September 30, 2023


How Art Works

Judith Leeds – Capturing The Particular person Behind The Pose

13 min read

Persons are fascinating! And they’re certainly one of my favorite topics to color. So once I discover an artist who appears to dig in and specific an individual’s essence, I listen! One such artist is Judith Leeds. 

I got here throughout Judy’s work various years in the past and wrote about two items of hers once I was producing my Month-to-month Roundups. You possibly can learn what I wrote about The Poet and He’ll Make Me Stunning (a portray that’s featured beneath). 

Once I approached Judith Leeds to write down a visitor weblog, I had no thought about her earlier life as a graphic designer, typographer, and illustrator of e book covers! Wait till you uncover one of many covers she created!!

I ought to be aware that Judy wasn’t certain whether or not she ought to embody information on her life as a e book cowl illustrator. I inspired her to take action as every little thing feeds into our art-making and that’s actually true right here. Judy shared lots about numerous cowl designs however as a result of I wished to get to her different artwork extra shortly, I edited a few of this historical past out. Because it’s fascinating, I nonetheless wished to incorporate it so that you’ll discover this a part of Judy’s life within the PS. part. 

Earlier than we go on, right here’s a sampling of Judy’s work:

Judith Leeds, "Seize the Day," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 18 x 22 in. The theme for this painting is never give up no matter what your circumstances. First, I painted this woman in a wheelchair but decided to put her in a scene to tell a story. I pieced this picture together using sketches and photos. Not wanting the background to compete with the woman, I kept it muted. I must have wiped off that background at least five times. That’s the real asset of Mi-Teintes. “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” – a quote from the old Timex commercials.
Judith Leeds, “Seize the Day,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 18 x 22 in. The theme for this portray is rarely surrender it doesn’t matter what your circumstances. First, I painted this girl in a wheelchair however determined to place her in a scene to inform a narrative. I pieced this image collectively utilizing sketches and pictures. Not wanting the background to compete with the lady, I saved it muted. I should have wiped off that background at the very least 5 instances. That’s the true asset of Mi-Teintes. “It takes a licking and retains on ticking,” – a quote from the outdated Timex commercials.

Earlier than I hand you over to Judith Leeds, right here’s a brief bio.

Bio for Judith Leeds

Judith Kazdym Leeds is an internationally acknowledged award-winning artist/graphic designer who created over 3,000 e book jackets. One in all these, The Color Purple, was included amongst “the 25 Most Iconic E book Covers in Historical past.” She now paints portraits, nonetheless lifes, and landscapes in each pastels and oils garnering quite a few honours. These embody awards from the Portrait Society of America, Pastel Journal’s PASTEL 100, attaining PSA Signature Standing and IAPS Grasp Circle standing. Judith teaches all through the USA, conducting demonstrations and workshops. In June 2024, on the IAPS Conference, she’ll be portray a portrait for his or her “Dueling Demo” presentation.  For extra info go to her website.

And now, right here’s Judy. Get pleasure from!!


Trying again on my creative historical past I spotted there was a particular connection in the way in which I approached creating e book covers and the way I now do my superb artwork. What I did then and do now’s attempt to mirror the underlying message/persona of my topic. 

In my early twenties, I obtained my first huge break in publishing once I was promoted to Senior Artwork Director at G.P. Putnam’s Sons Publishers and Coward McCann and Geoghegan. On the time, the president of the corporate informed me that not solely was I the primary girl Artwork Director for Putnam’s but in addition the primary feminine artwork director in Main Publishing. I need to say I used to be too younger and maybe too naive to understand the significance of such an accomplishment. 

In fact, being a girl, I used to be paid half of what the previous male artwork administrators had been paid. After a 12 months, I used to be informed I did a greater job than the earlier male artwork administrators but I solely obtained a small elevate, not equal to the earlier artwork administrators’ pay. That was the way in which it was on the time – girls didn’t get equal pay. This inequality exists at present however it’s much less overt. 

Ultimately, I went freelance and created covers for a lot of the main publishers within the US and all through the world. The books I labored on ran the gamut from novels to non-fiction. 

Even now, as a superb artist, I additionally wish to work on a variety of topics and customarily work on various totally different work directly. After I attain a sure level with one portray, I wish to take a break and transfer to a different one. Distance and time assist me see the failings in my work and it additionally helps me get again to my preliminary enthusiasm for a portray. I did the identical with my e book covers.

