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Creative life


Acreative storm is whirling right behind Leigh Ann Van Fossan’s calm blue eyes.

In it there is a young adult novel, the outline and title already set in her mind.

There are ideas for at least 15 paintings she wants to put on canvas.

And there is a complete mental copy of a second “Stubborn Sawyer” book, even though she only recently finished launch week for the first “Stubborn Sawyer.”

“There just isn’t enough time to do all that is in my head,” said the Fruita mother of two, who in addition to everything else, teaches high school art at Mesa Valley Community School.

But it was “Stubborn Sawyer” that was living up to half of its title on an early April morning, stubbornly distracting her with cell phone notification pings upon pings, some from her publisher.

Van Fossan noted that when it comes to books, there is a whole behind-the-scenes aspect with publishers, marketing and more that belies the simplicity of even a preschooler’s board book such as “Stubborn Sawyer.”

In primary colors and direct words, Van Fossan’s book is about a young boy who stubbornly thinks he can do things himself, later realizing that he does need some help from grownups.

“Stubborn Sawyer” was released nationwide on April 1 by Phoenix, Arizona-based Three Plus One Publishing and has begun creating its own whirl in Van Fossan’s life.

She’s done her best to keep up with social media, acknowledging a video about “Stubborn Sawyer” posted by an online book influencer and sharing the excitement of the book receiving a Gold Award from the Mom’s Choice Awards.

Van Fossan was featured at a recent book signing at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and she plans to be part of a the Coppertastic Book Fair on May 18 at Copper Club Brewing Co. in Fruita.

She is thankful for the attention “Stubborn Sawyer” has received, however “I never envisioned myself as a children’s book author,” Van Fossan said.


In a way, though, it came about as a side effect of living a creative life as a painter and writer. She released the novel “Painting Blue Water” in 2018. She’s sitting on another written,

but unreleased novel. Her paintings can be found at Abend Gallery in Denver and Piece Art Gallery in Vail.

And during the past nearly 10 years in particular, her mind has been on idea overload. “It all just swirls around all the time,” Van Fossan said.

Maybe it was turning 30 that flipped a creative switch, she said with a shake of her head.

Whatever the case, it hasn’t turned off and so it was there on the day when her son was 3, and “I was having a stubborn day with him,” she said.

Sawyer Van Fossan, who is now 4, is “so compassionate. He loves hugely. But he is so stubborn,” she said.

The words for a book “came very clearly and precisely into my head,” she said. “I just couldn’t ignore it.”

She ran the book idea by the owner of Three Plus One Publishing, who immediately liked it, then asked if Van Fossan could illustrate the book.

Compared to oil and acrylic paintings, illustrating is “daunting,” Van Fossan said.

Many children’s book illustrators now use computer programs to create illustrations, and “I’m not versed in those programs,” she said.


But she told the publisher “yes,” and hand drew everything old school. Her husband, fellow painter James Van Fossan, liked the simplicity of the illustrations that matched the straightforward prose of the book. “She’s so good at simple line drawings like that. She’s good at making the line count. I can’t do that,” James Van Fossan said. “A good line drawing is like a poem as opposed to a novel,” he said. “It’s got to be just right, have all the right things. She’s really good at that.” It’s an innate ability Leigh Ann Van Fossan has had since she was young, that led her to study art, said James Van Fossan, who met Leigh Ann while she was taking a hiatus from paint and working in the business side of the fine art world.

James Van Fossan pulled her back into painting in 2014, and she found she had moved from an abstract artist to a contemporary impressionist.

As a painter she is “constantly in awe” of light and land. “I have this weird obsession with boats,” she said. “I just love them.”

Although recently, she’s been taken with painting “whimsical French interiors, which is so random,” she said.

Amongst all this is “Stubborn Sawyer” inspired by her son. Now that the book is out, he reads it for himself. “He’s probably sick of it by now,” she said.

And her 14-year-old daughter, Sophia Van Fossan, wants to know “When are you going to write ‘Sassy Sophia’?”

That prose hasn’t comes yet, Leigh Ann Van Fossan said.

What she does share with her daughter, though, is an avid love of books and reading.

Losing herself into the plot of a book is something Van Fossan has always enjoyed. And while there are days when she just needs to paint — painting is “the root. It grounds me,” she said — she also finds calm and escape in books, which led her to write her own.

Nancy Thayer’s novels “finally romanced me into booking a trip to Nantucket,” Van Fossan said.

It was probably her family’s most expensive vacation ever, but while sitting outside their cottage “this started coming into my head,” she said, tapping a copy of “Painting Blue Water.”

“To entertain my thoughts I wrote a few pages and then I just kept going,” she said.

“Painting Blue Water” is set in a Colorado mountain town and the main character is an artist “of course,” but it’s not autobiographical, she said.

The novel took a year to write, and is “one of my proudest achievements,” Van Fossan said.

But if the novel that now whirls in her head along with the sequel to “Stubborn Sawyer” are any indication, Van Fossan’s creative life in words and paint aren’t done with her yet.

“It simmers, boils back there,” she said.

Local Fruita artist and author Leigh Ann Van Fossan’s newest book, “Stubborn Sawyer,” is a board book for preschoolers. While she didn’t intend to become a children’s author — she published the novel “Painting Blue Water” in 2018 — the idea for the new book came to her on a day when her own young son was being particularly stubborn and “I just couldn’t ignore it,” she said.

Photos by LARRY ROBINSON / The Daily Sentinel

Local Fruita artist and author Leigh Ann Van Fossan’s newly released children’s book “Stubborn Sawyer” is about a stubborn preschooler who doesn’t want to receive help.

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