“It was pure bliss to find a location, park myself in the shade, and think about nothing
but putting paint on paper for a few hours.” —Leslie Anderson, artist


interview by NANCY GORDON
photography by LESLIE ANDERSON

Artist Leslie Anderson.
Bicycle & Barn, 2021
12 x 24 inches, oil on canvas
Hardwood frame
Busy Harbor, 2021
16 x 20 inches, oil on canvas
Hardwood frame
Cosmos & Barn, 2021
12 x 16 inches, oil on canvas
Hardwood frame
Criss Cross, 2022
12 x 12 inches, oil on linen
Hardwood frame
Fifield Point Pileup, 2021
12 x 16 inches, oil on linen
Hardwood frame
Peters Brook Angler, 2021
40 x 30 inches, oil on linen
Pink Barren, 2020
12 x 16 inches, oil on canvas
Hardwood frame
Porch Chairs, 2022
12 x 12 inches, oil on linen
Hardwood frame
Stonington Dories, 2021
18 x 24 inches, oil on canvas
Hardwood frame
Stonington Lobster Pound, 2021
30 x 40 inches, oil on canvas
Sunflowers on a Screen Porch (for Ukraine), 2022
18 x 24 inches, oil on canvas
Hardwood frame
Two Pines Carter Point, 2020
12 x 24 inches, oil on canvas
Hardwood frame
Wine Time Maine, 2021
18 x 24 inches, oil on canvas
Hardwood frame

Where did you grow up?

I come from Batavia, Illinois, but my family moved to New London, Connecticut, when I was 6, so I’m very much the New England child of Midwestern parents.

Any artists in your family?

No, but my mother had a great fashion sense and my dad was an avid amateur photographer. He taught me how to see.

What did you study at Colby?

I started in French but wasn’t thrilled with the faculty, or the literature-based curriculum (no conversation!), so I switched to English. I made good use of my French in my high-tech career, however, as I was the only person in my small startup who could parler.

Any art classes?

I took drawing with Harriett Matthews my freshman year and painting with Abbott Meader sophomore year. Lucky me to have such iconic Maine artists as teachers! But studio art requires a lot of dedication, and with Colby’s 120-credit-hour graduation requirement, I had a hard time keeping up in the studio.

You’ve had an interesting career in PR, marketing and development, with some fun geography, for some high-tech companies and one symphony. … What stands out most to you?

Oh, gee, this is a tough one. I’d have to pick two: My job at Portland School of Art (now MECAD) as director of publications, alumni and development (how’s that for a title?) threw me off the deep end and taught me I could pretty much accomplish anything I set my mind to, and that I was a born entrepreneur. And my first high-tech company, Interleaf (the inventor of desktop publishing), was a wild ride from being employee #13 to running marketing communications for a multi-national company. I just loved it; it was like being in college surrounded by very intelligent and interesting people, but with stock options and no exams!

Any advice that has stayed with you?

Some of the best advice I’ve gotten was from my dad, who despite being appalled at my walking away from a six-figure job at age 50 to paint, advised me to carefully document my work. Some of the notecards and calendars I’ve sold over the years have earned me far more money than the sale of the original painting. One of my pieces was licensed by Trader Joe’s for a greeting card. If there were two of me, one would work exclusively on licensing.

Your husband, Dan Nygaard, was a chemist by education and eventually turned to flower farming, which is why you bought your farm in Sedgwick. Are you involved with the farm?

I’ve always left the farming part to him (I don’t do dirt). In the beginning, however, I helped out by making bridal bouquets (I took a one-day class and became an instant expert) and doing PR. Fortunately, he has found the perfect business partner in Juli Perry but I still do his website and help with marketing where I can. We also do a couple of farmers’ markets together, which works perfectly... Once he sells out of flowers, I sell art. It’s a great way to meet people and invite them to my studio.

Flower Farmer, 2014, 24 x 18 inches, oil on canvas (artist’s collection)

You split your time each year between Portland and Sedgwick. How does this inform your artwork?

