True-to-self artist flourishes in unique business

By putting paint and brushes and gumption to canvas, a local woman has found her true self, and she's flourishing. Leanne Larson of rural Garfield is an artist growing two unique businesses - Cane Toad Studios and Art Bar 39. One specializes in l...

This is the final version of Leanne Larson’s live event painting, which features a couple just married at Carlos Creek Winery. (Contributed)

By putting paint and brushes and gumption to canvas, a local woman has found her true self, and she’s flourishing.

Leanne Larson of rural Garfield is an artist growing two unique businesses – Cane Toad Studios and Art Bar 39.
One specializes in live-event painting and the other presents an opportunity for anyone of any age, regardless of talent, an opportunity to flex their artistic potential and put paint to canvas, too.


Cane Toad Studios is located in Leanne’s home for now, where she works on portraiture, landscapes and a series of personal work.
However, the bulk of her work lately takes place away from the studio – as part of her live-event painting service.
Over the last year, she has completed about 10 live-event paintings – everything from a Kentucky Derby-themed fundraiser party to indoor and outdoor weddings.
“I paint the event on-site as it happens, capturing the bridal party, guests, the mood and their energy,” she said.
Live painting weddings has become a niche of abundance for the artist.
Here’s how it works: Leanne shows up three to five hours before the wedding ceremony with her easel and oil paints.
“I start initial sketches, get the architecture in or the landscape and keep working on it,” she explained. “As guests start to arrive I’m at the point I can just start painting them right into the scene.”
She’s often incognito during the ceremony – off in the choir loft of a church or off by the trees during an outdoor wedding.
“Then, I show up at the reception with this painting that they see themselves in and they’re like, ‘How did this come about?’ They’re really surprised and they love it,” Leanne said.
From start to finish, by the end of the night, the newly married couple has a finished oil painting depicting their ceremony or reception.
“People get excited about being in [the painting] and feel more connected to the couple. Not only are they invited [to the wedding], but they see themselves as part of it now. They get really excited about seeing themselves in an original painting; it’s something they probably never imagined they’d ever be in,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t get to experience that – how a painting is done. They see the final result, but they don’t see how it’s broken down.”
In addition to live event painting, Leanne recently partnered with Glenwood artist Rikki Sneddon to create Art Bar 39.
It’s a business that coordinates and supplies fun, small-group painting sessions. Each event focuses on a specific painting or style of painting.
There’s no experience necessary to take part in a session and perhaps that’s the allure. Since September 25, Art Bar 39 has hosted 22 events and 18 more are booked with 12 more pending. No supplies are needed.
“I think Alexandria has needed this for a long time,” Leanne said. “It’s great to see the community come together and make connections. Everyone sits down in front of a blank canvas, everyone is scared and nervous, so they confide in one another and you see relationships grow. It’s another form of entertainment for adults and kids in the Alexandria area. We love what we do.”
There are plans to eventually incorporate other mediums, including pottery, printmaking, glass, metal work, jewelry-making and more.
“We want to find ways to stay creative and open other opportunities to grow,” she said, and that includes a permanent Art Bar 39 studio location in Alexandria.
“Teaching these classes, being in front of people, live-painting weddings – it’s given me the satisfaction that all of a sudden I’m sharing my creative space with others. I think I thrive on the idea that others can see the process,” Leanne added.



In the midst of launching two new businesses, Leanne said she’s equally committed to the portraiture, landscape and abstract paintings that stir her soul. “Art has helped me find myself and express myself and be truly who I am,” she said.
Currently, she’s working on a series of paintings called “Recollections.”
“I grew up in Australia and a lot of my work is about my past, which was not the prettiest. I’ve always been interested in finding the beauty in the ugly. Specifically, my ‘Recollections’ series is my body of work that I’m doing that talks about my past. It’s a lot about my feelings as a child in the environment I grew up in, both the physical and emotional environment. It’s about traditions. I like to describe it as narrative vignettes of my past.”
Leanne left home when she was 15 years old, escaping abuse and religious burdens, and she moved to the U.S. at 18.
“It’s been a tough road to figure out who I am as a person and that’s what my art is doing for me now. Every once in a while I’ll have this idea that comes to mind about my past and I’m like, ‘How can I turn that into a beautiful yet subtle message that others can relate to?’
“Whenever I create something, I’m creating it for myself but I’m also creating it as a message for other people to relate to or open up about.”
Leanne and her husband, Jerry, have three children. They’re currently remodeling an old school house that Jerry’s grandparents lived in.


On Sunday, December 14 at 7 p.m., Pioneer Public Television will premiere its sixth season of “Postcards” – a weekly regional art, culture and history program. The premiere episode will feature stories about creative and interesting people living in the area, including Leanne Larson of Garfield.

The 30 minute episode will be repeated on Monday, December 15 at 1:30 p.m. and on Thursday, December 18 at 7 p.m. The program will also be available for online viewing after December 15 through the station's website: .



We had to ask: Why Cane Toad for her studio name?
Artist Leanne Larson grew up in Australia where, she said, cane toads are a nuisance.
“They’re big fat, ugly, warty toads that were used to eat bugs off the sugar cane… we detest them there. But, if you turn those toads upside down, their underbelly has a gorgeous print – it’s almost like a leopard print. I could take a little square composition off that belly, blow it up on a big canvas, stick it above somebody’s couch and it would become this beautiful abstract piece that people could admire, and yet, if they found out what source it was really from, they’d have to really consider what they thought about it. That’s where the name came from,” she explained.


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