Saturday, March 2, 2013

Artist Interview: Amber Leilani Middleton.

Today's interview is with Amber Leilani Middleton.  Her shop features art dolls, collages, paintings and some jewelry too.  I really enjoy all the characters that she creates.  Let's get to know her a bit better, shall we?

1. Were you always an art kid, or did you stumble upon it later in life?  

Actually, a little bit of both. I was very creative as a child, but where I lived there were no art programs. I didn’t study art in college because my family didn’t think I could make a living as an artist. I took some jobs after college that had me trying to fit in with certain situations and people, and one day I realized I was squashing my creativity for people and jobs I didn’t even like!! It’s taken me about 10 years to feel comfortable with who I am as an artist and really begin to open up that creativity that I suppressed for so many years.
Bearded Lady, Gerilyn.
2. What style of art is your favorite and why?

I really don’t have a favorite style of art. I like so many different things: folk art, illustration, pop surrealism, fantasy. I can’t narrow it down to just one! It would be unfair to all the others (right now I’m really in to pop surrealism and it is starting to influence my work. But, shhh…don’t tell the other styles!)

3. What do you use for inspiration, or how do you generate ideas?

I suppose my main inspiration is music. I HAVE to have music playing while I work. I can listen to the same music every day and get a new idea from a song I’ve heard a thousand times. I am also greatly influenced by other artists – some of my favorites at the moment are Michele Lynch, Lateefah Wright, Travis Louie, and Anthropomorphica ArtDoll Oddities. But, I mostly let the ideas come to me when I am actually working on a piece. I find that if I just let go and immerse myself in the process that that is when the best ideas come!

Blue and Silver Cabochon Necklace.

 4. Walk us through your creative process from idea to finished project.  Also what made you choose Art Dolls?

My process is a bit scattered, I suppose. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to do – I have journals full of sketches and ideas, but mostly I will just sit down and start sculpting faces. As each piece is being formed, I let it guide me through what it wants to be. After I sculpt the face I will add any horns, scars, or masks…whatever might add to the personality of the doll. Then I make my armature for the body. After that is finished I then attach the head and neck. Then the piece has to dry. When it’s dry, I then smooth out the features and body if need be and add any embellishments such as hair, clothing, or hats. Then I set it aside to dry again. Once the piece is completely dry (and it can take several days for some pieces to dry) I then paint and seal the piece.

As to why I chose art dolls…I really had never heard of an art doll until 3 years ago. I was recovering from a wrist injury that had put my jewelry making career on hold. I was looking at magazines one evening at the local book store and a copy of Art Doll Quarterly caught my eye. I was mesmerized!! I had my first block of paper clay within a week and I’ve never looked back!! It turns out that sculpting doesn’t hurt my wrist as much as repetitive beadwork!

"Eternal Love."
5. What is a typical day in your life?

Oh, goodness! I absolutely have to have my coffee in the morning! I really like to ease in to my day. I once saw a meme online that read “ I’m not a morning person. I’m not a night person. But I can rock 11am like it’s nobody’s business!” That’s me! I try to be in the studio by 10am on the days I am not at my retail job. I try to work an 8 hour day in the studio whenever possible. I also play with my cats, listen to music, and take a lunch break so I can watch a little tv (I watch way too much television). When my mister comes home, we eat and then it’s usually back in to the studio for a few hours before bed. I would say that’s a pretty typical day. I’m not a very good housekeeper, as I feel life is too short to do dishes rather than make art!

Yellow and Brown Cabochon Necklace.
6. What do you think draws you to other people's work?

Usually a sense of playfulness or a certain dark aesthetic. Or both! Haha! I am really drawn to portraits or sculptures of people. I love the human face…the emotions you can see even in the tiniest of frames. I am also drawn to certain textures. I am trying to teach myself to paint and there are several styles I am drawn to in painting, but it’s usually about the texture.

