THE INSPIRING STORY OF LEONIE E BROWN - Award Winning South African Fine Artist

'Our paths crossed a few years ago in South Africa. I had seen a YouTube video of Leonie explaining her fascination for colour, paint and art. I was hooked.

Her animated gesture and expertise resonated and I decided to find out more about her. To my delight she lived close to my parents home so on my next visit to South Africa I enrolled in one of her courses.

I have since been back to learn from her a few times and I am so happy she agreed to be my guest this week.'


In this episode you will discover:

  • why she decided to study art,
  • how art saved her life and gave her words,
  • that there was a period in her life that she was afraid to paint,
  • the motivation behind her painting,
  • what techniques she loves to use,
  • how she approaches her creative process,
  • the key to working successfully with galleries,
  • more about her favourite commission.


<<<< Here are the highlights from our conversation >>>>


What made you study art?

‘I always did very well at art. Art was my best subject, even at school. I used to draw and it was sort of between art and drama. I liked the exhibit that they had at the university and I liked what they were offering. And then I decided, that's it, I'm doing it. I didn't really think of the consequences.’

'Art helped me express my inner struggles, I needed to show and express the inner things. Art was a way for me to do that because I didn't have words to do that, I couldn't talk. Art helped me bring the inside out.'

'I believe in the higher being. I believe in God. And I think it was the hand of God that pushed me in that direction, because I don't know if I would have actually been alive if I didn't do art. 

I grew up with a lot of emotional and physical abuse and art gave me a way to express myself.'

'The art I made during my studies was very angry art but it was unhealthy. It was raw emotion on canvas. A lot of people looked at my art and were shocked and they experienced the emotion with it.'


When did you start exhibiting and win that big national art award?

'My art history lecturer really believed in me and liked my work. He wrote me into a big South African art competition and one of my paintings won the award for the best fine arts painting.'

' That is where the exposure came from but because I had a teaching bursary I had to work as a teacher. I loved teaching and was really good at it.'


What made you switch to graphic design?

 ' At that time I lived in a really small town and I wanted to get away. I hopped on a train and headed for Cape Town. I saw a job vacancy as a graphic designer and applied. I had absolutely no experience only that what I had been taught at university.'

'For a period of 10 years I did not pick up a brush. It was good for me. The graphic design helped me see details and work in a more calculated way.'


You did not pick up a brush for 10 years. What made you start to paint again?

'In that time I met my husband and got married. He encouraged me to start paint again. At first I was very afraid to paint. I was so stiff and my first painting was terrible. I remember we had a large garage at our house where I could paint but this space was way to big so I chose a small corner in our house.'

'I just kept painting and slowly I found my style again. I took my first paintings to a gallery and the owner said: " I don't know if this is any good.' Just then somebody walked in and saw my paintings and wanted to buy them. The gallery owner said: 'Leave all your work.' That is when I started selling my paintings again.'


Was there a difference between your earlier paintings and after taking this 10 year break?

'My motivation had changed. I didn't want to paint my pain anymore. What I wanted to paint was different because things have changed, I had changed. I'd come to a point where I decided I did not want to paint things that show pain and hurt anymore. I wanted to paint things that show hope.'

'It was what happened to me. I have hope because I know what it feels like to be hopeless. I know what it feels like to want to commit suicide. I know what it feels like to be desperate.'

'But in the process of dealing with it, I can say yes, I believe that there is hope. There's a future. As long as I'm alive and I'm breathing, I have hope. I didn't want to hit people over the head with my pain and wanted to show them HOPE through my paintings.'

'This is the dream for my art. I see myself as a glorified postmaster.'

 'I believe that every painting has its owner out there. Every painting will speak to somebody specifically.'


Can you describe your artistic style?

'Since I started painting again I have expanded into different mediums. I still do the traditional oils painting but I would call my style Romantic Turnerism. I love the painter, William Turner, I think he's brilliant. The way he used oil paints as if they were watercolors and watercolors like oils.'

 'For me, it's the whole thing of seeking the light. I'm using romanticism inspired by the baroque and romantic period. It does not matter how dark my painting is there must always be some streak of light in it.'

