Artist Leah Kohlenberg offers a boldly colorful collection of paintings created in her distinctive, appealing style. Visit her website to see more of her work.
I am not one of those artists that has been drawing and painting since I was a kid. My first love, in fact, was writing. My first career was as a journalist, working for small news dailies across the US and for Time Magazine in Hong Kong during the Hong Kong handover to China in 1997.
But something kept pulling me away from journalism work, as I would turn down jobs for far-flung projects. First it was a fellowship to teach journalism in Ulaan Batur, in Mongolia, where I stayed for a year. Then I moved back to Seattle, Washington where I grew up, and bought a fixer upper house.
I was 32 years old and it was here that I began to get creative. I painted every wall of every room in this four-bedroom house a different color. With all that house paint and wood leftover from different renovation projects, I would sit on my front porch and dribble paint onto boards, sometimes for hours. A friend suggested I might be an artist. And though I’d never considered that possibility, it reached into some deep part of me, and I decided I wanted to become an artist.
That was 23 years ago. From the very beginning, I knew that this was an hours thing. I needed to get the hours of practice in, so I established a daily studio practice that I’ve adhered to since the very beginning. I took as many classes as I could to skill build, starting with acrylic, then adding oil, pastels, inks and watercolor into the mix.
While the first six years were challenging—I worked part-time to support my studio habit, and had to sell the house which started it all—I’m so glad I shifted to art. I lived a life directed by my art. I spent five years living in Eastern Europe, for example, in my late thirties, seeking to work privately with as many artists as possible to boost my skills.
About ten years into my art career, I began offering art classes to other people, including many adults like myself, who started later in life. Those classes developed into an online school, The Roaming Studio which I run today.
About 12 years ago, I moved to Portland, Oregon, where I’ve since planted. I paint in my garage studio, and volunteer as the president of Portland Open Studios, an annual citywide art studio tour. My work is in a gallery on the coast, and I have a showroom in North Portland connected to the boutique Salty Teacup.
My work has continued to evolve, too. While I tend towards realism, I crave to become more expressive. I am, at heart, a rather messy person, and my latest paintings reflect quick, splashy, drips which are included in the final mark-making.
While I am a city kid and started with a fascination for painting buildings and people, I’ve evolved into someone who loves to paint the forest, too. The process is a mystery to me, and I let the paintings take me where they want me, now.