We had the good fortune of connecting with Leslee Ortega and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leslee, can you share a quote or affirmation with us?
I’ve learned that the most important attribute an artists has is their life lens – the unique way the world is seen and how their own life has shaped and is shaping that view. When I’m working, especially when I’m in the weeds with a creative work, I ask myself, what I really believe. I step back and pause. Is this coming from a part of me that is authentic? Is this work saying what I want it to say? Is this my point of view? Am I going in the right direction? Am I influenced by others, and if so is that influence working for or against me? Anchoring myself in what is real and true for me is a constant process of discovery. I often repeat to myself, “Just be You, Through and Through”. And with that reminder, I can move forward.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I paint in Coffee. I also paint in Oil and Acrylics and have just begun exploring Mixed Media. I would create even if no one paid me for it. In Okinawa they call it their “Ikigai” – the reason to get up in the morning. Becoming an artist is really “becoming”. You learn more about your voice and style as time passes and you’ve done a lot of exploring and experimenting. I’m still on that journey. Having learned to paint in oil, in the classical style with a renaissance palette, was amazing. But, I yearned for my work to explode with color. At one point, I decided to paint a large portrait of our two golden retrievers in pop colors – about as far away from what I’d been doing as possible. That painting started me on a journey towards my style of contemporary pet portraits. When we moved to Texas in 2014, I painted a portrait of a turquoise and yellow cat with a party hat as a gift for our daughter. At the same time, I was introduced to some artists in McKinney. Shortly thereafter, I established myself as painter of pets – in vivid colors with neon backgrounds. The warm support of the McKinney creative community and the McKinney residents were instrumental in creating a safe space to begin my career. Taking that first step into the public eye was exciting and nerve wracking! After a couple years of painting pet portrait commissions, I was introduced to painting with Coffee by artist Modesto Aceves of Dallas who I had asked to be a speaker at The Art Club of McKinney. In 2018 I was offered a show at Duino Coffee in McKinney and I decided to paint the entire show in Coffee. The “Canines in Coffee” works consisted of 10 portraits of dogs in action, doing what dogs do. People seemed to love it and so did I. Coffee as paint is organic. I grew up in Oregon, connected to nature and protecting our earth. The medium tapped into something real for me. I love painting with coffee and have begun exploring other organic mediums as well. The natural tones of coffee are so diametrically opposed to my other work in bright colors. I like the balance. One lesson I learned is that when you begin painting a certain thing in a certain way, and people like it, it can become creatively stifling. Moving through that can be challenging and uncertain. But, you have to move through. There are no shortcuts. Learning to live with uncertainty is a skill that has to be cultivated. I try to trust my instincts and listen to what makes me show up as my best self. As Howard Thurman says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. The world needs people who have come alive”. That’s what I try to do.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
When people visit, I like to show them my world. We live in a darling town that is very unique. I love to show it off! Since I became an artist here, my close friends who visit are curious about how it happened. And, most people don’t live in or near a delightful town wrapped around a historic Square! First, I would take them on a car tour of McKinney and give them a lay of the land. I would drive them by all the places that have inspired and influenced me as an artist – The McKinney Art House, Jump into Art, The Cove, Last Art Gallery, Duino Coffee, Patina Green, The McKinney Performing Arts Center and Chestnut Square. Next, I’d show off our charming McKinney Historic District homes with a car tour along the old streets with large,mature trees and diverse architecture oozing with history and grace. After the tour, we’d stop and wander the streets of McKinney shopping at all the unique stores. Two of my favorites are Me and Mrs. Brown, a clothing boutique that has great casual styles with flair, and Fair and Square Imports, a wonderful fair trade store with handmade items from artisans around the world. At some point we’d pop in to see my work and 40 other local artists at LAST Art Gallery, then head to Harvest for dinner. Harvest has incorporated many local artisans in their restaurant, some of which I know personally. Their farm to table food, sophisticated farmhouse decor and hand crafted cocktails never disappoint. One day we’d go to Adriatica in McKinney. This is an area developed to emulate a Croatian village, complete with a chapel on the water and homes, businesses and even the streets that are made from stone. We would go on a long, picturesque walk, take a thousand photos, then have a drink at Harry’s on the Harbor, sitting outside with a view of the lake. Another day we’d go to the Dallas Art Museum and Klyde Park. As a member of the DMA, I like to call it “my museum”! It is liberating to be able to go often and for shorter periods of time. The DMA is a lovely place to spend a few hours, and inevitably there would be at least one new exhibit that would be exciting to see. Wandering the floors of the museum is one of my favorite things to do. Afterwards, we’d walk across the street to Klyde Warren Park where we could people watch or grab some fun food from one of the food trucks. There’s always something to see! Another day, after a long morning with coffee chatting on our outdoor patio, we’d head to the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas. Anyone who’s lived through the Kennedy assassination can’t miss being in the place where it happened and learning more about what we know. It’s a must see! On Sunday we’d go the The Joule hotel for Tea in the Taschen Library! This is by far one of my favorite things to share with friends. The Joule is just a beautiful space to be in, and has an impressive art collection on its’ own that is worth seeing and talking about. The Taschen Library is in The Joule. The petite, elegant and cozy Taschen Library (bookstore) carries books on art, architecture and design and is skillfully curated by the artsy staff. Being able to experience an informational and fun High Tea in that Library is a very special thing indeed. Finally, we’d go to The Cotton Mill in McKinney where The Millhouse is located. The Millhouse, conceived, developed and run by Beth Beck, is a creative co-working space for women to flourish, offering art, photography and wellness studios. Among other creatives, I have artist friends with studios at The Millhouse including Andrea Holmes, Gail Delger, Dana Brock, Aimee Louise Woolverton and Lisa Temple. With an appointment, we can visit their studios and see their work. We’d also stop by Bay Willow Design, located at The Cotton Mill, owned by Jenny Mathison-Foster. Jenny is a Milliner. Her hat studio, by appointment only, is adorable and inspiring.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I got started “becoming an artist” at 43 when I looked at my life and realized that I would regret not seeing what could happen for me if I just went for it. I would not be an artist out in the world without my husband and family’s love and encouragement. All along the path, my husband Mike has supported my journey with unconditional support and amazing enthusiasm, encouraging me to take each new step without fear. My children have also been delighted to see me so excited about my work and new career. My first art instructor, Patricia Merrill, was instrumental in teaching me the technical tools I’d need to build a good foundation. Through her I developed confidence. A move to Texas in 2014, where we knew no one, was the catalyst I needed to find my community, through art. The artists in McKinney were (and are) so welcoming and supportive! It was the perfect place for me to get going. In the past few years, I’ve also been part of a creative book group. Having this more intimate experience of learning and sharing has been delightful and inspiring.
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