Our Featured Visual Artist: Leisha-Marie Riddel of Toronto

EDITOR: Every month, EFNIKS features a new artist in the title art of each section of the website. In addition to featuring their work, EFNIKS wants our readers to get to know the queer and trans creatives whose work you see. Below, a chat with this month's artist, Leisha-Marie Riddel. 


EFNIKS: Welcome, Leisha! How is your week, how is 2018, what’s happening on social media, talk to us?

LEISHA-MARIE RIDDEL: Pretty good, I’m in autopilot at the moment since the holidays let a bunch of stuff pile up - and trying to spread as much awareness about the TMAC situation here in Toronto as possible. Personally, pretty good too. 2018 has been off to an oddly good start.

EFNIKS: We are a QTPoC space so this is always one of our first questions. How do you identify: race, ethnicity, gender, pronouns, sexuality…?

LMR: I’m an adoptee from the Philippines, and I’m a cisgender woman so she/her is totally fine. I’m bisexual, but I definitely lean towards other women.

EFNIKS: What is your background with respect to visual art and various artistic media? Any formal training or education?

LMR: I’ve been in art extracurricular almost my whole life, learned about fine arts and art history up until the end of high school - Cawthra Park’s regional arts high school program too. I had a great instructor after school, Hikaru Cheung, who was one of the board members at OCADU, and really encouraged me to explore what I wanted in art and keep myself open to new possibilities. I also studied life drawing after school in Mississauga, and that was weird - being a sixteen year old and seeing a penis for the first time. That’s not generally speaking where you expect to see your first penis as a girl.

For college, I studied at Sheridan for a Bachelor’s in Animation - which was four years learning that I didn’t want to work at Disney and that old white men don’t get to tell me what to draw. I lied, I did want to work at Disney for a while, but I learned that it wasn’t for me pretty quickly. I draw too many lesbians. Haha.

EFNIKS: Is there anything about you, your experiences, growing up, your values that informs your art and how you present your style?

LMR: Oh for sure, my adopted family is from Scotland and France - so about as white as they come - and that lead to intense ethnic dysphoria as a young Filipina. I wouldn’t necessarily resent the way I looked but I would definitely see myself differently and be frustrated at what I saw not matching what I thought.

To clarify, my parents never lied to me, they were very open with the fact that I was adopted and technically I was different than them. They offered to take me to the Philippines when I was younger but I wasn’t interested, I was determined to be just like them. The struggle was entirely on me.

And it had a massive impact on my art and up until my late teens, I wasn’t comfortable really approaching diverse ethnicity in any huge capacity especially in my character designs. Even if I designed a character to be from the Caribbean, I would still draw them white.

Of course now, I’m proud of the fact that I’m from the Philippines and I want my characters - especially those in Project Solace to represent the same open-mindedness and self-awareness that I have now.

I’m also considering going to the Philippines eventually, when the money’s there - and also maybe when the government-run killings stop.

EFNIKS: Do you feel any expectations or pigeonholing about how people approach you, given your race/ethnicity, gender presentation, and sexuality? Do people place limits (even if subtle and suggestively) on what you can do and expect you to apply your art in certain ways?

LMR: God, do I ever. I think certain folks expect me to be much more level headed than I actually am when it comes to interracial conflicts given that I’m adopted by white folks - and in discourse on queerness, given that I’m bisexual. But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Racism still only really benefits certain groups of people, and I’m still on the shorter end of the stick even with my family.

In terms of work, people have definitely tried to categorize me and failed, solely based on that I’m a woman.

A company knew that I was really good at organizing, and they jokingly referred to me as mom of the team. I laughed it off, of course, I was young and not super experienced. Before I knew it, I was a supervisor for a large team, but they essentially expected me to be its wet nurse the entire time and I wasn’t having it.

Companies and clients have attempted to take advantage of me because I’m not a man, and been caught off guard because I’m not the type to lay down and accept it.

EFNIKS: Tell us about the pieces featured on EFNIKS.com for January? Walk us through each one, what was it for, what inspired each piece?

LMR: So I tried to select pieces that represented the diversity of both my skills, my interests, and my background - and it all ended up on women/female-read (save one of them) and a load of them are white. Hahaha. But I’ll give you some background. All of the pieces feature or are from Project Solace my own original story, which focuses on government surveillance on super powers and it follows Alex Wolfe - the tall, auburn-haired person featured in a lot of the pieces. They’re nonbinary, which was a decision I made in the last couple of years - because while I have a white protagonist I figured it would be a good place to make them not your typical, boring, white female hero.

