spoilersMy beloved flawed León. My expressive hyper-focused egoist. More than one reader has described him as an innocent misogynist, and they’re not wrong. He’s got some growing up to do!

“Truth is hard to see in yourself, so the artist shows the truth of their muse, like holding up a mirror. It needs a lot of trust.”

León Alejo-Rios stole my heart as I wrote Painting Celia. I knew I needed an expressive artistic character to teach Celia how to feel honestly, but León took me on a much deeper journey as I learned more about him.

As I let León react to the situations I put him in, I was surprised to find that he was manipulative and insecure. For someone with so much self-esteem about his purpose and ability, he spent a lot of time pushing to make other people help him reach his goals. He didn’t feel bad about it either, as what was important to him should be important to everyone!

It was pure joy to put León into a new setting and watch him catalog colors, shapes, and stories in his head. Surprisingly, a lot of his artistic visions turned slightly religious. I hadn’t intended that, but something in the reverence he felt for color and shape felt like worship. I gave him free rein there and soon he was exclaiming “Jesus!” when sights overwhelm him.

León is expression personified. He speaks fluidly and extemporaneously and occasionally in multiple languages, always evangelizing for his desires and point of view. He’s interested, open, honest, and eager, trying to understand the feelings inside him. He talks with his hands and can’t sit still for long. He’s always jumping up, bounding around, fidgeting and bouncing a knee.

Quick facts

  • Age: 35
  • Height: 5’10”
  • Appearance: expressive dark brown eyes, shoulder-length black hair with a slight curl at the ends, lean and ‘accidentally’ fit, usually wearing a t-shirt, hoodie, and faded jeans
  • Pronouns: he/him
  • Orientation: Mostly heterosexual
  • Heritage: Nuyorican; born in New York to Puerto Rican parents; two older sisters
  • Profession: figurative abstract painter

Despite León’s devotion to honesty, he lies to himself all the time. His most common deception is telling himself he wants something because of art, rather than admitting he wants it for himself.

Painting means everything to León. His passion for it developed early, before he was even a teenager, and his parents sacrificed to support him in it. Watching his parents work extra hard to pay for his dream, along with the praise he won from teachers, made it clear to León that his talent was important. Everyone was working towards his success, so it must be! León forgot, as kids do, that who he was as a person was also important. He brushes this off because he checks in with his own wants frequently, trying to be honest and clear about his own feelings. By checking in that way, obviously he’s proving he cares about his own self. Right?

The self-deception stops working as León reaches an artistic plateau. He’s not truly understanding what he wants and feels, and his art starts showing that. He tries a geographic cure, moving to a completely new part of the country to shake things up. He doesn’t have a lot of funds, and the pressure to succeed quickly starts to panic him.

He missed New York. LA was alien, the streets lined with palm trees so tall that their feather-duster tops receded as afterthoughts. Up at Celia’s was worse, isolated from even her neighbors, a long drive away from anything. He missed his parents and sisters and cousins and friends and crowds. Was that what was throwing him off?

No, he’d had the same trouble there at the end. He was the problem.

León’s past is seen through a rosy lens, and while he thinks he’s enjoying the present, he’s actually often living in the future. He’s embarrassed to admit it, but he’s always dreaming of what’s to come. He’s a little nervous about what the future holds and whether or not he can measure up to his dreams, but he can’t stop dreaming.

León’s journey throughout the book is intense. He starts off as self-satisfied yet insecure about his personal worth, but he learns empathy and self-restraint. He is a complex and captivating character, and I feel deeply pleased to have met him. Even though he led me on his own journey, not caring to follow my plans for him, I couldn’t be happier to have learned what he really wanted.

Bonus Details
  • León’s name is pronounced Lay-OWN, but he answers to LEE-on without hesitation. He’s heard both all his life.
  • He doesn’t care much about clothes and is usually casually dressed. He has one painting outft that is even more worn and paint-stained than his street clothes. When he wants to dress up, he wears his one blazer over a t-shirt.
  • León often speaks before he thinks, freely telling people how he feels about everything. He sees what he wants and comments on it.
  • León speaks Spanish, having learned it from his parents, but grew up in New York City and considers English his first language.
  • He attended art school in NYC, where he met Andrew, who was studying ceramics. They’ve been close friends for about 15 years by the time León meets Celia, and have kept in touch despite Andrew moving to Los Angeles five years before that.
  • León did not date Andrew, but considered it early in their friendship.