Le’Ana is an artist, mother of two, and an entrepreneur. She received her BFA in drawing, photography, and painting from Eastern Michigan University in 1999. She spent the next five years attracting collectors, entering shows and building a budding business. In 2004 her first child was born, she stopped making art to raise her children. During the next ten years while raising a family she continued to find small ways to be creative and keep exploring new materials, taking online art and business classes.
In 2017 Le’Ana, freshly divorced and a single parent, realized this was the time to create the life as an independent artist she had always imagined. 2017 became her most prolific year to date, creating 20 new paintings and her own website. Le’Ana is an Anishinaabe / Ojibwe / Chippewa, an enrolled member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the upper peninsula of Michigan. She was recently honored as an emerging artist in the 2018 April edition of the Western Art Collector Magazine.
Carrie: When did you first realize the importance of art in your life?
Right around second or third grade, volunteer parents would come in with posters from the library and give a mini art history lesson about the artist and art medium. This is where I remember developing my love for art and art history. I knew then I wanted to become an artist when I grew up.
While I pursued art classes all throughout my youth, I wasn’t a very focused student or serious about my art practice. To be honest, it wasn’t until college that I realized I needed to take a leap of faith and switch my major from interior design to fine art. This was in my junior year of school no less. I remember this commitment left me feeling very vulnerable, excited and scared.
Carrie: How would you describe your art?
Currently, my art is focused on preserving Native American culture, reframing indigenous identity and way of life. I primarily paint in oil on canvas. My imagery is bold and brightly colored portraits of indigenous figures usually wearing traditional regalia. The figures are often seen dancing, singing, and praying.
My Native American culture and classic artistic training intercept on the canvas to illustrated tribal symbolism and the exploration of traditional and contemporary Indian identity. I continue to evolve and refine my art every day in my home studio near Chicago.
Carrie: What does your workspace look like?
My workspace is in is a two-story home that has an open floor plan flooded with light. However, my studio is in a small room in our basement, which is also the coldest, darkest, farthest room in our house. While the basement is finished, it never gets above sixty-five degrees, it’s this cold year round. I have a tiny single pane window that faces north and sits directly under our enclosed deck, honestly it’s not very useful. I wear lots of layers year-round to deal with the cold.
To get ready for work I throw on my “work clothes” which consist of tattered slippers that my dog thought was a chew toy. I have a well-loved paint apron that I top with my outdated, frumpy, paint cardigan that has 20 years of paint on it. (I just can’t let it go!) Next, I turn on my space heater, overhead lights, and three lamps. It may not be the ideal space but it works, my commute is great, and everything I need is in one space. Other than that I paint on a wooden floor easel with a table filled with my paints and palette. I have a flat file and some storage for wet and dry canvases.
Carrie: Can you describe your artistic process to readers? For example, do you follow the same pattern and track when you develop an artwork from idea to product?
My artistic process is quite involved and takes many stages. It has taken me years to figure out what works for me at this season in my life. I get inspiration by traveling to Native American tribal gatherings, whether in urban areas or on the reservations. I take hundreds of images on my camera, and then I will prune out the images that won’t make it to the canvas. This process can take hours to find the right reference image that I connect with most, both visually and emotionally.
The five stages of my painting process are very similar to the five stages of a relationship. The romantic stage is where everything is exciting, new and romantic. I have inspiration, fresh canvas, and newly mixed colors. I am “in love”. What could go wrong?
Sadly, this stage ends when the power struggle stage begins. As an artist, this shows up when I start to struggle with color, composition or execution. All the flaws seem to show themselves, one after another. This is the make it or break it time. Problems need to be solved here in order to move forward, I might have to repaint an area of the canvas 8 or 10 times to solve a particular problem.
The stability stage is when I have gone out of my comfort zone and accepted what I can change and what I cannot change. The thrill of love returns with a deeper more mature form of love. This stage teaches me that I won’t solve every issue or struggle.
The fourth stage is the commitment stage, where I accept the shortcomings of the painting and myself. At this stage, I can sometimes become overconfident and think most of my work is done. While in reality, this is just the next level of growth and refining.
The final stage is the completion stage, or the gifts of wisdom. I can see how and where the painting process matured me. I acknowledge I am not here to have the perfect, evolved or enlightened art practice. The lesson is processing over perfectionism. It is important to be really honest, authentic, and to be here in this ever-evolving state of humanness. This is also where I share my art with the world, I share my love with the world. In life and art learning to share our gifts with one another, we can live our best lives.
Carrie: What do you hope viewers take from your artwork?
Art is an emotional experience not only for the viewer but for the artist. My hope is to encourage people to find ways to observe and honor beautiful indigenous cultures, celebrate our uniqueness and our way of life.
