In anticipation of our Illustration Intensive, we’re presenting a series of interviews with our fabulous guests. Here, we spotlight artist Jeszika Le Vye.
To me, your paintings have a wonderful otherworldly quality populated by characters with a sense of longing. They seem to be searching for something. What are you searching for in your art?
Studying psychology and philosophy has been extremely important to me throughout my life, and some of that carries over into my art. Most of my figurative paintings have figures that represent internal conflicts – some psychological, some moral, some existential. They represent ideas I’ve explored, studied or even struggled with personally. Though there is some autobiographical nature to my work, I believe these ideas have a universal quality to them, challenges that all sentient beings deal with in one way or another.
In my series of the changelings – the wild children and beasts living outside society’s supposed safety, I explore the consequences of psychological damage to children, the danger of becoming a creature repeating history, never becoming fully self-aware, and the possibility of healing and becoming more than just a wild creature. In my painting Cocoon, I explore the idea of shedding an identity of self-destruction and becoming a new person, allowing oneself to die so another can grow.
From existential philosophers to romantic painters, I have a strong affinity for themes of the individual’s potential for greatness or self-destruction; their choices; their seeking or avoiding of knowledge, the realities they create for themselves. In my art, I hope to capture a feeling of elegance or beauty, tangled with the dangers and fears. I often view the world as a dangerous grandeur, a perilous journey for the psyche, a beautiful ocean that both awes and drowns – but also, I see hope in the figures in my paintings. These are powerful beings who can overcome, rise stronger, create new realities – or allow themselves to be destroyed. I hope that by exploring these themes in my work, it stirs others to explore these questions in their own choices and lives.
You create digital paintings that don’t often look digitally created at first glance. How have your traditional oil painting skills informed your digital process?
Because I was an oil painter for so long before learning digital painting, I always felt more confident in my ability to make the mark than I did in the digital tools. So when I would paint a painting digitally, I leaned a lot more heavily on the actual painting, rather than learning to use different digital brushes and tools – layers, lassos, texture brushes, masks, etc. All these things felt way more complicated than just pen to screen. I think a lot of it comes down to trying to have a very light touch with any digital tools I might use and keep as much of the process as possible, just one brush stroke after the other.
I also grew up around much more traditional fine art and have a deep love for the classical realism I saw there as a child. I think a lot of that aesthetic has stayed with me even as I allowed myself to explore the fantastical. I always want there to be a little something that feels old and classical to it that people think of when they think of oils.
Are you a self-taught artist or have you had formal training?
I grew up around art. My mother is a painter, and I watched her and began trying to create my own art at a very early age. As I grew up, I picked up every little piece of knowledge I could from my mother’s artistic endeavors and schooling. However, I was constantly told I would be better off getting a STEM degree because I was good at math and art doesn’t pay. So I ended up getting a chemistry degree rather than focusing on art, but even then, I crammed in so many extra credits of art classes along the way that I literally ran out of student loan money and had to find ways to pay for my last semester out of pocket.
That last semester though was when I had my epiphany, that not only was art the only thing I wanted to do, but that it was completely possible to do. I graduated with a degree I’ll never use and set out to learn everything I could online. I took a truly amazing mentored class from Chris Oatley – Painting Drama – which taught me so much about composition and designing an image. That class alone propelled my work further than any other thing I can think of. There were so many years I spent just painting by myself and repeating the same mistakes, not knowing what I was missing, and, when I took that class, everything changed. It was as if someone was just walking through my brain, turning on all the lights. Those few months taught me more than years of painting by myself did. So, even though I spent a huge percentage of time trying to self-teach, my biggest breakthroughs were taught.
What mentors, books, or philosophy has helped you along your artistic journey?
I think one of the best things about being human is being curious, being excited to learn more. It is so important, in so many areas of life, but even with art. I think just having that excitement about what you don’t know and how much more there is to learn can take you a long way. Then the journey of growth as an artist feels more like a treasure hunt. I see people sometimes get caught in a loop of self-attack for not knowing enough, but there’s no way to ever know enough to satisfy that voice. Just learning to treasure and enjoy each new piece as you add it to your collection can get rid of so much discouragement.
I feel I can’t do justice here for all the opportunities I have had to learn and grow. There were so many little pieces along the way from everyone – from thoughtful critiques by peers or professionals I looked up to, to encouragement that yes I could do this, to letters from strangers telling me how something I created connected in some vital way to them. All of these things have given me the fuel that kept me growing year after year. I received a scholarship to IMC last year from Muddy Colors that also was extremely impacting on not only my knowledge and growth as an artist, but also on a confidence that I was on the right path. Having taken many classes at a community college and not getting much out of them, it amazed me to find how truly great these artist-created workshops, groups, and classes are. If I could go back in time, I would never have gone to college! I would have dove into all the workshops and classes I could, learning from those as passionate about creating as I was.
Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
I do! I’ve been working for almost 2 years creating a series of art for a book themed around Egyptian mythology called From Dark Expanse, the Stars. This book has been a project I have been setting aside all my free time to create, and I am excited to see it starting to take shape! Not only am I creating all the illustrations, I’m also writing new stories to bring the myths to life and hopefully illuminate the archetypes within the mythology in a way that helps readers see the ideas anew. I have a Patreon, where I have been uploading all the progress for the book: https://www.patreon.com/Jeszika. I am also working on a smaller, side project related to Egyptian mythology, creating a series of ink drawings of all the different characters, to create a smaller art book as well.
In addition to the Egyptian book, I am quietly working away on a collaborative writing project I can’t wait to share! But that’s all I can say on that for now. I have a few series of paintings that I am going to be working hard to create this year as well, a series of ‘birds and blooms’ that feature beautiful color pairings of birds and flowers as well as hidden fantasy creatures. I also have a series of changeling children that I am continuing to work on and hope to create a book from when the time is right. So, plenty to keep busy with! 🙂
Jeszika Le Vye is an imaginative realist painter whose work uses natural imagery to explore philosophical and psychological themes. She often explores the inner landscape of the character in her paintings, the unconscious mind, history, and choices of the individual to manifest their reality – their infinite potential for greatness or self-destruction – the figures who create their own realities for better or worse.
Jeszika is one of the founders and owners of Boneshaker Press, where she co-manages Encounters with the Imaginary, a fantastical art anthology. The first three volumes funded successfully on Kickstarter.