A close friend of mine, Deb Lestenkof, passed away very suddenly earlier this year. She was like the sun - bright, bold, beautiful, and unapologetic, and everyone who knew her will miss her tremendously. She made a huge impact on the art community with her alcohol ink art, which is just as unique and original as she was.
I've been struggling to come to terms with her loss, so I thought I might share some of her wisdom to honor her memory and the impact she had on me as an artist and as a friend. She lived her life passionately, and I only hope I can show a small piece of that to you, too.
- Other artists are your friends and coworkers, not your opponents.
Deb wanted our local art community to come together and build each other up. Despite being burned in the past, she always looked for the best in people, and worked hard to give opportunities to younger or less experienced artists, speaking words of encouragement to me and so many others. She was always incredibly eager to lend help or advice. She would tell anyone where she got supplies, or which paints were best to use, or what brand of printer she bought, or how to do a particular technique. Nothing was off the table! She loved art, and she loved people, and she wanted us to all to succeed together.
- Have fun, and be true to your vision.
Deb would always say that she didn't have an option to not create art - it was a part of who she was. Painting was her way of experiencing the world and expressing herself in it. She saw light and life in everything, especially nature scenes, and put a little piece of her soul into every piece. She'd tell me that having fun making art was the most important part of the process. If you weren't having fun making it, that would show in the finished work. Paint what you want to paint, not what you think other people want to see, and your own passion for your work will shine through.
- Your art and your time is valuable.
Being an influential artist on social media, Deb would often get requests for free or discounted artwork by folks looking for a deal. She'd laugh at caving to them in the past, when she was less secure in her work, but learned a long time ago that the people who haggled for a discount didn't truly respect you or your artistic efforts. She and another art friend teamed up to encourage me to have more faith in my work and slowly raise my prices. She'd buy prints at the higher price point with a radiant smile on her face, telling me that good art is always worth it.
- Believe in yourself.
In her past Deb struggled with abusive relationships - people who should have lifted her up were instead tearing her down, telling her she'd never succeed, she'd never amount to anything, that she (and her art) was worthless. She had enough faith in herself to know differently, and rose above it all to create a one-woman alcohol ink empire that inspired thousands. In the end, she would say, you have to believe in yourself and your art, even if you're the only one who does.
- It's not perfect, and that's ok.
Alcohol ink is a notoriously difficult medium to work with, which volumes about Deb's patience. It bleeds and runs in unexpected ways, and can be very hard to control. She said that's one of the things she liked so much about the medium - she was along for the ride, and it allowed her to give up some of the control and let the painting decide what it was going to be. Trying to be a perfectionist was overrated, according to Deb - just relax, do your best, and see what happens. It's not worth stressing over the details. Every piece is special in its own right.
- There are a million ways to draw a bear.
I walked past Deb's booth at a festival once and gasped out loud - we'd accidentally made almost the exact same painting, and in the same month no less! Neither of us had seen the other's work before publishing it, so I brought my own version over to show her, nervous that she'd blame me for somehow copying the idea. She laughed out loud, and dismissed my concern with a wave. "Nobody owns flowers," she said, and explained how this happens fairly often - being Alaskan artists, we tend to circle the same few animals and scenes for inspiration (fireweed, bears, northern lights, moose, etc.) and paintings can sometimes look uncomfortably similar by coincidence. Of course there are bad actors out there - people who really do see a great idea, and steal it outright - but it feels nicer to give folks the benefit of the doubt.
She pointed out all the differences in our illustrations, and told me: There's a million ways to draw a bear. Yours will always look different, because you're the one who made it. You have your own artistic personality, so as long as you're the one making it, then it'll look like you.