*A version of this story appeared in The Budget’s February 8, 2017 Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
When it comes to art, as with anything else, practice makes perfect.
Marlea Hershberger-Leinbach was not always the seasoned artist she is today. That’s something that took a lot of practice, some trial and error and many years of hard work and dedication.
“I believe every person is born with the urge to create, but being good at something often means practicing, and art is no different,” explained the 38-year-old mixed media artist and instructor for the Holmes Center for the Arts.
When practicing, Hershberger-Leinbach advises individuals to be easy on themselves. “For every beautiful painting you see, there’s lots of junk in the closet that nobody ever gets to see,” she said.
While she is currently best known for her nature-inspired mixed media paintings, Hershberger-Leinbach said she likes to dabble in a lot of different mediums and recently has been working on a series of pen and ink drawings and calligraphy pieces. “I don’t like to be in that box all the time,” she said. “I like to keep my options open I guess.”
Growing up as the oldest of three siblings in rural Wayne and Holmes counties, Hershberger-Leinbach said she didn’t start out painting and drawing in the traditional sense. “It was more of just creating things out of things laying around and improvising and making things,” she explained.
As a budding young artist, Hershberger-Leinbach said she was inspired by her grandmother, a self-taught painter who lived in Holmesville. “Going over to her house was really cool because she had her little studio set up in the basement,” she said. “We used to like to watch grandma paint, so I grew up knowing that was something that people did and that was ok to do.”
She was also supported by her parents, who encouraged her to think creatively and keep trying new things. “Just learning to do the best at whatever you’re doing was always encouraged,” she said.
The family moved from their home in northern Wayne County to Berlin when Marlea was 16. She graduated from the Central Christian School in Kidron before going on to obtain a degree in art and secondary education from Goshen College in north-central Indiana. It was at the college that she would meet her future husband, Mark Leinbach, a mutual friend who was pursuing a degree in social work.
Hershberger-Leinbach believes strongly in the power of art education and the positive impact it has on children. “I think it’s really important for children to learn the creative process,” the artist explained. “I think making things that look nice to hang on the wall, that’s great, but I think more important is the cognitive process behind creativity and creative problem-solving. I think it transfers to all areas of life. I think art education really supports that.”
After graduating, Hershberger-Leinbach taught art in Indiana for several years at the elementary and preschool levels before moving back to Holmes County in 2005 and becoming involved with the Holmes County Art Group and the Holmes Center for the Arts. She books artists and schedules classes for the arts center and leads the organization’s preschool painting lab on Saturday and Sunday mornings at the Berlin Mennonite Church.
Like many artists, Hershberger-Leinbach said she really enjoys the process of creating. She does the bulk of her work in a room inside the Trail-area home she shares with her husband and two sons.
For her paintings, Hershberger-Leinbach said the creation process is also really physical. “I like to prepare my own board, so a lot of those I put on wood panel,” she explained. “Sometimes that means woodworking tools. I have to do sawing and nailing and things. I like to make them really sturdy. I’m not a really gentle artist.”
The artist said many of those paintings feature abstracted landscapes that incorporate textural elements like sand. “I really like the way things feel, so when I’m working on something I like to add things that make the texture a part of the composition,” she said. “Anything that can give more of a tactile and physical influence.”
Hershberger-Leinbach said she also enjoys blurring the line between art and craft, and often likes to create functional pieces that serve some kind of purpose. Later this year, she intends to release a Fraktur coloring book, which she plans to sell locally. The pages will feature drawings inspired by the old-fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch folk art style commonly used for family announcements in the mid-1700s through mid-1800s. The artist said she is also hoping to start offering some customizable Fraktur-style announcements.
For parents wanting to encourage their children’s creative thinking skills and artistic abilities, Hershberger-Leinbach has a piece of advice: “Be open to the mess that comes with making.”
She also advises parents to lead by example and try new things, even if they think they’re not going to be good at them. “Nobody’s good at anything the first time they do it,” she said. “A lot of times parents are like, ‘Well, I’m not good at art,’ or ‘I can’t sing,’ but if you just do it and do your best, kids pick up on that.”
Update: Hershberger-Leinbach’s coloring book is currently being printed and will be available for sale through her Etsy shop, TrailStudio65, in February or March. The artist also recently added some downloadable prints and coloring pages and says one of her goals for the new year is to keep her shop updated. She also recently completed some folk art-inspired woodblocks that are available for sale at New Towne Fare in Millersburg. She’s currently hard at work on a new series of mixed-media paintings and is planning to host an open studio event during summer or fall.