In Conversation with Gem Leslie

In Conversation with Gem Leslie

In celebration of this year's upcoming Mother’s Day, we step into the home of artist and mother, Gem Leslie, to discuss her debut exhibition, charitable project and lessons from motherhood.

In celebration of this year's upcoming Mother’s Day, we step into the home of artist and mother, Gem Leslie, to discuss her debut exhibition, charitable project and lessons from motherhood. Originally from Melbourne and currently based in Meanjin (Brisbane), Gem’s artistic style is imbued with playful simplicity, characterised by organic silhouettes and vibrant colour. Undoubtedly a result of her extensive creative career, including marketing, graphic and textile design.

Highlighting Gem’s penchant for community outlook, we discover a personal account of her culinary poster shop, ‘Food for Everyone’ through which she has raised over $100,000 for frontline food charities. Read on to get an insight into the joys of motherhood and explore the heartwarming evolution of Gem’s craft.

To help spread the love this Mother’s Day, download this printable greeting card featuring a bespoke piece of Gem’s art.

Hi Gem, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. What’s new in your world?
My pleasure! Today in my world, I’m teaching myself how to make lorighittas. Lorighittas are twisted hooped pasta made only in the village of Morgongiori, Sardegna (Sardinia). I’m taking notes from Pasta Grannies on YouTube. I love doing things with my hands — it's my kind of meditation.

You’ve got your debut exhibition coming up in Melbourne. Exciting times!
That’s right! It’s an exhibition about my ‘Time Up North’. It all started when my partner and I came to Queensland for a holiday in the middle of winter 2021 — and then ended up staying for a whole year. I was struck by the incredible warmth and sunshine even in the depths of winter. That warm winter light in Brisbane is something unique to this part of the world and I just started painting what I saw around me.

‘Time Up North' Saturday April 30th, 10am – 4pm Sunday May 1st, 11am-3pm Tuesday May 3rd– Thursday May 5th, 10am-4pm

TDF Collect 14 Little Oxford Street Collingwood, Victoria

In early 2020 after leaving my job, my partner said to me that I should take some time to rest and paint. So, I did. And for months, I painted every single day.

You’ve worn many hats in your career so far, from marketing to graphic design, and now a practising artist… tell us about your journey so far and your craft.
I’ve always gravitated towards creative tasks — I get so much energy from them and they are what comes naturally to me. And like many people in creative industries, there is no clear-cut pathway that defines your career, but rather it tends to evolve as you do, leading you in several directions.

I’ve studied a few things like public relations, photo-journalism, and then pursued a communications degree with a major in design. I also have a deep love for the fashion industry and worked within fashion houses as a graphic and textile designer with brands like Lucy Folk, bùl, and FAT stores.

In early 2020 after leaving my job, my partner said to me that I should take some time to rest and paint. So, I did. And for months, I painted every single day.

I had a realisation then, that this is what I truly loved, and I began receiving commissions for paintings. This creative burst also led me to start my social enterprise Food For Everyone.

How old is your little boy, and what’s his name?
My boy is named Francis and we recently celebrated his first birthday. He is named after his grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, and so on!

    How special was becoming a first-time mum?
    It’s incredible! It’s somehow everything and nothing I would have ever known. He brings me endless joy.

    What are some lessons your mum taught you that you want to pass on? 
    I think a lot of lessons are not taught directly but rather passed on through actions. My mother has been a great role model for me and my brothers by putting her beliefs into practice and embodying them daily.

    She carries kindness wherever she goes and treats everyone fairly and with respect. She also doesn’t let little things bother her. But most of all, she has encouraged us to follow our passions and do what we love - she is, and always will be, my number one cheerleader.

    I hope to show Francis the same lessons through how our family lives… actions truly speak louder than words! (And hopefully teach him how to make the perfect pizza along the way)

    How will you be celebrating Mother’s Day this year?
    My ideal scenario would be a really good wood-fired pizza for lunch, a nice glass of wine and a low-key day spent with the family.

    You also founded Food For Everyone back in June 2020. For anyone unfamiliar, tell us about this project?
    Food For Everyone is primarily a culinary poster shop where I donate 50% of profits to frontline food charities.

    I collaborate with incredible chefs, cooks, and restaurateurs to transform their written recipes into art, incorporating the ingredients and method into the design. I’ve got to work with some stand-out names in the industry, like Hetty McKinnon, Julia Busuttil Nishimura, Lennox Hastie, and Andrew McConnell, just to name a few!

    I’m sure there have been many beautiful moments so far with this project, do any stand out?
    There have been SO many beautiful moments, it’s really hard to narrow them down. But If I had to, the most beautiful thing about this project is the support from the community and that it has brought joy to so many people.

    To date, we’ve donated $104,625.43 to FareShare, OzHarvest and SecondBite. This equates to roughly 240,000 meals for people in need — that really blows my mind!

    Who are the women in this world that inspire you?
    Mums inspire me! The mothers, and mother figures, that raise us are truly doing one of the hardest jobs.

    I also recently listened to a Cherry Bombe podcast interviewing Millie Peartree. She runs a nonprofit aimed at feeding children living in the Bronx where local school food programs were cancelled or defunded. She shares a valuable lesson in taking care of yourself — fitting your oxygen mask before you do the same for others. And that there is nothing wrong with asking for help.

    What’s your all-time favourite recipe?
    I love fried zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and basil. You can find these flowers at farmer’s markets or you can do what I do, and trawl the neighbourhood to pick them off trees that spill over fences.

    In late summer they become plentiful with new flowers popping up every few days. They are hands-down the best entree or late afternoon snack.

    What’s on the horizon for 2022 and beyond?
    I’m currently navigating my move back to Melbourne for later this year. While I’ve loved my time in Queensland, Melbourne is my home. And as Food For Everyone continues to flourish, I'm hoping to find a place in Melbourne to set up shop.

    Download Mothers Day card here

    Discover Gem's work here