Leo Quiles is a writer, illustrator and animator. He received a Masters of Fine Arts in Illustration from the University of Hartford’s Hartford Art School; he studied Illustration at Parsons School of Design, and received a Bachelor in Arts from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Leo divides his time between being part-time faculty at his alma mater MCLA and writing and illustrating a middle-grade graphic novel. His foray into children’s literature is predicated on 20 years of animation work in the visual effects industry ranging from stop-motion animation to computer-generated visualization. Leo has taught at Bennington College in Vermont, New York State’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s iEAR program as well as the Graduate School of Architecture at Washington University at St Louis. He lives in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts with his wife, their two children and their puppy Roxy.
Define your current place in the art world
My place in the art world is as an illustrator. I love animation and have been working in the vfx industry for years, but my greatest passion is for narrative art. I was fortunate in grad school to have a professor who meticulously charted the lineage of teacher-to-student relationships, starting from us and going back through folks like Howard Pyle, Thomas Eakins and Jean Leon Gerome and it was a watershed moment for me. I had finally found my place, my tribe in a continuum of narrative artists. Recently, like over the last 4-5 years, my work has been moving towards comics and presently I’m writing and illustrating a middle-grade graphic novel.
What’s a ‘job’ look like for you these days? Are there reasons you might work with one brand or client and not another?
My day is divided up between working in my studio and teaching. I am part-time faculty in the Fine and Performing Arts Department at a local state college in North Adams, MA in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. My courses cover foundation drawing, comics, animation, and digital arts. My studio work is mostly digital work-for-hire and then there is the graphic novel project. It’s currently in a revision phase while my literary agent and I are preparing for a second round of submissions.
What influence does your environment (city, office etc) have on your art and style?
I’ve always lived in major metropolitan centers. I was born in Brooklyn, NY, lived in DC for my middle school years and the Bay Area for high school. Inner city life helped to form my identity. I was a product of the 80s. I listened to hip-hop, I read comic books and I hung out with skaters. Now, as an old guy with a family and a dog, I love the country life. I love New England. Its quiet and slow and beautiful but my work still draws upon those experiences growing up, whether skating or graff or hip-hop. It’s still what interests me and though I don’t bomb anymore or freestyle with my boys it’s those subcultures that still inform my work.
Do you know any kid lit editors looking for graphic novels?
Who or what influences your art?
My work is influenced most by the work itself and the practice of art-making. I love the process of exploration and making images that capture a moment or inspire a feeling or ignite a thought in the viewer. There are tons of artists that I’m inspired by, past and present, but the greatest influences come through introspection and through a process of refining my voice through my art. I’m also influenced by my feelings towards social justice, which may be what attracted me to hip-hop or to skating. My art gives agency to that need in me to resist oppression and discrimination. I like art that is inclusive and subversive. The kinds that make you want to pump your fist, but also those that speak the truth. I’m influenced by authenticity.
What is your creative process like?
I draw primarily in a sketchbook. I almost always have a sketchbook and a set of pencils with me. I draw with a blue lead pencil holder. This is when I do most of my exploration. I use drawing as a way of thinking. I don’t always know where I’m going and I let the drawing process navigate the idea. Once I have a sketch that works, I will either continue to build the drawing with ink or color pencils and watercolor or I will bring it into ProCreate and clean it up there with the iPad Pro and Apple pencil. If I need photo reference, it’s usually at this point where I’ll take a photo to help support my drawing, for details like the way a shadow falls or how cloth folds in a sleeve. When the drawing is complete, I will then transfer that to watercolor paper or illustration board and finish the artwork in gouache or ink and watercolor depending on the style. I am still attracted to the materiality of the painting mediums. I love all the great digital tools and I use them often, but in the end I like to unplug and have that intimate connection with the physical properties of paper, paint and brushes.
Art is a big world with lots of hurdles.
Was there a defining moment you felt you ‘broke through’?
I’ve been doing this art hustle for a long time. Making your work and making a living in the creative arts, at least for me, has always been a constant hustle. I’ve always had multiple irons in the fires while following the money. I made a conscious decision early in my adult life not to go corporate and the alternative has been a hard road to hoe, but it’s also been extremely rewarding and I wouldn’t change a thing.
If there were a ‘break through’ moment, it would have to be now. I’m at a time in my life where all my creative paths have converged into this place where I’m making the work I’ve wanted to make for a long time, either in animation or children’s literature or narrative illustration or as an educator. And each of these facets of my life is seeing their respective levels of success and it feels wonderful.