Lesley McCaskill

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Painter Lesley McCaskill moved to lower Delaware, after a long career as an art teacher in Bethesda Maryland. Lesley works primarily in watercolors. Her paintings are optimistic with a bright cheery color palette. These reflect her personality and her love for her surroundings.

Lesley 's works are optimistic with a bright and cheery color palette. I recently met with her at her home in Rehoboth Beach to learn about her work. Here’s what she had to say about her beginnings as an artist.

Lesley McCaskill:
“I guess always it was a way to play and I started making my own paper dolls. And then I started drawing and copying, believe it or not Archie comics. [laughs] Which was, you know, I think a really good way to do figures.”

“After I got married, we lived overseas for a while. My husband was military. After we came back we lived for a while with my parents. We lived with my parents for nearly six months. And my Mom, typical Mom, found an artist who taught. And her name was Peggy Kranking. She was the best teacher I ever had. She has since passed on. But Peggy showed me painting outdoors, painting plein air. And I have been painting plein air for almost fifty years. “

“Being a gardener, and being someone who really appreciates nature, I find it is where I am happiest, and where I learn so much. It gives me an emotional connection to the scenery. When I get to a place that kind of stimulates me, and, I stand. I start sketching little thumbnails, like this. And I write beside the thumbnails the emotions and what pulls me to the site.”

“So the thumbnail is just in black and white, just. It’s important for me to have values. So I capture that. And as a lot of people know, if you sit outside, especially at the beach, you might start early in the morning when the sun is fairly low. And then by twelve noon, woops… then the sun is right on top of you and spreading everywhere. Well, I go back to that thumbnail. And, I keep it visible. And I also keep my words visible to keep me centered. Sometimes I come up with a gift. And, I’m like: Who painted that?”

“You know, you are completely in your right brain. You’re oblivious to people who are behind you. You’re just reacting to the scene and the color, observing the atmosphere, and really having a great time.”

“So I find that watercolors are terrific for plein air. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I thought about leaving watercolor and going into acrylics or oils. They might be easier to frame. [laughs] Cheaper. But I keep going back to water colors, because it is so portable. And I think it is very suited to me. Um, and I think there is a look that you just can’t get in other mediums.”

This September Lesley will have a joint show of her paintings with Ricky Sears, a former student from her days as an art teacher at the Landon Boys School in Bethesda, Maryland.

Lesley McCaskill:
“I am extremely proud of Ricky. He does extremely wonderful work. He’s a very smart young man, very talented, very personable and outgoing. Ricky probably could have been anything. But he delights in making art. Ricky and I are both showing water scenes on the card that is going out. His is the ocean, beautiful light turquoise oil, breaking wave. And mine is a scene of a pond. I call it ‘Clouds on the water’. You’ll see water scenes, boat scenes. I’m very much in love with harbors around here. You’ll see some of the dunes.”

“I am not painting as large as I used to paint, which is really funny to say that. The last few month’s I’ve gone smaller. I took a class. I still take classes. With an artist who starts very small. And works things out. And then gets bigger and bigger. And that was kind of interesting to me. SO I thought I would try it out. So, I’ve done some smaller works. For me small is maybe 9” by 12”. So you’ll probably see a few of those.”

An artist has many influences, from artists they have studied, to the environment they work in, and if they teach even their students can have a big impact on their work.

Lesley McCaskill:
“The thing I got from teaching kids, though, was: They are so free. They take such risks. Um, and their work is so good. Their compositions are intuitive. And they open my eyes to things, to really be aware of what people are doing. You really learn. That’s why I like to visit art galleries. I like to look at my grandchildren’s artwork. I frame my grandchildren’s artwork and I put it up in the house where I can see it.”

“Um. Here’s a quote that I have used with adult students. Picasso said that I took him until he was an old man to really paint, to paint like a child. I think you have to trust in the power that is flowing through you. And just do it. You’re a lucky person if you can find a job in life that really makes you happy. And the art and the teaching, just… I was extremely happy, and felt fulfilled. I think as a teacher you have to be creative. Anything creative just, you know, gives you kudos inside, makes you feel alive.”

“My hope is that more young men, and women, can accept that art can bring them a lot of joy. And they can make a living at it if they look at choices that will set them up to have a regular salary. And then they will have the freedom to go and do what God has given them to do with art and they’ll have a lot of joy with that.”