hartigan.

While she admits not all artists think this way, for Sue, it was ultimately why painting became the main medium for a lot of her work – it was an immediate and organic result.

In 1998 Sue made the move to Perth, Western Australia where she now lives as an Australian Resident in the Peel Region. Her current work explores ideas of displacement (suddenly finding herself in a completely new environment, essentially a blank canvas starting from scratch), abstraction, identity and spirituality. Sue will continue to create art based on the source of uncovering memories. Sue also plans to get back into some printmaking and learning some new art-forms including exploring some of her heritage with traditional Maori Weaving.

I for one cannot wait to see Sue’s accomplishments over the next few years. I highly recommend you head over to Sue’s website to see her completed works and to find out when her next exhibition will be!

“I want to create art that people want to live with, that will create that same beautiful meditative quality that you experience when you’re actually out in the country side, cruising along, unwinding and just feeling that load of urbanisation coming off you”

The Artists Way: Sarah Thornton-Smith

The Artists Way: Sarah Thornton-Smith

Sequenced cuts, beautiful folds, gradated colours, majestic light and deepening shadows. Welcome to the beautiful mind and amazing works of Sarah Thornton-Smith.

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Sarah (albeit digitally, it is the age we live in after all) through a mutual friend. Naturally as I do, I invited myself over for coffee under the premise of talking all things art and taking a photo or two (ok more like one or two hundred photos). Coffee was drunk, conversations were flowing and photos were being taken.

As conversations progressed (actually, I think it was the first thing we spoke about!) we landed on the topic of, yep you guessed it, music. It always fascinates me with what people listen to while in pursuit of their creative endeavors. For Sarah her current ‘soundtrack to art’ is Korean pop (you didn’t see that coming, did you?). Sarah admitted she listens to anything and everything from jazz to rock and pretty much anything that gets her going for a particular project. Pop seems to always pop back to the forefront (pardon the pun), not so much for the lyrics, but the layers of rhythmic beats built into the songs. This often influences her work, as she builds layers, finds colourways and gradates them leading from one point to another.

Sarah has always been drawn to colour, filled with a curiosity in the way in which colour influences our lives. This notion intertwines with Sarah’s work as she adopts harmonious colour palettes that are found simply by observing the colours in nature. Gradating these colours, building layers and some sharp knife skills leads to something truly unique and ever changing, as the light fills the shadows and the shadows fill the light.

With me launching a full-scale interrogation into the effort to learn as much as I can about this brilliant art form, we landed on the subject of labels (I’m not talking about pantry labels here!). I simply asked, “Is there a word that encapsulates all that you do here, in other words, when people ask you what you do, what’s your answer?” This led us down a long and windy path. Sarah’s always struggled with what to call herself. She paints but is she a painter? She uses paper but is she a paper artist? We could go on and on here, but ultimately her business card reads artist designer, which is fitting. However, regardless of title we can all agree her work is uniquely stunning.

“When I look at sunsets I often think, how does it work like that? How does it become blue and then pink and then the bluey purple…”

The Artists Way: Callum Davies

The Artists Way: Callum Davies

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending some time with emerging Mandurah Artist Callum Davies. He has always had a creative side having played drums for over 16 years, however, a bone disease and the stresses he was facing at work led him on the search for something that would be all-consuming, something to provide an escape, a way to distract his mind and a way to channel his creativity.

As we sat sipping coffee discussing all sorts of things, I asked how long he had been drawing. Nothing could have prepared me for his response, “since about November last year” (8 months ago for those reading in the future). Umm say again?.. If I had of taken up drawing 8 months ago I think I would have only just graduated to stick figures! I’m gonna put his achievement down to pure talent, although I’m sure his background in Engineering Drafting would help just a little.

It’s no surprise that Callum finds his inspiration from the ocean. Living only a couple of hundred meters away from a beach, he and his family spend quite a lot of time there collecting seashells while admiring the countless shapes, textures and endless life filling the ocean. I’m sure this is a major reason why sea creatures are one of his favourite things to draw.

Currently, after many requests Callum is working on a series of Australian animals with some local and not so local shops reaching out wanting to stock his prints. In between the Australian animal series, he has a back log of requests (I may or may not have added to this back log) as well as a personal project he is working on with his son. Callum is a big believer in supporting local business and tries to buy all his supplies locally as well as using a local printer to print his work. Each piece of work is a labour of love and can take anywhere from 8-30 hours to complete. I highly encourage you to visit his site and check out his work. In fact if you don’t, I’m not sure we can be friends any more.

I can’t wait to see what he does next.

The Artists Way: Nyssa

The Artists Way: Nyssa

Here’s a few words from Nyssa about her art and her journey. Follow her on her Instagram 

My names Nyssa and I have been passionate about creating art ever since I could hold a pencil and glide it across the walls of my parents home. A piece of paper and pen has always grasped my attention more than anything else, I suppose it’s because when I made art for people who I love/loved it made me happy when they thought it was something worthy of being kept – and the more positive feedback I was given the more I wanted to create.

Although I have had many issues with “artists block” and I’m not sure whether that’s from lack of inspiration or just the factor of having depression. I tend to create heavier pieces of work when I am feeling down or when I want to “escape” I start doing pieces that involve a lot of detail and effort so I can be in my own world and only focus on that piece, nothing else.

I do get a lot of inspiration from people, whether it be their eyes or the shape of their body, as well as plants and also psychedelics.

I don’t have a personal style yet but that’s because I enjoy experimenting with a lot of different mediums and now I’m creating a lot of commission art work for friends as well as people I’ve never met. I’m working my way towards being able to becoming a tattoo artist so the personal art I create can be with someone forever.