Leigh Cabell says the reason she put off trying to be an artist for so long is that she, like other people, was intimidated by the challenge of making it. "It's one of those things you want to do, but you're not sure you'll be good at," she explains. So, of course, she took up neuroscience. Because, if there's anything a person can be sure they are going to be good at, it's brain science.
But now Cabell's ready to be an artist. She just completed a show at Regis University, is continuing to work on her recycled materials pieces, and will have a Facebook page up, to show her work, next week. She took some time and talked to us about her best "trash art," where she gets all of her materials and why she thinks she's made the best decision in redirecting her career.
What's your favorite piece?
The kimono is my favorite -- a life-size kimono that's not really wearable, because the milk jugs make it pokey. It's made out of one inch sections of milk jugs, and has a swath of green leaves made out of two-liter plastic bottles. You kind of want to look at it, and feel it and figure out what it is, which is what I really like about it.
How long does it take to finish your pieces?
The kimono I finished in late April, and it took almost a year to make that. One piece took me only six months, but that was ten hour days for six months. I don't really like working that way, but I knew I had a deadline. The smaller pieces fall together faster.
Where do you find your recycled materials?
Sometimes I dig through my recycling bin and sometimes people bring them to me. Other times, I'm kind of on a mission to look for more, or an idea comes to me and I go hunting for the pieces. Like the jelly fish and the kimono are all made out of milk jugs, and so I went looking and asking for those. I have a nice community of people who save stuff for me.
How did you get that community? They're people I've known for a long time, or friends. Some of them are people who have seen my work. I met an artist in Ft. Collins who knew a person who had a bunch of slides and she asked me if I wanted them. That person with the slides is an artist too, so I am getting a whole bunch of artists' slides that will be used for another large project.
I also have two college boys who have roommates, so they save me their jugs.
How long have you been making recycled art?
I started doing this about two and a half years ago. I had been making bowls out of paper and then I made a bowl out of a menu and liked the fact that the menu was something I found. I wanted to make a kimono, and although I started with paper, I knew it wasn't going to hold up. I guess I am cheap, too, and I also like that it kept 900 jugs out of the landfill.
What's one challenge you encounter a lot?
One challenge is finding enough material and another is cleaning it. Sometimes the materials are too nasty and you have to throw the whole piece away, like, "That was cool, but icky." You know how people walk along the beach and collect shells? That's kind of what I do, except I walk through parking lots and pick up nuts and bolts and stuff, and that can be pretty dirty material.
Have you always been an artist?
I've been doing some form of art all my life, but I have a degree in marine biology and I've been doing neuroscience for close to 20 years. I made art during that time, like I did some stained glass and created quilts, and I've had a couple of quilts at the capital, but you can't really make a living quilting. I dabbled in a lot of things, but art was sort of hobby.
Is it still a hobby now? Or do you think it's more?
This is my new career; I am an artist now. When you're a kid, you always know what you want to do, but then you get sidetracked because you don't think you'll be good at it. That's what happened to me, so I got a real job for a while. But then I saw an opportunity to get my dream to work, and I have spent the last three or four years to pushing for this to be a reality.
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Do you think an art career is a reality now?
Yah, I do. I didn't think so until I had this show at Regis, and now I think that it's a possibility. I've had people look at my work, people I don't even know, and they said they are "amazed." That makes me think that maybe I have something here. And part of it is letting go of the thing that does pay all the bills and sometimes you have to let that go in degrees. It can be really hard to take the leap of faith.
I really think people should do what they really want to do. When you do what you want to do, you're more excited and more animated and you do a better job.