Inspiration comes in many forms.
It can wash over a visitor to Colbie Leslie’s Blue Springs art studio like a tidal wave, as larger-than-life portraits, landscapes, abstract pieces and the occasional octopus cover the walls and floors to create a mind-blowing rush to the senses.
When asked about inspiration, the Oak Grove High School graduate says it takes on many forms. One of her most recent forms of inspiration came from following the 290-mile cross-state journey of Blue Springs police officer Keegan Hughes, who ran a 31-mile marathon in full uniform every day for nine days to raise awareness and funds for his fallen fellow first responders.
As Leslie followed his journey, she walked into her studio and created a piece of art that featured Hughes carrying a flag on his journey from St. Charles, Mo., to Kansas City, where he entered the playing field at Kauffman Stadium to hand a first-pitch baseball to Independence Officer Tom Wagstaff, who continues to recover after he was shot in the line of duty last year.
“That just really inspired me and moved me,” Leslie said, “and I wanted to do something for Officer Hughes. It was really special for me to be able to give him my painting on the last day of his run.”
When Hughes received the painting, he was stunned.
“Wow! This is unbelievable,” he said at a brief layover in Blue Springs, before finishing his nine-day trek at Kauffman Stadium. “To receive something like this is so special. I really don’t know what to say – and I experienced that feeling many times over the last nine days.
“People seemed to go out of their way to come out of their homes and wave, or say hello. But something like this, well, it’s just unbelievable.”
Leslie’s work has that effect on many of her patrons.
“I like to see the initial reaction when someone sees my work,” said Leslie, who is in partnership with Osage Hardwood Flooring, where she helps create wooden works of art for the floor and walls of her clients.
“One of my favorite pieces is that octopus (that hangs over a stairway out of her living room). People look at it, and they try to count the legs. Does it have eight legs? I painted it, and I don’t even know.
“It’s fun to look at and it’s fun to see the reaction of people who look at it. As you can see by looking around here, I love a creative environment. I’ve pretty much run out of space on my walls, so a lot of my art is on the floor, downstairs – wherever I can find room to put it.”
Leslie said her prolific production comes from having a creative outlet rather than just a way to make a living.
“I paint because I love it. I love to be creative,” she said. “If I sell a piece, that’s great. But I don’t paint to make money. If someone sees a piece they like, and they don’t have the money at that time, we work something out.
“If they love my art, and it’s making a decision between paying a bill or buying my art, pay your bills and pay me later.”
That philanthropic approach has led to many charity donations to organizations like The American Heart Association, the Bacchus Foundation Charity Ball, “Light It Up Blue” for Autism Awareness, Hope House and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Silent Auction.
Her work has been exhibited at the Ellesea Art Exhibition, Crossroads Crush Fair, Knuckleheads’ Psychedelic Music Festival, the Briarcliff Fair, First Fridays in downtown Kansas City and Third Thursdays in Englewood and Lee’s Summit.
One of her most memorable exhibitions came at Artego Pizza in downtown Kansas City. She painted a larger-than-life portrait of The Beatles, and unveiled it to an appreciative standing-room-only crowd.
“That was a rush!” she said. “It was amazing. I did a lot of the background work there at Artego Pizza and had the Beatles covered up so no one could see what the painting was about. The crowd was buzzing as I finished the background, and then, I took off the tape that was covering The Beatles and everyone went kind of wild!
“I put my soul into everything I do, and if someone likes what I do, I feel that we have a connection. And that’s a beautiful feeling.”