Anna Lisa Leal - Twisted

“Twisted” 32×40

Botanical subjects are the primary subject that stokes Anna Lisa Leal’s creative fires. She is most inspired by the xeric specimens found in the Sonoran and Chihuahua deserts as well as throughout the southwestern United States. Early in her pastel painting journey, she did a painting of an agave in her garden. It was the first painting she entered in a juried show and not only was the painting juried into the show, it was also awarded a prize. It confirmed that when one is passionate about the subjects they paint, the sentiment comes through to the viewer. When asked which is her favorite between cacti, succulents, aloe and agave, she says “My heart is with the agave. I am moved by the stateliness of the agave and the seemingly endless variations in size, colors and shapes. I enjoy the colorful and dangerous beauty of cactus, the undulation of the agave leaf imprinted by the now unfurled leaf, and the poignant swan song beauty of the agave flower. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum I am also enamored with tropical flowers particularly those in Hawaii and Costa Rica.” 

Anna Lisa was born in Laredo which lies on the border of Texas and Mexico. There, her father planted many fruit trees including tangerine, orange, lime, peach and fig. She spent many of her days playing under and in the tangerine trees in the backyard of her home. She also spent hours drawing in the shade of the trees where her mother set her up with a drawing pad as large as she was. Anna Lisa says she’s been a creative as long as she can remember – whether it was drawing, dancing or creating in other ways. She vividly remembers drawing through her high school years, and most often doing portraiture. Anna Lisa left Laredo at the age of 16 and moved to central Texas where she attended college at Texas State University in San Marcos. During college did figurative and portrait work in graphite, often drawing portraits on request to make a bit of money. Though she had artistic talent, she was coached to pursue “practical” studies over the creative world. As she delved into her scientific studies, Anna Lisa discovered a great aptitude in botany which was her first college course in biology. She was invited teach the lab portion of that course and did so for the remainder of her time at that campus. Following undergraduate school, she stayed in the Central Texas area and moved to Austin. She’s lived in and around Austin, Texas for over 30 years. Her studio is at her home in the Hill Country northwest of Austin adjacent to the Balcones Canyonlands Reserve.

Anna Lisa’s largest body of work is comprised of botanical subjects. She never thought much about why she gravitated to this genre other than her love of plants inherited from her mother, But there was much more to it. Anna Lisa’s undergraduate degree is in Clinical Laboratory Science, which includes looking through microscopes at various cells in the human body, as well as bacteria and the like. Much of this work is about pattern and morphology recognition. About 20 years later someone contacted her about her current artwork. This individual knew her in college when she taught the laboratory portion of freshman biology – Botany. This encounter led to her to recall her aptitude in botanical science.

Anna Lisa Leal painting Faded Glory

She realized over time the two science loves blended together and thus grew her fascination with the natural beauty and pattern of nature. “I am entranced by Fibonacci spirals found in nature and echoed in phyllotaxy— the pattern in which leaves are arranged on plants in order to maximize the sunlight they receive.The placement of those leaves is about the scientific efficiency of nature – plants chasing light. I just imitate nature and attempt chasing light in art.” 

Though she is strong in the sciences, Anna Lisa’s work is not that of a purist in scientific botanical illustration. Her work leans to the contemporary version of botanical art focusing on color and pattern and as she says “chasing light.” When she painted that first agave in her garden, she fell in love with the process. She says she imagined herself as a bug or lizard walking along the inner cupping or hollows in the leaves. Only later during a trip to Big Bend National Park during a drive along the Rio Grande River, did Anna Lisa realize why she so loved xeric subjects. She grew up on the Texas/Mexico border near the Chihuahua desert of Mexico. She was simply drawing her home. 

“Cereus Nocturne” 30×30

Like many artists, Anna Lisa is gifted with a certain degree of innate talent. Though she didn’t formally study art as a degree path, she’s never truly left her art. The time she had to devote to art has waxed and waned over the years. There was more waning while she focused on her early career in healthcare and ultimately the software industry. But as her corporate career arrived at a comfortable place, she was able to return more fully to her art. She was introduced to pastels when her sister asked her to come along to a half day pastel workshop given by an artist who’s work her sister had viewed at a Pastel Society of New Mexico show. “I begrudgingly went to the pastel class sure I would not like it. So, naturally, here I am many years later still working in pastel.” Anna Lisa has honed her talents through numerous workshops with nationally and internationally known pastel artists.

“Parched” 32×40

She also attends the International Association of Pastel Societies biannual convention where there are many other learning opportunities as well. Through many workshops, she has picked up various aspects in the techniques that resonated with her. There are many phases in developing a technique from preparing the substrate to application of the medium. For supports, she went through stages in the types techniques applied. This includes pastel/alcohol washes on untoned papers, commercially prepared colored papers, and adding liquid acrylic metallics. She then moved to working on board and applying her own textures and exploring pumice and micaceous iron oxide. She’s created high texture backgrounds as well as used tinted pumice and different tools for application. In terms of pastel application she does follow some level of fundamentals such as applying darks first and also likes to add lightest values early as well. With those markers in place, she says “I go where the painting takes me. I don’t work top down or right to left or any particular pattern. I let the painting speak to me and tell me where I should work.”

As it relates to the road to becoming a successful artist, it isn’t the only road she’s traveled. She’s had two very different career paths not including her art. Her education and first career was in Clinical Laboratory Science and Healthcare Administration. In this field of study, she most enjoyed the visual work requiring a microscope like Hematology (the study of blood cells), Microbiology (Bacteria, fungi etc) and Blood Banking. She believes the appeal of the microscopic aspects in science is about her attraction to pattern. Her second career took her into the software industry. After participating in the installation of several Laboratory Information Software systems, she found she had affinity for that type of work since logic and pattern recognition are part of setup. Eventually, she left the direct healthcare delivery system for a software vendor where she became a consultant and PMI certified project manager and finally the director of a team of consultants and project managers. Her consulting skills give her the ability to listen to a collector’s desires when commissioning an artwork and she then turn those desires into reality. The skills of project management give her the ability to organize her time, work, and shows to successful outcomes. Her role as a director/manager provided the experience in managing a successful business. Finally experience in the software industry in general have been beneficial with the technology aspects of the art business such as website and social media management. Her clients and galleries have frequently said it’s refreshing to meet an artist that is both left and right brained – talented in the creative arts and skillful in business dealings.

The techniques Anna Lisa has developed over time have garnered her recognition by the esteemed Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Research Center where her work was on the Wildflower Days poster in 2016. She has also won numerous awards from Best of Show to Honorable Mentions in various juried pastel events. Her work has been accepted in many national and international level juried events that draw thousands of entries. She was selected Best in Category at the 49th Rockport Arts Festival. In 2021 she is featured as one of 12 artists to collect in Texas by Southwest Art Magazine. She was interviewed by Voyage Dallas Magazine in 2018 and in 2017 in the Jan/Feb edition of Artists on Art Magazine for an article titled “The Educational Road to Becoming a Successful Artist”. “My goal is to bring an appreciation for the beauty of the patterns in nature. I hope to encourage people to bring the beauty of the garden to indoor living spaces.“ Anna Lisa is a member of the Pastel Society of America, Austin Pastel Society, Pastel Society of Central Texas, and is a Signature Member of the Pastel Society of New Mexico. In the Spring and Fall you can find Anna Lisa’s work at many art festivals in Texas. Art Gallery Prudencia in San Antonio, TX represents her work on a full time basis.