She chose the spot, a small bar in the heart of York, Maine, with just enough room for no more than twenty individuals. At 4:00pm the bar is nearly empty apart from the flannel clad, boot wearing, ball of energy that is Ms. Jenna Lee Leonard. She greets me with a smile, moving from the bar to a small circular table. “This is my first interview, hence the beer.” She takes a sip. She doesn’t seem nervous at all.
My first encounter with Leonard’s art was at a local art gallery where I was hoping to volunteer. On the wall, much larger than most of the other works, hung the original “Babe Ruth, Never Give Up” charcoal. The piece sold that night; not to anyone’s surprise. His wrinkled, yet youthful face and bust take up most of the image; shades of gray capable of producing the emotion hidden in the human eyes. In contrast to the many old photographs of Ruth looking tough, he has a softness which makes him a little less baseball hero and a little more human. Behind the bust, written across the deep blue, is one of Babe Ruth’s most memorable quotes, “It’s hard to beat a person that never gives up.” Fitting, as it is because Leonard continues to pursue her love of art, that she is becoming a success.
According to Leonard, she began to consider herself an artist after a fourth grade competition to make the best Fantastic Mr. Fox cover image. When the other students took to fighting over her entry, she began to think she might have a talent. However, this idea was quickly washed from her mind, replaced by other dreams and struggles, until in eighth grade her portrait of Lucille Ball drew positive attention and awe. These sparks continued as Leonard went through school, winning her a national award (although she has since forgotten the name) and making her the first in history to win the prize for her school. “And a girl,” she remembered thinking. These moments of praise remained with Leonard as she moved around the country, and worked numerous jobs from Wisconsin to Texas. But it was not until a few years ago that she took up art as a full time career, moving to Maine and dedicating herself to her passion.
Jenna Leonard decided at 27 that she needed to give up her job, or she never would. It was the “best decision, but scariest thing ever.” But at the same time she knew that it would be “scarier knowing [I] didn’t try.” With the support of her mother, Jenna has chosen to live the starving artist life, showing her work at galleries in Maine and New Hampshire and selling online through her Etsy page, JennArt.
Jenna Leonard’s detailed charcoal drawings could easily be described as serious, but she prefers to have fun with her talent, to run with inspiration and pour happiness into the world. “Happiness is my first inspiration” she told me with a smile, “I cannot do sad art.” Her desire to put happy vibes out into the world is evident in the watercolor auras that surround the subjects of her art as well as her birds with humorous comments. She quotes Oscar Wilde, “life is too important to be taken seriously,” trying to explain where her inspiration comes from and why she enjoys the funny watercolors to the charcoal drawings that tend to sell better. Elvis, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison; all of these prominent figures from the “oldies” have proved themselves muses, showing up in a variety of her works, always exuding a sense of quick and positive energy. “It just keeps growing on you,” said one recent consumer. Other consumers shared similar thoughts, as well as five star ratings of approval via Etsy.
From charcoal and marker to acrylic and watercolor, Leonard works in a variety of mediums on a variety of bases. While some hang frameless on canvas, others are on everyday artist paper, sketches directly from her sketchbook, for example, a watercolor bird surrounded by multiple random reproductions of her signature. The watercolors, used in such a way as to produce an almost psychedelic feel, dominate JennArt, the Etsy site where her work is available and make her art easily recognizable. It is with the mix of detailed images and dripping neon colors that her art comes alive and begs for a place on any wall. Jenna Leonard is a unique artist who considers herself still growing as a person and as an artist. There is no doubt that her art will continue to amaze.
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