Rocking a flat-brim with her original of Blanket Chalets ‘Eh Frame’ at the helm, Jess Leahey makes me a lemon ginger and shows me to the goodness of her Southside, window-lit studio space. A studio can be outdoors, at large with the mountains or it can curl up with you anywhere when there’s just enough space for a cuppa and sketchbook to entwine. The lively illustrations of Jess Leahey are the love child to both these spaces and her expanding collection of line drawings tell us a great deal about the life experiences that light up her mind’s-eye.
There is a postcard-sized print on her T-shirt of glacier-capped Selkirks and a man on a mission with his trusty companion. Custom designs like these get made with heart for organizations like the national Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Organization (CARDA). Jess and her husband are proud parents to a retired rescue dog named Penny and with a house full of art made by talented family and friends she has grown, in their likeness, to become a creative muse herself.
How long have you been illustrating? Are you self-taught? I have been illustrating for a very short time, only about two years. I’ve cartooned and created my whole life for friends and family but I started to draw with more intention when I was recovering from a ski crash and suffering from some of the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. Journaling was suggested to help with my recovery, which led to sketch booking. I was following a photographer named Jim Harris while he recovered from an accident that left him paralyzed and he was hand-drawing thank-you cards to everyone that helped him. His notes were so beautiful. I really empathized and was inspired. I think an overwhelming feeling every person has when they are injured is gratitude. It’s humbling. I started drawing to say thank-you to my husband. I love to say thank you with art.
Lines! What draws you to this expression? Simplicity. Not much of an investment and no mess. Easy to bring anywhere, even when having to be weight conscious on adventures. I just work in black — the white is already there when I start. I am drawn to this style because it’s so clean. I like the flow of line work and the control and accuracy of a pen. I love busy but balanced pieces, with pretty but purposeful detail.
Which mediums do you use? Anything experimental on the go? I use ink. I’m also exploring watercolours and acrylic painting but I am so new to this that everything feels experimental right now. Where I am currently growing quickly is with size and scale. I went from a sketchbook in my lap, to two different ski topsheet graphics and was just recently asked about doing a big mural. I challenged myself with a mini sketchbook when I was a guest artist at the Revelstoke Girls Do Ski camp in January where I improvised three pieces inspired by these ladies in the span of two days.
Where do you gather your ideas? The outdoors. How cliché. I would label myself a passionate skier before anything else. My art allows to me to spend more time mentally, in the places that I love, more than my body, daylight, or even just exposure will allow. I am developing a new eye for my surroundings. Suddenly with the intent to remember more of what I see I find the prettiest little things — nature’s quirks, the deepness of colours and peculiar happenings. Drawing has enriched my time outdoors. I spend a lot more time looking up.
Who are your creative mentors or role models? I really adore a few local artists including Rob Buchanan and Zuzana Riha. They are both passionate people with many interests and mediums. Both seem to combine their art careers with their other careers creating an interesting circle of inspiration, each feeding off the other. Art just seems to conjure in many forms wherever they spend time. This art has a playful and flirty feel because it’s not all business, they like what they do, and it seems they do what they like. It’s creative and romantic work that is fun, beautiful and always has a little dreamy sparkle to it. You can see their many personal touches throughout Revelstoke’s National and Provincial parks.
Current projects or milestones? Recent highlights include heading to Mica Heliskiing for their artist residency program and working with Blanket Glacier Chalet where I took my AST 2. Participating with Girls Do Ski and completing a detailed Viking inspired top sheet for boutique Norwegian ski builder, SGN Skis, that I ambassador for. I’ve designed graphics for clothing and local shops and am really enjoying the opportunities art is bringing me. I still can’t quite believe it … I feel very lucky.
Introduce yourself to your favourite local artists and see where the conversation takes you. Follow Jess and her adventures in illustration on Instagram at Jessleahey00. Jess also participates in displays at Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre.
This article first appeared in the Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine February 2017 print issue.