ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: MEREDITH LEICH

I'm very excited to introduce you to my dear friend, Meredith Leich, who is a Chicago-based watercolorist and animation / video artist. We met a few years ago in the Lakeview Orchestra, and I have been mesmerized by the depth of her work ever since. She exudes light in everything she does, and I'm honored to share her interview with you.


Sutro Tower, from Grand View Park, watercolor on paper, 30x22", 2017


What kind of work do you create?

I have a divided artist-practice: I paint more traditional watercolor landscapes and create more experimental animations, installations, and video-art. In all of my work, I want to make striking images that respond to our natural environment through a human, historically-driven lens, from simply capturing a city’s distinctive architecture to thinking about how social conventions inform the way we live together. Light inspires both my paintings and video work. When I see a beautifully-illuminated scene, it wakes up my brain and I feel an immediate desire to paint. Conversely, when working with video projection, I want to create that enchanted feeling that I get from looking at the natural world. For instance, I hiked out to a glacier in remote Alaska with a group of locals to project abstract hand-drawn animations onto the ice, and it was incredible to see the light running across the textures of the ice.


Animated Drawings for a Glacier, photographic documentation of projection on ice, 2018


What is your earliest memory of being creative? Was there anyone in particular who encouraged you at that time?

I have always loved to draw. As long as I remember, drawing has been with me, as though picking up my markers was like hanging out with a friend. I don’t remember connecting with a specific art teacher, but from elementary through high school, my academic teachers made space for creativity in their classrooms. I have a really richly illustrated notebook from my eighth grade US history class and those lessons are still very vivid in my brain. Being able to combine art with the rest of my education really helped me learn and gave me an appreciation for how art can be integrated into life. My mom is an architect and my aunt is a watercolorist and fiber artist, so I was also surrounded by people who were attuned to the visual world and shared their art supplies with me.


Key West: Yellow House Palm Trees, watercolor on paper, 15x11", 2019


What is your educational background, and when did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I always wanted to be an artist, but I picked up on my parents’ concerns about my artistic interest. Loving to draw was one thing; building an economic life from my art was another. I went to a liberal arts college and studied art history (as though that were a more secure career path!) instead. After college, I worked in NYC for a few years before I realized that this was truly the only thing I wanted to do with my life. I spent one year at the San Francisco Art Institute studying painting and animation and then got an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Film, Video, New Media, and Animation. Now I lecture at SAIC and Loyola University, in addition to make watercolor and video art.


Sutro Tower, Sunset in the Mission, 15x10", 2018


Where do you go for inspiration?

Because I studied art history, I love looking at work from the past. In particular, 17th century Dutch still life painting, with its exquisite use of calm light, and the superb craftsmanship and poetry of Japanese 19th century print-making speak to me. Also, I love Goya’s deeply human drawings, Charles Sheeler’s pristine lines and use of light, Caillebotte’s soft moods, I could go on… I’m also inspired by a number of really smart contemporary artists and video-makers: William Kentridge, Shirin Neshat, John Smith, Julie Mehrehtu, Kara Walker, to name a few…


Key West Palm Reflection, watercolor on paper, 7.5x5.5", 2019


What has been the most significant influence to your work?

I’m not sure if this is an influence, exactly, but I’m very motivated by climate change to make work. I love the natural world, and I am incredibly concerned about the ways that we are changing and destroying it. I don’t believe we are taking the needed action to counter this existential threat, and so I find myself returning to themes of the environment and change over and over again. It’s not a comfortable influence, but it is an urgent one.


Animated Drawings for a Glacier, photographic documentation of projection on ice, 2018

Prince William Sound, watercolor on paper, 22x15", 2019


What time of day do you typically create your art? What is the lighting like in your studio?

I create at all times! In general, I prefer to paint during the day and use the sun’s natural light, as watercolors can look so different depending on the lighting. I also have a “daylight combo” lamp, which has both a 28W Daylight tube and a 100W incandescent non-Daylight bulb. When I turn them both on together, it mimics natural light pretty well. When I’m making animations on my computer, I can work late into the night and don’t need anything but the glow of my computer screen.


What does your ideal studio lighting look like?

HUGE windows with natural light! And good overhead lighting.

San Francisco: from the Fairmont, watercolor on paper, 30x22", 2013


Can you tell us about your process of creating a watercolor painting? What is your favorite part of the process?

My watercolors begin long before I actually start painting them; sometimes years in advance. I am always looking, looking, as I move through the world, and take thousands of photographs of things that I find interesting. At some point, some of those scenes become a painting. When I finally start working, I spend a long time carefully drawing out the scene. I then erase most of that drawing: the act of drawing seals the space in my brain and I barely need the reference at that point. Then comes my favorite part, after so much preparation: the flow of painting. Watercolor is known as an unforgiving medium. You can only move in one direction: forward. In some ways, this is liberating, because you can’t worry, you can only just keep going. I am also a musician, and it reminds me of giving a live performance — you can’t stop and do it over, you just have to continue and incorporate any imperfections into the work. I especially like that I’m working with water, which has its own flow. Sometimes a section needs to dry, and there’s nothing to do but wait. Sometimes it makes a glorious mess and improves a painting in a way I could never anticipate. I enter a trance-like state when painting and time just falls away.


Sutro Tower, Shell Station, watercolor on paper, 15x10", 2017


What is your favorite way to display and illuminate your work?

That’s a great question; I’m not sure I have an answer — I need the advice of a lighting pro!


Which artist of the past would you most like to meet?

I would be curious to meet William Blake. He lived an unconventional life and seems like such a wild, crazy creative guy.


Animated Drawings for a Glacier, photographic documentation of projection on ice, 2018


What do you enjoy most about your local creative community?

In addition to participating in Chicago’s complex and diverse art world, I’m really lucky to play in a community orchestra called the Lakeview Orchestra. It’s very meaningful to operate on both a professional and amateur level simultaneously in two creative fields, because it helps me to remember the fun of being expressive without the stakes of a professional career.


Chicago: Moon over Lake Michigan, watercolor on paper, 15x11", 2019


You can find out more about Meredith and her work at meredithleich.com, meredithwatercolors.com, or on instagram @meredith_watercolors.


All images are courtesy of the artist. Please do not repost without proper credit.

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