Judith Leeds – Capturing The Particular person Behind The Pose

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 may learn what I wrote about The Poet and He’ll Make Me Lovely (a portray that’s featured under). 

Once I approached Judith Leeds to write down a visitor weblog, I had no concept 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 word 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 part feeds into our art-making and that’s definitely true right here. Judy shared rather a lot about varied cowl designs however as a result of I needed to get to her different artwork extra rapidly, I edited a few of this historical past out. Because it’s fascinating, I nonetheless needed 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 hand over it doesn’t matter what your circumstances. First, I painted this lady 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 girl, I stored it muted. I should have wiped off that background no less than 5 occasions. That’s the true asset of Mi-Teintes. “It takes a licking and retains on ticking,” – a quote from the previous 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 every of these, The Color Purple, was included amongst “the 25 Most Iconic Ebook 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 data go to her website.

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


Trying again on my creative historical past I noticed there was a particular connection in the best way I approached creating e-book covers and the way I now do my high quality artwork. What I did then and do now’s attempt to mirror the underlying message/character of my topic. 

In my early twenties, I bought my first large 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 advised me that not solely was I the primary lady 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 appreciate the significance of such an accomplishment. 

After all, being a lady, I used to be paid half of what the previous male artwork administrators had been paid. After a 12 months, I used to be advised I did a greater job than the earlier male artwork administrators but I solely bought a small elevate, not equal to the earlier artwork administrators’ pay. That was the best way it was on the time – girls didn’t get equal pay. This inequality exists at the moment nevertheless it’s much less overt. 

Ultimately, I went freelance and created covers for many 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 high quality artist, I additionally wish to work on a variety of topics and usually 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 Colour Purple, was lately chosen by Literary Hub as one of many 25 Most Iconic Ebook 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 many of the typography by hand as was typical for many of my covers.

Judith Leeds illustrator - The Color Purple
Judith Leeds illustrator – The Colour 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 at last determined to take a break. Getting Lyme illness gave me that further push. I discovered and actually consider, that typically, when unhealthy issues occur to you, it’s actually meant to push you in a special route 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 doable 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 received an award from The Portrait Society of America.

That transition was very onerous for me. If you do a canopy, you’re given a selected e-book to work from which after all limits what you are able to do. There are parameters and guidelines. 

If you start a portray, you may have a complete world from which to decide on, with no parameters, guidelines, or limits. Discovering what grabs you and what’s your personal private imaginative and prescient is, in my view, on the centre of being a real artist. It makes your work distinctive, simply as you’re.

My private imaginative and prescient took me various years to seek 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 evening with lights connected to my head or exit in freezing climate having my ft really feel like they might 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 folks, I felt at dwelling. I realised I’d discovered my completely satisfied 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. Offered. On this portray I needed to seize the woman’s innocence. I contrasted her honest pores and skin, which had been reddened by the solar, towards the cool background. This image bought me many commissions to do work of kids. I needed to work from pictures as a result of children actually received’t sit nonetheless.

Some artists, like Picasso, stylize their folks, reflecting the artist’s splendid picture or angle 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 entice and excite me. 

Photorealism just isn’t my intention as I usually need the viewer to see the hand of the artist in my work. My strategy is extra intuitive reasonably than exactly deliberate out prematurely. That being mentioned, I typically do wind up making a extra photorealistic portray.  

My work evolve and alter as I work on them. Usually 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 may see this variation 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. Offered
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 utterly 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 character. Have a look at them in your topic.      

For me, approach is just a instrument to speak my message.  It’s not an finish however solely a starting. I’m always 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 palms and fingernails to create edges and make strains. It’s no matter involves me in the meanwhile. As you may 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 needed to concentrate on the face and palms so I put many of the color there. I so loved layering varied acid greens and purples across the eyes to recommend a sure getting older and dissipation. I contrasted the sunshine pores and skin towards the form of the darkish black hat. The jacket edges fade away with charcoal strains creating extra distinction and curiosity. The background has a refined change of colors which doesn’t present up effectively within the picture. 

