News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 24, 2014
Sedgwick artist is featured in new book

Leslie Anderson paints, and inspires writers

Sedgwick, Maine artist Leslie Anderson’s work has been featured in the book Summer Stories, a 2014 collection of short stories crafted by Maine writers using her paintings as writing prompts.

Photo by Tevlin Schuetz Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Tevlin Schuetz

A dozen paintings by Sedgwick artist Leslie Anderson have been featured in a book of short stories by Maine writers called Summer Stories.

The paintings, which contain figures in landscape scenes, served as prompts for writers in a statewide contest sponsored by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and Shanti Arts Publishing. More than 50 entries were submitted, and that number was culled to 12 stories for the book.

Authors featured in Summer Stories are Mary Lou Bagley, Nancy L. Brown, Meredith Nash Fossel, Claire Guyton, Kathryn Hall, David Karraker, Catherine J.S. Lee, Laura Levenson, John B. Nichols Jr. and Anna Noyes.

Anderson and some of the authors have been making appearances together this summer, speaking and doing book signings. Anderson has been sharing both the process involved in creating the paintings for the book and her experience in becoming a dedicated painter at age 50.

The idea

As Anderson explained, four years ago she put a classified ad in The Weekly Packet in which she offered to paint people’s most cherished views of their surroundings. She received dozens of responses. As a result, she got the opportunity to paint a variety of locations around the Peninsula. During her visits to these spots, Anderson also created paintings for herself in which she depicted the people she saw around her going about their daily activities. She ended up with 26 of these paintings, several of which were shown at Handworks Gallery in Blue Hill.

After some encouragement, Anderson submitted the work online, and selected paintings were published in the Still Point Quarterly. A writer from Australia, Greg Bogarts, had a piece published in the same issue, and he sent Anderson a short story inspired by her painting “Quarry Girl.” He began sending her more stories based on her paintings. “By the third one I thought he might be stalking me,” Anderson mused. But being a “closet novelist” herself—she has written an 80,000 word manuscript which “will never see the light of day”—Anderson thought there was something worthy of exploration here.

Anderson said she pitched her idea of a book, featuring Maine writers and her paintings, to both the publisher of Still Point Quarterly and the executive director of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. They responded favorably, and the collaboration was under way.

Light, dark and “hyper vision”

Anderson thought it was interesting that many authors wrote on dark subject matter in response to her work, which she sees as being generally light in character. Bogarts had written a darker narrative about “Quarry Girl” in the first story he sent, she said. But Anderson conceded that the particular location in that painting was “the scariest swimming hole I’ve ever seen.” And her paintings are “ambiguously titled, to pose a question,” she added.

With respect to paint, Anderson is attracted to dark colors, as they “make a painting succeed.” She prefers the tradition of working from dark to light—or starting with dark colors first on the canvas and adding layers of brighter tones over them—in the application of color, versus the watercolor technique of painting from light to dark.

Anderson’s professional background is in marketing communications and high tech, where she was involved in writing, logo design and corporate branding. “I learned about design by osmosis,” she remarked.

Anderson’s experience in design influences her sense of composition. When approaching a painting, landscapes can be overwhelming, she said. “Where do you start?” She chooses to “zoom in,” and is attracted to patterns, stripes and elements that repeat.

Anderson described how she sees when out in a landscape as “hypervision,” which includes her peripheral vision. She decides quickly what to paint, and she spends more time looking at the scene and sketching it on the canvas with a brush than actually applying layers of paint and color.

Painting and the Peninsula

Anderson said the most enjoyable aspect of painting landscapes by request “is the people I’ve met.” Anderson has occasionally been asked to render views that weren’t that interesting to her, but “people’s special places are special to them for a reason,” she said.

As for her own favorite spots, Blue Hill Mountain tops Anderson’s list. “Indians thought it was sacred,” she said. She is also drawn to Flye Point, which she considers “elusive [and] hard to catch,” as well as Swain’s Cove on Deer Isle. “It’s never the same place twice,” Anderson observed.

And in the winter? Anderson enjoys still life paintings. “It’s all landscape to me,” she said.

Anderson, who had created art as a child and had also taken art classes during her college years, explained that when she decided to retire at age 50 to become a full-time painter, she set out to find the best teacher she could. She found Marian Parry, who was the senior instructor of the Watercolor Program for the Radcliffe Seminars at Harvard University. “She took us seriously. She was a wonderful teacher,” Anderson said of Parry.

Anderson first explored oil painting under Janet Manyan at Maine College of Art. She continued under Tina Ingraham, whose work inspired her tremendously. There was “mystery in her application of paint. It was all atmosphere,” Anderson said of Ingraham’s work.

When asked where her current focus is with painting, Anderson said she is experimenting with patterns and the layering of patterns. It is a challenging endeavor, she said. “I like attacking paintings where I have no idea how I’m going to do this. I have a plan, but it doesn’t always work.”