Loom to Canvas to Collage: One Artist’s Media Journey

Art Editor Kristin LaFollette interviews Featured Artist Leah Dockrill. View Dockrill’s portfolio here.

“Immediacy is the chief characteristic of watercolour. But that medium also has its limitations.”

-Leah Dockrill

I’m so glad we could feature this collage portfolio in #59 of Mud Season Review. Talk to us about this collage series. What inspired these collages, and how do you see the pieces working with and alongside each other?

My fascination with paper collage is a throwback to my childhood love of paper dolls. I would spend hours engrossed in my paper doll universe, oblivious to the activities of my peers. While they were riding bikes and roller-skating, I was directing the lives of my paper people. That’s just a small leap to creating collage. I’m still cutting paper and pasting things together, and making up stories with my anecdotal collages. I establish narratives on canvas, rather than with words.

Although I follow a similar process of construction, the portrait collages are different in substance. I select a central theme and then set about to build the image. The portraits, so far, are of women I know.  They’re similar enough, stylistically, that I feel they work as a cohesive portfolio. Within the portfolio is a sub-series: the “Awesome Jo: Renaissance Woman” series, which consists of the four pieces featured in Issue #59.

Mud Season Review was supportive of my work in February 2019, as well. My collage “Style Central” was the image published then. That piece was a satirical comment on the dictates of the fashion industry generally. It’s typical example of what I think of as my “anecdotal or narrative” collages.

These collages are so intricate and layered. What (paper) materials did you use? What was the process of creating the collages like?

Creating the portrait collages is an exciting and energizing process. I begin each one by drawing it in detail on canvas or wood panel—the same way I prepare for an image to be painted. Instead of paint, I use paper. The papers are generally a combination of fancy fine art papers imported through a commercial supplier; printed images gleaned from public domain image libraries; and papers printed from my own digital designs. For example, the costume in “Awesome Jo #2” is fashioned from my digital art, and printed out. The background is made of images mostly from vintage magazines.

Four of the collages are titled Awesome Jo. What does the title mean to you? What unifies these four collages?

“Awesome Jo” is a friend of mine. In the 1960’s, Jo was a high-fashion model who graced many international runways. Long retired from that career, she is a visual artist herself, with many diverse interests. I think of her as a renaissance woman – first because of her skills and knowledge in many areas. Also, because she joked that the collages, which depicted an earlier period of her life, were a kind of rebirth.

Over her modeling career she amassed a portfolio of photographs from various shoots. They are small black and white photographs. She generously allowed me to use them as references for the collages, knowing that I would take a lot of liberties. The costumes are of my own fabrication.

Your award-winning artwork has been exhibited widely in both Canada and the United States. Talk about some of your awards and exhibitions. Where can we find more of your work?

I’ve participated in many group shows in “bricks and mortar’ galleries, and I’ve had three solo shows in Toronto – two exclusively collage, and one show of acrylic paintings.  In addition, there are many opportunities to exhibit in online gallery competitions, and to submit work to art and literature publications. I’ve been fortunate over the years to have had a good deal of exposure for my artwork through these opportunities. More of my work, both collages and paintings, can be seen on my website www.leahdockrill.net  

Here are a few examples from recent years:

J. Mane Gallery, an online gallery, awarded me the Best in Show and Featured Artist designation, for the Watercolor Online Competition in January 2019. 

ArtAscent:Art & Literature Journal, gave me the Gold Artist Award in the August 2018, “Youth” theme issue, and the Bronze Artist Award, “Beauty” theme issue,  April 2019 ; as well as the Distinguished Artist Award, for “Portraiture” (also a collage portrait), January 2020; and another Distinguished Artist Award in June 2021 for a submission of Canna paintings, in the “Gardens” theme issue.

I earned a Crystal Award of Merit for “Awesome Jo #3” from Galleryring.org in July 2020.

Your website mentions that you find painting, collage, and digital art “equally engaging.” How did you become interested in each medium, and what do you find engaging about each?

My interest in the various art media evolved over many years. Before I took up painting, I wove tapestries on a four-harness floor loom. It was physically strenuous work, very unkind to the spine. Although the act of producing an image in yarn was satisfying, it took too long to see the finished piece. It’s difficult to view and check the progress because on that type of loom the weaver is continually winding the piece with each step. It must be unrolled and removed from the loom before it can be viewed properly. I wanted more immediacy with my picture-making. That’s why I began to explore watercolour. Immediacy is the chief characteristic of watercolour. However, that medium also has its limitations. 

I “upped” my game and moved on to acrylic paintings, working on larger and larger canvases and moving between landscapes and abstract imagery. Which I still do. Creating abstracts in paint led to an interest in creating digital art. It seemed a natural step to use digital media as a tool to explore further possibilities with abstract imagery. 

Developing images on the computer led to the obvious step of printing out my designs on paper. All of which led to the use of my designs as costumes for the collage women. This is rather an abbreviated explanation of how one thing was the catalyst for another stage in my artistic development. All the art I produce is simply my way of telling stories in visual images rather than words—the anecdotal collages to the portrait collages to a still life painting, etc.

Your website also mentions that you hold degrees in education, library science, and law. Tell us a bit about those educational experiences. How has your educational background impacted the work you do as an artist?

Art has been a part of my life for four decades. Yet my educational background has been rather diverse. All the while I was pursuing academia I was engaged in the visual arts. After I graduated from university with my Education degree, I taught high school English for six years. Then I studied Library Science, which led to an interest in legal research. I studied Law and pursued a career in legal research for a time. I can’t say that any of my academic studies or professional pursuits have had much to do with my career as a visual artist. I’d say that all my previous training might have shaped a kind of self-discipline—plus a reasonably broad world view, and an ability to think critically.

What is it like to be an artist creating in Toronto?

Being a visual artist in Toronto is enjoyable. Toronto (and surrounding area) is a  significant hub of creativity. There’s tremendous diversity, and a huge community of artists, art organizations, art groups, both structured and informal, art galleries and art museums. The exchange of ideas among peers is ongoing—daily if we so choose. 

This can greatly enhance one’s artistic development. It’s also psychologically beneficial.  Artists generally have worked in isolation, which can lead to weirdness. But happily that has changed dramatically with the development of social media, and the ease of online communication. What I say about the benefits of creating art in Toronto, now applies to any location in the world we might choose to live our artistic lives.

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