Q&A with Gordon Leverton, Artist

I draw and paint buildings with pastel on paper. I walk around factory sites, alleys and run-down neighbourhoods with my camera, take pictures of buildings or doorways, walls and so on, then draw an image partially based on the photo.

August 22 nd 2008

Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, "The Questions" in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.

Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?

Gordon Leverton: I draw and paint buildings with pastel on paper. I walk around factory sites, alleys and run-down neighbourhoods with my camera, take pictures of buildings or doorways, walls and so on, then draw an image partially based on the photo. Mainly I use my imagination to come up with the colours and stuff.

Comment: What first drew you to this work?

GL: I've always had an interest in architecture and drafting. When I started to draw in earnest, I was attracted to the fact that you could be as precise or loose as you desired when drawing a building. It allowed me equals parts discipline and freedom.

Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?

GL: Initially, I was focused on reproducing a subject as realistically as possible, whether from a photo or from life. Although that period was an important phase of my development as an artist and observer, I believe to make a mark as an artist you have to move past that point and experiment. Basically, it's about going outside your comfort zone.

Comment: What is the best advice you've ever been given?

GL: It would be hard to pick just one bit of advice. From a technical point of view, when I learned to "draw from the body," in other words to draw not just with your hand but with your whole arm and body, it vastly improved the quality of my sketch work. This I learned from a fellow artist in a life-drawing studio course. Several artists have encouraged me to plan my paintings, through rough sketches, colour swatches and so forth. That advice was equally important.

Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?

GL: I draw inspiration from all over. It may be a book I'm reading about urban planning or a documentary on fair trade. I love art history, so there's an obvious pool of resources that never runs dry. Often I will go for walks in my neighbourhood with my toddler in tow and I'll just enjoy the buzz of the city around me. Likewise, I enjoy feeding off the work of the artists I know and meet.


Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?

GL: My workday is chaos. As the primary caregiver for my two children, I have to balance my career with the schedules of their busy lives. I have a routine throughout the week where I know I can complete certain tasks or let other tasks wait. A visual artist's work life is not just consumed with creating art, unfortunately. There are myriad, mundane jobs like website maintenance, matting and framing, driving around to deliver art or to get supplies, updating and mailing portfolios . . . each day has its own challenges.

Comment: What are your favorite tools?

GL: Undoubtedly, my favourite tool is my Logan mat cutter. For economy, I do the entire picture framing process myself and I've found this device to be a real time saver. Next would be my four wheel trolley which is now being held together my duct tape. I've added several years to my back thanks to this little helper.

Noon Day Sun

Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.

GL: I took part in an art exhibition of industrial-inspired art at an historical boiler house and worked very closely with the curator. Seeing this old industrial factory could house an incredible array of modern art was so inspired, it opened my mind up to other possibilities.

Comment: How do you plan your work?

GL: I probably don't plan my work as much as most artists. My ideal has always been to be as prolific as possible, learning from doing. My first impression is usually quite close to what I want so I will take more time at the end of the process to fine-tune the things that need tweaking. However, composition is paramount to me, so I do spend a considerable amount of time at the beginning of a piece to play with the composition until it's right.


Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?

GL: Being an artist colours an artist's whole life, not just the time spent in studio. My work has allowed me to see new places, meet interesting people and allow a lifestyle of relative freedom that I wouldn't be able to enjoy otherwise. I'm very thankful for that.

Topics: Arts Cities

When not outside looking for inspiration in back alleys, old factory grounds and industrial spaces, Gord Leverton finds time to pursue his art career and enjoy family life. A self-taught artist, Gordon's previous incarnations—as picture framer, writer, retailer and entrepreneur—have helped form his direction in art and his fascination for urban decay and architectural design. Born in Chatham, Ontario, his formative years spent in the rural southwest farm belt gives him a different perspective than many on the state of cities and their legacy.