Artist of the Month: Leigh Gusterson

7 in Embudo (oil, 28×32) by Leigh Gusterson was a Landscape finalist in the 24th Annual Art Competition. Gusterson is our April 2008 Artist of the Month.

Residence: Taos, New Mexico


Career in art: I went to Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. I’ve been making art for a living since 1989 and have been painting full-time since 2000.

Mediums and genres: For the last 18 years, I’ve been working in oil, specifically painting in plein air around Taos. I was trained in the Hudson River School style. Since moving to New Mexico, My work has become much looser and bolder in color and brushstroke.

Inspiration for this painting: I’ve painted this location many times. The village of Embudo is just south of Taos, right inside a bend of the Rio Grande. The cottonwoods along the river are amazing in the fall. I didn’t see the sheep while painting this (they were actually llamas) but they seemed like a righteous addition.

Working process: Painting outdoors is a real thrill for me, to get out of the house and be in these gorgeous places. I paint very quickly, because the light changes so quickly.

I start on a toned canvas, washed over right there on location with red, orange, quin rose or quin violet. This way I don’t have to fight a white canvas and my first brushstroke already vibrates with color. I draw in the composition with a dark color, very loosely, and paint for about an hour. I’ll have a very loose, fresh, colorful impression of what I saw. Then I take the painting home and don’t touch it for two weeks. After that, I have a new appreciation of the image. I’m no longer comparing it to what I saw out there, and the painting gets a life and a strength of its own.

When I finally approach it in the studio, I often find myself automatically cleaning it up: smoothing brush strokes, filling in patches. But then I lose the vibrant freshness that I got outside, so I try to finish it without cleaning it up too much. I’ll spend weeks looking at the painting while I talk on the phone or do chores, putting a few brush strokes on and letting it sit again.

Why she creates art: Art has been an escape, and even a way to rebel—my parents weren’t thrilled that I wanted to pursue art. It’s always been a quiet but powerful means of expression for me. I have been teaching workshops in the last few years and have found that to be more and more rewarding. My art has been a vehicle for growth, healing and exploring my possibilities for relating to our world.

Edited by Grace Dobush, assistant editor of The Artist’s Magazine.


Artists of the Month are chosen from our Annual Competition entrants. To learn more, visit our competition page.

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