The Art of Compassion with Leigh Sanders

Discover one Veganuary alumni’s quest to create a vegan coffee book that gives back to the animals…

What was your journey into Veganism, and what inspires you/motivates you to remain vegan?

In the 90s, when I still lived in South Africa, I ‘tried’ being a vegetarian for about six months (for my health) and it was a complete disaster!  I didn’t know a single vegetarian, let alone vegan, and felt quite isolated (I didn’t own a computer or even a mobile phone back then!). I lived alone and my diet was awful, no fruit and hardly any veggies at all – I basically just lived on pasta, fried eggs and baked beans on toast with far too much coffee and cigarettes thrown in. I wondered how anyone could or would even want to live like that considering how awful it made me feel.  I ended up with anemia and gave up on the idea completely.

Fast forward 20 years to 2013. I was living in Spain and seriously overweight and decided to visit a dietician my doctor sent me to.  She put me on ‘fat absorbers’ that eventually had me in the Emergency Room. So I tried a private dietician who put me on 100g (really!) of animal protein a day.

Her reasoning for that was that I had muscle deficiency (this is due to a hereditary neurological disease called Charcot Marie Tooth) She insisted I would not lose weight without all the protein in my diet.  I knew no better and followed her instruction, paying ridiculous amounts of money every week to see her. I think I lost 3kg in the space of a few months. I felt awful, lethargic, sick and started thinking something wasn´t adding up.

So I stopped seeing her and invested the money in an online Clinical Nutrition Diploma to teach myself about nutrition. I learned a lot and decided to try vegetarianism again.  I felt so much better and lost some weight. This led to more and more investigating and I stumbled across Veganuary, watched ‘the’ videos (you know – the ones you can never ‘unsee’ that change your forever) and decided veganism was the ONLY way forward.

I felt like such a hypocrite – I mean – how can you love animals and yet not care enough to let them live? I switched from vegetarianism to veganism of 1 January 2014 with a good friend and have never looked back – my only regret, as many of us have, is not having done this sooner. My general health (neuropathy aside) is better than ever and if I am following a wholefood vegan diet I lose weight slowly.

What motivates me now is threefold; the animals, my health and the environment.

Describe the artistic journey from concept to creation in the Art Of Compassion.

 The Art of Compassion started as an idea I had after completing my first month on a vegan diet with the help of Veganuary in 2014. I was so grateful for what I’d learned and the support I received I wanted to find a way to ‘give back’ and raise money for Veganuary.

Having a disability limited me in the ways I could raise money so had to think of something I could do from my computer which is how I came up with the idea for a vegan art ‘coffee table book’. I reached out to Jessica Goodall (who had a website at the time and had interviewed various vegan artists) to find out if she was interested in working on the book with me.  She was keen and we started chatting about ideas.

In the interim, more and more people replied and I started realising that the idea was bigger than just one book, which is how The Art of Compassion Project was born. In fact, we had to put the book on hold for a couple of years so that I could develop the project which has grown enormously.

If you’ve never heard of The Art of Compassion Project, we are a collective of vegan artists who donate 100% of the proceeds from poster exhibitions and other online projects to vegan non-profits.  (Please do visit our website at www.artofcompassionproject.com for more information, photos and join if you’re an artist yourself!)

Towards the end of  2017, Jessica and I started on the book again from scratch and it now features 80 vegan artists who are (or were in some cases) members of The Art of Compassion Project at the time. I reached out to a publisher who was curious but not overly enthusiastic about the idea, saying it would be a mammoth task to edit a book of that size.

We realised self-publishing was the best (and possibly fastest) route and would allow us the most freedom in creating the book. Furthermore, it would be print-on-demand publication meaning there was no financial outlay and we didn’t have to print any stock or have to worry about shipping orders worldwide.

Truthfully, it’s been a long road with many, many setbacks because printing an art book, as you can well imagine, is a lot more complicated than just black and white text.  It has been an incredible learning process for us, both exhilarating and very frustrating at times ,with delays as Createspace became KDP and we printed proof copy after proof copy to get the book just right.

On the 2 June 2018 (in honour of National Animal Rights Day) and to our absolute delight, the book was released on Amazon (US, UK, Spain, France, Canada, Italy and Japan).

How did you source the pieces for the book?

When we began work on the book again in 2017, I sent out a ‘Call for Submissions’ to all The Art of Compassion Project members.

What are some of the more striking or memorable pieces that you featured in the book?

That’s very difficult to answer as there are so many!

To name some of the most well-known pieces featured in the book; Helen Barker’s ‘I Am a Pig!’ (page 15), Lynda Bell’s ‘The Guardian’ (page 27), Chelsea Dub’s ‘Sacred Bonds’ (page 65), Dana Ellyn’s ‘I Love Animals’ (page 77), Karen Fiorito’s ‘The Animal Resistance’ (page 89), Hartmut Kiewert’s ‘Evolution of Revolution’ (page 93), Twyla Francois’ ‘Dairy Is a Mother’s Tears’ (page 99), Amy Guidry’s ‘On the Rise’ (page 111) Jane Lewis’s ‘Headdress’ (page 124),  Philip McCulloch-Downs’s ‘The Ghost Camera’ (page 135), Revers Lab’s ’Ci Sono Occhi Che Rispondono Alla Violenza Con Un Sovrappiù Di Luce’ (page 154), Amanda Moeckel’s ‘Stewards #1’ (page 161) Sara Sechi’s ‘Latte’ (page 195) and Michelle Waters’ ‘Luddites’ (page 220)

 How do you think the book celebrates vegan activism?

 I believe the book celebrates vegan activism in an extremely personal way.  Each artist’s work is a glimpse into their minds and how they see the world of vegan activism.  No two are alike and that is quite beautiful as anyone reading the book will be sure to find work they resonate with among the 80 artists. The collection of artwork is truly eclectic in content, technique and medium. To me, it is a joy to see all this incredible art in one book and I am so grateful that these artists entrusted their work to us to create this.

What place does your book have in the home of a vegan? What do you hope the messages will instill in the readers?

This is a coffee table book – it’s something you’ll want to leave on your table and look through again and again, and chances are your visitors will too if they love animals. Besides the 180 incredible images, there are in-depth interviews with 20 featured artists and seven touching poems.

We’ve even included a resource section for anyone interested in veganism. As for the message, I think it’s one of hope.  Hope that one day the suffering will end if we stand together and do our part to make this world a better place for animals in whatever way we can, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Everybody, no matter what their circumstances CAN make a change in this world if they really want to.

 How do you think art can be used to help convey a proactive message about compassion towards animals?

 Art is a gentle way to reach someone who may not be open to the idea of veganism.  Whereas many people will refuse to watch ‘the videos’, many are more open to art. Images stay with us on a subconscious level.  Art speaks to our souls. It may not have an immediate effect on a person, but the seed is planted.

All profits of The Art of Compassion are kindly being donated to Veganuary. Order your copy direct from Amazon from the following countries: US, UK, Spain, France, Canada, Italy and Japan.

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