'I also make abstract landscapes using encaustics. This is an ancient medium used by the Egyptians on the coffins. Encaustics is basically a technique that uses hot or cold wax and when the wax is heated the oil or acrylic paint is absorbed into the wax leaving translucent layers, almost like water.'

What does your routine look like as an artist?

'I'm very strict. It's a job and you have to treat it like a 9 to 5 job. People buy cars and it takes thousands of hours to put those cars together. It's the same with a painting. It takes thousands of hours and a lot of learning to put that painting together.'

'I generally teach on a Monday,  Friday and Saturday, and then I paint on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.'

'I'll try and come in to my studio at 9:00 and then I'll maybe spend an hour doing admin, an hour working on my online course and the rest of the day painting or experimenting. My studio is my sanctuary and I go to my studio and I do the work. No matter what, unless I'm really sick.'


Describe your creative process?

'If I'm doing my romantic landscapes, I generally design them before I start painting. I use Photoshop a lot, playing with layers until I get an approximation of what I think is going to work.'

 ' I'm quite structured in how I approach my painting process. I structure the design and I'm quite meticulous about this. In order for my painting to work, it must first work as a design.  I design the whole painting on the computer and then I'll normally do a printout or from a large computer screen.'

'While I work I am doing a lot of experimenting. I try different effects and unless it is a commission I change the painting where needed. I work with a lot of layering and throw a lot of my experiments away.'

'In this process of experimenting I might discover something else.

'Even though I am quite messy when I work, when I start a painting, I find that I have to clean up everything. Everything has to be in its place. And then I can paint'.'

'When I am painting I'm very analytical. I really believe in standing back and analysing what works and what does not work.

'Social media is actually amazing. I post my paintings on Instagram and ask people to comment. I ask them what they are thinking or feeling. I like getting other people involved in my creative process. In a way they become part of the painting and my creative process.'

'It is really difficult to judge your own work and other people might see things I don't see.' 


Can you share a favourite commission?

'I quite enjoyed my last commission. I got a commission to paint large paintings for a new luxury hotel in Windhoek, Namibia. They just gave me color swatches and basically said I could do what I wanted. But because it was a commission I then of course, had to stick to the design that they approved. I liked this commission it because it was challenging for me.'


Can you describe the process involved in working on this commission?

'In order to get commissions you need to build up a network. If you show credibility people will start to notice you and start to follow you. For this commission in Namibia I knew the architect and he knew my work and recommended me to the design team.'

'The design team then had a look at my website. It is important that artists have a good website. Facebook is not enough. Your potential clients want to see if you are legitimate and eligible and that you are able to deliver on your promises.'  

'This is also if you are working with a gallery. You have to build up relationships. They will not work with you if they do not know you. I usually visit the gallery owners and go and have coffee with the owners.'

'I think it's wonderful to have stuff on Etsy and to get likes on Facebook. But a like is not a sale. But there's a big difference between fine art and arts and crafts. With Fine Arts people are spending 2000 - 3000 dollars on a painting. That is a lot of money. It is very difficult to sell if you don't have personal interaction and start to build relationships.'

End of part 1

<<<< Next week I will share Part 2 of our conversation >>>>

In Part 2 Leonie will share:

  • more about her commission for the luxury hotel, Am Weinberg,
  • the most important thing she wants to teach her art students,
  • what artists inspire her,
  • what she loves about being an artist,
  • what she hates about being an artist,
  • her view on South African art and artists and what we can learn from them. 

So there's much more to come. So stay tuned for next weeks episode.

If you're ready to take your art more seriously and if you want to find out how you can start to build your art business. Then you can scoot over to my website and access my free resource.

The Artist Success Guide is a 7 Step Plan to help you:

  1. DISCOVER how the art world works,
  2. DEFINE who you are as an artist,
  3. DISCERN the art opportunities where you live,
  4. DECIDE what you are going to make,
  5. DETERMINE who your art audience is,
  6. DARE to take steps and show your art,
  7. DEVELOP lasting art relationships.

More about Leonie


Seeking the Light Part 1
Seeking the Light Part 2

Check out her amazing website, school and social media channels 


 Books mentioned:  Blink by Malcolm Gladwell








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