Over the Back Fence

Debbie Croft: Three loves, two artists, one company

composed@tds.netOctober 11, 2013 

The marriage and careers of Brad and Sheryl Leisure are based on advice Brad gives to his single friends:

“When finding a wife, you need something you enjoy doing together, and hobbies you can enjoy separately.”

Horse-Power Graphics Inc. is the art company owned by this talented husband-and-wife team. Brad loves cars and Sheryl loves horses. And both are artists. The name is a play on words that encompasses all aspects of their business.

Coming from a long line of artists, Brad graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. His career as an automotive illustrator and industrial designer began with a California-based manufacturer, where he designed custom golf carts.

After 20 years he turned to drawing and painting hot-rods and custom cars – something he’s done almost since he could pick up a pencil. His artwork is often featured in magazines and on boxes of model car kits.

Taking up most of the wall and floor space in his studio are display cases and shelves full of model cars and Hot Wheels. He’s collected them since he was a boy in the 1960s.

Among his collection is a half-inch scale model car kit for a 1955 Chevrolet convertible hardtop from the Monogram Company. It has a retail price of $1.98. Today, similar kits sell for $20 or more.

His painting of the green hot-rod L’il Wrecker won first place and a special award in this year’s Mariposa County Fair. And one of his paintings was featured in the Model Cars magazine this past July.

Using chalk pastels on black Canson paper, his painting of a brown custom car looks like a photograph.

Creating the character Hot-Rod Bunny resulted in the idea of a children’s book. Brad wrote and illustrated what has now turned into a series of books, which are in the process of being published.

Learn more about Brad’s artwork at www.bradleisure.com and http://hotrodbunny.com.

“Brad’s the technical artist. He helped me with highlighting and reflections for an art project in college,” said Sheryl.

In turn, she shows him how to leave brush strokes.

Well-known in the world of equine art, Sheryl has earned a reputation for hand-dappling that looks realistic. Perfecting the air brush technique takes years, she admits. Working quickly, she paints duns, buckskins, Appaloosas and horse breeds of all kinds.

“It takes good eye-hand coordination, for one thing,” she says. “And I have a God-given ability to match colors.”

Studying horse colors and genetics also gives her an advantage.

Her artwork includes custom painting, sculpturing model horses, repairs, restorations and portraiture. Model horses come in plastic, resin, ceramic and porcelain.

Sheryl has painted professionally since her teen years. She takes her award-winning collectibles to competitions several times a year.

Her experience painting prototypes and running model horse shows led her to form her own convention, the West Coast Model Horse Collectors Jamboree. It was held annually in Southern California for 13 years until 2004.

Selling her 1,500-piece Breyer model horse collection several years ago allowed the couple to build a house on their property in Mariposa County. What’s left of her collection is now displayed in the living room.

She handles the accounting and finances for their company and appraises vintage model horse collections. Visit Horse-Power Graphics at www.modelhorsejamboree.com.

Sheryl’s most recent restoration project was presented to her last year. A friend had paid $1,250 for a Royal Worcestershire Percheron French Draft Horse china figurine. When it was accidentally dropped, the friend handed her a box containing all the pieces.

“She told me to do whatever I wanted with it,” Sheryl says.

She re-sculpted the figurine, filling in cracks and chips and shaping new parts as needed. Then she painted it in its original colors. The horse took second place in a recent show and qualified for a national competition. Sheryl can’t wait to see her friend’s response when she hands the Percheron back to her — in one piece.

The Leisure family lives on a small ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Married for 34 years, they have two children, a few horses, some chickens and too many cats.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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