Skip to main content

Hitting the Jackpot with Leo the Color Man

June 29, 2016 | By Annie Rogers

When a well-known, innovative, inspiring, colorful, and charismatic, professional artist and illustrator seeks you out with an offer to lead a workshop with Arts For Life patients and families, it’s like opening your door to a person standing on your stoop with one of those giant checks and a fistful of balloons.

It’s winning the creative lottery.

Leo: “What is this?” Class: “An apple!” Leo: “No, silly, it’s just a piece of paper.”

I know this because in the fall of 2015, local artist Leo Monahan and his assistant Nancy Swift sent Executive Director Rachel Zink a proposal for a workshop idea they had for patients and families involved in Arts For Life at Mission Hospital.  Already familiar with Leo’s artwork, Rachel and I met with Leo and Nancy and were immediately further drawn in by Leo’s warmth, charisma, and wry sense of humor.

It was our giant-check-and-balloon moment.

Leo is a Barnardsville-based paper artist whose fine art and illustrations are known all over the world. His work has graced the covers of over 1200 music albums; it’s been featured in countless magazines and books, and hung on the walls of art collectors worldwide. In addition to being a prolific artist and designer, Leo has taught art, design, and color theory to audiences ranging from Disney employees to art students to fellow artists.

All in the family: mom Cherise and daughter Aby create together.

Earlier this month, Leo’s vision for the collaborative Arts For Life workshop became a reality, as he stood before a small group of eager participants including Arts For Life students, parents, teachers, as well as Child Life Specialist Amy Fisher. The medium Leo focused on in this workshop was collage, but really he just used the materials as a launching pad to inspire creative living. His teaching style is intuitive and fluid; he frequently interrupted his own instructions to share an intriguing personal story, or to tell a corny joke, or to demonstrate some deceptively simple yet mind-blowing technique.

There were many “takeaways” from Leo’s workshop. For instance, he recommends working on several pieces of artwork at the same time, allowing each piece to inspire the others. He also talked about literally changing the way you look at things: he encouraged all of us, when looking through magazines for images to use in our collages, to turn the magazines upside down!

But perhaps the biggest takeaway for me was the realization of what a great gift Leo and Nancy offered in teaching this workshop. They worked for free. They donated their time, creativity, and expertise in order to offer an experience to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet — much less work with — a professional artist.

It’s inspiring, and we are truly humbled and blessed to have had the opportunity to be the bridge between Leo and the patients and families we serve.

We hope to do more of that bridge-building with more local artists in all of our chapters, all in service of offering the most dynamic educational arts programming possible.

Is it too much to hope that we might get to keep winning the creative lottery?


For Arts For Life student, Sydney, sharing her masterful illustrations with a pro was a thrill!

The artist offering hands-on instruction.

Aby and Leo with Aby’s finished collage.