My most well-known e book cowl, The Shade Purple, was just lately chosen by Literary Hub as one of many 25 Most Iconic E book Covers in Historical past. That blew me away. Although it was not, for me, a breakthrough in design, it did seize the stark feeling of the novel. I did the illustration and a lot of the typography by hand as was regular for many of my covers.

Judith Leeds illustrator - The Color Purple
Judith Leeds illustrator – The Shade Purple

The Transition

After creating so many covers (over 3000), I used to be completely burnt out. I had hit a wall with my work and eventually determined to take a break. Getting Lyme illness gave me that further push. I discovered and actually consider, that generally, when dangerous issues occur to you, it’s actually meant to push you in a special course in your life and it seems to be for one of the best.  

Judith Leeds, He Will Heal You, pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 19 x 23 in. Here is my wonderful doctor who made it possible for me to paint and just live. A formal portrait would not capture him. It is a painting I did years ago and it won an award from The Portrait Society of America.
Judith Leeds, He Will Heal You, pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 19 x 23 in. Right here is my great physician who made it potential for me to color and simply reside. A proper portrait wouldn’t seize him. It’s a portray I did years in the past and it gained an award from The Portrait Society of America.

That transition was very arduous for me. While you do a canopy, you might be given a particular e book to work from which in fact limits what you are able to do. There are parameters and guidelines. 

While you start a portray, you might have a complete world from which to decide on, with no parameters, guidelines, or limits. Discovering what grabs you and what’s your individual private imaginative and prescient is, for my part, on the centre of being a real artist. It makes your work distinctive, simply as you might be.

My private imaginative and prescient took me various years to search out and it’s nonetheless evolving.   

Judith Leeds, "Fun," pastel on La Carte, 11 x 8 in
Judith Leeds, “Enjoyable,” pastel on La Carte, 11 x 8 in

I began off doing landscapes – operating round in tick-infested grasses dressed just like the Pillsbury dough boy to guard myself – feeling itchy, sweaty and depressing. Then I’d exit at night time with lights hooked up to my head or exit in freezing climate having my ft really feel like they’d fall off from the chilly. I lastly determined that this was not the place I belonged BUT I had much more respect for these hearty souls who enterprise exterior to color and create such great work. I’m in awe of them.

I ultimately found that once I took portrait lessons or simply sat at a espresso store and sketched individuals, I felt at house. I realised I’d discovered my glad place and my path. 

Judith Leeds, "Jackie" begins
Judith Leeds, “Jackie” begins. For this portray, I began out with a charcoal sketch on salmon color paper.
Judith Leeds, "Jackie" step 2
Judith Leeds, “Jackie” step 2.
Judith Leeds, Jackie, pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 13 x 10 in. Sold
Judith Leeds, “Jackie,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 13 x 10 in. Bought. On this portray I wished to seize the woman’s innocence. I contrasted her truthful pores and skin, which had been reddened by the solar, in opposition to the cool background. This image obtained me many commissions to do work of kids. I needed to work from pictures as a result of children actually gained’t sit nonetheless.

Some artists, like Picasso, stylize their individuals, reflecting the artist’s ideally suited picture or perspective in the direction of “girls” or “males.”  What I really like is the individuality of everybody. We’re all like snowflakes, everyone seems to be totally different. These variations appeal to and excite me. 

Photorealism will not be my purpose as I usually need the viewer to see the hand of the artist in my work. My strategy is extra intuitive moderately than exactly deliberate out prematurely. That being mentioned, I generally do wind up making a extra photorealistic portray.  

My work evolve and alter as I work on them. Typically once I’m doing a portrait fee or simply have a mannequin sitting for me, my preliminary plan goes out the window: One thing concerning the topic takes over my portray. 

You possibly can see this transformation in my preliminary sketch for Man of the Streets and the completed piece. 

Judith Leeds, "Sketch for Man of the Streets," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 11 x 8 in. Sold
Judith Leeds, “Sketch for Man of the Streets,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 11 x 8 in. Bought
Judith Leeds, "Man of the Streets," pastels on Canson Mi-Teintes, 18 x 14 in.
Judith Leeds, “Man of the Streets,” pastels on Canson Mi-Teintes, 18 x 14 in. I noticed this man on a southern metropolis avenue. His face fully drew me in so I gave him some cash and he allowed me to sketch him and take his image. I caught his squinting, grumpy look with my picture. Eyebrows additionally outline a persona. Have a look at them in your topic.      

