Local Artist Celebrates Women Through Portraits

Writer  /  Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided by Bob Daugherty & Julie Montgomery

When Lesley Haflich was a little girl, she gravitated to art, and that never changed. She went on to earn a degree in fine arts from Purdue. After working for 15 years in advertising, she decided it was time to once again nurture her passion for art. A dozen years ago, Haflich started painting with a group of ladies at the Hamilton County Artists’ Association.

“Sometimes we’d have a model and other times we would go outside and paint,” says Haflich, who also got involved with the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association (IPAPA), taking part in things like the “First Brush of Spring Paintout,” which happens every April in New Harmony.

“Those are always fun,” Haflich says. “It’s almost like going adult camping with a hobby.”

Though she started out doing traditional landscapes, a couple years back, Haflich tried her hand at abstract art, choosing a theme she thought might resonate with members of the community: roundabouts.

“People either love them or hate them,” Haflich says. “If you hate them, I’m calling them circles.”

One customer, in particular, loved them and commissioned Haflich to paint a large four-panel roundabout piece to hang above her fireplace.

Last February, Haflich was inspired by Iowa artist Rose Frantzen, who set up shop in the downtown square of her hometown in Maquoketa and painted the people who walked by. As Haflich munched on meals in Noblesville’s Uptown Café, she would look around at the patrons and think, “Wow, that person would make a great portrait!”

Then she started contemplating the engaging, accomplished women who make up the community she has called home for the past 28 years, and she decided that she’d like to paint the faces of her town.

Haflich, who has been a studio artist at the Nickel Plate Arts Campus for the past five years, painted 30 portraits between March and September. The process improved her technique and made her recognize the areas that were a struggle. For instance, painting teeth.

“It’s hard to make them look realistic and not like jail bars,” Haflich says. “If you pay attention, you’ll notice that in portraits, mouths are often closed.”

Haflich wanted to make each portrait look lifelike but not too formal. She purposefully varied the poses, professions and portrait sizes. A sampling of some of the featured women includes a school superintendent, a state representative, a deputy chief of police, an orthodontist, attorneys, teachers and, of course, artists.

Each portrait typically took at least three sessions. The first session involved “block in”— putting facial features in place and roughing in the colors. The second session “connected the dots”— making the piece cohesive with her paint as far as transitions between colors and shapes. Finally, she smoothed out any areas that needed fixing. Once the technical stuff was done, it was time for the fun part.

“I get to use colors and expression in my brush strokes to make the portrait speak on its own,” says Haflich, noting that oil is a very forgiving medium. Meaning, if you mess up, you layer.

“Layering adds richness,” she says. “Sometimes even the texture will add richness and you’ll find there’s a whole other painting under there. Watercolor is the opposite. That’s a medium where if you goof up, it’s hard to make lemonade out of lemons.”

Haflich hopes that the featured women feel honored and that Noblesville residents recognize that the town is full of valuable women serving in the community.

“I also want folks to recognize that Nickel Plate is a great place to go for art,” Haflich adds.

Now that this project is done, she’s setting her sights on what’s next. Perhaps abstract. Perhaps family portraits.

“I’m not sure what it’ll be,” she says. “I just want to be able to sustain the joy of painting.”

The Women of Noblesville exhibit will be on display from October 3-31 at the Stephenson House Gallery at Nickel Plate Arts, 107 S. 8th Street. The preview party will take place Thursday, October 4. For more information about Nickel Plate Arts, visit nickelplatearts.org.

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