November 6, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #89: Leah Tinari

Today I'm talking to Leah Tinari about her author debut Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts. There are many books coming out in these trying times about women who have paved or are paving the way for future generations, but the visual aesthetic of this one had me hooked from the cover. And wait until you read about how labor-intensive these portraits were to make (paralleling the hard work of the women actually featured in the book). Come learn about some marginalized female voices with me. 


About the book:
Fine artist Leah Tinari’s stunning, spellbinding portraits honor the groundbreaking achievements and indelible impact of twenty-four extraordinary American women. These women’s dreams were without boundaries; their accomplishments limitless in their reach and lasting power.

Tinari’s list is comprised of trailblazers, whose vision, grit, and guts paved the way not only for the generations to come, but for Tinari’s own artistic journey. These women include Louisa May Alcott, Rachel Carson, Julia Child, Shirley Chisholm, Ellen Degeneres, Ray Eames, Eve Ensler, Carrie Fisher, Dian Fossey, Aretha Franklin, Betsey Johnson, Carol Kaye, Yuri Kochiyama, Liz Lambert, Lozen, Shirley Muldowney, Tracey Norman, Annie Oakley, Georgia O’Keefe, Dolly Parton, Kimberly Pierce, Gilda Radner, Sojourner Truth, and Abby Wambach.

Their contributions to the arts, education, science, politics, civil rights, fashion, design, technology, and sports are enduring and noteworthy. Courage, perseverance, brilliance, and passion were the guiding, groundbreaking principles for these diverse women who span the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.

Let's talk Leah Tinari!


LTPB: It sounds like there were two main factors in creating this book: a project for your son and the passing of a childhood idol. Can you talk about those?

LT: Yes there were two factors in creating Limitless. I actually started out researching and making portraits of all the US Presidents for my son Mars. He became very interested in the presidents and had many questions. We began looking for a visual of the presidents with some facts etc... I really did not like the aesthetic of everything I saw out there. I decided I would paint all of the presidents for him. After painting 44 men I was frustrated. Soon after I finished the president project, I heard the news that Carrie Fisher had passed away. Her death really struck me: she was a childhood and adulthood idol of mine, and I felt so sad. I wanted to celebrate her, so I decided to make her portrait. It felt really good to paint a women—a complicated, a self-made women. So then the next morning I woke up and painted another idol of mine, Louisa May Alcott, and this is how it went, everyday a new female portrait and this is how Limitless was made.


LTPB: What surprised you the most as you were putting this book together? How did this project evolve as you dug further and researched influential women? How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style?

LT: In this book-making process I think I was surprised at how hard it was for me to edit the women down to who would actually be printed in the book. They are so many incredible women I wanted to celebrate. As I researched, I would stumble upon other amazing women and would add them the list. The list truly is limitless. The research that I did quite literally became part of the portrait. I hand stenciled all the text so it was all handmade just like the portraits. 




LTPB: That leads pretty well into my next question! Can you talk a little bit about how you created the custom fonts in this book?

LT: The custom font that I made for Limitless was made from using old school stencils, and boy was that time consuming, having to pick up the stencil for every letter to create every word to create every sentence. However, I wanted the labor intensity of the way I was making the book to be a true testament to how these women live their lives: they worked damn hard and struggled and persevered, so this was my small challenge and way of honoring them with many hand cramps and cursing myself, lol.


LTPB: Why did you choose a “graffiti” style illustration, and how did you create the images? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

LT: I'm not sure if my style is a graffiti style per say, it just happens to be the way I paint portraits. My work has always been stylized, but it’s not something that I am conscious about, it’s just how my brain sees things and records them. It's like it has a “Leah filter” on them, kind of like on Instagram. 


The medium I used is gouache on paper, and yes, I absolutely love working in gouache, it is so velvety, it is my medium of choice. I think the process for me is always organic and ever-changing, otherwise we wouldn’t evolve as artists. But I always believe that the “Leah filter” is applied, no matter what, it can’t be helped.


LTPB: What are you working on now? 

LT: I am working on my second book with Simon & Schuster (you know that project I had mentioned in the beginning with a lot of men, lol). Yes, yes we are making a book about the US Presidents. 

LTPB: If you were to write your picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

LT: If I were to write my picture book autobiography who would illustrate it? HMMMM, holy moly that is a hard question... Can I give you top four? Alice Neel, David Hockney, Raymond Pettibon, or Ralph Steadman because they are all so bold and expressive, and I love the way they render portraits. They are all geniuses!

A huge thanks to Leah for taking time to answers some questions! Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts publishes TODAY from Aladdin!

Special thanks to Leah and Aladdin for use of these images!




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