For me, approach is just a device to speak my message.  It’s not an finish however solely a starting. I’m continuously experimenting and studying so I can have higher methods to speak and join with the viewer.  

Though Canson Mi-Teintes paper was, for a very long time, my go-to paper, I now usually use La Carte and different sanded and gessoed papers. I completely love, love, love the scratching sounds the pastel makes on these sanded papers. Then I additionally add scratches, smears, textures, and even fingerprints to my footage. I exploit my arms and fingernails to create edges and make traces. It’s no matter involves me in the mean time. As you’ll be able to think about I’m not my manicurist’s favorite shopper!!! 

Judith Leeds, “Southern Gentleman,” the beginning
Judith Leeds, “Southern Gentleman,” subsequent stage
Judith Leeds, "Southern Gentleman," pastel on La Carte, 20 x 16 in.
Judith Leeds, “Southern Gentleman,” pastel on La Carte, 20 x 16 in. I had fun portray this because the mannequin is great and has such an expressive face. I wished to give attention to the face and arms so I put a lot of the color there. I so loved layering numerous acid greens and purples across the eyes to counsel a sure ageing and dissipation. I contrasted the sunshine pores and skin in opposition to the form of the darkish black hat. The jacket edges fade away with charcoal traces creating extra distinction and curiosity. The background has a refined change of colors which doesn’t present up nicely within the picture. 

With portraits/commissions, my purpose is to seize the persona and temper of my topic. I not solely intently observe them once they pose but in addition throughout their breaks. That’s once I see their actual persona and their temper. I speak to them and even feed them whereas taking many, many footage of my topic of their relaxed, glad, sad, meditative mode. Then you definitely see that little spark of their faces – that smile or frown reflecting what they’re feeling/considering. It’s who they’re. Later, after the mannequin is gone, I can add that little smile or meditative look that would solely be caught by the {photograph} as a result of an individual can’t maintain that pose for lengthy. 

Judith Leeds, "Peace Be With You, Shana," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes 11 x 14 in. Sold. This was a commission where I felt I captured the subject’s mood. I got her to relax with some food and conversation. Then I saw that little smile that defined her to her family.
Judith Leeds, “Peace Be With You, Shana,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes 11 x 14 in. Bought. This was a fee the place I felt I captured the topic’s temper. I obtained her to chill out with some meals and dialog. Then I noticed that little smile that outlined her to her household.

In my view, there are 5 necessary steps to a profitable portray

1. Your Topic/Message

What do you wish to say or give attention to? What first drew you to this topic? Was it the emotion of an individual’s face, the play of sunshine on the beard, and even the motion of the physique? 

Judith Leeds, "Dreams of Youth," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 18 x 24 in. I was walking through the lobby of an assisted living facility and saw this woman sleeping in a chair. The light on her grabbed me but it was also my feeling of her being in another world. I sat quietly and did a number of value sketches and colour notations. I worked over this composition many times in my studio and decided to subdue the background to have the focus just on the woman.
Judith Leeds, “Goals of Youth,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 18 x 24 in. I used to be strolling by way of the foyer of an assisted residing facility and noticed this girl sleeping in a chair. The sunshine on her grabbed me however it was additionally my feeling of her being in one other world. I sat quietly and did various worth sketches and color notations. I labored over this composition many instances in my studio and determined to subdue the background to have the main focus simply on the lady.
2. Composition

What’s the point of interest of your portray? To greatest work this out, do thumbnails to create an attention-grabbing breakup of area. Use diagonals, curves and so forth. to carry the viewer’s eye across the image so they’re directed to the primary focal point in your portray. Don’t let the viewer’s eye get caught in a single place.

Right here’s an ideal instance of how I handled Factors #1 and #2

Judith Leeds, "He'll Make Me Beautiful," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 12 x 17 in. I was so surprised by the different reactions to this piece. Women come to the Beauty Parlour, now called Salon, to “renovate” themselves, hoping to look beautiful, and certainly better. There’s a pathos when I look at their faces especially of older women. Some people thought this painting was funny and I was making fun of her. When I explained my intention to convey the hopes of women, my critics then understood.
Judith Leeds, “He’ll Make Me Stunning,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 12 x 17 in. I used to be so stunned by the totally different reactions to this piece. Ladies come to the Magnificence Parlour, now known as Salon, to “renovate” themselves, hoping to look stunning, and positively higher. There’s a pathos once I take a look at their faces particularly of older girls. Some individuals thought this portray was humorous and I used to be making enjoyable of her. Once I defined my intention to convey the hopes of girls, my critics then understood.

