Over the Moon
for The Peach Moon
The illustrations of Amanda LaForest, aka The Peach Moon, speak to the charms and dark humor of Floridian life.
By Eva Avenue | June 8, 2018
At the Emerald Bar back in February, I fell in love with a sardonically innocent painting that popped out from the wall of comparatively dark, dingy, underworked pigment-surface experiments from a group art show, the cartoon gator in a room rendered in loose-tight silky disco rolling light. In the dim smokey din, I pointed out the small painting to zinester Josh Sullivan and his friends.
I high-tailed Assistant Editor Julie Garisto over there from next door to show her the mysteriously cool painting that looked so unlike all the other local art. I pointed it out to people who probably didn’t care but listened with inspired boredom and baffled divinity.
The painting’s artist Amanda LeForest, aka The Peach Moon, recently quit her 10-year job to become a full-time artist with a visually enviable born-and-raised perspective on Florida that lands her lots of illustration gigs, mostly through Instagram. She just designed new summer shirts for Green Bench Brewing, available at their bar on 1133 Baum Ave N (between Central Ave and First Avenue North). She does an illustrative zine with two friends called Gulf Coast Girls about living in the Tampa Bay area, and her own zine called Chomp (featuring her alligator character Chomp). She does posters for Girls’ Rock Camp, lots of pet portraits, flyers, album art, and she teaches a free 2-hour basic painting class at the Clearwater Library once a month. Anyone can show up to paint.
“They do a lot of sunsets and palm trees and stuff,” she said.
With a website that’s visual Zen, Peach Moon evokes something sweet and poetically eerie; the Old Florida that’s always there no matter how much developers have a go at State resources: the swamp beneath the façade. She spent lots of her childhood in Treasure Island where her grandmother lived, soaking up a visual world of pools, the beach, going up and down Gulf Boulevard, and in Seminole eating ice cream in the Orange Blossom Groves after school; the last of them were sold to housing developers in 2015. On her tattooed upper arm hangs a dewy set of wet oranges nestled in bright green leafy branches.
“Most of my artwork is the depiction of what it’s like to grow up in this area and in a tourist state and be a consumer and inhabitant in an area that’s basically catering to vacationers and retirees,” she said. “So it’s very tropical and fun but it definitely doesn’t feel permanent, everything’s hanging around you to cater to other people, so there’s a little discomfort in that as well.”
More than anything, Amanda wants to work as an animator. She’s learning new technologies and needs to put together a reel if she hopes to score a gig with an animation studio. One day, she’d like to have her own studio to employ women animators. She says she loved it when her friend visiting from England said Florida looks like the backdrop in Scooby Doo cartoons.
“There’s a big shift in animation, going from nonsensical to really deliberate — they’re trying to instill really good ideas into kids right now,” she said. “I think a lot of Steven Universe. They heavily emphasize these ideas about consent and emotional labor. That’s really valuable — we’re in an era of really intelligent cartoon making right now and I think that would be fun to be a part of it.”
Actually, she’s working on a short film with her audio-engineering husband. It’s helping her learn animation but she said it’s tedious to make.
“It’s about this lot by our apt, a massive lot that’s overgrown and jungly,” she said. “We tried for the longest time to figure out what’s back there. It’s a mausoleum delivery and crematorium in the back of this lot — it’s kind of creepy and we got this idea of making a tropical fun crossover into creepy and dark. It’s a topic not touched on a lot in animation so we decided to make a short story about it.”
Putting herself through school at St. Petersburg College out of her own pocket to avoid student loans, she worked as a cake decorator for 10 years before cashing out her Publix stocks, strategically buying herself one year to transition from cake decorator to full-time artist.
“I was diagnosed with OCD in my early 20s and I think my obsessing over every single tiny thing that could go wrong has… it holds me back sometimes,” she said. “I haven’t gone through school as fast as other people or built a body of work as fast, but I don’t take unnecessary financial risks. I think a lot of artists get bored and pick up and move and decide on an art major, they do things instantly gratifying but they could be risky and detrimental, and I tried really hard to not do those things. While they’re perfectly valid for other artists, I like having that stability. I need that for my brain to focus better and have space to be calm. I think to others it translates to I’m debt-free and have these advantages, but I’m also 12 years behind other artists and not finished with things I should be finished with, so it has its pros and cons.”
She started as a painter before moving into animation. At SPC, she studied realistic painting and conceptual sculpture. She loves vintage sci-fi-themed work like the works of Ryan Heshka, and lots of low-brow style California-based illustrators such as Tuesday Bassen and Luke Pelletier.
“I was focused on the academic side of it and doing intellectually stimulating things,” she said. “It was very valuable, I got a nice body of work done and worked through personal trauma and worked through a lot, but the results were something I couldn’t identify with. I didn’t feel like I could take ownership of the product. I went through a long hiatus where I barely made any art and did cake decorating for a living. It was only the last couple years I started adopting this more animated style and graphic style. I thought about what I would want to see in a gallery—the things that actually shaped my identity as an artist.
“Growing up in Florida is the biggest factor in all of that and maybe if that’s not intellectually stimulating, it’s more honest to who I am and what I like to make, this lowbrow tropical fun — it’s more accessible and definitely more fun.”
Illustrations and GIFs by The Peach Moon: