Watercolor and Pastel Artists at CHAW

Eileen Leahy

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Nothing about my childhood experience of art would predict that I would turn first to art when my career as a lawyer ended some 40 years later. Yes, I liked coloring books—but always keeping between the lines. My painting was the kind done with a kit, by the numbers. I was fascinated by the variety of colors available in the many boxes of crayons my sisters and I had, and I always coveted more. Playing with mud and making it into pies was great fun. In my early teens I drew pencil portraits from full-page magazine photos of famous people’s faces, but only for myself, not to show anyone. But none of this ignited any creative spark—these were just some of many activities of growing up.

After retiring earlier than planned 16 years ago, I was in search of ways to restructure my life while still raising a son in grade school. Good fortune led me to find an afternoon class in clay sculpture at CHAW, just around the corner from my house. The idea of creating something by shaping clay totally with my hands (with no pottery wheel) had instant appeal—and luckily required no previous art training. Another student talked me into taking a figure sculpture class at the Art League School in Alexandria. As someone who never thought of herself as an artist, I was fortunate to have teachers in both classes who encouraged each student’s unique style and made me realize that I, too, could create art.

To remedy a lack of training in basic drawing, I took Gina Clapp’s drawing class at CHAW, and that led to a side-trip into pastels under the guidance of Ellen Cornett, a venture that brought me to the Wednesday Studio.

Shifting from three dimensions to two, coupled with overcoming limited training in the fundamentals of drawing, makes every new pastel piece an adventure. But the inspiration of working in this group carries me into my creative “zone.” No, I haven’t stopped “playing in the mud” (i.e., clay); and I still don’t mind getting dirty (with pastel). Yes, I still covet having all those luscious colors; and peoples’ faces are still a favorite subject. But thanks to Ellen and my fellow Wednesday Studio artists (as well as the teachers and classmates who preceded them), I now know that good art does not mean “staying inside the lines.”

Pastel by Eileeen Leahy. “Fall, Glorious Fall.” 2015

Pastel by Eileeen Leahy. “Fall, Glorious Fall.” 2015

Sculpture by Eileen Leahy: "A Broken Man." Equal Merit Award, Capitol Hill Arts League All-Media Show, September 2010.

Sculpture by Eileen Leahy: “A Broken Man.” 2010.

Pastel by Eileen Leahy: Sheep in Sheep's Clothing. Second Prize, Capitol Hill Arts League All-Media Show, February 2011

Pastel by Eileen Leahy: “Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing.”  2010.

Charcoal Study by Eileen Leahy: Charlie's Dad. Honorable Mention, CHAW Student Show, Fall 2012

Charcoal Study by Eileen Leahy: “Charlie’s Dad.” 2012

Pastel by Eileen Leahy: Thinking Outside the Box

Pastel by Eileen Leahy: “Thinking Outside the Box.” 2015

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