Once I began this image I struggled with discovering my focus and intent. At first I wished to give attention to the hair stylist. I liked his arms and their motion. However as usually occurs with me, one thing else took over the image – the lady’s face and her expression. I needed to make her the central level. The stylist’s nice arms have been nonetheless seen within the foreground however the remainder of him was mirrored within the mirror. 

For the composition, I repeated heat and funky colors all through to information your eye across the image. Different directional components such because the round motion of rollers, the diagonal of his arm main into her face, vertical and horizontal traces main up and round her head, all made this an image that saved the viewer’s eye transferring round.  

3. Values

Values do the true work and color will get the glory – an outdated saying. Do easy thumbnail sketches damaged down into three worth shapes of darkish, medium, and light-weight. Squint to see the values. 

Judith Leeds, "Tom," pastel on La Carte, 12 x 9 in. This wasn’t a planned picture. I was at a friend’s house and I saw Tom with his fantastic beard. It was dark when we left and the overhead light illuminated his head. I knew I had a painting.
Judith Leeds, “Tom,” pastel on La Carte, 12 x 9 in. This wasn’t a deliberate image. I used to be at a good friend’s home and I noticed Tom together with his implausible beard. It was darkish after we left and the overhead mild illuminated his head. I knew I had a portray.

The image is made up of quite simple shapes and values and contrasting areas of vibrant lights and darkish darks. Additionally, there are easy midtone values and shapes. All of those worth areas are composed of a number of totally different colors, evenly layered over each other so you’ll be able to see every color however all the colors are the identical worth. The daring strokes add curiosity and motion. I graded the darkish facet of his face into the background to create depth.   

4. A  Sturdy Drawing

I urge those that wish to develop into higher portrait painters to enhance their drawing skills. Take anatomy and drawing lessons. Then you definitely’ll know what’s going on within the face and physique.  From this data you’ll be able to practice your eye to know what is occurring beneath the pores and skin. Neglect about names like nostril, mouth, eyes. Have a look at the shapes created by the shadows and lights, each constructive and detrimental, inside and outdoors the pinnacle and determine. The connection between the shapes you see is of utmost significance. 

It’s very apparent once I see a portrait, even when an artist is stylizing it, whether or not the artist understands what’s going on with the anatomy of the particular person. Matisse stylized his figures however was a really competent draftsman. Work from information not ignorance. “Data is energy,” mentioned Sir Francis Bacon. 

Judith Leeds, "Coping," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 18 x 24 in.
Judith Leeds, “Coping,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 18 x 24 in.

That is of a good friend of mine who has a debilitating illness. His thoughts is so sharp and his arms nonetheless produce stunning work however his physique is weakening. I attempted to convey this with the colors in his face and arms = life. In his physique, the impartial greys = fading however nonetheless there. Not solely his face however the way in which he sat mirrored his feeling and situation. He not solely was coping however overcoming. As he posed, I sketched him and took many footage of him transferring throughout.  

Carry a sketchbook with you and draw, draw, draw. I’m continuously doodling wherever I’m going. As soon as my husband dragged me to a lecture by a monetary man. UGH!!!! Afterwards he mentioned he was so glad I took all these notes. However when he checked out my pad, he noticed all I had been doing was drawing the lecturer.

5. Color

One color scheme normally dominates an image enjoying off in opposition to its complementary sub-scheme. Layer your colors, one over the opposite to get pleasure. I echo my colors all through the image to create continuity and curiosity. 

Judith Leeds, "Girl with Head Scarf," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 24 x 14 in. Sold
Judith Leeds, “Lady with Head Scarf,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 24 x 14 in. Bought

Each portray I do now has in it some contact of a human being. As an illustration, my nonetheless lifes are about individuals’s quirks, particularly in relation to meals. 

Judith Leeds, "There Went My Diet," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 19 x 25 in.
Judith Leeds, “There Went My Food plan,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 19 x 25 in.

Or somebody’s quiet morning ritual.