With portraits/commissions, my intention is to seize the character 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 character and their temper. I speak to them and even feed them whereas taking many, many footage of my topic of their relaxed, completely satisfied, 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. Offered. This was a fee the place I felt I captured the topic’s temper. I bought 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 concentrate on? 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 via the foyer of an assisted dwelling facility and noticed this lady sleeping in a chair. The sunshine on her grabbed me nevertheless 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 occasions in my studio and determined to subdue the background to have the main target simply on the girl.
2. Composition

What’s the point of interest of your portray? To finest work this out, do thumbnails to create an attention-grabbing breakup of house. 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 Lovely,” 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 lovely, and positively higher. There’s a pathos once I have a look at their faces particularly of older girls. Some folks thought this portray was humorous and I used to be making enjoyable of her. Once I defined my intention to convey the hopes of ladies, my critics then understood.

Once I began this image I struggled with discovering my focus and intent. At first I needed to concentrate on the hair stylist. I beloved his palms and their motion. However as usually occurs with me, one thing else took over the image – the girl’s face and her expression. I needed to make her the central level. The stylist’s nice palms had 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 parts such because the round motion of rollers, the diagonal of his arm main into her face, vertical and horizontal strains main up and round her head, all made this an image that stored the viewer’s eye shifting round.  

3. Values

Values do the true work and color will get the glory – an previous saying. Do easy thumbnail sketches damaged down into three worth shapes of darkish, medium, and lightweight. 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 buddy’s home and I noticed Tom together with his implausible beard. It was darkish once 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 brilliant 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 may see every color however all the colors are the identical worth. The daring strokes add curiosity and motion. I graded the darkish aspect of his face into the background to create depth.   

4. A  Robust Drawing

I urge those that wish to change into higher portrait painters to enhance their drawing talents. Take anatomy and drawing lessons. Then you definitely’ll know what’s going on within the face and physique.  From this data you may 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 optimistic and destructive, inside and out of doors the top 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 individual. Matisse stylized his figures however was a really competent draftsman. Work from information not ignorance. “Information 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 buddy of mine who has a debilitating illness. His thoughts is so sharp and his palms nonetheless produce lovely work however his physique is weakening. I attempted to convey this with the colors in his face and palms = life. In his physique, the impartial greys = fading however nonetheless there. Not solely his face however the best way 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 shifting throughout.  

Carry a sketchbook with you and draw, draw, draw. I’m always 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 completely satisfied 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 taking part in off towards 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. Offered

Each portray I do now has in it some contact of a human being. As an example, my nonetheless lifes are about folks’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 Eating regimen,” 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 reasonably 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 an excellent train. You see the place you had been, the place you are actually, and it offers you a glimpse of the place you wish to go.


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

If in case you 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 Revolutionary Typography 1940-1980. I contemplate this cowl to be my most memorable. It was, at the moment, a singular strategy to twist the kind in house and to place a tone/illustration throughout the kind. Notice that this was earlier than pc 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 lady, are actually a mirrored image of your mom.” 

Individuals thought I had a crew of artists working for me as a result of my fashion for each cowl modified in keeping with what I felt was acceptable 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 had been my illustrations. The latter was among the many first covers I ever created. I made certain to have the kind readable and crowd pleasing 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 creator’s standpoint.  

My intention was to have every cowl mirror both what the creator 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 received various large 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 closing run of the duvet, the printer misplaced all the main points 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 customer known as me up and mentioned, “You didn’t signal it!!!!”  I advised her to look on the shoulder of the person. She laughed and was completely satisfied.

Missing Persons and Improvising and Arranging on the Keyboardhttps://amzn.to/3P2EYAN had been two covers that enabled me to change into a member (I used to be advised, the primary lady) of the elite Kind Administrators Membership.