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Lesley Harrison's Sacramento girlhood was shaped by animals and art. She started drawing horses in second grade. "I was taken down to the principal's officer more than once, because I was drawing horses instead of paying attention to the teacher," she laughs. By fourteen, she had saved enough baby-sitting money to buy her first horse, and even sleeping on a bale of hay so she could stay close.
After graduating from high school, Lesley moved to Arizona. While wandering through an art store, she discovered her first pastels. At the time, not many artists worked with pastels, but Lesley fell in love as soon as she tried them. Selling that first drawing to a person who saw it only confirmed that she had found her medium. By 1983, she was selling enough work to quit her day job. Talking about getting her work into galleries, Lesley relates, "Whenever I'd approach a gallery about showing my work, the first thing would ask was what medium I worked in. I'd say pastels and they weren't interested, without even seeing them! So finally I told a gallery that I worked in oils and pastels. They told me to bring the oils, not the pastels. I took both, and they were thrilled with the pastels." Seventeen years later, it is still a battle, albeit an easier battle. The buying public are not so familiar with pastels as they are with oils. But when people actually see Lesley's pastel paintings, they fall in love with them.
Lesley works on location and also supplements those sessions with reference photographs. This approach allows her to develop paintings that are fresh, yet rendered with authority. Although pastels are notoriously difficult to master, Lesley has received a number of professional honors and awards for her technical excellence. Recently, for the third consecutive year, the Pastel Society of the West Coast recognized her for her contributions to pastel as an artistic medium. She is also a member of the Pastel Society of America.
Lesley lives with her sculptor husband, John Keller, six cats, and three horses in northern California. She and her husband share a gallery and have a website that can be visited at www.harrison-keller.com.
Lesley Harrison has now been painting professionally for twenty-eight years. She has combined her love of animals with painting to produce in her career a continuing series of remarkable animal portraits. An affinity for the animals she paints and a strong command of her medium allow her to capture the spirit of each animal and to convey to each viewer its individuality, grace, and strength. She sums up her life's work: "I'm blessed, blessed that people want to buy what I love to paint. Sometimes people stand in front of my paintings and cry. What better gift could I get? But then, I'm convinced paintings that come from the heart touch the heart of others. It's almost as though I'm a conduit through which I can portray animals as individuals, each with a distinct personality. It doesn't matter if the animal is a bird, a cat, or a horse; I paint the ones I connect with, the ones who evoke an emotional response in me that I can pass on to the viewer."
(Credit: The Spirit of Horses 2004 Calendar)