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Brightening up the world one brushstroke at a time

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Jessica Leeck poses next to a mural she painted on her aunt and uncle Mike and Laurel Nowak’s fence on Fair Avenue in Alpena.

ALPENA — For the past six years, Jessica Leeck has immersed herself in painting. It relaxes her to let the brush hit the canvas, or in this case, the fence, and just let her imagination flow.

Leeck, 18, recently finished painting a larger-than-life mural of bright yellow flowers and a giant bumblebee on the fence at her aunt and uncle Mike and Laurel Nowak’s Fair Avenue home in Alpena. Passersby can view the mural easily from the street.

Leeck said her Aunt Laurel has encouraged her to express herself through painting for as long as she can remember.

“My aunt, she’s the one who hired me,” Leeck said. “She thought I could do some kind of summer project.”

The flowers she painted were originally going to be sunflowers, but they evolved into a hybrid with variations of pink, red and orange in the center branching out to yellow petals.

“I was looking up ideas for the garden, and fence painting was one of the things that came up,” Nowak said. “And I knew I couldn’t do it, but I knew somebody that could, so I talked her into doing it, and she did an awesome job.”

Leeck started by drawing the picture, then painting with white paint to make the color stand out.

“I kind of start listening to music, I go with the flow,” she said of her process. “She told me that she really wants bees so badly, so I’m like, ‘OK, sure, why not?'”

Enter the giant bumblebee that flew right out of her creative mind and onto the fence. And just like bumblebees defy physics by flying, Leeck was able to defy her insecurities to create a beautiful piece of artwork.

“Sometimes I don’t really have confidence that I can paint that well,” she said with her ever-present smile. “But it turned out good.”

Leeck said the fence mural took her about two weeks to complete. Her aunt noted it took a total of 35 hours.

Leeck started painting in middle school and won an art award, which helped boost her confidence to continue with her passion. Her art teachers and family have been very supportive of her artistic endeavors.

“I like to be different, and paint things that nobody’s ever seen,” she said.

Leeck is different, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance. She was born completely deaf, and her parents didn’t even know it until she was 18 months old.

“It took us a while because she was quite the fooler,” said her mom, Sue Leeck. Her dad is Dave Leeck.

When she was about 4-1/2 years old, Jessica Leeck had a cochlear implant on one side. She can hear somewhat out of that ear. She still practices her speech to become better at it, since she primarily uses sign language.

Leeck graduated from Alpena High School in 2019, and she is attending Alpena Community College studying to become a secondary math and sign language teacher.

“I always teach people how to sign so they can communicate with me,” she said. “So, I love seeing their faces, how they get all excited to learn. So I thought that I could do the same thing for the students at the high school.”

Leeck earned a place on the ACC Dean’s List this year. When she was in high school, she helped paint the scenery for her prom, which had a Parisian theme. She painted a backdrop to look like a cafe in Paris.

“I just love to feel the flow with the brushes,” Leeck said of painting. “There are no rules. Whenever I’m really stressed, it helps me relax. I feel like I can be whoever I am. Nobody’s judging me.”

She has painted many pictures and given them as gifts to friends and family. She is open to selling some paintings or painting on commission, as she is seeking summer income.

To reach Leeck, call 989-354-2673.

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