Pictures and Conversations, by Leah Palmer Preiss

Voracious, by Leah Palmer Preiss

“Without drawing I feel myself but half invested with language.”
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, notebooks

I ran across the above quotation in a college class on Victorian poetry, and immediately wrote in response: “Without language I feel myself but half invested with drawing.” For as long as I can remember I’ve loved both words and pictures. My medium is visual, but I’ve never felt fully satisfied with my work unless words were involved in some way.

For many years now I’ve free-lanced as an illustrator and calligrapher, for books, magazines, newspapers and advertising. The visual-verbal connections in this sort of work are clear. In recent years I’ve been focusing much more on fine art pieces, but far from leaving words behind, I’ve become ever more obsessed with them!

Technique and text
My recent gallery work makes use of my collections of antique books and ephemera. I scan texts (and sometimes graphics) from these sources, print them out on archival paper, and collage them to canvas. Then I begin painting over them, using many thin washes and glazes of acrylic paint, applied with a variety of paintbrushes, some as small as 16×0. My work tends to be quite small, but crammed with detail. (I sometimes call my paintings “maniatures.”)

I like the way text adds layers of meaning and association to an image. Often it provides an element of humor as well. I also appreciate the purely visual aspect of letters, and the subtle presence of sound and rhythm introduced by reading. And I find the “buried treasure” factor appealing: it’s fun to reward the careful viewer with discoveries that a casual glance might miss.

I’m inspired by nearly everything I encounter. Medieval manuscripts, Mad Magazine, Alice in Wonderland, wunderkammer, Persian miniatures, Monty Python, flea market finds, Flemish Renaissance paintings, Japanese mythological beasts, scientific illustration and the art of the insane– not to mention the astonishing diversity of the natural world– all make me itch to make art.

Birdland, by Palmer Preiss

Lately I’ve become especially fascinated by figurative letters. (A brief article on the subject can be found at Giornale Nuovo.
Last summer I set out to do a figurative alphabet illustrating various scientific words, for my blog Oddments and Curiosities here. I coined a word to describe the series: “curiotype.”

Zoophyte, by Palmer Preiss

I’ve long been a subscriber to A.Word.A.Day, Anu Garg’s wonderful newsletter and website on vocabulary and etymology. I wrote him to ask if he might mention my curiotype alphabet in his weekly round-up of comments. To my surprise and delight, he asked if I would like to illustrate a week’s worth of words for AWAD. I jumped at the chance, and the results can be found here at Wordsmith.

Hegemony, by Palmer Preiss

Adventures with Etsy
For years friends have been urging me to open an Etsy shop. (Etsy is an online shopping source, mainly for handmade and vintage items.) I’d been putting it off, probably due to shyness about touting my wares, but after all the inquiries I received from AWAD, I decided it was time to take the plunge. I listed both prints and originals there and have been extremely gratified by the warm response. My shop can be found at Etsy.

Microcosmos (Flea Circus), by Palmer Preiss

I have a terrible habit of creating new blogs on a whim. These are the main three:
Curious Art, my first blog, where I post mainly finished paintings and illustrations, show notices, and news.
Curious Art Lab, where I post sketches, process, occasional studio shots, and behind-the-scenes stuff.
Oddments & Curiosities, a year-long project blog where I’m posting “odd creatures on odd days.”

Social Media
Flickr, Twitter, Facebook (but honestly, I’m rarely there) and Google+.
….and last (and least updated) my actual website. Here’s where you can find much of my older illustration and calligraphy work. I hereby vow to redesign and update this site in 2012!!

Leah Palmer Preiss


Leah’s illustrations have been selected by the Society of Illustrators Annual, Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Print Regional Design Annual, and R.S.V.P. Her work has appeared in books and periodicals from Cricket Magazine to the New York Times. Her fine art work has been shown in galleries from New York City to Los Angeles, as well as overseas and in her home town.

Leah was born in Austin TX, lived all over the place as a kid, graduated from Smith College in Northampton MA, moved around some more, & has finally put down roots in Raleigh NC. She is married with twin sons. Through all of this she has never stopped drawing, and never intends to!



Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Special Events

16 responses to “Pictures and Conversations, by Leah Palmer Preiss

  1. Extraordinary work–Leah’s whimsy is insirational! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Love those drawings -I clicked on the etsy site but it went to the main page, I will put your name in a search.

    I cannot draw – my brain just won’t go here, and so I do admire those who can.

  3. buddhafulkat

    Leah I love your creatures and I love seeing updates on your work through Illustration Friday =)

  4. Karen, thank you for introducing us to such talented artists! I love Leah’s beautiful illustrations.

  5. This is fascinating artwork! Thanks Karen for bringing Leah’s work to our attention! I love this type of art and of the above was particularly fond of Hegemony. Beautiful work!

  6. Thanks to all for your kind comments, & thanks so much for inviting me, Karen!

  7. These are delicious! So detailed and delightful!

  8. I have found that one look is not enough! Once you give them another glance, you see all sorts of detail and quirky doo-dads. Delightful!

  9. What talented work here and throughout the week. I’m going to check out the links.

  10. Jessica

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Amazing work!

  11. Marvelous! I am so inspired to read about someone who has unleashed her curious side and lived to tell the tale. Kudos for your courage and your recent recognitions. Well deserved…

  12. Isn’t Leah brilliant? I “found” her because I subscribe to A.Word.A.Day. I wrote to her and said, “I want you for Artists’ Week.”

  13. Where do artists find ideas? Places like this. Lovely work and now I’m inspired for a few pieces of my own.

    I also see that she was born in Austin…of course. Because Austin is cool!

    Well, my silliness aside, thanks again for another interesting artist! You’ll have to do this again.

  14. So, Marta, do I see some bugs and letters in your creative future? 🙂

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