Leith O’Malley is a versatile South Australian artist who works in both traditional and digital mediums. We were stopped in our tracks by his creative work with the Apple iPad! Leith’s passion for drawing was influenced by the artwork of Francisco Goya, Robert Crumb, Rick Griffin, Shaun Tan and some kid in school who drew Batman better than he did. Here, Leith shares the story behind his inspiration and offers tips on drawing and painting for digital artists.
How did your interest in art and design begin?
From an early age I simply loved to draw or make marks of some kind. I became aware that representing the world around me through drawing was something I not only loved and was intrigued by, but was also reasonably good at. In some ways I’m still trying to do that…make sense of the world through art. Unfortunately, for my mum, my interest in drawing began years before good quality wall cleaning products.
Where did most of your training and study happen?
I studied art in secondary college in South Australia and was fortunate enough to receive guidance and encouragement by teachers who were passionate about art. Later, I attended several art tutoring workshops and eventually more professional art workshops focusing on mixed media and painting. Funnily enough, these days I occasionally facilitate art workshops myself.
Where do you find most of your inspiration?
Music and photography are a rich source of inspiration for me for the most part, although day to day happenstance also presents moments which I store away as thumbnail drawings in one of several moleskine sketchbooks. Alternatively, I log things in a note app on my phone. I manage to channel so many interesting ideas and thoughts through listening to music, podcasts, watching movies, documentaries, reading books and looking at the work of both past masters and contemporary artists and illustrators.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I don’t think too much about style but hopefully what I create has some semblance of myself within it, whether in a narrative sense or aesthetically. In short, I guess a lot of what I create is painterly and illustrative. For me, “style” is really just what has informed ones work up until any point…a combination of influences, choice of materials and hours of practice. Surprisingly, I paint on the digital platform much the same way I do using traditional media. The mark-making process from a drawing sense is relatively the same, and best of all, I don’t have to sharpen pencils or wash any brushes afterwards!
When did you start using your iPad as a way to create your art and why did you choose it in particular?
I purchased an iPad about 12 months ago and was pleasantly surprised with how far drawing and painting apps had come. I have been using traditional media (painting) for years and had been creating art and design work on a computer via the Wacom drawing tablet.
I’ve always been interested in working with different mediums and saw the portability of tablets as advantageous and something that might lead my art-making toward an interesting direction. There are many great tablets on the market, mind you. My choice of iPad was mainly due to a desire for syncopation between the devices I had already (iMac and iPhone), and also because I’d been enjoying messing around in a painting app on my iPhone at the time, called “Brushes.” At that stage it was only available on the Apple system, so that’s another reason why I chose to go with the iPad.
What’s your workflow and setup like?
I usually start with little pencil sketches on real paper. I’ll use either photographic resource or something from my own imagination quite loosely drawn in charcoal or pencil. This is scanned into the computer and from there I’ll export it to either the iPad or work on it directly on the computer in Adobe Photoshop or a program called Corel Painter. I use a drawing stylus with a Wacom tablet and also one of two styli on the iPad.
There are resolution limitations with some tablet art app programs so my choice depends on what form the final artwork will take (either print or web based). I have a resizing program on my Mac workstation that helps overcome any sizing issues for print, but you can only push the pixels so far.
Sometimes I will work on a piece entirely on the iPad and then refine or edit it further on my main computer, whilst other times I will go back and forth. I also like to experiment with different photographic editing effects upon completion but am cautious about overdoing such things.
Do you use anything to mount your iPad as you’re creating?
I have both a wooden easel-like support along with a folding leather cover which both serve a purpose. However, I see some advantages in using a better support system for certain situations, particularly when I use my camera as well.
Do you have any favorite apps or programs that you use to create your art?
I’ve tried many different digital drawing and painting apps and currently favor both “Procreate” and a painting application called “Brushes” on the iPad. Having said that, I also occasionally dabble in “ArtRage” and quite like the natural media brushes in an app called “Sketch Club.” Everything is fine-tuned along the way through the image editing program “Snapseed” and I have a growing collection of photographic effects apps that I like to try out on certain images.
Do you have any industry role models?
There are many artists I aspire to but it’s quite a rotating hit list. In fact I keep a growing collection of images from my favorite artists on my computer to help inspire me. That said, I like a lot of what David Kassan is doing at present. He is an artist who seems quite comfortable pushing his use of electronic media (digital tablet art) whilst maintaining a traditional arts practice (fine art portraiture in oils). Kassan and others like him strengthen a personal view I have on art. I believe the medium used shouldn’t dictate the value of a piece of art, and I remain open to exploring many different mediums and media.
What is it about his style that inspires you?
The artists, writers or photographers I am inspired by usually portray a human element within their work as well as a strong emotional context. With regard to visual art I love seeing the “bones” or history in peoples’ work, so anything that leaves behind traces of pencil or charcoal beneath the painted surface or features interesting brushwork always draws me in. When smart context and artistic flair intersect there is always something powerful going on and it’s these elements that inspire me to want to pick up a traditional brush or a digital stylus.