Kiri Østergaard Leonard is a fantasy illustrator with a lush realism to her work. Most people seeing her paintings would call her talented, but she would argue with that. In her YouTube video on her evolution as an artist, she makes it clear that it isn’t talent that enables her to draw and paint so well, it’s years of practice and lots of hard work.
Her video is brave: she shows her development as an artist, starting with the scrawls of childhood, through the stiff but ambitious drawings of high school, to the leaps and bounds she made in art school. She shares her past mistakes, which is hard to do when you know you can do better.
I loved her point. To get really good at the things we care about, we have to work hard. It takes study and lots of practice. Some things may come easier to us than others, but to really excel at something, you have to work at it.
While I was definitely impressed with her video, I also fell in love with her artwork. She’s done illustrations for role-playing games, a tarot deck, and is working on her own illustrated books.
My favorite project is her unicorn calendar. Unicorns shouldn’t just be horses with horns on their heads, but no one seems to agree with me on this. While making stocky Shetland ponies into unicorns may not seem that far from horses, it’s refreshing, especially since she gives them horns that aren’t the traditional straight spiral inspired by a narwhal’s tusk.
She’s also working on a book about Montague Mouse, a charming character she’s created.
She has other adventurous characters she paints, including a series she is doing on mermaids. My favorite is collecting the strange things she finds in the sea.
Many people would look at the detail and imagination that goes into Leonard’s illustrations and call her talented. But I think it’s more impressive and laudable that her art is the result of years of hard work. She has earned her “gift.” If she has a talent, it’s discipline and determination.
Do you have a “talent” that is actually the result of hard work?