So the first piece is actually inspired by The Shape of Water, which has lot of the same imagery as my own story - Alex has a lot of dreams where they’re drowning, or exploring an apartment flooded. I don’t want to reveal too much of the story, but it’s pretty telling of at least the first arc in the story.

The second piece is of Crystal Reyes-Hall, who is the closest to being my alter ego in this story. She’s half filipino, half norwegian, and she was a musical theatre star before being taken to the Project Solace facility in the story. Musical Theatre was a dream denied for me, due to just rampant systemic racism - but I’ll live my dreams through Crystal. The piece itself was born out of listening to the “Bruno Mars and Beyonce crash the Superbowl” video on loop. So it’s not particularly deep or of any well-meaning.

The third piece is actually a bit older, probably two or three years now and it’s of another character from Project Solace, Dr. Charlotte Henderson. I was listening to “Launch” by Shirk, most famously used by Markiplier as an end card song for his Five Nights At Freddy’s Let’s Play videos - and Charlie isn’t a villain necessarily. But definitely in the morally grey area. She’s certainly “ooky spooky” sometimes. I just wanted to paint her being just that, a bit spooky. And I enjoy having a character with visible scars, even if its a bit anime. She’s currently the leading the polls in popularity on tumblr, because she’s viewed as the most badass.

I included two pieces of the “core four” of Project Solace eating, since it’s generally viewed as taboo (for whatever reason) to have women (or female-read) characters consuming food in media. It’s lead to countless eating disorders, and body dysmorphia around the world, but I just wanted to draw them eating food and liking it. People eat, it’s a thing - and since it takes place in Toronto and because I’m a huge sucker for Chinese cuisine I drew them taking part in two very social, Chinese meals - hot pot, and dim sum. The dim sum one I just left as lines because I tried painting it and it just didn’t come out right. Sometimes you lose at your own art, and it happens. But I liked how the Hot Pot one came out, and it’s a bit older now too - it’s probably about a year and a half old now. Hot Pot has a lot of good memories for me, and I wanted the core four to have good memories about it too. There’s nothing like a load of hot, boiled food on a cold day, with a tall glass of watermelon juice to wash it all down with.

The final piece is one of the first complete drawings of the facility I did. The Project Solace facility is a man made island in Lake Ontario, to keep the general public safe from people from uncontrolled and unlicensed super powers. However at least twice a year, I think of another building or another section I need to add so it just keeps growing. It’s gotten to the point where I think I need to keep it on land, because there might be too much stuff for a lake island. Haha. This one was specifically inspired by Cory Loftis, a visual development artist at Disney who I swear must have sold his soul to the devil to draw as well as he does.

EFNIKS: The EFNIKS mission is to exist at the intersection of art, scholarship, and community.  Given that goal, we continue to push art and artivism (art + activism) as regular and recurring parts of our space. What would you tell up and coming QTPoC artists about finding spaces where they can flourish and shine?

LMR: Honestly, the one thing I’m learning, especially this year, is that we don’t have to interact with everyone on the internet. I curate my timelines now, quite heavily and I’m a lot happier for it. I used to take into consideration every piece of criticism I got and while I was also grievously mentally ill, I took everything really personally. Now that I’m almost thirty gregorien years old, I’m learning that I don’t really care what Brenda or Chad thinks about my artwork or what my story’s about.

There’s always safe spaces, like Dames Making Games, or Pixelles for Game Makers but when it comes to comics and illustrators you have to make your own. You just carve out a space for yourself on the internet, and give yourself direct lines to like-minded thinkers. I’m part of this little web comics crowd now, and I’m respected as a creator and a critic and I like it. Essentially what I’m getting at is, cut toxicity out of your life if you can. And you totally can on the internet, it’s called the mute button.

EFNIKS: Anything more you want our folks to know about you, any words of wisdom or life lessons you want to drop on the EFNIKS.com community?

LMR: Hey, if you think you have anxiety or depression - your feelings are totally valid and you should talk to someone about it. I put it off for too long.

Also, if you’re a non-Black PoC, you can’t drop the n-word. Just because you’re not white, doesn’t mean you get to use that word. Let’s just keep racial epithets out of our daily lives.

EFNIKS: Where can we find you on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, got a SoundCloud? Personal website?

LMR: Yall can find me on twitter @LeishaRiddel, and Instagram is the same. Snapchat is LeishaRiddel but I probably won’t answer - I’m not very good at snapchat. You can check out my dope portfolio at www.leishariddelart.com - it’s got a bunch of stuff I’ve worked on.

EFNIKS: Thank you for your time, Leisha. You’re a dope human.


You've been part of the work so far, and you can be part of so much more in the coming year. So, let's build.