Monday, 21 November 2016

Influence Map - Getting to the Truth

Top Left: Ronald Searle. Top Middle: Gerald Scarfe. Top Right: Harry Clarke. Bottom Left: Mary Blair. Bottom Middle: Chris Riddell. Bottom Right: Ralph Steadman.

I find it difficult to tell the truth. I've been suspicious of truth as a concept since childhood. People lie. That is a thing. But despite that sureness, I'm not really sure what's made me lie. I do fear being boring. I do carry shame that my truth isn't palatable. I do have self doubt, that is like a guilt. Why is my true more true than your true? Does stating it invalidate yours? The yarn tying atoms together will surely start to unravel if I in some way indicate I don't fully support what you're saying or even if I don't try to make you feel good about it? This aspect is complex, but coloured brown and it results in a shit-eating grin. None of that explains the fantasy that I sometimes tell myself, other people, and that I sometimes wear like I believe it to be true.

It affects my work. It affects my writing in ways that are clearer and easier to pinpoint and define. But this week I had a revelation. I think it's the nature of living in denial that there are moments when the cardboard and paste set piece that you're kneeling at will 
dissolve. The revelation was that a lot of the artwork I've been making is fake.

The above image shows an "influence map" I made and shared on Instagram. It's just a meme, but in thinking about the artists that have influenced me, I've gained another kind of revelation.

One of the defining moments of my life was a horrendous interview I had whilst trying to apply for an illustration degree course. There are so many layers to it's horrendousness, that I can't start to list them all. But I was told by a university professor in the interview that the influences I named were old hat and obvious, and I'd need to think about contemporary artists in order to be of any relevance. Whilst this is true in one way, on the other hand my inspirations are real and dear, and dismissing them is kind of ignorant and rude. Anyway, I was in a state of hyper sensitivity and I completely internalised that, and it lead to first a total abandonment of image making, and then me trying to disguise my work, trying to teach myself a style that wasn't mine naturally. It's been a long job, and a waste of my time.

I don't blame the professor at all. My sensitivity to critique was like a jangling open nerve at that time. I shouldn't have been there. What's interesting and mad is the power other people can be allowed to have in our lives.

Just now, I'm placing the power elsewhere. At source. With Ronald Searle, Gerald Scarfe, Harry Clarke, Mary Blair, Chris Riddell, Ralph Steadman. And with their guidance I'm looking for the
 surrealism, gothic horror, reality, fantasy, dream, shadow, magic, politics, and rock and roll that I can make. And I'm going to be using ink. And maybe if I follow that influence map, I can start getting to my truth.

Monday, 22 August 2016


original digital illustration by amy leonard

Perfectly uniform like herringbone bricks, images repeatedly rise. A door. A key. A butterfly. Lips like roses. It 
occurs to me I don’t know what its name is.  
           'Psyche', a word sometimes lit by candles, surrounded by tigers eye and smelling of nag champa. A word that feels incorrect.
           I want to describe the place deeper than the sea, swelling with more stories then the records under the paw of the Great Sphinx. It’s opening is a secret somewhere on the body. Maybe.
           'Soul' a shape-shifting idea enduring, but in the mouths of nuns and gurus, it is a worse word. Even with deliberate dedication, and even in my dreams, the firmament lit by a spirit throwing lightening is unbelievable.
           A storm glass predicts the tea-leaf shape of clouds on the bone-china arch of the sky. An incandescent rock shreds the night with light, we wonder, but we know it is friction within the envelope of gases in the vault of heaven. A bolt from the blue is explainable.
           But the dead don’t speak. And it isn’t 'psychic'. It could be essence, crux, marrow, meat, nucleus. It could be a door. A key. A butterfly. Lips like roses. 

©Amy Leonard, 2016.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Sea, Sky and the Third Eye

More digital experiments built with stock photos and lines from my Wacom tablet. Pompously inspired by notions of the third-eye chakra and what that (might) mean to me.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Hunger Pangs

You might say "hunger pangs" because hunger hits dully but at once. You ache with hunger, it doesn't hurt, so much as it threatens. So many, many years pass, and you are irrelevant but in this dream I am reminded that I am hungry. My hunger has nothing to do with food. The ache is like a haunting and you are a poltergeist lifting me out of my bed, throwing the lamp across the room, staining the sheet. I suppose a life unlived makes it's presence known. I miss you. I still miss you. I missed you the same when your head was on my pillow.

