By Mikaela Delos Santos, Publishing Editor
Katie Lois Leahul is a Calgary-based painter, showcasing contemporary cubism through acrylic mediums on canvas. The self-taught artist is inspired by natural landscapes which are adapted into her own unique geometric style. Our team got to know Leahul by talking about her career and her journey in the industry of fine arts.
The Reflector: For this issue, our theme is careers. And [we] thought maybe [we] can try to find a way to connect the two arts and careers… [We felt like] there’s so much misconception around the field of arts and how you have to be a poor artist, you have to suffer for your art. And [we] don’t think that’s necessarily true…
KLL: Hundred per cent!
The Reflector: So that’s why [we] wanted to talk to artists like you… tell [us] a little bit about how you started and how you got into art to begin with.
KLL: I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. Because it’s really kind of more like a life story. I think for creatives, people who are really in the arts… but I think that it’s malleable, in terms of how you view it, but I’ve been doing art forever… I think we’re all creative. I think it’s built within us. I have two little boys and it’s quite amazing to see these little minds and how creativity really just exists within everyone. But to take [a] career in it is a different kind of love about it, I think that I never set out to have a career in the arts ever… I grew up in an era where it was way too risky… You couldn’t have a career in it.
KLL: But I got started in my version of arts when I decided to change my major to marketing because that is what I felt was the closest to being in the arts. So that’s kind of how it started… I didn’t want to do what I had originally gotten into school for. And I realized very well a year or two years in that I was like, ‘this isn’t for me.’ And I think the best advice I’d received at that time was, I think 70 per cent of the time anyway, [many] students change their major before they complete it, and I was like, well, that gives me permission to change.
KLL: That put me on this trajectory of following my intuition. And then it wasn’t until 2016 that I really started not taking an arts career seriously but just taking my creativity seriously, and I started to paint in 2016 more deeply and by asking questions, and working with mentors. I ended up getting my first gallery in 2019. It’s a really wild story, but I think it wasn’t necessarily that I believed that I could be fully in the arts as a career in general. So, there’s a major perspective change that I had to have.
The Reflector: And you said you’re self-taught and then you had your own gallery within three years of starting. Would you say you were always creative?
KLL: I was always creative, [at a] very young age, [and I] loved it. It was something that just brought me peace and relaxation… it’s probably different for different people, but it’s the flow—is what people call it for artists often. It’s transporting, so it was an escape. Always forever, I would just paint but I never thought I could have a career in it. I didn’t even take a single art class in university. Not one. Because I really think at the time I was just like ‘no, you can’t have a career in that’ … But I think what happened in 2016 is I realized I needed creativity in my life just in general. So I created it. And it wasn’t with intention or it wasn’t with expectation, career wise. I got a lot of advice along the way and I chose to follow it.
The Reflector: For someone who’s in that point in their life where they don’t think that they can have a career in arts but they want to, what piece of advice would you give them after knowing everything that you’ve been taught?
KLL: Well if you really want it, it will happen. But I think the challenge that I’ve learned is that it doesn’t always happen when you want it to happen. So patience is key. And authenticity, really learning to express yourself truly as who you are, but also jumping through fear is key. You’ve got to be brave, but you’ve also got to be realistic. And remember that failures are good.
KLL: We talked about art as a career, I wrote it out because I was just like ‘I need to think about what has my career been’… one, two, three, four, five, six, careers. All of them brought me here. I used to work in a gallery for a period of time and the woman who found the gallery, she said ‘I’m not creative, but I am a creative.’ She said, ‘I’m not an artist, but I love creativity’. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a really good way to put it.’ I think it’s all within us.
The Reflector: You could go and do art therapy or dance therapy… It’s such a huge field.
KLL: Yeah, there’s ways you can bring it in and in different ways. I’m at a point now in my life where I’m doing art so I paint, I have a studio in my garage. I also run a business so I do marketing consulting as well. But I choose my clients very carefully. I’ve really set some big fences around who we’ll bring on and what my capacity is. I guess it has been helpful to really understand that so that I can do both but I think I’ve learned that I actually need both.Sometimes it doesn’t always come in full time or the way that you expect so I think it’s being open because the arts industry changes so fast, just like marketing. And if you’re open to what comes—you’re not super set on the vision that you have—then you can create whatever you want. Have bits and pieces in the way that you want.
The Reflector: What are maybe two to three pieces of advice or even one piece of advice that you still remember and you still hold dear today?
KLL: Just try. Stay curious and fail and fail and fail. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do next. So risk? Take it.