Every year at the Salem Arts Festival, one particular artist at the Artisan Marketplace repeatedly catches my eye despite my thorough browsing of her cards and prints each year. Morgan Leshinsky has a very unique style, using a vibrant mix of warm and cool colors that make her oil paintings pop, drawing inspiration from fairy tales and fables to truly make her work magical. I’ve had the pleasure of finding out more about this Massachusetts artist and her paintings.
BOM: When did you decide to become an artist? How did you know it was the path you wanted to take?
LM: I’d say probably by 3rd or 4th grade I had firmly decided I would be an artist of some sort when I grew up since I was already quite the cartoonist in those days. 😉 I was constantly drawing cartoon cats every chance I got for my friends and family and would fill up multiple sketchbooks with nothing but cats doing goofy things. Every card, note, margin, book cover and window pane fell victim to my cartoon cats for years. These days, however, I tend to prefer more realistic paintings of fabulous felines and other favorite animals, but I still have the habit of revisiting my ol’ classic cartoon cats whenever I’m doodling! ❤
BOM: Have you always used oil paints or have you experimented with other media of art?
LM: I became familiar with many different types of artistic media in school when I got to dapple in things like printmaking, sculpture, watercolors, and ceramics; but I never found anything I loved as much as working with oil paints. ❤ The oils and I have been in a very happy and committed relationship for many years now! 😉
BOM: How did you develop your unique style?
LM: Well, I think I can attribute a part of my style to the way I was trained to draw and paint in school. In high school, my beloved art teacher placed a lot of value and emphasis on precision and realism. He gave us some of the most tedious drawing exercises and assignments — but he really helped ingrain the valuable mechanics that trained us to see the relationships between shapes, angles, and negative space. He taught us not just how to draw a human face, but how to draw the subtle nuances of a single face that sparks recognition of any given individual. ❤
My most influential college art professor seemed almost to be the exact opposite of my old favorite high school teacher, which came as quite a shock at first. 😉 This professor was all about not thinking — just doing! He was very passionate and would encourage students to not let themselves get too engrossed in perfecting one small part of a drawing or painting, but to be constantly moving and flowing! He didn’t want us to treat our pictures as things that were too precious to experiment with. I remember him trying to make his point by once snatching a student’s drawing, stomping on it with his dusty feet, and handing it back to the completely frazzled student to continue working on (hopefully feeling a little less worried about “ruining” the drawing, since it was already a bit messed up with help from our dear professor ;).
It took me several years after my college training for my style to reach the point it’s at now. In the years right out of college, I would grab old barn boards and paint swiftly, without planning, in thick paint with my pallet knives-and — I cranked out lots of fantasy-themed paintings which seemed to suit this spirited way of working. Very gradually, that old ingrained sense of precision and quality decided to reintroduce itself to the mix, and the images in my painting started to morph into the kinds of things I produce today. I still work very quickly and paint in sweeping circular motions that allow me to tackle many areas of a canvas in a sitting. I am also still very passionate about my subjects. However, now I’m much more precise than I used to be, and rather than gobbling thick layers of paint to the canvas, I add layers over several sessions to create a colorful “glow” effect in my subjects. 🙂
BOM: Your website indicates that some of your pieces are inspired by stories from fables, fairy tales, and myths. Where else do you draw inspiration from?
LM: In addition to the fables, fairy tales, and myths, I can always draw plenty of inspiration from my favorite animals — they provide lots of fun and colorful options for a painting, and they make visually pleasing subject matters. I seem to be particularly fond of birds and sea life. 😉 Birds are able to easily express a graceful freedom with their elegant forms and outstretched wings — I think this makes them very joyful and inspirational beings. ❤ And sea creatures always provide excellent opportunities to experiment with bold and bright colors, as well as for designing funky under-water living environments!
