Layla Luna: Storytelling in the Studio

Layla Luna, Laura’s House, 2019

The abstract work of Layla Luna was a delightful discovery we found browsing Artwork Archive, so Lonely Ocean reached out wanting to know more. Luna has many impressive degrees and residencies, but she says childhood art classes are what really set her on the path of becoming a full-time artist. Not only that, Luna is immersed not only in art-making, but Kristen’s two other favorite things, writing and babies. One baby to be exact, daughter Emmie, who at 6 months, is the perky little star of Luna’s Instagram. Emmie made a quick cameo in our virtual studio visit, while Luna told us about the evolution of her work, her artistic process. and the synergies between image-making and story-telling.

Layla Luna in her Texas studio
Layla Luna in her Texas studio, 2020

Lonely Ocean: Much of your recent work has focused on the landscape and the idea of home, but recently you have taken a turn to abstraction. Why the evolution?

Layla Luna: The shift to abstraction began in grad school. The first full non-representational body of work was Shapes of Shelter in 2016. That was followed by a few years of landscapes then I returned to making abstract paintings. I really enjoy the simplicity of making balanced compositions by using shapes and color. It’s a constantly evolving puzzle – one mark informs the next. It is very organic and intuitive. 

LO: How does the geography of the southwest and Texas inspire your work?

LL: Growing up in Central Texas gave me the comfort of wide open spaces. Living ten years in Phoenix, Arizona inspired my love of the desert. Both environments instill a sense of quiet isolation I find fascinating. That type of landscape influenced my work for years and still does even though it may not be visually recognizable. 

Layla Luna, Dorothy, 2019
Layla Luna, Dorothy, 2019

Your work is closely tied to storytelling, particularly fiction for kids and teens. You are also a writer yourself. Does the artwork inspire the writing or vice versa?

The paintings come first. I’ve always worked in series so instead of thinking of an individual painting, I think of the body of work as a whole. The narrative unfolds with each work. This way of working lends itself really well to making a storybook.

Over the last few years, storytelling has evolved into a huge part of my studio practice. It first began by giving works longer, more descriptive titles. That led to writing super short narratives (one or two sentences) for each work. Eventually, that morphed into each painting being one part of a larger story. By that point I had been making simple photo books of my work to use as catalogues, so I felt comfortable with book-making templates. It just made sense to turn an exhibition catalogue into a storybook!

Layla Luna, Glinda the Good Witch, 2020
Layla Luna, Glinda the Good Witch, 2020

I noticed that you have published some children’s books. Were these both written and illustrated by you? Tell us a little bit about them.

Yes! Becoming a new mom last summer inspired The Lolly Stories series. I began making smaller paintings on paper in order to accommodate an unpredictable infant schedule. The Lolly character sprung from one of those paintings and I instantly fell in love with her – she was a little girl I wanted my own daughter to know. One work led to another and after laying a few of the 4”x4” paintings side by side, a story emerged. The Lolly Stories: Up was the first book then came Lolly & Oliver.

What’s the impact of having a young child on your art practice? Is she your muse?

Becoming a new mom at age 44 shook my world in the greatest of ways! Pre-baby, I feared that motherhood would steal from my studio practice but that hasn’t been the case at all. Being a mom has profoundly broadened my awareness and my purpose is far more pure.

You are clearly a talented illustrator as well. Do you approach illustration any differently than art?

Thank you! Making “fine art” parallel to making illustrations has been really interesting. Society has given both genres their own very distinct stigmas.  Does fine art have more value? Does illustration lack conceptual depth?

Layla Luna, Amelia, 2019
Layla Luna, Amelia, 2019

 What is Flashe paint and why have you chosen it as your primary medium?

Flashe is very unique. It’s opaque and dries flat. The longer you work with it, the chalkier it becomes. Gouache is the closest medium I can compare it to. All of the colors I use come from a palette of 5-6 colors. I work in acrylic and oil as well but 75% of my work is done in Flashe.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently trying to keep three plates spinning in the studio right now: My “regular” studio practice which is The Jane Series and other work for exhibitions, second is The Lolly Stories’ illustrations (I plan on launching The Lolly Shop on my website next month), and a project called Visit the Vault which is an online platform for selling work from past series.

What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in the future?

I’m looking forward to participating in in-person exhibitions again in the future. I’ve had three solo exhibitions cancelled due to COVID so it will be nice to get back in the swing of things in that regard. The long-term goal is to have a gallery/shop/studio/live space!

Keep up with Layla Luna
Instagram: @laylajaneluna

Want to learn more about following artists on social media? Read our guide to Instagram.

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