Leigh Anita Fraser’s works of pen, ink and watercolor embody the spirit of the haunted season. Her hand drawn monsters are presented in such a detailed and endearing light that they seem to convey high fashion sensibilities and evoke affection all at once, removing any fear. She gives life to these creatures as ownable art, available in her Etsy store as prints and greeting cards. Currently taking a break from teaching, Leigh aspires to become a librarian and to be surrounded by stories, research and history. Though a self-proclaimed skeptic, Leigh spilled her guts to DIME on the supernatural influences in her life and art.
JL: What is your sign? Do you follow astrology and does your sign’s traits pertain to you?
LF: My birthday is a week before Halloween, which technically makes me a Scorpio. Although I would like to say that this is a suitable match, I am the definition of being born “on the cusp” – once you get to know me you will see that I look like a Scorpio at first, but am a textbook Libra.
JL: What’s your worst characteristic and your best? How do these affect you as an artist?
LF: Like most artists, I fixate. I think that this could be both my worst and best trait. I have some obsessive compulsive tendencies and all kinds of rituals. It lends really well to line-work though.
JL: Is Halloween your favorite time of year? How early do your preparations for it begin and what does that entail? What are some of your rituals for All Hallow’s Eve?
LF: I love Halloween time above all else! For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent most of my days looking forward to it. When the actual season comes around, I always have this fear of autumn slipping away — it feels very much like Ray Bradbury’s All of Summer in a Day. As for rituals, I always carve a classic jack-o-lantern, visit cemeteries and walk the streets after dark looking at Halloween decorations.
JL: Do you know what you will be for Halloween this year? What was your best costume from years past?
LF: I’m fairly certain of my costume this year – because I’ve been meaning to finish it for ages! Ziegfeld costumes have always inspired me – and so has Boris Karloff’s The Mummy. My best costumes usually involve leotards. One year I was a bat and wore a black long-sleeve piece with a black headscarf and gold brooch (à la Little Edie of Grey Gardens fame). I also have a great leotard that I painted like a skeleton, and there are tights to match.
JL: When did you first begin making art? When did spookier elements begin to appear in your work?
LF: Somewhere there is a photograph of me in overalls painting a picture of Frankenstein’s monster. Spooky things have always been second nature for me. Some of my earliest memories involve pumpkin patches and watching the silent Phantom of the Opera.
JL: Was your childhood home haunted?
LF: Although my home wasn’t haunted, I went through a stage of having night terrors as a child. I remember vivid nightmares of walking down the staircase and finding vampires or shadowy figures waiting for me.
JL: In your website bio, you said: “One of the first things I created was a protective potion I hid beneath my bed, to ward away the spirits I knew trudged the halls of my childhood home.” Do you recall what this potion consisted of? Was it effective?
LF: It was the most effective concoction because it was pure mind power. My parents helped me mix some perfume with water in an old Windex bottle. Every night we would look under the bed, and I was always prepared to dispel whatever lurked there. We also had colorful glass jars where dreams were kept. It’s very charming to remember.
JL: Tell me about your time as a costume maker. What did you enjoy most about working in theatre?
I discovered theatre at a very young age. From the moment that I could open my eyes, I have been madly in love with cinema. Growing up with the classics, including the Universal Monster pictures of course, I ended up working in theatre by a wonderful twist of fate. At the time I was taking sewing classes, and worked for a year in marketing and public relations at the beautiful historic Ogunquit Playhouse. It was a wonderful experience and I signed on to continue there the following year, only trying my hand at costuming instead. I’ve always loved creating, especially anything involving fashion and textiles. The hours were very long when we were changing over productions, and I would spend them on my feet by choice – when I am creating I can be very manic. I learned so much in such a short time, and worked with some of the most wonderful people that you could imagine. Also, seeing the shipments of shows coming and going, getting to work with all of these incredible garments… it is so satisfying to see all of those hemmed trousers and secret costume changes up on stage!
Costuming is beautiful to me, because it involves transforming the human form in a way that can be constantly manipulated by adding or taking away elements from the pieces that you create. For myself, I love Halloween for this same reason. It is a chance to adorn yourself and become whatever character you choose.
JL: Are you an insomniac, or have you been? What do you do when you can’t sleep?