I also glean a lot of inspiration from my wonderful four-legged-loving patrons who commission pet portraits. I love hearing all about what makes each pet so special to their family and getting to know each one through the photos and stories they share with me. The unique bonds between animals and humans are so very touching; it’s easy to find inspiration in each furry friend that generously gave their humans so much happiness. ❤
BOM: What is your process? Do you sketch everything out or are you able to “see” the image in your mind and paint it?
LM: The process I use to plan out a painting can vary from painting to painting, but whatever the case may be, I tend to sketch as little as possible because, weirdly enough, I just don’t really enjoy sketching very much!
Usually, I’m working from a single reference photo for a pet portrait, and when that’s the case, I don’t need to sketch anything out; I simply work straight from the photo. Sometimes I need to blend elements from several pet photos, making it necessary to plan out the composition. In this case, I’ll cut out the various figures from the photos and move them around their allotted space, testing their arrangement in a sort of collage until I’m happy with the placement of all the figures, then I dive into the painting! Sometimes I’ll even just “sketch” a composition with paint on a canvas, take a photo of it, then “erase” the canvas so I can start over for real. All just to avoid sketching! 😉 I guess it’s because I’m so much faster with paint, that sketching just doesn’t seem efficient, and I just get really anxious to plow into a painting! However, I do know that sometimes it is not wise to just “plow” into a painting, and one must suffer through the toils of sketching multiple drafts or suffer the consequences later. That expression, “a stitch in time, saves nine”, really should be “a sketch in time saves nine”. 😉 So, yes, I do make myself suffer through sketches when it’s necessary — and those sketches are reserved for paintings that have no photographs, but are just images in my head that I need to resolutely arrange in harmony on canvas.
In the past, I have foolishly skipped the sketching and dove straight into the painting, making all edits with the paint, because I just get so excited to start! That really isn’t a wise thing to do if you end up making major changes in the composition, because oil paint will leave thick traces of all your alterations beneath the final version, and everyone will know the embarrassing truth that you didn’t take the time to plan and sketch out the piece when they examine closely. Oil paint is such a tattle tale! 😉 I’ve made up for my old mistakes though, and have actually become very particular about the smoothness of the surface of the canvas, which can only be achieved with the help of… sketching!
BOM: What inspired you to paint pet portraits?
LM: When I moved here from Vermont six years ago, I had the opportunity to focus solely on growing my art business for the first time. My first mission was to figure out a niche for myself that was in an area I was both passionate about and wouldn’t get bored with. Well, painting pets seemed to be an obvious choice because I’m crazy about animals and have always enjoyed painting them — what better way to market my art than to appeal to fellow animal-lovers with it? Plus, the benefits that come with painting pets are simply tops. For instance, I always have a healthy dose of “aww-dorable” art work, and my cute-o-meter is kept at full throttle at all times. 😉
BOM: How did you start doing custom work?
LM: I think the first custom piece I did was actually a parting gift I gave to a dear friend and colleague at the library I used to work at in Vermont, just after I moved to Massachusetts. I told her I’d paint whatever she wanted to help ease the pain of my departure, of course. 😉 Her only request for the painting was that it contain a peacock and a book since she had a special fondness for these things, but left the design up to me. I felt the subjects deserved an enchanted setting, and so the end result is featured in a vine-draped castle window. What could the mysterious book be? I like to think of it as a book of magic spells! Better be careful, Mr. Peacock… 😉
But anyway, I enjoyed the challenge of translating someone else’s ideas into a composition of my own design so very much that I decided it would be quite enjoyable to continue doing this kind of work for people if they were interested. 🙂 My absolute favorite custom piece is confirmation of the wild imagination of some of my clients, called “Apotheosis of Adam”. The fellow who commissioned this piece requested to be portrayed as a beast-mastering rogue; wrestling a bear, stepping on a boar, with an eagle on his arm, as a volcano erupted in the background. I don’t think I could ever come up with anything so hilariously over-the-top crazy on my own, and it was completely awesome! Needless to say, I had a lot of fun with that one! 😉
BOM: Do you only paint in a studio or do you find other settings to paint?
