Leslie Lienau has been teaching people how to see for 20 years. She founded the Conservatory for Classic Art in Edmond, where she teaches the fundamentals of drawing and painting.
“It’s a visual language, and translating it into words is very difficult.” she told The Oklahoman. “Perspective and proportion are especially hard to teach, how to translate the 3-D world to a 2-D surface.”
Several years ago, she began searching for tools to help her teach this way of seeing.
“There’s got to be something on the market, I thought.” But she couldn’t find anything.
Then one morning, in early 2012, she woke up with an idea. She went to her local hobby store and with some matte board, velum, a couple of rulers and a brad-pin, she assembled a sort of window through which she could plot the angles of three-dimensional shapes.
She brought the device to her first students of the day, 8-year-old identical twins. Using the new tool, both drew perfect 3-D boxes for the first time.
She was glad to see that her creation worked and thought she would make a few more for her other students. Then the twins spoke up.
“Does this make you an inventor?” one asked. “I guess this means you’re gonna be a millionaire,” said the other.
With those words, Lienau started thinking bigger. If she, as an artist and art instructor, wanted such a tool, certainly many other artists would benefit from it. She called her father, an inventor who holds 29 patents.
Soon she had a provisional patent on what she called the View Frame and started working on new prototypes. She made dozens. She called her son Seth, a design major at the University of Oklahoma, who has since graduated, and enlisted his help. “He took some convincing,” Lienau said.
Together, they nailed down a design, a hand-held paneless window over which thin metal dowels can be positioned to represent the angles and proportions of a subject. They took the design to a 3-D printing facility, but after an expensive failure, they bought their own 3-D printer, which sits next to Lienau’s desk.
Finally they had a working prototype. They took it to the International Arts Materials trade show and got great feedback from artists and retailers.
With prototype in hand and market interest proven, they faced the huge investment of manufacturing, and they needed money. They decided to create a campaign on Kickstarter, the leading crowdfunding website. Lienau spent months researching successful Kickstarter campaigns as she and Seth crafted their own.
The monthlong View Frame campaign launched Oct. 1 of last year, and there was an initial surge of investment. But, as with most campaigns, the initial surge fell away, leaving them far short of their $40,000 goal. A reporter from Fast Company called and interviewed Lienau, but after a few weeks, the story hadn’t appeared.
With only a few days left in the campaign, it looked like they would come up short, which meant they wouldn’t get any money and would have to search for other means of funding.
Then the Fast Company article hit, and with it a new wave of backers. With only hours before the campaign closed, they reached their goal.
Recently, Lienau’s company, Miira, which she founded to develop and sell the View Frame, was picked up as a client by i2E, the Oklahoma City business development and investment nonprofit.
Kenneth Knoll, i2E’s director of advisory services, said he was impressed with Miira’s $50,000 in pre-orders and with Lienau’s ability to share the value of the View Frame.
“If she can show a non-artist like me why this is important, then she’s doing a great job of telling this story,” he said.
After a rocky first production run, the Lienaus identified a new manufacturing partner in Oklahoma City. They took samples to a recent trade show and took their first wholesale orders. i2E aims to prepare them to take on investors.
As they await their first run with the new manufacturer, it’s fitting to reflect on a morning two years ago when a pair of 8-year-old twins got excited about Lienau’s invention. In a way, they taught her how to see.