About Leah

I was born in Austin, Texas, USA and spent much of my childhood moving from one place to another– including Copenhagen, Denmark, where I attended a Danish school. There I learned to speak a fair bit of Danish, and discovered that liverwurst and pickled-beet sandwiches were lunchbox staples, while peanut butter and jelly were considered exotic and slightly disgusting. And yes, I came to enjoy those strange new flavors, along with salty licorice, yum! 

I was a shy but curious child. (I’m still quite shy, to be honest!) Each move forced me out of my shell to learn about my new environment and find new friends, but moving so often also meant that drawing and reading became my comfort and refuge: steadfast companions that would always be there no matter where we went.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been so obsessive about words and images and the ways they interact.

In college I discovered the wonders of the Rare Book Room, learned to set letterpress type by hand, and lettered, illustrated and bound a 100-plus-page manuscript. While still in school and for a while after graduating I freelanced, mainly as a calligrapher at first, but then branched out into illustration, and later, painting personal pieces for gallery exhibits & my Etsy shop, Curious Art Lab. 

Whether I’m rendering words in calligraphy, illustrating an author’s words, or incorporating words into my paintings, the verbal and visual are always at play in my work. And I’m still insatiably curious about the world.

My illustrations and calligraphy have appeared in numerous annuals and exhibits, including Communication Arts, Society of Illustrators, Print, Spectrum, Visual Club, and RSVP competitions.

My paintings and other works have been shown in galleries in North Carolina, New York City, Los Angeles, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and have presented several talks and workshops for the Society. I’ve done school presentations about writing and illustration, led creativity workshops, and painted murals for a local school and a children’s bookstore.

I majored in Studio Art at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, USA, and graduated magna cum laude. I’m a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

After college (and several more moves) I finally settled down in Raleigh, NC, USA, with my husband and twin sons and our cat Ivy. I’m happy to have put down roots, although I still love to travel. The photo at left is from a visit to the Olympic National Park in Washington, USA, home of the world’s largest Sitka spruce.  Being in an old-growth rain forest for the first time reminded me vividly of my youngest years, when I loved to pretend that I was as tiny as a fairy, and could live in a stump or hide under a leaf.

Client List

Hi-Fructose Interview

Noah Scalin’s 365 Feature

Lines & Colors Feature

Nasty Nation Painting in progress

acrylic painting in progress by Leah Palmer Preiss. Pink cat dressed as lady liberty.. Pussy grabs back, women's march

This pink kitty may be dressed in classical garb, but she’s a punk at heart! It’s been quite a while since I posted anything here! But I’ve been busy. Mostly I’ve been posting work in progress, sketches, selections from my obsessive collections, & other such things on Instagram (you can follow me over there if you’d like to see more).

Lately I’ve been doing more political stuff than usual. It’s a form of therapy, more than anything else.

More Mini Monster Menagerie Detail of acrylic on collaged paper on canvas, 9" x 12"

Detail of acrylic painting in progress by Leah Palmer Preiss, monsters in letter RComing down the home stretch on Scary– these guys are hanging out in the letter R, & at least one of them is sounding it out: “RRRRRRRRRR!” (The better to scare you with!)

This section of the painting is only about 2.25″ x 2″ (5.715cm x 5.08cm)– but just because these critters are small doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous.


Continued Scariness Detail of acrylic on collaged paper on canvas, 9" x 12"

Detail of acrylic painting by Leah Palmer Preiss

More denizens of my painting-in-progress! This section is about 2.5 inches square.

I’m excited about this piece because it’s the first of a series I have in mind that will center on words & creatures. Next in line is the word “Explore”– do you have any favorite words that you would love to see invaded by odd beings?


Longma Golden Dragon Horse

Acrylic painting of Longma, golden dragon horse, by Leah Palmer PreissThis isn’t a new painting, but new to this site, & the process gif below is also new. It shows my technique with acrylic on paper fairly clearly– glazes, scumbles, details & highlights over archivally printed text. I painted this one entirely on the paper before mounting it to canvas, which is not my usual process, & usually the background doesn’t disappear quite this thoroughly, but otherwise this is pretty much how I do most of my paintings.

The subject is Longma, the Chinese Dragon-Horse. It’s still the Year of the Horse, right?

Acrylic on text scanned from Young People’s Natural History, 1901. Prints of this image are available in my Etsy Shop.

Acrylic painting process- golden dragon horse by Leah Palmer Preiss


“The Fulfillment Department” Etsy shop packaging

Studio scene, Etsy packaging area, Leah Palmer Preiss

My husband always teases me when I’m packaging up art for my Etsy shop by calling me “The Fulfillment Department.” I have to admit, I spend a lot of time on packaging. It’s partly an offshoot of my lifelong fondness for gift wrapping, but it’s also very important to me that your art arrives in perfect condition. It’s heartwarming to see how many of my Etsy reviews mention the quality of the packaging!

Dunny Inky Custom Dunny: Acrylic, text collage & found objects on vinyl toy

custom dunny, hand-painted vinyl toy, featuring an ink bottle and dip pen nibs

I’m no journalist, but I am an ink-stained wretch! I love to write & draw with dip pens, especially my beloved flexible crow-quill, Hunt 108. It gives a lovely responsive line with hairline thins & gorgeous juicy thicks, but it does have a ferocious tendency to spatter. My fingers, my desk, & pretty much everything around me tend to be bespeckled most of the time, much like this fellow. ;-)

This custom Dunny was a commission, but the client allowed me free rein with concepts. (A wonderful treat, I must say!) I set to sketching & as usual the act of drawing brought forth a flurry of ideas. In this case the shape of the torso reminded me of old-school ink bottles, which made me think of calligraphic flourishes & spatters. The client chose the sketch (along with the one for Ultramarine) & thus Inky was born!

I had to do the flourishes with acrylic & fine brushes, though, because the pen didn’t play well with vinyl. It was quite a challenge getting into the tight corners!

It’s hard to tell from this dark scan, but Inky holds a dip pen made of a poppy stalk handle topped with a fallen-soldier 108. (They do tend to wear down quickly, so I go through them by the dozen.) His ears/horns are cut-down nibs as well, I forget which sort as I found them in a box of rejected nibs. (Yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder… but see, I needed them!)

The GIF below shows Inky in process. The text is printed out on archival tissue, which conforms better to the Dunny’s contours than regular paper. It’s devilishly fragile, though!

Dunny Dance Custom Dunny: Acrylic, text collage & found objects on vinyl toy

While waiting for paint to dry on the Dunny I’m currently working on, I thought it would be fun to combine the progress shots for Dunny Ultramarine into a little gif. (Thanks to the magic of Photoshop, it is now possible to dance with one’s own backside.) ;-)

For a closer look at the finished Dunny, along with some info about the process, please see my previous post.


Red Cabinet

I’m a bit of a magpie.

I love picking up odd things that catch my eye, gathering interesting information, looking at art and nature and people and books, filling my house and my brain with all sorts of miscellaneous stuff.

Medieval manuscripts, MAD Magazine, 19th century textbooks, puppets, pulp fiction, anything Alice, botanical specimens, Persian miniatures, Monty Python, scientific illustration, Flemish Renaissance paintings, old lab glass, Victorian scrap, rusty hardware and the art of the insane– when it comes to inspiration, I’m omnivorous!

But it’s after the collecting that the real fun begins.  I love juxtaposing different elements and watching what happens when they get together. It’s like having a lively conversation with ideas & objects and images, full of surprises, twists and turns and curious coincidences.