LM: I tend to stick to my little studio for all my painting. I like having all my “stuff” easily accessible so I can work efficiently and completely focus my energy on just the painting. Here in my studio I don’t need to worry about bad lighting, weird noises, crappy weather, forgotten supplies, or a lack of readily accessible snacks, so why leave? Plus, there’s always a cat around here to give motivational snuggles! 🙂
BOM: Besides the Salem Festival of Arts, where have you exhibited your work?
LM: I’ve tried out a few other art festivals in Salem and the surrounding area, but the Salem Arts Festival seems to bring me the most success by far, so that’s the only one I decided to participate in over the summer. For that festival, I always have cards and prints and sometimes a few originals featuring my fantasy, myth, fable, and colorful animal-themed artwork for sale. I really love that festival! But, this September I’ll be vending at the Peabody Dog Festival and for the first time I’m going to try out a booth that only focuses on advertising my pet portraits! I hope to drum up some business from the hordes of dog lovers — and I promise there will be both treats for pups and treats for people if you decide to visit my tent! 😉
I occasionally participate in rotating shows here and there, but I do most of my exhibiting online in a few different places.
This is the best place to see a well-organized and complete portfolio of all my work. Here, you can purchase prints and originals, view and learn about pet portraits and custom work, as well as contact me with any inquiries.
This is where I first post any images of new work I’ve finished, so you’ll find things here that haven’t quite made it to the website because they’re so hot off the press! I also use my Facebook Business Page to advertise any shows or exhibits I’m currently participating in.
My Etsy Page.
If you’re only interested in checking out some pet portraits and placing a custom order, my Etsy shop is dedicated to just that! However, it’s certainly not required that patrons use Etsy to order a portrait. In fact, most don’t go that route — they’ll usually email, or FB message me, or call, or send smoke signals — whatever works is fine! 🙂
This is a neat place that showcases a variety of my paintings that can be ordered as archival prints using FAA’s print-on-demand service. Not only that, but here you have the option to have your favorite images printed onto things like phone cases, pillows, and shower curtains! I’ve purchased a couple tote bags with my own artwork on it, and it is so cool!! Nice quality, I must say — they do a nice job! 🙂
BOM: What are you working on now?
LM: I recently finished a particularly cool pet portrait of a cat called “Black Charlie”, who happens to be a resident at a local Auto Garage in Salem! He’s looked after by a very sweet gal who lives across the street from the garage, and she stops by to see how Black Charlie’s doing, and to give him extra love and special treats. 🙂 She has a couple house cats of her own; one of which is coincidentally named “Charlie”, so that’s why this guy was dubbed “Black Charlie”- to distinguish between the two. 🙂
I absolutely love how Black Charlie’s portrait turned out, with the car tire and his adorably grouchy mug — I’m convinced he’s posing for a metal band album cover! 😉 He’s just such a cool guy and I want to pat his grumpy noggin!
I’m also working on a portrait of one of my own fabulous felines, and it’s almost finished! This one isn’t a standard pet portrait, though I did something kind of fun with it. 😉 Are you familiar with that iconic nineteenth-century French cabaret poster featuring a ragged black cat? The poster was designed by Theophile Steinlen, advertising the cabaret called “Le Chat Noir”, hosted and owned by Rudolphe Salis. This poster has always been popular to parody, but since I’m a fan of the poster, and I have an awesome black cat without his own portrait yet… I couldn’t resist painting my beautiful black “Terrence” as “Le Chat Noir” in the poster! I changed some of the words as well, and instead of “de Rudolphe Salis”, it reads, ‘de Leshinsky”, of course 😉 And rather than the words “MONTJOYE MONTMARTRE” in the cat’s red crown, I’ve added “LA OURS TERRIBLE”, meaning “The Terrible Bear”, which is one of Terrence’s most commonly used nicknames. It’s shaping up to be a pretty cute portrait 🙂