LF: I wouldn’t call myself an insomniac. I tend to prefer nighttime because of the possibilities that it offers. Finding dark nightclubs or wandering the street, nighttime transforms the world and makes shadows appear around every corner. I am a dancer, and love the feeling of arriving home just before sunrise when the newspaper has already been delivered. There’s always an exciting sense of dread that I won’t be able to sleep at all once the sun comes up, but that makes the feeling of crawling into bed even better – like sinking into a coffin as dawn breaks.
JL: Have you ever communicated with a spirit? What did it say?
LF: Although I tend to be a skeptic, I like to be open to the possibility of communicating with the realm of the dead. During my time in Salem, I had a few strange experiences. New England is a very old place, and I have spent a lot of time in old houses. One night we went up to the attic and drew a large pentagram with chalk. After that night, we would dabble in trying to communicate with “spirits” in the house. There are these triangular pendulum boards called “The Mystic Eye” that answer yes or no questions and can spell out words or point to symbols. We would ask it all kinds of questions. One night, a few hours after we went to sleep, I woke up and felt my way through the living room and into the kitchen for a glass of water. It was pitch dark, but upon returning to bed the votive candles in the living room had lit themselves. Later, we ended up simply covering up the pentagram with an old rug. Because that apartment was the only one with attic access, strange things in the attic became shrouded in supernatural mystery. We would find animal bones organized on the tiny windowsill way up in the eaves. Perhaps the chalk is still there for some new tenant to find. Now I just make and sell Ouija boards. My days of communicating with the dead firsthand are currently on hold.
JL: The monsters you depict in your artwork, Frankenstein, skeletons, etc., all seem to be at peace. Is that your intent? When you see portrayals of monsters in movies and art, do they bring you comfort?
LF: Monster movies certainly bring me some kind of comfort. Thinking of the Halloween season has this wonderful nostalgia to it. When I see skeletons, ghouls and houses that are falling into a state of disrepair, I feel this same way. It is the colors and atmosphere that bring with it such rich meaning as soon as the air grows cold and crisp in the fall. Boris Karloff is one of my favorite actors, and his portrayal of Frankenstein’s Monster represents a great sympathy to Shelley’s description of the character. Figures from these sort of pre-slasher films exist without the same kind senseless violent desire that you see in contemporary horror. Frankenstein’s monster is a character of tragedy, unwillingly shaken from eternal rest. His undead consciousness is placed into a shell built of other beings’ remains and driven by sorrow and confusion. I choose to portray him in this reflective, peaceful way because, despite his horrific condition, he is a human character deserving of empathy. In fact, it is the scientist who is the true monster when readers and viewers think critically of the story.
My greatest influence from art history are the figures portrayed in German Expressionist paintings and films. What made works from that time most unique was that outward appearance conveyed the character of those figures therein. While these early expressionist films were a great influence on black and white horror classics, from an early age I admired the attention to eyes and posture. It is with expression and posture that characters are given psychology or lack thereof. Karloff’s eyes appear heavy and sad in the film, he is stiff and moves through a terrifying shadowy world achieved through sharp lines, jagged steps and crags. Window lights are distant and shrouded in fog, and the coldness of the laboratory that he is created in is only the starting place for his new life. The monster is a character that I have always loved, his humanity is the softness and comfort that I try to portray in that particular painting.
JL: Do you have a favorite book or album that you read or listen to over and over again? What is that?
LF: I am an avid record collector, and am constantly listening to darkwave and goth records from the 1980’s. The Sisters of Mercy have long been my favorite, First and Last and Always, Floodland, and Some Girls Wander by Mistake are both on constant rotation. There are a few illustrated children’s books that I keep nearby for sleepless or uninspired evenings. Maurice Sendak’s illustrations in Where the Wild Things Are depict such wonderful monsters! I also love Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree and anything by Roald Dahl.
JL: What themes are you working on currently with your art and do you have any upcoming projects?
LF: The idea of illustrating a children’s book has always interested me, and I’ve been wandering the streets collecting photographs of spooky houses for years. It is still in the early stages, but I’m working on a book inspired by the Halloween season that follows a ghost looking for the perfect haunted house. When I have the time, I do art trades on Instagram and submit pieces to horror zines. A friend of mine has one called “Monsters Holding Bitches” that I try to support in any way that I can. Locally, I’m hoping to find somewhere to hang some work as the season changes. Halloween is my busy season, and I’m just about to stock my Etsy shop with a new batch of greeting cards and prints to celebrate.