The flower power of Leslie Simmons

"Small Red Bloom" by Ms. Simmons. — Photo courtesy of Leslie Simmons

Showing at The Field Gallery for the first time this year is watercolorist Leslie Richmond Simmons. A Lambert’s Cove summer resident for many years, Ms. Simmons creates richly colored portraits of flowers, fruit, and vegetables, mixing in an occasional landscape. Because she so often concentrates close up on her subjects, it seems appropriate to call her watercolors portraits rather than still life works in the traditional sense.

Although Ms. Simmons majored in studio art at Connecticut College and has taken courses at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and with Vineyard watercolorist David Wallis, she feels she has explored most effectively on her own. In a career spanning 40 years, she has donned a variety of creative hats. After college, she worked as an art editor for a Boston publishing house and for the news department of a Boston TV station. Her winter home is in Milton.

She has been a printmaker, a graphic designer who supported herself through her serigraphs, and a greeting card maker who ran her own design and manufacturing company that still generates occasional royalty checks. She has worked exclusively in watercolor since the 1990s because it is nontoxic.

“I started studying watercolor in 1991 and would incorporate watercolor into my greeting cards,” Ms. Simmons said. “Then 1996 came, and I was diagnosed with M.S. [multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory disease of the nervous system].” The greeting card side of her life subsided, and she reinvented herself from a hard-edged graphic designer into a looser watercolor painter.

One of the challenges for Ms. Simmons in coping with M.S. has been the change from painting with her left hand to her right. She can no longer use her dominant left hand for fine-motor skills like painting, so an artist who used to have museum-quality handwriting taught herself to paint with her right hand.

“I like to think the goods are still up there in my head,” she said. “When I look at something, I still see with a designer’s eye.”

She admits that it’s challenging, though. The paint and the water have a mind of their own, she suggests, and she has to be willing to accept what the paint wants to do: “I just love how the paint and the water and my brush interact.”

Ms. Simmons describes herself as looking for moments in her art. To illustrate, she points to a brush curl of alizarin red in a small portrait of a turnip she painted last summer. “I just kept painting it,” she said. “I had never looked at it closely before.”

Ms. Simmons first photographs the flowers, fruits, and vegetables she paints, with her cell phone. Then she often enlarges the image for a closer look. A pear nestled up against an apple absorbed her creatively for a while. “It was about the intimacy between the pear and the apple,” she said.

Looking at flowers, fruit, or vegetables speaks directly to the graphic artist in this painter. “I love to get up close and personal with a flower,” she says. “I see it not so much as a flower, but from a color and design perspective.”

Leslie Richmond Simmons exhibit, The Field Gallery & Sculpture Garden, West Tisbury. Open 10 am to 5 pm, Monday through Saturday; 11 am to 5 pm Sunday. For more information, call 508-693-5595 or visit