I am very excited to introduce you all to Jess Leitmanis today. Contributor of illustrative radness to Kali surf bikini designs (and good mate of one of Salt Gypsy`s earliest major inspirations, Kelly Clarkson), Jess` creative talent and energy translates from paper to ocean and back again as each influence the other….
You are now a freelancing, creative salt gypsy living back in Australia after a surf sabbatical in Indo. How was Indo? Yes, after months in the tropics, I hurled myself back into 12 degree water. Victorian winters are long, so it’s a relief to jump on a metal bird and dash across the Timor Sea. My favourite thing is walking off the plane and being slammed in the face by intense heat and the ghosts of clove cigarettes…it just reeks of nostalgia. I set up camp so everything I needed was in arms reach (waves/art paper/internet/phone coverage/and fruit). Staying on the beaten track enabled me to spend more time on creative work, and freelance to keep the gado-gado funds in good order.
And the waves? The waves were fun, albeit crowded. Inevitably, greed lured me into an encounter with the reef, so that meant mandatory art time. Between surfs, I met Project Clean Uluwatu, and have begun some occasional pro-bono graphic work for them. It makes me happy to see people like them taking initiative to create positive change. The work is pivitol for community awareness, and crucial for the health of the beach. It really resonates with me.
Having worked at surf companies, Quiksilver/Roxy, how has that developed your artistic practice and art career? Quiksilver, from its inception, has always been a very art based company, so as far as companies go, the emphasis is heavy on art and graphics. The culture is conducive to refining one’s visual language. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some inspired individuals throughout my career. People who have been extremely giving of their knowledge, and people who have guided and challenged me. In the commercial world you’re not precious about ideas. You really approach design from a more objective and collaborative base. Things are workshopped and remedied. There are certainly positives to creating collaboratively…more brains working together makes sense. The world in general could do with more of that. In contrast, as an artist I often go trough this creative process internally, sometimes intuitively, but it’s a singular interpretation, an individual realisation of a concept. There are definitely parallels in thought process, and I think having worked in a creative and visual arena has complimented and enhanced my artistic expression. However, full time work is seriously demanding of time and creative energy. As a freelance I allow myself more time to focus on my own creative endeavours.
You also collaborated with our super-awesome Kiwi friend Kelly (Clarkson) Murphy, and her surf bikini label, Kali. How did the collab come about and what’s it like to see your illustrations being worn in the surf? She is super-awesome isn’t she! Kelly and I met in Torquay when working for opposing surf giants…we shared a house with some rad legends. The house went on adventures, and was full of creativity and scheming. We had both had our fill of deadlines. Kelly said, ‘I’m going to Mexico’. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll meet you there’. The re-occuring dilemma during hammock time, second to world politics, was bikinis that would ‘stay on’. Kelly decided to solve the second issue first. In the heavy heat of the day, swinging in a battered hammock, Kelly dreamed up Kali. It was fitting that I was the artist to kick off the first range, and interpret our adventures in print. Yeah, I still get a little inside smile every time I see any of my work float or stroll by. I think it’s just because I know the journey it’s been on to get there… The idea from which it grew, and the wearer is oblivious. It’s a bit like when you find the best treasure at an op shop, and you wonder what it`s story is, but I get to know the story.
Have any upcoming exhibitons we neet to holler about?At the moment I’m working on a yet-to-be-seen project, called ‘Future Sands’. It is an extension of my ‘Consumer in the Modern World’ Series, which deals with notion of choice in an often confused and clouded reality. ‘Future Sands’ is a projection of this choice. It explores how we as individuals choose to interact with the reality that surrounds us, and how this in turn shapes our reality. I’m really excited about it. There are going to be some really large pieces in there, and also sculptures made from ocean ravaged polystyrene. I’m looking into spaces that could host it. Though it may not see light until Easter or mid-next year. I currently have some original works and prints available at Tigerfish in Torquay, Australia.
You’ve recently launched Dirty Socks and Forgotten Butterflies. Can you tell us more about this…Yes, ‘Dirty Socks and Forgotten Butterflies’ makes me laugh. Firstly, it’s moving cartoons (or hobo animation). More specifically, Dirty Socks is where I comment on disparity and disharmony…particularly politics, legislation, environment and social ills. It’s really about encouraging dialogue. These topics are important to how we interact with each other, and the world. Through humour I want to connect with people, and perhaps encourage us to be open to thinking about things a little differently. I didn’t want it to be all negative, so I mixed in some Forgotten Butterflies. It is slowly evolving. The associated instagram account offers these cartoons with a particularly obscure sound track, to amplify the weirdness, and highlight the contrary nature of information. It is so much fun.
We recently completed our surf survival training with Joe from One Ocean International based on your recommendation! As a longtime surfer, what did you take away from participating in the course? From a one day course, the extent of what I gained, mentally and physically was immense, but can be simplified as awareness and ability through knowledge and experience. Joe is an old friend, a competent and experienced waterman. I’d recently worked with him on his logo, and I knew he had some valuable info up his sleeve. Interestingly, prior, I wasn’t jumping up and down to do the course. Afterwards however, I’ll tell you it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. The two contradictory reasons for my secret initial apprehension were both fearlessness and fear. I never worried much about being held down by waves. I, like every surfer, must have at least one experience when they were pretty happy to get to the surface and breathe good old oxygen. But I was nonchalant and thought, if I’m okay with being held down in these given waves, I don’t know what else I’ll need to know. I was unaware of how drastically I could improve my breath holds. On the other side of the coin, through the shattering loss of a friend a few years prior, I found myself rattled by the reality of shallow water blackouts. I don’t really dive, I tag-along snorkelling, maybe wear a weight belt…but this unknown aspect plagued my mind and had affected much desire to challenge myself underwater. I guessed this was due to my lack of understanding, but had been reluctant to address it. The One Ocean course destroyed this fear. Joe educates with a break down of anatomical theory, and then assists you through practical experience and understanding. The course provides you with techniques and guidelines to be a safer and more self aware water person. It gave me a fuel gauge, and the comfort to exercise abilities I didn’t know I had. On completion, I couldn’t shut up about it, and still wish everyone I know can do the course. It was invaluable.
Your favourite surf spot:My favourite is when elements combine to arrive at a given place…Good company (2-3 amigos), sun, chubby rain, rainbows, contrast, colours, offshores, hard work, detective work, hoots, laughter, silliness, dolphins, whales, coconuts, gado-gado, tlayudas, smiles, turtles, chai, pies, handstands, good sand, less travelled roads. They’re the memorable ones. Mexico was pretty amazing though, and you don’t have to punch reef. But Winkipop has my heart.
Your top 10 surf travel items:
Medi-Honey – it’s my new found thing, add it to your first aid kit, perfect for injury prone people like me.
Sarong – everything in one – towel/dress/sun umbrella/turns my towel into a pillow (when the available ones are funky eww).
Zinc & Natural sunscreen
Long Skirt, Long Pants, Long Top – important for cultural differences in attire, sun, mozzies.
Board sock and squashable fabric bag with zipper – for day transit
Sketch book, ink, & koh-i-noor watercolour disc
Cards – for the inevitable downtime
Digital SLR Camera
Boards go without saying, right!
Words you live by…
Light breeds light. Dark feeds dark. Let that govern your thoughts and actions.
Listen.Learn.Pause.Dance.Dream.Do handstands.Read books.Be crazy.Be humble.Take risks.Love.