Carving Out Time for Art with Oriana Lewton-Leopold

This week’s feature is about Oriana Lewton-Leopold, an artist and new-ish mother in Portland, Oregon. I met Oriana on Instagram and have enjoyed getting to know more about how her art has changed after having her little girl. I’m  amazed at her dedication to her work, especially after taking care of a small child all day, and working in the evenings at a restaurant. It’s fascinating how many people with small children use watercolor (since it’s so convenient), and I like seeing how they use it so differently. I think that Oriana’s use of watercolor in her small works is so unique, lush, and explosive – and has a likeness to her oil paintings that is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing with us this week, Oriana!


Tell us about yourself. How old is your daughter? Where can we find you?

Hi! I’m Oriana Lewton-Leopold. I’m an artist living and working in Portland, Oregon. I got my BFA in mixed media from Hampshire College in 2003 and my MFA in Visual Studies from PNCA in 2012. I have two kids: my dog, Hux (7 yrs) and baby girl, Anouk (11 months)​. My husband, Nathaniel Price, is a chef, artist, fly fisherman, and fly tyer extraordinaire. By day I am home with the baby, sneaking bits of painting in while she naps, and in the evenings I work at a pizza place owned by my good friends called Dovevivi Pizza.

Photo by Gabi Lewton-Leopold

Has your approach to painting, your processes, medium, or your inspiration changed since having children?

My process has changed a lot since having Anouk, for very practical reasons. I have studio in our garage where for years I have worked with oils and acrylics, getting really wild and messy and working on big canvases. I used to spend hours and hours in there, the time just slipping away. Now I just don’t have time to get in there; we can’t afford childcare and I can only ask so much of my family; when Anouk was born in July, I had a show coming up in December, so my mom, dad and sister really helped out so that I could get into the studio. But it was a lot to ask, so now for the most part I work out of our dining room/office area. I work now mostly on paper, and much smaller than I used to. I feel good about it, though; I think it is always a good thing to challenge yourself with size, medium and subject matter. I’ve been working with watercolor and ink and acrylic gouache; things I can dip in and out of quickly, unlike oils. Also, my work previously was much more conceptually driven; I was thinking a lot about feminism, the objectification of women in pop culture/the lure of pop culture, women and performance, all kinds of things; I am still thinking about those things, but my work now is much more about looking at the formal details of line, color and shape; taking in the details of a flower, for example, and allowing myself to abstract on it. Perhaps I just don’t have the mental energy to delve into heavy subject matter at the moment, but I think I am still challenging myself, learning new techniques, and trying out new things.

COFTA-Oriana-Lewton-Leopold-3-prebaby by Mahalia Cohen
Studio pre-baby. Photo by Mahalia Cohen

Is it easy or difficult for you to find/make time to create? Did you have to give anything up? Do you have advice on what works for you?

Sometimes it is very difficult to find the time to create; to be honest, after a day of chasing around the baby and the dog and then serving pizza, all I want to do is sit down with a glass of wine and a TV show (and sometimes I do, and that’s ok!) For me it helps to have my paints and paper ready, so that if I get a brief half an hour during a nap, I can dive right in. Also, I have to keep telling myself that sometimes it is OK to work on some art instead of doing the dishes or folding laundry; as Virginia Woolf said, sometimes you have to “kill the angel in the house”; you can’t be the perfect housewife all the time! Sometimes art needs to come first!

COFTA-Oriana-Lewton-Leopold-9-Spring-FrenzyHow does being an artist make you a better mother to your children? What do you hope they take away from seeing you as an artist doing something that fulfills you? 

I think being an artist sets a good example for Anouk; I think it’s so important to have something you love, that is all yours; not your parents’, your mate’s, your friend’s…it makes you more independent and fulfilled. I hope she finds that thing she loves someday, whether it’s art or music or science or whatever else she dreams up!

COFTA-Oriana-Lewton-Leopold-11-CamelliaWhere do you paint or create? What are your favorite things about your workspace and what would you improve? Do you ever create art with your kids?

I paint at a table in the dining room/office, or at the kitchen table in our little breakfast nook; I wish I had more space, or could get out to the studio, but it’s just not practical right now; perhaps when Anouk starts school I’ll be able to get out there again. Anouk is too little now to do art with me, but soon, you bet!

Photo by Gabi Lewton-Leopold

Do you have any tips to streamline / delegate / outsource household and childcare activities so that you can focus more time on your art? Has your lifestyle changed in any major ways?

Like I said, “kill the angel in the house!” Also, we are practicing setting Anouk in her crib or pack n play with a few books, and she is getting more and more into it; perhaps in a bit, she’ll be able to entertain herself for little chunks of time and I could paint beside her while she does her thing in the pack n play. Also, I am going to start doing childcare trades with an artist friend of mine; a great option because neither of us can afford a sitter!

Do you have any big goals or dreams for your art that you’d like to share? What would be your dream project?

At some point I’d like to get big and messy again, just go nuts in the studio. It will happen, and when it does, all the built up energy will create something nuts!

Two Women

More about Oriana’s work:

Her larger original figurative paintings are available for sale through Blackfish Gallery in ​Portland, Oregon.

​The first three are part of a series looking at images from performances of The Crucible as well as professional figure skaters falling on the ice; I was interested in performance, grand gestures and emotions, the point where horror, joy and beauty coalesce. Also the way women are forced to perform in our culture, and how they can then manipulate that objectification and turn it into power.

Jouissance, acrylic on canvas,​ ​ 2014​,​ 34×40​ inches
Why do you come, yellow bird? acrylic on canvas, 2014​,​ 36×48​ inches​
Yellow Hush, 2014, acrylic on panel, 21 x 24 inches

The two oil paintings are part of a series where I was looking at paintings by Édouard Manet and photos of Rihanna and combining them on the canvas. I was playing with gesture and form, and seeing what happened when these two seemingly disparate subjects were combined on the canvas.

And when I love you close you can feel my heart beating through my clothes, 2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches
You don’t need another lover, don’t you let it go, I already got it covered, let the others know, 2013, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches

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