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Glendale's architecture provides inspiration for artist

Artist Leisa Collins is a fan of strolling through Glendale neighborhoods, but she has an even bigger fondness for architecture that will occasionally stop her right in her tracks. When she comes across a visually-striking home, she whips out a drawing pad and starts to sketch.

Those sketches later evolve into paintings. It’s a formula Collins has made a career out of having crafted more than 1,500 home-inspired portraits across 43 states.

Despite the frequent roving, there’s a specific reason she started calling Glendale her home a few years ago.

“There’s no shortage of architectural styles in Glendale,” she said. “Here, you go down the street, and you will see 10 different styles of houses on one block.”

So far, she’s done 29 paintings of local homes including bungalows, Spanish villas and Tudors.

Other communities from which she’s drawn inspiration include Burbank, Sierra Madre and San Marino.

Her style is self-taught and relies on a combination of drawing the frame of an art piece in brown ink, then painting over it with vibrant watercolors.

While Collins says she has a deep appreciation for good architecture, she also tries to capture a homeowner’s personality — despite having yet to meet them — by including details such as landscaping, decorations and even any pets spotted outside.

“That’s the fun of it. It’s just like being Sherlock Holmes, where I’m able to know about a person by their environment, I do the same with a home,” she said.

When Collins gets to around 50 Glendale paintings, she plans to hold an exhibition of her work, just like she did in South Pasadena.

Sometimes Collins’ shows feature prints of her originals. That’s because she believes whoever lives behind the front door of her subjects should get first dibs.

“What I do when I’m around the end of a painting and putting [on] the finishing touches, I will leave a note for the homeowner, offering it to them,” Collins said.

One day, resident Liz Baumann got a letter in the mail saying her Kenneth Road house was replicated on a canvas. She said she thought it might have been a gimmick, but after seeing the piece in person, she bought it.

The portrait featured landscaping Baumann added herself to the home that’s been in her family for decades. She said she couldn’t pass up a chance to preserve her tenure as head of the house.

“My house is very important to me; it was the house I grew up in,” Baumann said. “I’m just trying to capture it and keep that legacy going.”

A New Zealand transplant, Collins picked up architecturally-inspired artwork about eight years ago after a long hiatus to work in children’s nonprofits around the world.

Another of her goals is to paint homes in the remaining seven states she hasn’t visited yet. A book of works from every state called “Art Inspiring Homes Across America” is expected to follow, she added.

She wants to feature Glendale homes and their many architectural styles including Victorian and Queen Anne in a coffee table book in the future. Accompanying each portrait would be a historical blurb about the property.

“If you can show a huge array like that, and there’s all this historical data, I think that makes for really fascinating reading,” she said.

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Arin Mikailian, arin.mikailian@latimes.com

Twitter: @arinmikailian

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