Gemma Leslie

Gemma Leslie @gemleslie

Hi Gemma! Let’s dig in… Give us some detail about where you’re at creatively and how you got there.

Life here is pretty sweet, I’ve been practising art and design as a freelancer for the past 12 months. My clients range from new restaurants, poster shops, sexy lubricant products, laundry detergent, mushroom patties, and olive oil. I enjoy the variety!

My past life was in fashion and homewares, working with some really awesome brands. Most recent being Lucy Folk, were I was marketing manager for 3 years —I had lots of fun working there. Before that I was at FAT Stores, Manon Bis, Bul and Modern Times. I have also run a not-for-profit culinary poster shop, Food For Everyone, and my own bed linen label Scottie Store. We recently started creating some striped sleeping suits with the awesome E NOLAN, that’s been a lot of fun.

Food For Everyone sounds very cool, tell us more about it and how it came about.

Food For Everyone is a not-for-profit enterprise. We design and sell posters of recipes from some pretty punchy local culinary talent. We donate 100% of profit to FareShare and have raised over 65k for them in the past 6 months. Every poster bought helps bring meals to isolated communities, low-income families and people experiencing homelessness, and others struggling to get by.

When thousands of residents in the Melbourne Towers were locked down without notice because of a COVID outbreak, they were confined to their homes for up to 14 days. They were provided food, but residents reported that initial communication and support were slow. FareShare and others jumped in by preparing and delivering meals to residents at the towers and this sparked an idea to raise funds for FareShare. I was painting at the time and thought I could partner with some friends who are local cooks and design posters with their recipes to raise funds.

Eating a healthy meal each day should be a right, not a privilege. Knowing that there are thousands of people who don’t have access to that breaks my heart. It makes me want to help. FareShare cooks more than 6,000 free meals a day for various charities and social enterprises including soup vans, homeless shelters, women’s refuges and community food banks.

We’re currently working on new poster designs and products that aren't posters. We love hearing ideas so if anyone out there would like to see something from us in future or has a suggestion about people or companies we can partner with, we are all ears!

You work a lot with paint, what is it about that medium that floats your boat?

I find painting therapeutic, it’s a relaxing practice, whatever the subject is. Some people do yoga or meditate for relaxation and wellbeing, I paint.

Creativity expression and wellbeing do seem to be strongly correlated.

The more time I spend with my nieces and nephews, the more strongly I believe that we are all born with creativity. I find children so inspiring, the questions they ask, the games they play, their imaginations —we are born with curious minds.
I think as adults, staying curious and thriving on the process of discovering is important. We need to observe, explore, ask questions, and venture into the unknown. As Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

What style is your creative approach? Do you consider it ordered, or do you lean more towards the organic? And how do you balance the inevitable clash of the two?

My creative practice sits in two camps. For my painting, I would say it’s fluid, a ’go with the flow’ mentality. There have been times when I paint whole bodies of work and don’t show anyone for years, then paint over them and start something new.
I like to incorporate that fluidity into how I freelance. I like some order when working with clients —I like to hear what they are interested in, their inspiration and their vision so I can use that to influence and shape my work with them. Getting their views upfront, along with a good brief, makes the process and final outcome a better one for both of us. Typically they grant me full creative license, but it is important that that license is guided - I think of it like driving. You need a license and a sense of direction, but you can drive the car wherever you want to.

You're about to be a first time Mum! How are you feeling about the prospect of motherhood and taking on this new role?

I hope to be as good a Mother as my Mum was to me and my two brothers. That means encouraging us to do what we love with gentle guidance along the way. She was a great role model so it’s never crossed my mind that I couldn’t do what I wanted because I’m a woman. In recent years I realised the impact my mother had on me when I studied Feminism and the battle women have for equality in the workplace and other areas of life.

All I want to do is encourage, love, and support my child and their passions like my mum and dad did for me. And hopefully teach them how to make the perfect pizza along the way!

It sounds like you're heavily into food! What’s your favourite thing to cook?

Pizza of course! We're lucky enough to have built a pizza oven in lockdown last year —it was a great project to keep our minds off the pandemic. When we’re not cooking pizza in the oven, I see what I can find at my fish monger. Pipis done in the oven are a favourite of mine —especially the recipe in Food For Everyone’s most recent collection —Firedoor’s Pipis, Karkalla, and Native Citrus by the amazing Lennox Hastie (he's an incredible supporter of ours, and a lovely man!).

Tell us about your house. That garden! And your new kitchen…

I live in an old artist commune near the banks of the Yarra River, just north of the Melbourne CBD. The house was originally built as one dwelling in 1880, and in 1920 it was converted into three residences and had an Italianate make-over complete with archways and stucco. It’s a very special home —our first, in fact. We did a garden and kitchen overhaul during lockdown. Our wedding got cancelled so we used the funds to make changes to the house that we thought we would enjoy and would add to the character of the home.

There seems to be a strong relationship between your home and your creative practice?

Over the years I’ve gathered many special objects —ceramics, artworks, kitchenware, books, and music. I’d say most of the pieces have a special story and inspire me in some way. So when I’m at home I constantly feel inspired. It sometimes feels like I’m in another world all together, perhaps somewhere in Europe!

My favourite thing about where I live is being outside looking onto the house. I spend most meals in the courtyard looking onto the house and garden, simply staring at the building wondering how it came to be, who has lived here before me, and all the events that have taken place here. The stories behind this house inspire me in so many ways. Apparently, Frederick McCubbin and other famous Australian artists resided or passed through here, I often marvel at that.

Let’s talk lockdown: On a scale of one to ten, how mad did you go? ...But seriously, how did you find that experience? Any revelations or moments of note, good, bad, or absurd?

I went moderately mad… In the best way possible. At the start of lockdown my job was made redundant, which was sad, but not the end of the world! I cooked, painted, slept, and walked each day. It’s the most creative I’ve been in my entire life, and it’s during this time that I started Food For Everyone, which has been one of the best experiences of my life.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

This is not so much verbal advice that I am drawn to, but I tend to be drawn to behaviours and role models. I’m lucky to have so many inspirational and impressive people in my life. I observe their behaviours and develop the attributes that I admire. The biggest impression that’s been left on me is the importance of respecting and helping others, even when you don’t feel you have the time or headspace to do so. I think it’s important to be kind and to help others, that rubs off on people and makes for a more accepting world.

And lastly, if you could have a couple of wines with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I’d like to jump in Rick Stein’s Landy, and be co-host for his show ‘Mediterranean Escapes’. Ideally Season 1, Episode 3: Sicily and Puglia! He’s got great charisma, loves meeting new people, and he loves food and travel —I think we would enjoy each other’s company!