Maker Stories

Watercolors of the United States: Renee Leone’s Paintings

July 8, 2016

Renee Leone at work

Renee Leone’s perfect world is a natural one. “I love landscapes and vast panoramic views and being able to see to the horizon,” the Chicago-based painter says. “Being outside with nature invigorates me and truly inspires me.”

Happily for the rest of us, Renee translates that inspiration into vibrant watercolors. Her geometric yet playful renderings of everything from redwood forests to desert cacti to urban seasides delight viewers — which is exactly why Renee creates. “I love hearing from people who have purchased or admire my work, and having them tell me they enjoy it,” she says. “When I see art that moves me, it’s a very cool feeling. I love knowing that my work does that for other people.” She colors in the rest of her story for us.

Drawing file collage

Desert Cacti of the Southwest (left) and  Renee’s filing drawers (right)

When did you first realize you were an artist?
I’ve loved art since I was a child and won awards in elementary school for my art. I always had this feeling inside I was very creative and artistic, although I didn’t really think I was good enough to be an artist. My self doubt kept me from pursuing a creative field. But I couldn’t shake the fact that I needed to do something more creative, and I wanted to learn to “really” draw. [After earning my bachelor’s in communications], I enrolled in design school. When I finally did learn to draw technically, I realized this is truly what I should be doing and I couldn’t believe it took me so long to realize I was an artist and needed to follow this path.

PicMonkey Collage

How do you typically begin your nature pieces?
For the U.S. Regional Trees series, coming up with the images was one of the preliminary steps. I did a lot of research in the libraries, outdoors, in the parks, traveling, and on site. I started with small 4×6-inch pencil sketches of locations that I thought were significant, visually interesting, and meaningful to me — places that exhibited trees in all their glory. I put notes and reminders on my sketches as to important points — colors, identifying factors that I wanted to recall while painting. I also added a little color pencil palette to indicate colors and tones. I wanted distinctive trees that could still manage to be captured more abstractly. Once the sketches were compiled and I liked where they were headed, I drew the images larger and in pen and ink on heavyweight, smooth hot press watercolor paper, adding those same important notes in pencil, right on the watercolor paper itself. After that, I began to add watercolor.

What is the painting process itself like?
The pieces start with intended colors and shapes, though things may change as they develop and I see colors next to one another. I often even break up spaces with more lines as I draw. The pieces take a long time to paint — sometimes it feels like I am doing a 10,000 piece puzzle! Though, honestly, I can’t usually stop once I start the piece.

I like to separate every shape with a different shade or tone of color to create a very interesting, detailed mosaic with depth and dimension. It’s hard to know when to stop. I often leave the piece on my mantel for a few days to see what else needs to be done or added or changed. I like coming in the house and seeing it right there with fresh eyes, I can usually tell right away what I like and don’t like, what needs to be added or if it’s finished.

How do you make the giclée prints once you’ve completed the image?
The watercolor is professionally scanned and printed using museum quality, archival inks on museum quality, archival fine art paper. The giclée prints are personally numbered, titled and signed in Chicago by me, and then shipped to Oregon for professional framing. I learned of giclée printmaking from my art-collecting father. I knew right away that this was the perfect medium that allowed me to share my unique views with others.

When you’re stuck creatively, where do you go for inspiration?
Typically, I need to get out! Really, just outside, in touch with nature — on a walk or bike ride in the woods, or my hometown, along our lakefront, or a state or national park.

Living in the Midwest, I just love driving away from the homes and buildings to the dense green-forested areas and the wide open spaces. Seeing the farmlands, the waterways, scattered trees, and finding that horizon line in nature rejuvenates me and seems to literally clear my head and just lift me up.

StarvedRock and trees collage

Some of the nature that’s inspired Renee’s work

Can you recall a particularly touching reaction to your work?
Might sound kind of silly, but my biggest thrill is when my kids tell me they really like a particular piece I’m working on. Or, if I read something they write about me in a paper at school, I think it’s really cool that they enjoy seeing me work and that they think of me as an artist.

See Renee Leone's Collection | UncommonGoods

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