Leah Kiser is an oil painter specializing in the meticulous rendering of anthropomorphized creatures. She carefully balances colorful humor and whimsy with realism and the rich organic colors and textures of nature.
Leah grew up in Minnesota, received her BFA in sculpture and philosophy from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and now resides in Casa Grande, Arizona. She began painting and showing her work at art fairs and festivals throughout the southwest in 2014. She lives with her husband, two children, and two tuxedo cats with whom she enjoys much laughter and many exciting adventures.
I was born in Melrose, Minnesota in 1982. My maiden name was Ode. I was not always a painter and did not always make humorous work, but I have always loved to draw and create.
I began drawing long before I started showing my work with the public. For a long time I was quiet and uncomfortable with people; I felt more comfortable alone, drawing, thinking, and writing. I still go through phases of these feeling from time to time.
Growing up I had a well developed inner world, as well as a desire to draw realistically, cats in particular (my father is a veterinarian). I challenged myself to see things in a careful way. I found metaphors for understanding reality or finding truth throughout the drawing process. These things contributed to my commitment to the practice of drawing well. It might sound funny, but I felt "virtuous" I was doing justice to my subjects by telling their truth, or telling as close to the truth as I could observe and render. It was a way of accepting the complexity of reality, a complexity that I wished more people would tap into so that little quiet things could tell their stories too.
It was in High School in St. Charles, Minnesota that I received more formal training from a teacher, Mr. Reuben Torres. He used lessons from the book "Drawing with the Right Side of Your Brain" to help students "draw what they see." I worked hard to improve, and eventually Mr. Torres encouraged me to go to school where he had gone, Coe College, in Cedar Rapids Iowa.
While at Coe, I mostly explored ceramics and sculpture. I also took a watercolor class and a couple of drawing classes. I was trained and critiqued by the art faculty (drawing: Priscilla Steele, sculpture and ceramics: John Beckelman, color and painting: Peter Thompson, history: David Goodwin - (deceased), photography: Lucy Goodson). I also studied in New York City for a semester (see document below "truth and artifact" for more info on that trip).
In college, I also became interested in Philosophy. It helped me question my ideas and form a more open understanding of reality. I engaged in debate with people and learned to poke holes in arguments. I began to realize that no one has it figured out, and we're just doing the best we can with what we have. I found reason to take myself and others less seriously and feel more comfortable in my own skin. I also met my future husband, Random Kiser in logic class.
To learn more about my college experience and see my sculptures, read my senior thesis paper entitled Truth and Artifact."
Here is the introductory paragraph:
"Writing about my artwork has been a struggle. I can talk about the materials I use, the techniques I employ, and the ideas that inspire my work, but as with any artist, there is a great deal more to tell. I have taken this paper as an opportunity to attempt to provide a genuine account of the deeper aspects of my art, because I want to clarify for myself, as well as for viewers, my intentions as an artist. The process of making art means a great deal to me. As pious and mystical as it may sound, I believe that art is an exercise of my soul; when I am making art I feel as though I am as sensitive, alive, and as human as I can be..."
Murals and Colored Pencil Drawings 2008-2012
In 2007, Random and I moved to Arizona. We were married soon after our arrival. I worked at Ahwatukee Commons Veterinary Hospital in Phoenix, AZ as the Kennel Technician (After my experience in Washington, I wanted to do something that I knew well - I had been taking care of animals at my father's vet clinic since I was ten years old, so I felt pretty confident about that. I also wanted to work with respectful coworkers - Ahwatukee Commons turned out to be just what I needed). The team was great, and the owner of the practice, Dr. Linda Elliott allowed me to paint a mural in the bathroom. There, I started to get a grasp on the use of color, and using photographs as a starting place to paint animals doing silly things (what I still do today). After the mural was finished, I became pregnant with my daughter, Camille. I made color pencil drawings of baby animals to decorate the nursery. People liked them and encouraged me to try selling them.
Shortly after Camille was born in 2008, I began working at the University of Phoenix and making a long commute to work, leaving less time to work on art. Life picked up speed, and my relationships with my husband, daughter, and colorful coworkers brought a whole new happy energy to life. I gained confidence, and because I was on the phone helping students realize their life goals, I got better at determining what I wanted to do. Shortly after my son was born in 2011, I decided it was time to get back to my artwork. Scroll down a bit further to read about the children's book that helped me get back into drawing.
Still life 2004-2007
After graduation, I stayed in Cedar Rapids, IA for a few months. In January of 2006, I moved into a humble apartment in Hamilton, WA with my fiancé, Random. There, we converted a bedroom into a studio, and I worked on art in my spare time. I worked 3 part time jobs, and after being verbally abused at one and fired from another I really began to question my worth and intelligence - even more than normal. I went into a depression and after a few months of counseling I found some much needed self confidence, something that I never truly had before. Shortly after that, I moved to Arizona with Random, and it was from there that my life started to pick up steam.
Throughout my time in Washington, I volunteered at the Museum of Northwest Art and attended figure drawing group in Anacortes each week. The art community there was full of wonderfully colorful characters. Despite what challenges I experienced at work, the art community along with my fiancé and parents helped me find my way. The pieces below were completed during my Senior year in college, and in the year after. Some images were shown in my senior show, and others at my first solo show at Creative Cafe in Laconnar, WA in March 2007 shortly before we moved to Arizona.
Kitten, 1997, 16"x20", first large scale graphite pencil drawing.
Tiger, 2000, 16" x 20", first attempt at realistic colored pencil drawing.
Walt Whitman, 2001, 20" x 30" charcoal drawing.
Morgan the Ox
Written by Seth Ode Illustrated by Leah Ode Kiser