Lindgren & Smith

Artistic Minds want to know....

An Interview with Aaron Leighton

Hi Aaron. Love your new book Spirit City Toronto. What inspired it?

The book was initially inspired by many walks and bike rides around Toronto. Being something of an “observation junkie”, I found myself drawn to the neglected and overgrown corners of the city. There is a certain sad beauty to these places, and I began to imagine what type of beings might inhabit them or, more accurately, might have inhabited them before humans came along and paved everything over. More technically, I suppose, it was a combination of my interest in folk mythology, environmental issues and urban photography, as well as an homage to the gorgeous animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, many of which feature narratives combining our “real” world with the spirit world, often with an environmental subtext.

I’m currently reprinting the book with my publisher, Koyama Press (, and will be doing a blog posting when the new copies are ready to go. For now, some of the images are posted at my site here (

Could you tell us more about your art and design background and what made you become an artist and designer?

I attended the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary in the early 1990’s, and have been working as an illustrator since 1995. I studied both design and illustration in school and was doing both for the first few years of my career, but I found that I enjoyed drawing pictures more than laying out typography. With that said, I think studying both disciplines was extremely useful, seeing as learning about design fundamentals gave me that many more tools to use with my illustration. As far as why I pursued commercial art as a career, I’ve simply always loved to draw and could not really imagine myself doing anything else.

Your work is quite unique. Can you tell us where your inspiration comes from?

When it comes to inspiration, I certainly draw from multiple wells. On the artistic front, my obsession with line and color began with the discovery of guys like Picasso, Miro and Klee, along with more contemporary artists such as Rauschenberg, Haring and Basquiat. Tribal / indigenous artwork also had a strong impact on me in regards to not only the possibilities of how form could be simplified and stylized, but also how art objects could have an additional, metaphysical or magical significance to them, an idea I find fascinating. I’m a big fan of cartoons as well, particularly the Simpsons and Ren & Stimpy. Cartoons taught me how to combine drawings and humor.

What hardware and software are you using?

My computer is a 24” iMac and my scanner (which broke last year and which I fixed with hot glue) is an Epson Perfection 3170 Photo. Regarding software, I use Illustrator and Photoshop CS3, but I still do all my drawings by hand. Digital technology is a very useful tool, but if I could work without a computer, I would.

How does your job as an artist and designer influence your life?

I would say that working as a freelance artist amplifies the regular influences in one’s life, both for good and ill. For example, it’s wonderful being your own boss, setting your own hours, working from home and being able to technically take time off whenever you like. On the other side, there are the super–short deadlines, the challenging clients, the weekends spent working and, most challenging, the inconsistent income. Personally, I try to internalize the old Buddhist saying that one must “bend like the reed and flow like the river”.

Do you feel that you see things around you differently?

Every single person on the planet sees the world in their own, unique way, so I guess I’d have to say “yes” by default. For me personally, true “seeing” is more about paying close attention all the time, conscious observation if you will, where sight becomes a continual spiritual experience.

Where would you like to be with your illustration 5 to 10 years from now?

Still doing it, at the very least! Ideally, I would like to keep doing interesting work in a variety of media, including more animation (and by that I mean collaboration with animators), which seems to be one of the primary directions our industry is heading. I’d like to start painting more as well, seeing as the tactile experience of making an object is a wonderful balance to the more cerebral process of using the computer.

to see more of Aaron Leighton's work, go to

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