Judith Leeds, "Early Breakfast," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 12 1/2 x 19 in.
Judith Leeds, “Early Breakfast,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 12 1/2 x 19 in.

Or somebody’s (my) desire to eat my energy moderately than drink them.

Judith Leeds, "Judy's Happy Hour," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 24 x 12 in.
Judith Leeds, “Judy’s Glad Hour,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 24 x 12 in.

Take a look at this development which reveals how my work evolve and alter as I work on them.

Judith Leeds, "Sunny, Runny Morning- sketch," pastel on La Carte, 6 x 6 in.
Judith Leeds, “Sunny, Runny Morning- sketch,” pastel on La Carte, 6 x 6 in.
Judith Leeds, "Sunny Runny Morning - Sketch 2," Pastel on La Carte, 14 x 14 in.
Judith Leeds, “Sunny Runny Morning – Sketch 2,” pastel on La Carte, 14 x 14 in.
Judith Leeds, "Sunny Runny Morning," pastel on La Carte, 14 x 14 in.
Judith Leeds, “Sunny Runny Morning,” pastel on La Carte, 14 x 14 in.

Trying again in your creative journey is a superb train. You see the place you have been, the place you at the moment are, and it offers you a glimpse of the place you wish to go.


Wow!! I hope you might be as blown away as I’m!! (And ensure to test the e book cowl samples beneath with Judy’s explanations about their improvement!). One of many issues I seen about Judy’s work is that lots of the items are achieved on Canson Mi-Teintes paper which I discover fairly darn superb!

You probably have questions or wish to share your ideas with Judy, please do depart them as a remark.

Till subsequent time,

~ Gail

PS. Right here’s the superb e book cowl life that Judith Leeds had earlier than she turned to creating her personal artwork!

My cowl for Eerie Bizarre And Depraved was my breakthrough as a e book cowl illustrator as a result of I actually experimented with the typography. I used to be honoured to have it chosen to be included in Print Journal’s The Graphic Revolution in America – Forty Years of Modern Typography 1940-1980. I contemplate this cowl to be my most memorable. It was, at the moment, a novel strategy to twist the sort in area and to place a tone/illustration inside the kind. Word that this was earlier than laptop artwork programmes like Photoshop. In subsequent covers, I used this strategy and even expanded on it as for The Bathroom.

One other instance of creating my kind design mirror the that means of the title is the bestselling e book, My Mother Myself. This design speaks to the reader saying, “You as a girl, are actually a mirrored image of your mom.” 

Individuals thought I had a crew of artists working for me as a result of my model for each cowl modified in line with what I felt was applicable for the e book. 

For instance, I used a bolder,  graphic design for a thriller like Headcase and a softer strategy for a love story like The Summer of ’42. Each have been my illustrations. The latter was among the many first covers I ever created. I made certain to have the sort readable and attention-grabbing on the spines as that was, and nonetheless is, usually the very first thing a purchaser sees. Authors would write or name to thank me, exclaiming how their books “set themselves other than the others on the shelf.” 

Once I obtained a manuscript for a novel, I at all times learn it from starting to finish. For nonfiction books, I’d learn sections of them simply to get the gist of the writer’s viewpoint.  

My purpose was to have every cowl mirror both what the writer was attempting to say or the sensation of the e book. I designed the typography to be an integral a part of the picture thus creating one natural unit. An instance was Stuffed Spuds. That is one cowl I had enjoyable doing. If the writer allowed it, I had the picture bleed onto the backbone, the again cowl and even the flaps. Then the entire cowl labored as one unit.

Family Linen is an instance of how I made the entire cowl into one unit visually. It gained various huge awards and is certainly one of my favourites. I drew the title by hand, transferred it in pencil onto the tablecloth, and had somebody embroider it proper onto the fabric. Then I had the entire set-up photographed. Sadly, within the remaining run of the quilt, the printer misplaced all the small print of the tablecloth together with espresso stains and little crumbs. 

Even now with my work, I attempt to make my signature an integral a part of the general design. I as soon as shipped a portrait to Houston and the client known as me up and mentioned, “You didn’t signal it!!!!”  I informed her to look on the shoulder of the person. She laughed and was glad.

Missing Persons and Improvising and Arranging on the Keyboard have been two covers that enabled me to develop into a member (I used to be informed, the primary girl) of the elite Kind Administrators Membership.

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