When I wake up I remember there was a "you" in my dream, but now with the slow winter morning tiptoeing into the house, I can't remember who you are. I'm hungry.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016


February 2nd. Imbolc. A whisper of spring in a sprinkle of blossom. Perhaps the world is ending. February 9th. I turn 27. This is supposed to mean something and be marked in a celebratory fashion. I should make an assessment of my Life Goals and check the momentum of my Progress. Or get so pissed I forget the hugeness of the universe. Instead, I've bought myself an electric toothbrush because my teeth are showing their age. I don't like brushing my teeth. It reminds me that my body is perishing. Jeanette Winterson writes in The Powerbook: "Death will shatter me, but in love's service I have been shattered many times."

I can't remember my dream. It's lurking on the cusp of my recall, my brain is sieve-like, a mesh, my imagination is swirling river water and debris. My dream is the gold speck. I know the gold is there. It takes a sleight of mind. I flick between forgetting utterly and focusing with arrow flight determination. Thud. The arrow hits target. I remember.

The auditorium hums like a fly behind a curtain. Anticipation is spiking and shattering as the crowd rumbles, one mans' laugh booms and causes the rushing rise of talking to break. A black phone screen reflects a light and winks, I blink. A girls waist is so tiny I move through judgment to jealousy to desire - my friends are talking around me but I am deaf. Centrally on stage we can see there's no-one at the microphone. This sight reminds me that our hero is not coming to play to us. He's dead. No-one wants to remember. The crowd in the auditorium are asleep, though standing upright and vibrating with a conversations murmur.

I see a piece of paper folded, fallen to the floor. In it is written coded directions out of here. I follow them under the green exit light, into a dark alley where the street lamps barely reach. Back gates and passages intersect the alley, brambles and weeds reclaim fencing and failing stone. An air vent with a broken cage over it has been marked as a point of interest on my scribbled map. In the vent is a book. In the book is a shadow. In the shadow is darker writing. I can't shape it into sense, and my skin itches, my eyes sear red, asthma works like corset lacing constricting my lungs. But then you're here in the dark side street. You've got a leather jacket on, which looks ridiculous. I've never seen you in a leather jacket. But you work like an antihistamine and I am calm and laughing because you're a fool.

©Amy Leonard, 2016.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Swallows and Amazons

I didn't read Swallows and Amazons as a child, out of jealousy more than anything. I was landlocked apart from a few gurgling streams. I did manage to pick my way up a few of the watery pathways with the help of some wellies and a tall stick to hold onto. But there was no prospect of sailing, so an adventure like Swallows and Amazons seemed irrelevant to my experience, and also sick-making in it's torturous distance. Like, gimme that! I wrote it off as a book for posh boys.


I'm working my way through an Open University degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. This year is my final module and I chose Children's Literature which means I get to devour and analyse Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Tom's Midnight Garden, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Arthur Ransome's first Lake District book - among others.

Swallows and Amazons is a book for posh boys. But the little girl that lingers in me has loved the adventure on Wild Cat Island. It's a delicious thing to discover that I can enjoy the book now, reading as an adult with her own daughter, as a writer making plans, and as if the imaginary is real as it is in childhood so often. As if I am a child.

The Walker children move from the vivid reality of the mundane - packing of supplies, building the fire, boiling the kettle for hot tea - into the imaginative game where war is declared, pirate treasure is sought, land dwellers are handled carefully. They live their games with vivid reality. Ransome observes the minutiae. He offers meticulous descriptions. He also omits elements of experience that would make the book authentic. They don't dig out a latrine. The siblings never quarrel. There are only two scraped knees. It never occurs to John to fancy Nancy. Reading the book as an adult I suppose, and experiencing it as a nostalgic memory, I don't feel it suffers for these omissions. I think it's realistic as an impression in it's portrayal of the obsessive single-minded nature of children. Children focus on their imaginary life in a way that is unwavering, even if adult interference or rain or high winds cause a change of tack. They return to the game.

The children eat a lot of seed cake and bunloaf. I am like an obsessive child in that when I enter into an imaginary realm, reality has to reflect it. (As above, so below?) So when I sat down to read I boiled the kettle and had a slice of seed cake or bunloaf prepared.

Seed cake is made with carraway seeds and is a delicate yellow centered cake with a light aromatic, aniseed flavour.

I finished the top with demerara sugar for an awesome crunch. It caught a little on the edge there, but it did the job.

Bunloaf is a speciality of the Cumbria region where the Walker children sail. It's made with spices and tea. Too evocative not to be made.

Quite naturally, I ate it with butter and marmalade. If it was August and the weather fine, I might have put the tent up in the garden. Everyone seems to constantly harp on about - can I type it? - "living your dreams". It's a cliché. And it's hard to do. Through some self-consciousness or conditioning we tell ourselves it's childish and it's silly. We want things on a bigger scale, too. As adults we want to own Holly Howe, whereas as children a night in a tent is the pinnacle of longing. Well, I can't afford a houseboat like Captain Flint. But I can bake a cake. And it's like, for a few moments, the dream is real.