Artist Interview - Karolina Leonte

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Karolina Leonte.  I was born in Krakow, Poland.  I am a contemporary artist based in Los Angeles.  I use graphite, charcoal, and colored pencil on paper to create my photorealistic art.


Why do you do what you do?

I can’t imagine my life without art; drawing is my passion, just part of my DNA.  I want my art to inspire and stimulate conversation about important matters, but sometimes it’s just about the face. I find enjoyment in putting pencil to paper and sharing my drawings.


What inspires your art?

I am inspired by the people I admire and the current events in the world.  

How and when did you get into art?

When I was only three years old my dad, who used to draw, saw my talent and encouraged me to do it.  I attended a few art drawing workshops as a teenager but essentially I am self-taught.  


After high school, while still in Poland, I earned a certificate in Makeup Artistry and Body Painting.  When I moved to Los Angeles in 2009, I wanted to explore my career possibilities in the entertainment industry so I obtained a degree in Computer Animation.


I have always known my true passion is fine art drawing.  In 2017, as my fan base grew and more people were buying my art, I started drawing full-time!


How has your practice changed over time?

My drawings have definitely advanced as I have learned additional techniques to blend graphite and charcoal pencils to create a more detailed realistic feel to each piece.  But there are no shortcuts to this form of artwork, I am just getting better at it!


I am fortunate to be able to work in a room that has an indoor/outdoor feel with tons of natural light and an amazing sound system!  My husband wanted me to have an art-friendly area in which to be creative so he converted our garage to this amazing studio space.


My reach and audience have expanded through social media, gallery (@artunified) and cafe (@blackheartcoffeeco) exhibits in Los Angeles.  My good friend who is a promoter (@sharisivak) has become my close advisor, biggest fan, and a collector!

What’s your favorite piece of art that you’ve created? Why?

That’s a tough question!  My favorite drawings are the ones that have a deeper meaning.  For example, my drawing "Freedom" is a portrait of George Michael.

The LGBTQ earring represents that love is a human right and the sky & ocean reflection in his glasses represents being free to be who you are.  


What’s the best piece of art advice you’ve been given?

Don’t force it!  Your best work always comes naturally.


What’s one art tip/technique you can share with us that you find really helpful?

I use a technique of blending both graphite and charcoal together. I use more graphite than charcoal in areas that are naturally shiny, like skin or jewelry. I will use more charcoal than graphite in areas that are more matte-like most of the clothes, hair, or tattoos.  Doing it this way gives the drawing a more organic feel.

Do you have any secret tips or techniques you use to salvage a piece when you make a mistake?

I rarely have to start a drawing over again. When I do, it means I didn’t plan well beforehand.  Pencils, especially charcoal, are very unforgiving. There is a point where you are just not able to erase it. So my advice, if you don't want to make a mistake or are not sure if something will look good, practice that area on the side until you are happy with it. Then apply it to the original artwork.


What is your favorite Strathmore paper? Why?

My favorite Strathmore paper is the Bristol paper 4-ply, 400 series, with a smooth finish.  I prefer it because it is thick, therefore very durable, and its smooth finish is perfect for detailed graphite and charcoal work. I also love the vellum finish version because it holds the charcoal beautifully, and allows you to get deeper blacks.  I will choose the vellum finish when I know my piece will be dominantly drawn with charcoal.  

What art materials could you not live without?

I am a minimalist.  All I need is paper, pencils, charcoal powder, brushes, cotton swabs (to blend with), and an eraser.  It would be hard to live without my easel though, using it saves my back from injury.


What types of colors are you drawn to for your art and why?

I am drawn to mostly using black and white but I do enjoy using a splash of color when appropriate. For example, in my drawing of Kobe Bryant, I used gold and purple in the number 24 to honor his beloved Lakers.

Who are your biggest influences (or who were when you started doing art)?

I was always interested in art history and visited many art museums across Europe when I was young. I remember the moment when I first saw Jan van Eyck’s painting “Madonna of Chancellor Rolin” and his “Arnolfini Portrait”. He lived in the 15th century. I was just so blown away by the detail he was able to achieve! I think that’s when I realised that I love intricate artworks.  My favorite Polish artist is Jozef Chelmonski. His paintings “Four-in-Hand” and “Indian Summer” are absolute masterpieces. My grandmother actually used to own a copy of the “Four-in-Hand” painting, so I literally fell in love with it when I was just a child.


Then when I moved to Los Angeles I saw Chuck Close’s artworks in The Broad Museum and then Han Young Wook at the LA Art Show. Those events confirmed for me that I wanted to draw realistic and contemporary portraits.


Nowadays, there are many new artists that I research and follow their journey. Annie Murphy Robinson, Arinse Stanley, Jono Dry, and Kelvin Okafor are just a few that inspire me to be better and grow as an artist.


What’s the most common art-related question you get from your followers?

The questions I get most often are about how do I blend graphite and charcoal to create natural-looking skin tones. I try to explain it this way: I apply the initial layer with HB and 2B graphite pencil and then I blend it with q-tips mostly, but I also use my fingers and blending stumps. I then apply charcoal with a pencil and I also apply charcoal powder with a brush. I will then do a second layer of graphite and then the second layer of charcoal and repeat again if necessary. I go with the flow as to how many layers I will use, it really depends on how dark I want the skin tone to be.  In between the layers, and also at the very end of the process, I will add granular details like skin pores and small wrinkles, and then create highlight spots in the skin by erasing the pencil with 2.3 mm Tombow and a Kneaded Rubber eraser.


Website/social media links:


Instagram: @karo_art


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