When people see my art, I want them to connect to the moment in time I have illustrated, to feel as though they are right there. Art is supposed to evoke emotions, questions, new perspectives, and to be shared. I hope to help people feel inspired to explore and express their own creative sides.
Carrie: What do you wish you knew that you now know about your creative process?
I wish I had known the creative process is an ever-evolving and sometimes elusive process, that will never be mastered. Know that making mistakes over and over and over is the creative process. I had perfection paralysis for many years, which took a beating on my confidence and the ability to push through the tough times of being a creative person.
If I could, I would tell my younger self to make art even when no one is looking. I would stop comparing myself to other artists, women and other entrepreneurs. I would also tell my younger self to do my own work and that my artistic voice and style will eventually come. There is value in being vulnerable as a creative and in the act of making art. Above all else, I would tell myself to make more art.
Carrie: What strategies do you use to help yourself when you feel “stuck?”
I have felt stuck many many times as an artist. It can be a difficult and lonely feeling. Changing up mediums and materials is a great way to get out of the“stuckness.” In college I began, as a charcoal and pastel artist, working in an abstract style. Some years after college, I decided to change to oil after painting only in acrylic. It took a good four years to feel confident as an oil painter.
When I feel stuck I really feel it’s time to get out of my dark basement studio and get a new perspective. I will set up and sketch people sitting doing ordinary things. I create little challenges for myself. For instance, sketch only in ink (means no erasing), setting time limits Limits (say 3-5 minute). This helps me make lots of mistakes and learn quickly how to improve the quality of the mark. This technique helps me get out of my head and just get into the moment of creating in a loose and fun way.
Carrie: What has been one hurdle you’ve overcome as a creative and how did you navigate that problem?
For years, I believed I couldn’t make a living as an artist. I stopped creating and hid all of my paintings and art supplies in the basement. It was far too painful to create. I didn’t know how to be an artist while playing the role as a new mom and caregiver. I had lost my creative voice, it left me feeling alone, frustrated, and depressed. I tried to fill this create void by being an over achieving homemaker and supportive wife. It distracted me, but I craved something more.
As many other artists, I am a natural introvert and art school didn’t prepare me for being a successful entrepreneur and marketing myself on the internet. I decided It was time to take matters into my own hands. I had to educate myself and learn how to be an independent artist and mom.
I am no longer scared off by the idea of failure, and I am not longer paralyzed by fear. Every day I take action–inching closer to goals and dreams of building a successful art business. Finding the reason why I made my art was the biggest “ah-ha” moment for me. It has helped me find my voice, get clearer on my core principles and be honest with myself.
I decided I needed to commit to expressing myself, my voice and my art. The first thing I changed was making regular studio hours and showing up every day in my cold dark basement studio, whether I was feeling creative or not. I started taking mixed media classes online to just get myself out of my perfection head. I gave myself permission to fail, to be vulnerable, to play and to have fun. This allowed me to make ugly art without reservation–so good for the soul.
I’ve learned to step back and recognize my patterns to make it easier for me to create or be in the creative zone. I’ve learned that I need lots and lots of alone time to be creative. I‘ve learned I am a better mother when I am making art and using my gifts every day.
Carrie: How do you know when an artwork is finished?
This is a tough one to answer. I’d have to say a painting never is really finished. For me it feels more resolved. With each painting, I try to be present with my emotions and feelings, hopefully adding that energy into my brushstrokes.
Throughout the painting process, I am constantly checking the elements and principles of design such as rhythm/movement, value, color, pattern, perspective, and proportion. When I feel that I have resolved most of the design challenges and techniques, this is usually my stopping point.
Each painting teaches me something new and helps me evolve and refine my style and technique. Each painting also teaches me what more I need to learn and apply to the next painting, this is why I love being an artist.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
I would have to say making the mental and emotional space to create is the creative resource I can’t live without. Ideally, I need to get enough sleep the night before, exercise in the morning and eat something healthy before I head to my studio. If I am able to this, then I have a clearer head and I am ready to work. The most valuable resource is making the space for creativity in our busy lives.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I am inspired by these talented Contemporary Indigenous artists: Christi Belcourt, Kevin Red Star, Ben Pease, John Isaiah Pepion, and Wendy Red Star, just to name a few. I am inspired by all the strong,resilient women in my family and community. I am inspired by watching other independent artists and entrepreneurs build the life they dreamed of, because it makes me believe I can do it, too.
Carrie: What does the word artist mean to you?
Artist has two meanings for me. The first is someone who is talented or creative and uses art to express themselves. The second meaning is someone who is a professional artist making a living as an artist and entrepreneur.
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Wonderful interview, Carrie! I enjoyed reading about Le’ Ana’s work and especially like what she said about the creative process.
Mel I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Thanks for reading!