In our next "On the Couch" series we sat down with the passionate traveller, explorer and photographer Leah Flores. Her wild nature pictures complemented with motivational phrases have taken the internet by storm. Leah swapped her desk job in social services for an adventuresome life with a camera on the go. Photos of beaches, rainforests and forgotten roads highlighted with a quote will give you the itch to go out and seek a new experience. So massage some Tiger Balm on your calves and read on about Leah’s story.
You have a very interesting background with some of your family coming from Costa Rica and Scotland. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
I love that my family is from all over the globe and that I have had the opportunity to visit my relatives in both Costa Rica and Scotland. I believe that being connected to so many parts of the world helped instill a desire to travel and sense of wanderlust from a young age. My immediate family settled in the Pacific Northwest and I spent most of my time in Portland, Oregon. Portland is an amazing city that is full of natural beauty and such a creative energy.
You used to work in social services before you got into the ‘being a full time artist’ field. How was the transition and what convinced you to make the leap?
I have wanted to be an artist since I could remember, but did not believe that it was possible to earn a living from it. I am not even thirty yet, but I did grow up in a time before the Internet was in people’s homes. I recognize that I have grown up in a unique time in human history – when an artist can put their art into the universe with such ease. I earned my degree in Psychology and worked in the social services field while doodling and photographing as a hobby. One day I found a website where artists could upload their work and sell it online. I posted some of my designs for fun and over a few months I started making regular sales and the realization that I could maybe make a living as an artist set in. I loved my career in social work, but the arts were always my passion. I would come home from work every day and stay up working on my art business into the night. I kept working my ass off until I felt that the art income could support me quitting my ‘real’ job. It was a risk and things were tight for a looooong time, but it paid off in the end! It still amazes me that I get to do what I love – creating art!
What do you think is more important in a photograph, the content or the form?
This is a hard question to answer! I think it might be an impossible question actually – my head has already jumped between arguing for either side so many times. Both are necessary to making a beautiful image!
What stroke the idea to add quotes to your photos? Do you have a few fonts that you repeatedly use or you create something new for each photo?
I had been taking photos during my hikes and camping trips and used the pictures to make some wall art for my room. At that time, in the early 2000’s, it started to be a trend to type out a quote with Helvetica and to overlay it on a photo. I wanted to try it on my own photos, but the lettering never looked right. I decided to try handwriting the quotes to make them fit better into the scenery to make the quote look like it organically was woven into the environment, that it was meant to be there.
The quotes you use are very motivational and calling for adventures. Is that a self-motivation or you’re trying to push others to get out more and explore?
I originally started making my designs as self-motivation. Well, I suppose that they still are. It is amazing to see how art can connect so many people. My art can be found all over the world – it is humbling to see how it resonates with so many people!
What is your creative process like from inception until the final beauty? What tools and programs do you use?
I start making a new piece by going through my library of photos and finding an image that I feel inspired by. I then open the image in Lightroom and adjust the colors and exposure of the image. After I have edited the photograph I pull it into Photoshop and use my Wacom Cintiq (or I draw with Micron pens and paper) to try out different quotes and lettering styles. Occasionally I will also use Alien Skin Exposure to make additional tweaks.
You sometimes travel hundreds of miles to capture the perfect scenery, focusing on wild nature. Do you go for the whole thing with backpacking, camping and fire? Do you have some adventuresome story full of adrenaline to share?
I am fortunate to have grown up in the Pacific Northwest, a beautiful place to explore. I have been out camping, hiking, and wandering since I was a child. One of my favorite adventures was a road trip from Oregon to Colorado. I visited Arches, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Rockies and slept under the stars the entire way. I am not sure if I have any adrenaline-filled story – most of my adventures are just soaking in nature!
What is your favorite place you’ve visited so far and why?
One of my favorite places I have visited is Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica. It is a beautiful rainforest right on the beach and it is filled with sloths, monkeys, iguanas, and all sorts of creatures.
Your best selling design at caseable is "Let’s Run Away: Sandy Beach". Why do you think that is?
"Let’s Run Away" was one of my first designs and I created it out of a place of longing. I was stuck behind a desk and my thoughts were always away - exploring mountains, forests, and beaches. I think many people who connect with the print are coming from the same place, daydreaming about escape.
Is there something you regret or wish you’d have done differently in your artist career?
In the past few years I’ve learned that having a business degree would be immensely helpful! Being an independent artist, much of the work I do is reading over contracts.
Tell us something that might surprise our readers.
My mind is much more left-brained than right! I think more analytically than imaginatively. If I wasn’t an artist I would love to work in computer programming or something else in the math and sciences.