7. What are your interests/hobbies?

Does eating count? I love to eat! A good meal and a good bottle of wine are my absolute most favorite things in the world! I also enjoy well written television and movies, historical mysteries, steampunk novels, all things Harry Potter, and taking pictures – except of my work. Which I hate! It’s so hard to get good pictures at my house. I also collect writing journals and instruments. I love paper in its many forms and wish people still sent real letters….I miss getting letters in the mail.

Bunny Girl, "Eliza."

8. Is this your full time job, or do you have a job out-of-studio?

I work at home most of the time, but I do have a part time retail job that I really enjoy. I work for an independently owned gift shop that sells cool and kitschy items and fun, funky jewelry.

Carnival Queen.

9. What is your favorite piece you've ever made and why?

Ok, this is weird, but it’s a piece called “Self - Portrait with Bunny Ears.”  I made it after I had major surgery this past September on my left ear to remove a growth behind my ear drum. It was pretty painful and it turned out that I was allergic to my pain medication, so it was not a pleasant experience. It really defined who I was for several months. The “self - portrait” piece was my way of dealing with it all after the fact. She is a very pissy and defiant bunny. She’s not happy at all despite her flowers and lovely dress….and it looks absolutely NOTHING like me except for the big scar on her left ear! That piece is at Dollirium Art Doll Emporium in London, Ontario, Canada. She hasn’t sold yet and if she doesn’t I am definitely keeping her. I kind of hope she doesn’t sell….

Frida Kahlo Day of the Dead Collaged Card.

10. What advice would you give to an artist just starting out in the business world?

Be absolutely true to yourself, no matter what!! Look and research and experiment and never stop learning. Don’t compare yourself to others. You have to find your voice. Even if you think it’s weird and no one will like it, make it anyway. And never compromise on what you will or won’t do just to make money. Most importantly have fun!!

Circus Strongman, "Jean Pierre."
11. Describe your work space.

I work at home so my space is the back bedroom in our fairly small apartment. I share it with my mister, but it’s really mine. Mwahahah! To sculpt or paint I work at an antique dining room table, which I have lined with wax paper. I also have an antique writing desk where I do my jewelry making. My cats hang out with me when I’m working, and one of them even has a box on the table where he sits and keeps me company when I’m working. I have a lot of supplies and a goodly amount of art and dolls I have collected over the years. It’s a fairly sunny room (painted yellow) and I’ve tried to make it as cheery and inspirational as possible. But, it’s nowhere near as large as I would like…or as clean. And I absolutely HATE the carpet! But, I guess you can’t have everything. All in all, it’s a nice place to work and beats my old work space in our last apartment, which was in the hallway outside the bathroom. 

Amber at work.

12. Did you face any setbacks on your path to being an artist?

Well, I did have a hard time growing up as a creative kid in a rural area where most people just thought I was weird. I never fit in. And my parents weren’t keen on me going to art school, so I have a sociology degree. I always knew I was an artist at heart, but I tried for many years to have a “normal” career and fit in and all that nonsense. I think I may have been my own little setback more than once. It’s taken me years to really get back in touch with that creativity. And I am NOT letting it go any time soon!!

Her workspace.

13. What milestones, goals, or achievements are you striving for right now?

I want to be a better artist!! There is so much to learn and I feel like I just got started (and I’m not getting any younger)…and I really want to be able to make a living making art full time. I’m still not there yet. I keep trying. I was just published in ART DOLL QUARTERLY this winter, and that was a HUGE goal of mine over the last few years. I would love to be able to do more group shows and of course, have a solo show sometime in the future. Right now I’m really just loving being able to do what I love. To me, the most wonderful feeling in the world is having someone purchase something I made with my own two little hands….

You can also find her:

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer with such awesome responses!


Harija said...

Thanks for the follow and follow you back!

michelle renée bernard said...

Great interview with a great artist. Always love to see the inspiration behind the art, especially for one of my favorite artists!! Thanks for sharing!!

sem naufragar said...

Amber, your dools are full of magic.
I learned with your words and experiences reflected in your interview.
p.s.sorry about my english.