We’ve been spending at least part of each summer on the Blue Hill peninsula for 40 years, first in a shared cottage in Surry and now on our Sedgwick farm. While we both love urban life—our condo is in downtown Portland—summer in Sedgwick feeds my soul and that’s what I feel compelled to paint. Maine summers are magical but so fleeting, and I consider it my job to capture that feeling and those moments painting by painting.

You mentioned that your love for painting happened about 20+ years ago. What suddenly sparked your interest?

I was working in high tech, 60+ hour weeks with lots of international travel and I was pretty fried. My best friend, Joy, also traveled a lot in her job as a real estate manager for Talbots. She started carrying a watercolor kit and making paintings of the places she traveled to in order to feel more connected to them, and I told Dan I’d like to do that.

And then Dan bought you a watercolor set. Not the easiest medium to begin in, is it?

Actually, he gave me a watercolor class at the Boston Center for Adult Ed, which was the beginning of my second education. I had the first of a series of excellent teachers, and luckily I didn’t know how difficult watercolor is. I took to it instantly, started bringing paintings to hang in my office and my workmates started buying them. “This is easy,” I thought. ... Ha!

When and why did you switch to oils?

I switched from watercolors to oils in 2008 for two reasons. The business reason was to free myself from having to frame watercolors under glass, which is time-consuming and expensive. I had been reluctant to try oils because I’m sensitive to solvents, but I learned about low-VOC Gamblin products and found another great teacher, Janet Manyan at MECAD, who taught a solid foundational course in oil painting. I quickly realized that with oils you can edit more easily than with watercolors, a process that very much appealed to the writer in me.

How do you decide if a painting will be done with oils or watercolors?

No big thought process, more like, “What am I in the mood for today?” If I want to hike or bike, it’s going to be watercolors. If I’m willing to drive to a location, it’ll be oils. Following recent knee-replacement surgery, I did a series of pairs of fruit posed on scarfs from my closet, something I could do at home when I couldn’t make it to the studio. Those could just as easily have been done in oils; the deciding factor was convenience.

Pairs 5: Bartletts on a French Scarf, 2022
12 x 12 inches, watercolor on Arches Cold Press (artist’s collection)

Are there any Maine artists who have been an inspiration to you?

Colin Page. I love his color sense and he taught me how to juxtapose color to create a vibration.

My other most influential teacher has been Tina Ingraham. I first learned about Tina when I was taking a class at MECAD. I was assigned to go to a Greenhut Gallery group show, choose one artist, and write an essay about why I liked it. I chose a painting by Tina of a layer cake on a stand … it was soft-edged, atmospheric and everything my painting is not. I just loved it. I sent her an email and told if she ever taught I would be interested. As luck would have it, she was just about to open a teaching studio in Bath, and I took every class and workshop I could. She taught me so much about mixing color, seeing values, finding the best composition, preparing surfaces... She didn't try to change my painting style and she taught me how to work through a painting to find its resolution.

I've had lots of great teachers, but when I paint in oils, I hear Colin and Tina whispering in my ear.

Are your landscapes entirely plein air or do you work from photos as well?

I am a die-hard plein air painter but Maine winters are long, and in the studio I use value sketches made on-site and cell-phone snaps as jumping-off points for paintings. I find I can pretty much get back to that moment in time in my head and focus on what caught my eye in the first place. I paint from an iPad; I love the way the image is backlit and I can zoom in with my fingers. If I’m stuck on a passage, I often turn it upside-down or reduce it to black and white. When I look back at old work I sometimes can’t remember whether a painting was done outdoors or in the studio.

Stonington Dories, 2021, 18 x 24 inches, oil on linen (artist’s collection)

A studio painting done from something I photographed while I was out painting watercolors; the abstract pattern in the water was done with the image inverted on my iPad.

Are there themes that run through your work?

