Artist Leroy LeFlore was a ship’s engineer with Exxon deep-sea tankers for 32 years before retiring, so it’s understandable that he often paints boats, seabirds, and water.
He works in oil, watercolor, and pen-and-ink, with his favorite medium “the one I’m working with at the moment. When I do oils, I love the spontaneity of composing on the fly that I can do with the medium. With watercolors, combining the drybrush method with the wet-on-wet technique, I can get precision and looseness together in the same painting. Pen and ink serves as a reset button, to get back to the basics of drawing and shading.”
LeFlore, whose awards include a Best of Show in Galveston Art League juried competitions, joined the 104-year-old nonprofit organization as a way “to kick-start my art career.” He serves on its board and hangs artwork for the monthly member and juried shows.
He also has joined the Plein Air Washington Artists. “I make frequent trips to Seattle for family and engage in plein air painting there.” And pending approval of his portfolio, he will become a member of the Oil Painters of America on Jan. 1, 2019, joining so he can enter its quarterly competition and compete on a national level.
The 65-year-old artist sells and competes through Galveston Art League galleries at 2117A Postoffice St. in Galveston and 611 6th St. N. in Texas City. Perhaps surprisingly, however, most of LeFlore’s sales are through The Sunflower Bakery & Café, 14th Street at Postoffice in Galveston. “I’ve learned the value of selling through a popular venue such as the Sunflower Café,” he says. “The exposure is terrific, they handle the sales tax, they provide the establishment, and there’s no need to advertise due to their high volume of patrons.”
LeFlore paints four to six hours per day, seven days a week.
Q: When did you discover your passion for art?
A: At age 6. I would draw the square-rigged ships my father used to make models of, and I remember that my friends and teachers thought they were pretty good. Of course as children, we’re encouraged when we draw. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have an innate talent. I never felt I had an innate talent. What I produce now is backed by a lifetime of just doing it. If I was talented, I would have been good from the start. When someone comments that I’m talented, I wonder then why I had to work so hard at it to get to the level I’m at now. Passion, certainly, is what drove me, but I don’t know where that came from.
Q: Do family and friends encourage you?
A: Family, friends, loved ones support and encourage you, but essentially it’s a solo journey. To get any good at it requires intense devotion which means the neglecting of other aspects of your life. I could never give my art that kind of devotion until I retired and my kids were grown and on their own.
Q: What is your art education background?
A: Self-taught. Most of what I learn I stumble upon through repetitive experimentation. When I find something that works, for example, drybrush watercolor, I get exhilarated. Then I find out that it’s a well-established and well-known technique in the art world. I work towards art that appeals to me. I try to figure out how that art was created, and experiment with getting that same effect.
Q: Do you work outdoors or indoors?
A: Both. I love concentrating for a few days on an ambitious studio painting but also exhilarated painting onsite and the reward it brings. Painting onsite, you own the day.
Q: What are your favorite subjects? What are your challenges and your strengths?
A: Landscapes appeal to me, but I will never feel fully accomplished until I master portraits, which is to say to capture a personality in an expression. Portraits are still a challenge for me. I’m not there yet.
Getting the color right is something I still struggle with. Knowing when to stop, especially with watercolors is very important.
My strengths are perspective and composition.
Q: Briefly describe your start-to-finish process for your artwork.
A: With oils, I tone the canvas with thinned color applied with a paper towel ― for instance, burnt sienna. Establish a horizon line. Using raw umber, applied thinly I paint a monochromatic composition. I use silhouettes to create accurately shaped objects. Proceed with colors.
With watercolor, I start with an accurate drawing. Proceed with washes, semi dry technique, using a mister to control water, remembering to preserve white spaces where needed ― hence the need for a preliminary drawing. Avoid overworking.
Q: Do you use photos as part of your artistic process?
A: In the studio I use photos taken with my smartphone to jog memory and provide details. I snap pictures on the fly of scenes that inspire me.
Q: Do you follow any rules when painting?
A: In the enthusiasm of painting, stop occasionally and ask yourself, “What does this painting need?” Instead of always focusing on what was intended, or accuracy of the scene, look at the painting. What does it need?
Q: How have you improved over the years?
A: The most effective means of improving is time spent at the easel. Along with that, you have to put your work out there beside other artists’ work. That is the catalyst to impel you to strive to do better. It makes you see your art the way a casual, uncommitted observer would see it. So essentially, time at the easel and the skill level of other artists.
Q: Do you also teach?
A: I haven’t taught because, being self-taught, everything I did has been experimental and not methodical. But now that’s changed. I’ve developed some techniques that are effective so I’m contemplating teaching or at least demos.
Q: Do you have an art goal you’re striving for?
A: To be accepted into the Society of Marine Artists at the Signature membership level just on the basis of my submitted portfolio. I’ve been pursuing this for seven years and have yet to submit a portfolio because I judge my work is not quite up to the mark yet. But I’m getting closer and have joined at the entry level to receive their correspondence and news.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of creating art?
A: To have something good to show for a day’s work.