Illustrator. Hand typographer. Artist. Woman of color. All these words describe Ciara Leroy, yet none completely capture her essence. She is also stately, quietly confident, intimidatingly original, and a couple years ahead of most of us in the style department. Ciara is a bit of an enigma, but she’s not trying to be. She’s just being herself, a person she describes as “pretty strange,” but in the best way. Oh, and she’s also going to change the world with her art. This is so because it is strategically designed to encourage people to, in her own words, “look outside of themselves and look at their neighbor and their brother in a different light.”
Nestled in the heart of downtown Lexington, Kentucky is an emerald green attic bedroom that doubles as Ciara Leroy’s art studio. In this sacred space, Ciara creates illustrations and hand-typography pieces that are changing the way people in central Kentucky view humanity by prompting questions that must be answered. Read on to discover some of those questions and decide how you would answer them.
Can Weird Be Wonderful and Strange Be Pretty? Ciara Leroy Gives a Resounding ‘Yes’.
Q. Describe who you are as an artist and what you do.
A) I am primarily an illustrator and hand-typographer. I specialize in botanical illustration and hand drawn letterforms. Even though I primarily identify with those two areas, I think of myself as a “creative confidant.” This means I encourage people to come to me with anything that needs a creative solution, and I apply my illustration and typography skills to that. That broader focus has allowed me to design logos and wedding invitations and do formal calligraphy, wall murals, and sign painting, to name a few recent projects.
Q) Is there a story behind the name of your brand?
A) The name Pretty Strange was born from a conversation between my boyfriend and I over dinner a couple years ago. He said “You are one of the prettiest people I’ve met…and also one of the strangest.” I instantly knew that was it, because “pretty strange” has been ascribed to me at various points throughout my life, but never in a positive way. I was a quiet kid and often misunderstood. Intriguing and creative, but also mysterious. People took my quiet and thoughtful nature and translated it as an oddity and something that needed to be changed. But the older I became, I realized the things that made me weird were the most wonderful things about me. Weird is wonderful. Strange is pretty. I’m pretty strange, and I love it. I hope my brand helps other people get in touch with the beautifully strange things about themselves.
“Weird is wonderful. Strange is pretty. I hope my brand helps other people get in touch with the beautifully strange things about themselves.”
Q) Who has been most encouraging of you pursuing your art? How did this person spur you on in your artistic journey?
A) My father is my greatest artistic influence and he doesn’t even identify as an artist! When I was growing up, he exposed me to so many facets of the arts, whether it was evenings at the orchestra or theater or Saturday trips to our local art museum. One of my most vivid memories of that influence was when he took me to the studio of a prominent black artist in our town, Bing Davis, who happened to be a friend of my dad’s. My dad told Mr. Davis that I loved to draw, so Mr. Davis went over to his art supplies and brought back a pan of his oil pastels and gave them to me. That rocked my world. I never forgot that. Not only receiving oil pastels that this great artist used to create his works, but also seeing an artist who looked like me be successful and proud of his work. I’ll never forget that that meeting, and so many other inspiring moments, came from my dad.
Q) What is your vision for your artistic self? Where do you see Ciara the Artist in 3, 5, and 10 years?
- In three years, I see myself having left my full-time job in the office, to be an artist full-time. I’m in the process of building a client base and a reputation in the central Kentucky area, and 2017 has been a great start.
- In five years, I hope to have a studio space that doesn’t also double as my bedroom! I would love to have a studio not only to work in, but as a place to meet with clients in and display examples of my past work.
- In ten years, I see myself with an expanded brand that includes illustration and design, but also housewares and fashion. I am very passionate about home and fashion design and find those to be just as artistic as painting or drawing. I would love to apply my skills in those areas and build a cohesive line of products people can enjoy across their entire lifestyle.
Q) What is your favorite piece of art that you have personally created? Why is it your favorite?
A) I recently did a piece that was a combination of lettering and floral illustration and the words said “I AM AN ARTIST.” This is my favorite piece because it took me a long time to have the courage to say those words. I am an artist. When I meet new folks and they ask me what I do, I don’t talk about my office job. I tell them I’m an artist. And if they ask what my “real job” is, I say it again. I am an artist. There is power in naming and claiming yourself and what you want for your life. I hope that piece inspired others who saw it, to claim who they were born to be.
“There is power in naming and claiming yourself and what you want for your life.”
Q) Is there anything you hope to change with your art?
A) I used to be afraid of drastically changing my style, but the best artists evolve. I am constantly learning and changing as a person, and my art reflects that. There is an essence that always stays the same, but I build upon it and improve it. I hope my art continues to get more detailed, boundary-testing, and conceptual. I draw a lot of things that are pretty and fun, but I also like to ask important questions with my work, and I want to do more of that as time goes on.
Q) What cause is closest to your heart? How does your passion for it impact your art, and how do you want your art to impact the cause?
A) My community is close to my heart. About two years ago, I moved to the inner city of Lexington, Kentucky, to a neighborhood that is historically black but experiencing large amounts of gentrification. The neighborhood has its share of crime, poverty, and cultural clashing, but there are also a lot of positive changes happening thanks to a handful of passionate neighborhood advocates and activists. I’m figuring out where I fit in and how I can work alongside of people to improve the community’s well being but also preserve the history and culture many feel is being lost to gentrifying behaviors and developments.
As I mentioned before, I use the fact that a lot of my art centers around words to ask challenging questions and to make statements about what I see around me. I hope my art pushes people to look outside of themselves and look at their neighbor and brother in a different light. I hope my existence as a black artist challenges people to break their stereotypes about what they think they know about me based on the color of my skin.
This past year, I joined a community art cooperative in my neighborhood. Over the course of several months, we planned and executed a public art piece for our neighborhood. It was so incredible to create something with other members of my community, for the community. People may look at art and think it is low on the priority list in terms of the needs of the inner city, but I believe in the power of art to not only add beauty, but to bring people together who may not have entered the same space otherwise. And when people are together, they can have a conversation. And conversations lead to change. So I hope my art can start more conversations.
“I hope my existence as a black artist challenges people to break their stereotypes about what they think they know about me based on the color of my skin.”
Q) What is your favorite color?
A) As an artist, colors are like my children, and parents aren’t supposed to have favorite kids, right? But if I have to choose, I will say coral. I love that beautiful mix of pink and orange.
Q) If you could meet any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
A) Jenny Holzer is an artistic hero of mine. She primarily uses big graphic words as her medium and is the queen of asking important questions with her work.
Having artistic talent is great. Having passion for art and humanity that moves you to live your cause is even better. Possessing both is rare. Ciara Leroy, Lexington’s treasure of an artist, certainly does. Follow Ciara on Instagram to get a regular dose of her art. Request a commission or learn more about her via her personal website. Let others know about Ciara by sharing this article.
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