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'Love from Paris'
Color and light, warm places and dreams of travel are elements of Merritt Leigh Steidl's lively paintings
"Love from Paris," Merritt Leigh Steidl and "Island Flowers"

"You can see that she's trying to embody Parisian culture; she's put on the hat. Part of her scarf looks like the French flag. You're not quite sure what she's doing or all of the details."
- Merritt Leigh Steidl

by Norma Smith Olson

Merritt Leigh Steidl's art gives a shot of vibrancy to one's soul in these short, dark days of little daylight in our monochromatic Minnesota landscape. Her paintings are filled with color and, most importantly, light.

"A lot of my paintings are done in the winter. I think it's almost an escape for me from the cold. I create my own sunny environment by painting," Steidl said.

She grew up in Fargo, N.D., and moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota. "I'm definitely a Midwestern girl at heart. I really love our summers, time at the lake, being outdoors," she said. "I love flowers and the color that warm weather brings."

Bright, saturated, pure color-often contrasted with pure white-is a hallmark of her artwork. "I don't like the colors to get too muddy," she said. "I try to keep them very bright. I use a lot of white; you see light woven throughout it. That helps to keep the colors separate and makes them pop a little bit more. I very consciously use white."

Lighthearted and fun. Expressionistic or abstract. Just full of life. These are terms Steidl uses to describe her artwork. She switches easily from oils to acrylics to watercolor, sometimes layering acrylic on watercolor.

Dreams of Paris
"I like to travel someplace warm in the winter for a little break," Steidl said. She brought along a small watercolors set on a trip to Florida one winter. Her sketches from the trip became a collection of tropical, waterlily paintings.

Travel and dreams of faraway places inspire her paintings. A friend from India inspired a series of patterned paintings resembling brightly colored fabrics that became her "Bombay Brushstrokes" collection. Her love of animals, the Travel Channel and National Geographic's TV specials took shape in her images of elephants and lions for her "Wild Things" African-themed animals collection.

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"What girl doesn't dream of going to Paris?" Steidl mused. Though she has not been to Paris yet, this month's cover art is like a postcard being sent home from a young girl on her first European adventure, she said. "I'm having a great time. Love from Paris."

Some elements are left obscure in the painting, but the Eiffel Tower is in the background, so you know the girl's exact location.

"You can see that she's trying to embody Parisian culture; she's put on the hat. Part of her scarf looks like the French flag," Steidl said. "You're not quite sure what she's doing or all of the details. I've left a lot open to interpretation, depending on what the viewer wants to see, depending on their own particular experiences."

Everyday passion
Steidl took one art class while at the university. Her focus at the time was on her degree in public relations and marketing. She works today as a category analyst for the deli department at the corporate offices of Lund Food Holdings (the Lunds and Byerly's grocery stores).

"Separate is nice," she said of her focus in two different worlds-her career and her artwork. It gives her "extra variety."

"Life gets really busy, but it's important to find that time to sit down and do what you really love. For me, it's about making time to paint," Steidl said. "I think following your heart is about making time to fit your passion into your everyday life."

FFI: www.leighCollections.com

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