This is Made by Hand: May We Fly
A Fayetteville-based watercolor artist elevates the Christmas-card game
There’s a jar of water—a faint bluish green, the color of raised veins on a hand—in which Leana Fischer dips her brush and stirs it like a spoon in a cup of tea. She presses the pointed tip on the paper and wettens it with carefree, sweeping strokes. Stretched on a backing board with yellow tape, the damp, textured surface ripples.
Leana squeezes a deep blue paste—a furious electric shade that you’d be hard-pressed to find in nature—out of a tube and onto a white plastic palette, dabs her brush and starts painting from the corner out, left to right, atop the layer of water (a technique called “wet on wet”). The color spreads as fluidly as an exhale.
As she paints another layer with a loaded brush, something forms in the haze of all this blue. A background—a sky. An outline of a snow-capped mountain and its reflection on the gleaming water—a lake. If the painting had a soundtrack, it would be a deafening silence. “I kind of let it tell me what it wants to be,” she says. “I know I want reflection, some deep blue colors. I’m trying to create a snowy night scene.”
She plucks a thinner brush from a ceramic pot on her desk and draws needle-thin vertical lines. Now there’s a foreground of tall, leafless trees lining the lake on the horizon. Leana is sitting at a desk in her Fayetteville home, where her paintings and college-era architecture projects paper the walls. Her space is small and far too organized for an artist, and in the little over three years that she’s lived here, she’s made it inviting, bright and warm.
While the paper is still wet—wet, but not shiny wet—she takes a pinch of salt and sprinkles it on the sky. The grains chase away the pigments, and the color bursts into nebula-like flakes. “My theme for my Christmas collection is ‘simple gifts.’ I’m trying to think of things that represent that idea. So snowy nights, lights, the food and things like that.”
She’ll make several versions of the same image, and she’ll choose the one she likes best—because when working with a medium like this, things don’t always work out the way she envisions them. It’s all about asserting control and then being OK with losing it. It’s about taking liberties but practicing restraint—not going overboard with too many details and intricacies. She’ll then scan the painting, color correct it and move on to printing.
“We’ll see how it dries, but I’m not sure if this is going to be a keeper,” she says, holding another version of the same painting next to it in comparison. There’s a clank-clank-clank as she twirls her brush in the jar again. Wisps of color curl and disappear into the water, changing the liquid into a dark, foreboding blue.
The hands behind May We Fly
Name: Leana Fischer
Running May We Fly since: November 2014
Background: “I went to school for architecture at Virginia Tech. That’s where I learned to kind of think like a designer. It also trained my eye to understand spacial things, but also composition. I worked at architecture offices until about two weeks ago, [when I] made the jump into doing this full time. This is truly what I love to do.”
Biggest challenge: “Getting what’s in your mind onto the paper. That’s why I do so many experiments because, you know, each painting comes out differently, and I learn something from each one.”
Working with watercolor: “You kind of work in layers. You go really quickly with the wet stuff, but then you have to wait for it to dry to do more. Sometimes I’ll start a new painting while I’m waiting for one to dry, or I’ll go do some dishes. It’s nice to get these breaks—they have a rhythm to them.”
Leana’s work can be found and purchased through her website (maywefly.com). She keeps her Instagram updated with the latest designs she’s whipping up (instagram.com/mayweflydesign).