Each Painting Begins On The Trail For This Washington Artist


Lesley Frenz in her studio.

Lesley Frenz in her studio.

For Mount Vernon, Washington, artist Lesley Frenz, every painting begins on the trail. The devoted hiker spends her free time exploring the verdant wilderness near her home. While her abstract landscapes look like gauzy snapshots of nature, she is quick to point out they aren’t illustrations. “My paintings are interpretations of my experience with the natural world,” she says.

Before turning to painting full time in 2018, Frenz spent years in art-adjacent careers, keeping a small easel to dabble with her craft. It wasn’t until she and her husband began to explore the West that inspiration really hit. “I often sketch on the trail. It helps me notice the way the trees sit with the mountains or how water laps at the shore of a lake.” Sometimes, instead of sketching, she’ll simply write down what she experiences. “I bring all those thoughts back to the studio,” she says. “My paintings are emotional journeys into landscapes.”

A detail of Lesley Frenz work.

An untitled work in progress shows how the artist interprets her natural surroundings.

landscape painting

The artist's work is inspired by the landscape.

A bulletin board contains inspiration images.

Images that inspire the artist.

Colors on a palette.

A detail of one of the artist's painting exercises exploring the color green.

homemade paint palette

Working from her home studio—a converted garage painted white floor-to-ceiling to maximize the Pacific Northwest sunlight—she brings her trail-motivated brainstorms to life. She’ll spend days prepping large-form canvases. Then, using acrylics in a moody palette of blue, green, lavender, gray and dusty pink, she applies layers of paint and glaze, slowly allowing a landscape to emerge. “I use wide brushes, palette knives, spatulas, squeegees, ink brayers, old library cards and even my fingers to make interesting marks or create an alluring texture,” she notes. The result is a reinterpretation of nature that is “abstracted and atmospheric, mysterious and luscious, cool and earthy.”

In her most recent series, “The Longing is the Return,” she added spray bottles to her quiver of tools, giving the work a water-soaked aesthetic. The pieces were a way to process the passing of her mother. “As I allowed myself to cry, I had a profound sense of her presence—and unity with the trees and rain outside my window. I wanted to express that feeling of connectedness and hope,” she says.

Frenz is represented locally by J. Rinehart Gallery in Seattle and even has a line of wallcoverings (carried by Area Environments) based on her paintings and sketches. “I really love the act of creating something out of nothing,” she says. “The best days in the studio are when I have tapped into the flow. By the end, I’ve created something special and have absolutely no idea how it came to be.”