The hardest thing about painting en plein air is deciding what to paint. I squint at what’s before me and look for patterns that repeat—that’s what really gets me jazzed. I especially love serpentines and furrows, ripples and reflections. Then I squint harder to try to find where else I might echo a motif or a color passage, even if it’s only suggested.

Horseshoe Cove, 2008, 12 x 12 inches, oil on canvas (private collection)

Your series of landscape paintings with figures are like little worlds and truly make the viewer part of each scene. What prompted you to add figures?

When I was studying at MECAD I had an assignment to paint a nocturne. I chose something I’d seen on a painting trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico—a pop-up taqueria that appeared every night where the city’s restaurant workers would stop for a bite to eat on their way home.

Midnight Taqueria, 2008
10 x 13 inches, oil on prepared paper (artist’s collection)

The following summer I started seeing similar subjects everywhere, from a girl at the edge of a quarry pondering a scary dive to a Deer Isle man on his tractor making hay. By 2011 I had around 20 of these paintings. The collection was published in the Still Point Arts Quarterly arts journal and I started receiving short stories inspired by the paintings from a writer in Australia. I thought this was a great idea, and I approached Still Point publisher Christine Cote and Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Director Josh Bodwell about doing a book of the paintings paired with short stories by Maine writers. The book, Summer Stories, came out in 2013.

Last Night at the Lake, 2010, 12 x 16 inches, oil on canvas (private collection)

Then when the COVID lockdown started, Dan and I fled Portland for our Sedgwick farm and a funny thing happened: People began creeping back into my paintings. Maybe I was lonely, or maybe it was just time to revisit a beloved subject … who knows?

Stonington Lobster Pound, 2021, 30 x 40 inches, oil on linen (artist’s collection)

You mentioned going back to watercolors as a result of COVID. Why?

During that first COVID summer the world, to me, was a very scary place. There was no vaccine in sight and an election looming that I found even scarier than the virus. I tried hauling my plein air easel out into the field but my heart wasn’t in it. I was hiking and biking a lot for exercise (ask me about my beloved ebike!) and began packing a small watercolor kit on my explorations.

It was pure bliss to find a location, park myself in the shade, and think about nothing but putting paint on paper for a few hours. These paintings became my COVID journal. They saved my sanity and reconnected me to watercolors. And because I was working small, I could clear-bag them and sell them unframed. They literally flew out the door.

Camden Hills from Barred Island, 2020
8 x 12 inches, watercolor on Arches Hot Press (private collection)

The Deer Isle Artist Association (DIAA) … Tell us about your involvement with them.

I am so proud of this organization. Based in Deer Isle Village, we run a professional-grade gallery completely powered by volunteers. There is no jurying but somehow every show comes together and looks gorgeous. During the first pandemic summer, when everywhere else had closed its doors (including the gallery in Belfast that represented me), DIAA kept going by doing shows in the windows. Apart from my studio gallery in Sedgwick and my website, they are my main source of sales.

DIAA’s recent 12 x 12 show was very successful for you. Tell us about this.

Every year DIAA does a 12 x 12 x 12 show, which includes 3D pieces, the last week in July, to raise operating expense money. Every piece in the show is priced at $144 (12 x 12, get it?) with half going to the artist and half to the gallery. At first, I resented letting my 12 x 12 paintings go for so little, but I certainly see the value of supporting the organization, and several first-time buyers have become collectors over the years. My favorite is the family who encouraged their 12-year-old son to choose one of my pieces to begin his collection (he bought a painting of a goat). I used to paint these in the weeks just prior to the show but now I start much earlier because I see them as an opportunity to try out different surfaces and approaches, and to just have fun.

David’s Folly Nubian, 2015, 12 x 12 inches, oil on panel (private collection)

What do you hope to give viewers with your art?

I feel so fortunate to live in Maine, and to have been able to forge the life I have now. I love where I live and I love my work, and my hope is to be able to share that joy through my paintings.

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