Apparently when I was two I started drawing little circles on paper, and I could do that for hours and hours… So all of my life I have enjoyed drawing. It was how I passed the time on long car rides and during classes and church services and any of those things…
Whitney Ledesma and I met in Sydney in 2009. I was studying music, she was studying painting. Almost six years later, we met again, on the opposite side of the world, catching up on each others’ journeys as artists, wives and dreamers.
Whitney in her studio
Whitney, who has just moved to Hampton, Virginia, has known from a young age that she wanted to make art her career.
I had a really wonderful art teacher who pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and also gave me the confidence to believe that art could be a viable future. So I started taking all the art classes I could in high school, and drawing and painting. And I decided that that’s what I loved most, and I didn’t really want to bother with the rest of the subjects!
It was some time during high school that I really decided, I suppose, to be a painter. It was something that I just enjoyed doing all my life, so I thought ‘if I can do what I love, then that’s ideal’.
Coming from an academically accomplished family (her father worked on his a PhD and her mother has a Masters Degree), Whitney never felt pushed down that path by her family:
I feel like I’m really privileged because, for one thing, my parents always had the attitude that I was a gift to them from God, and that I wasn’t theirs to own or to live vicariously through. So, though my dad was a physicist, and my mum more Maths and Psychology, they were very accepting of what each of me and my siblings wanted to do and pursue.
But also, my grandfather was an accomplished artist (my mum’s father) and my grandmother also… but she died when my mom was 24, so I never met her. But I did meet my grandfather, and I got to see his success as an artist, because he had retrospective shows and I got to go to some gallery openings up in Maine when I was a child. So I think that was very inspiring and formative. And I did see that, even in my own lineage, there was the possibility of making a living as an artist.
My mum used to tell me stories from when she was growing up, of when my family really didn’t have much in the bank account that month or week, they would actually go out to eat at restaurants, because my grandfather had bartered paintings for so many meals for his family at a restaurant! So I realised that it wasn’t always as lucrative as it was in his old age. But it took a lot of time to build up as a career.
One of the questions I always get asked as a song writer is “how do you write a song?”, or “what comes first – the melody/lyrics/chord progression?”. I had never heard a painter really explain the process that it takes to create a piece of art, but Whitney shared her own process and the time that she has to invest before she even puts any paint on the canvas.
Usually there’s something that sparks my interest in some way, whether it’s a concept that seems to be just coming up in conversation, or in media, or in my mind regularly, or something that I feel like I have learned and feel that I really want to share. So often, it can be something like a new understanding of scripture or some idea of identity of gender roles, something that I feel relates to the human experience but is also something that I can really deeply relate to. And then I tend to gather a lot of info and try to immerse myself in that idea, and almost do a research stage… if it’s going to be any good!
So often I would jump into paintings previously, but that didn’t work out well because I hadn’t problem solved at all, so now I’m learning to have a process of sketches, and refine those sketches, and refine the idea so that I can move away from my first impression and more cliché ideas to something more nuanced and honest. And then I just paint it and see where it takes me.
In the world of instant – photography, downloads, communication and even food – the art of investing time into an idea and allowing it to develop is becoming rarer and rarer. Whitney is an artist that still values, and sees the benefits of, lengthening her artistic process and the preparation time that she invests into her work.
I think with most of the arts, even relationships, it’s very easy today to be a fast consumer, and try to listen to short sound bites, or meet people for ten-minute coffees because you lead an oh-so-busy life. But then you only get a very small glimpse of the reality of something or someone.
So I think when you’re willing to sit down and spend a couple of hours talking to someone and looking into their eyes, or when you’re willing to read a full novel or develop an art idea over time, and let yourself dwell in it a little bit, and go through the process of sketches and research and ideas, then you come out with a much fuller understanding of what it is you’re doing. You also have this body of skill and of experience that you bring to something that isn’t going to be present in a quick glimpse of something, or something that you snapped quickly or sketched in a moment.
And even the way that the colours come together and the forms emerge and become more sophisticated… I appreciate the increase in level of nuance and sophistication that can come with years of experience and with development of work intentionally. I think it’s a much richer experience for both the maker and the viewer if both will take the time.
Which is partially why I’m personally not as drawn to the primitive styles of artwork. I can appreciate in some ways the really basic abstract, or the “five lines on a page” but I feel like that there’s a lot that can be gained when something is more interpreted and a lot more fully realised and developed.
As we sat eating frozen yoghurt, or drinking coffee, discussed music and life and futures, the thing that I valued most about spending time with Whitney is that she is a deep person. She feels deeply, experiences all forms of art deeply, listens to music intently, analyses creatively, thinks philosophically, dreams purposefully. Even as she shared her opinions on my music, I was surprised on all that she had picked up on – lyrically, musically, vocally.
And I think what Whitney sums up is an artist’s deep soul. Someone who longs to use the gifts they have been given to express their revelations, to inspire others, to offer a connection between souls where words fail.
I think seeing the look on people’s faces, hearing their comments and even knowing the fact that people have bought my paintings because it stirs something in them means a lot to me, because it shows me that there is something there at least; there is some validity to what I do and some hope of it actually making a difference of.
It’s a funny thing trying to live a creative life, and both of you know that of course. I feel that it’s a matter of being grounded in who you are, and that it’s necessary to embrace yourself and embrace your own worth in order to be able to give anything.
That has probably been a big progression for me, and is something that I would want to share with younger artists or emerging artists, be they 15 or 70: Art is an integral part of who you are but that it doesn’t make who you are, doesn’t define who you are. And when you know that you’re connected to your Creator, and that you have meaning and purpose outside of what you do, but that He can speak through you, then I think it’s a really powerful thing. Because it frees you from a lot of the self-doubt that can be associated with art, and a lot of the striving and grasping and frustration… not that there isn’t frustration still! But it’s a much more lively and fun process, or just less inhibited, than if I’m trying to prove myself to the world through art.
Whitney’s work can be seen at www.facebook.com/WhitneyLedesmaArt