Up-and-coming artist Sofia Leiby paintings are made using the “old dough” method: one shape or element in each painting is transferred to the next, forming a procession of related images. In anticipation of her new show, opening this Sunday, Chicago sat down with Leiby to discuss her work. 

Why paint today?

It’s been difficult for me to justify painting. It seems so powerless in comparison to other forms of art. But I want to paint, so I pretend like it’s a playful activity. It’s something I enjoy doing to strip away anxiety. I say, fuck it, this is how I unwind after work. This is an honest way for an artist to be. It runs the risk of sounding like I’m not taking it seriously, but it is serious to me. It satisfies some kind of basic need.

So painting is play?

I don’t want painting to be like a game between myself and the viewer; but it’s like a game in terms of how I frame the mental space in painting, like the way time passes when playing a video game. You enter a zone. You’re not distracted. This has always fascinated me. Unlike TV or Facebook, playing video games is so absorptive, almost like meditating. That’s the kind of activity I want to get away with in painting.

You work a full-time job. When do you find time to make art?

Having my painting studio in my bedroom helps. Painting is the same plane as doing dishes, laundry, and cooking. I go between cleaning a room and making a painting. Is taking a shower an unproductive act? But I have ideas in the shower.

Is painting a waste of time?

I try to believe that it’s impossible to waste one’s time. I try not to look at the clock. I’ve been fighting against asking myself, what’s the most productive thing I can do in 15 minutes? Instead, it’s all about how I feel about what I make today. I may just make a mark on a painting, and that’s okay. What I really want to do is not worry about being productive all the time.

What keeps you going in your studio?

I hung an inspirational poster that I made. It reads: Just do things because you like doing them. It’s a little indulgent, but in the end I don’t feel too bad about it.

The Drama of Leisure opens Sunday, December 15, 4–7 p.m., at Devening Projects + Edition, 3039 W Carroll. deveningprojects.com