Welcoming Creative Vulnerability and Limitless Beauty: Ludi Leiva confronts body-love, racism and identifying as queer in a family of colour through words and illustrations

If you don’t follow Ludmila (Ludi) Leiva on Instagram, you should make that your next move. Ludi is a writer, editor and illustrator who works out of Brooklyn, NY and Los Angeles, CA. You can find her journalistic and essay-style work in Brooklyn, Bustle, Hello Giggles, Wired and Women in the World, to name a few. Most recently, Ludi was a model for Fluide, a beauty collection for all genders, supporting the brand’s launch.

We reached out to Ludi after clicking “follow” (have you done it, yet?), becoming entirely breathless when viewing the illustrations published on that profile. They captivate the already intriguing human body in bright colours and shapes, ones not easy to spot in mainstream media. Even if Ludi’s illustrations depict someone sad, for instance, the colours and curves remain curiously vibrant and the context is always empowering and relatable. Ludi’s words and drawings spark thoughts that lead to the desire to accept imperfection, and in an age of filtering and finessing even the most flawless of selfies, we’re refreshed.

Read our full interview with Ludi, Latina artist and world traveller, now. 

Illustration by: Ludi Leiva.
  1. You are a writer, editor and illustrator. When did you first know that you wanted to create?

There’s no way to make this not sound cliché, but I have always known. Since I can remember, I was that little girl huddled in the corner with a marker in hand, drawing, and writing, and making. I would always throw my drawings away as a kid; to me the were a momentary catharsis but once that moment passed, I didn’t see my artwork as having any value. I learned years later that my mom picked up every scrap of paper that had my art on it and put them into a binder. She still has it.

  1. Through your work, you explore themes of identity, sexuality, displacement and belonging. Why are these four themes so important to you?

It’s difficult to divorce my lived experience from my art. How do you begin to tease apart one from the other? Questions of identity, displacement and belonging have been on my mind since I first knew how to make sense of feeling. These themes inform my art because creation has become a vehicle through which to try to understand and dissect my emotions and lived experiences. Sometimes the questions are too overwhelming to let just float around in my head, so I like to commit them to paper in some way.

  1.  On your website, you share that you’re the daughter of a Latina immigrant and an Eastern European refugee. How do you think your parents’ experiences with immigration and seeking refuge have impacted you? Your creative journey?

My parents’ stories are, in so many ways, tied to my own. I was raised on stories of migration and movement and from a very young age I began an internal dialogue about displacement and belonging—one that continues in new iterations to this day. I recently wrote an essay that is forthcoming in a book anthology, wherein I wrote roughly around this very question. Through writing, I have realized that there has never been a time that I wasn’t desperate to understand my place in the world. I was always trying to understand where and how to fit in with my surroundings. Coming of age as a mixed kid in a bilingual home by two immigrant parents in a white, middle class suburb made me question, very early on, who I was and who I wasn’t, where I fit in and where I didn’t, how the world saw me and how I ought to see myself. These questions persist and inform much of the work that I do today.

  1. Recently, you’ve shared numerous beautiful illustrations on your Instagram – but this wasn’t always the case. Why the recent shift in content?

At the end of 2016, I was brought on as an concept artist and character designer for a virtual reality project that my partner, Ash, was taking to Sundance—Neurospeculative Afrofeminism. Before that point, I hadn’t really considered myself an artist—at least not out-loud. I was a writer, a creative, a maker, but not an illustrator, and definitely not an artist. Each time I tried to identify myself as such, the imposter syndrome kicked in. But after completing this project, having my work taken seriously, getting to see characters that came from my brain go from sketches on paper, to vector, to a 3D model and, finally, into a virtual reality space with movements captured in a motion capture studio—my mind was just blown. I began to see myself differently and something just clicked. At the time, I wasn’t on Instagram (I took a six month hiatus) but since then, I’ve gotten back on the ‘gram and have started to prioritize my art. I’ve been overjoyed and humbled at how great the response has been. It’s funny, over the last year I feel like my inner self, my higher self—whatever you’d like to call it—has been having a good laugh at how quickly things have shifted. It’s like I’m finally heading in the right direction and it feels amazing.

  1. What about femininity and feminism inspires you to draw the female body in various shapes, sizes and colours?

I centre women of colour in my work. To be clear, this is not some political statement or a form of exclusion; I am inspired by women of colour and every time my pen hits the paper that’s who I feel inclined to draw and breathe life into. I want to draw myself; I want to draw the women I love and admire. When I think of the future, when I think of the things that inspire me, women and people of colour are always in the forefront of my mind. I create what I do because it’s my way of bringing the future into the current moment. Centring women and otherwise marginalized people is a meditation and a catharsis—it’s my way of creating a space and, in many ways, a mental refuge from a world where these bodies are not valued or celebrated.

  1. Before the holidays, you shared an illustration on your Intsagram profile that addresses living with anxiety and how taking a break and drawing helped you feel better. As an anxious person myself, I find writing is my way to unleash those negative thoughts – even if just for a moment. What about the act of drawing and creating helps to ease feelings of anxiety, for you?

Drawing and writing is like breathing to me. Whenever I feel overcome with anxiety or find myself clenching my jaw, hunching my shoulders or any of the other manifestations and physical embodiments of anxiety, I give myself time to doodle or scribble or some variation of the two. It’s always helped me re-centre and come back into myself.

Photo by: Ivanna Besenovsky.
  1. Any time I share something I’ve created, there’s this initial sense of fear that rushes through me, because sometimes being creative also means being vulnerable. How would you say your process of sharing differs, or is perhaps the same?

I think anyone who is creating something and offering it up to the world to be consumed, critiqued or otherwise engaged with, experiences certain variations of this same feeling you’ve described. There is a vulnerability inherent to creating art and I certainly feel the fear sometimes. One thing that’s always stuck with me, though, is that you can’t please everyone. Not everyone is going to like everything you do, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

  1. You’re based in Brooklyn and LA. What about these two cities inspires you to create and make art?

In so many ways, LA and Brooklyn are polar opposites. The tension of moving between these two places stirs me, it awakens my senses and inspires me to create. I am pretty nomadic by nature and crave changes in scenery and stimuli—I’ve always been that way. So I feel fortunate to be a local of both of these special places. My creative process is very different in Brooklyn—where I’m constantly surrounded by concrete and steel, reminders of history and dreams past— than in LA where I feel so connected to my Latinidad and am surrounded by cacti and desert flowers. Cycling between these two contexts has been great for my creative process.  

  1. You’ve mentioned on your social media channels that Iceland is one of your favourite places to visit. Why so?

I’m privileged to have visited nearly 30 countries in my life. Travel has always been crucial to my understanding of the world, especially as a person of the diaspora. Both of my parents have lived and travelled abroad extensively, so I’m lucky that they encouraged me to do the same. Where others may spend money on clothing and accessories, I plan and save for trips. Iceland was a particularly special destination because it was the first major trip my partner and I took together. At the time, we were feeling jaded and burnt out by America and all that came with it in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, so we decided to put all of our things into a small storage unit in Brooklyn and bought one-way tickets to Iceland. That trip ended up taking us all over northern Europe and later to LA for three months, but it was a really special time. We rented a tiny little car and drove around, slept in the car beneath the stars and climbed mountains and icebergs together. It was the most free I’ve felt in a long time.

  1. You’ve written about topics important topics like body-love and inclusivity, racism and identifying as queer in a family of colour. In a lot of the content you write, there are personal experiences and photos shared in articles, essays and op-eds. These personal experiences become qualitative research in the work you produce. What types of steps did you have to undergo, personally, to accept and be willing to share these moments from your life on the Internet in international publications?

In recent months, I’ve taken a step back from sharing my personal stories on the internet in written form. For a while, I was very open to writing personal essays for online media, but in recent months, the idea has become less appealing to me. I still am open to writing about myself, and think vulnerability can be a crucial method for healing and self-expression, but right now I am looking to collaborate on larger projects and am interested in collaborating on more anthologies and books. I am working on a book of my own and that is taking up a lot of my writing energy. These days, my freelance writing work as far as journalism goes is mostly comprised of reported essays and pieces about others’ stories that inspire me.

  1. Do you ever receive negative feedback and commentary? If yes, how do you handle these trolls?

I think anyone who is putting work out into the universe has to be prepared for some level of negative feedback. For me, it’s taken time but I’ve learned to develop thicker skin. At first, when I would read negative or rude comments I would take them personally, but now I understand that it has nothing to do with me. However, feedback can also be well-meaning and constructive, and I remain open to hearing it. How else can I grow and do better?

  1. The idea of creating full-time makes me feel excited and also curious! How many hours a week do you spend pitching ideas and sending out collaboration requests?

It’s difficult to pinpoint how long I spent on pitching because it varies from week to week, but recently I’ve been lucky to receive collaboration requests from others, which has been nice. But generally, I like to put myself out there as often as possible, especially in my current stage where I’m very focused on growth and exploration. Right now, my focus is mostly on strengthening my craft and working on my technique. Another thing that is important to me is building meaningful relationships with others, including my social media audience. To me, it’s not so much about the number of followers I have as it is about building trust and rapport with the amazing individuals who appreciate and engage with my work.

  1. How do you hope your writing and artwork impact the world around us?

I hope to help others view the world around us differently. I’d like to empower and give a sense of hope and resiliency to those who have been silenced and marginalized and oppressed. I want to make beautiful things that make people feel validated, inspired, and seen.

  1. Why is right now an important time for creators to step up and share work that unites marginalized communities, while also amplifying and supporting traditionally unheard voices?  

It’s an act of resistance and rebellion for marginalized people to thrive, to create, to love, to flourish—in spite of it all. No matter the context, this has always been and will always be a beautiful thing. But, of course, now in the era of Trump, it has taken on a whole new meaning. I think a lot of marginalized people are finding a new, different sense of empowerment from creating meaningful works that challenge generally accepted assumptions about the status quo, whether we’re talking about gender, sexuality, race or any of the endless facets of identity. It’s really an amazing thing to witness.

  1. What advice would you share with up and coming writers and artists looking for their first pitch to land?

Believe in yourself and all that you have to offer the world—I wish I’d done it sooner.

Ludi, thank you for sharing your story with A Quarter Young, for your words and work and for reminding us to be both fluid and fascinated.

To follow along with Ludi’s creative adventures, visit her website at ludmilaleiva.com, follow her on Instagram and Twitter and email her directly.

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