Getting to Know the Prairie

where I am

There are 305,000 acres in all those blue sections

In my first three days on the American Prairie Reserve, I logged 24 miles of hiking and running through this vast landscape in an effort to acquaint myself with this place. Much of those miles were with the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Landmark crew as I tagged along on their daily rounds. This group of volunteer researchers have been out here since March 1st traversing the landscape by foot, collecting data that is crucial to understanding wildlife populations. Covering this much ground right away and in the company of people who have a scientific perspective has been an amazing introduction for me. As we walk along, I ask questions about plant species, wildlife behavior, and the prairie ecosystem. If I was alone, much of these fascinating details would go unnoticed under my foreigner’s gaze.

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Just after sunrise on our way out after finding the Sage Grouse lek

On my first morning, I woke up at 3:30 AM to meet the crew for a pre-dawn hike in search of mating sage grouse. These birds return to the same location every year to perform an elaborate mating dance, so we were able to use a GPS system to find our way to the exact spot. There are many of these “leks” on the prairie and the crew has been checking them regularly for the past month. We split up into pairs and set off through the dark. My team had to go three miles across the prairie to find our lek and we were almost running to reach the location by sunrise. If we arrived any later, we risked missing the birds. Before we could even see them, we could hear their guttural whooping calls. We followed the sound until we saw about 30 birds in the distance, with their white chests puffed up, they looked as big as turkeys. Watching through binoculars, I could see them bouncing their chests and strutting around, while only a few females wandered close by acting uninterested. We watched them for about ten minutes and then without warning the entire group took flight and disappeared.

(This is a video I found on youtube, so you can see what I’m talking about)

My crew mates took detailed notes on the sighting, data which will be used to understand the health of the Sage Grouse population, including whether or not they should be considered an endangered species.

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Elaine and Caitlin check a camera trap they set in a spot where they saw a cougar two weeks ago. So far, the cat seems to be camera shy.

Later that day, we went out hiking again, this time to check motion sensitive camera traps to see what kind of animals have been through the area. By this time I had hiked nine miles since waking up and I was glad I had sturdy hiking boots and gaiters as we strode through the prickly pear cactus and knee high sage brush. On our way back, we found what we thought was cougar scat, which was exciting because just two weeks ago, a cougar had been seen in this area but until photo evidence exists, the cougar presence cannot be officially acknowledged.

 

what kind of prairie is this?

what kind of prairie is this? I didn’t sign up for hill hikes!

On day two, I hiked eight more miles to check camera traps and I was surprised at the variety of terrain I was discovering on the prairie. Contrary to my expectations, it wasn’t all flat ground. We were hiking up and down quite a lot and even went through a Ponderosa Pine forest and discovered some lakes. On this trek we spotted a few groups of Pronghorn and Mule Deer, crossed through a Prairie Dog town, and saw a Kestrel.

 

First Light, Prairie Peas. oil on linen

First Light, Prairie Peas. oil on linen, 4/22/15

I’ve also been finding time to paint. In the early morning from 6 – 8 AM, the light is magical and the meadowlarks are singing. It’s a little cold, but I am loving these peaceful hours spent alone with the wind and the grass, soaking in all the details. This quiet time in a remote landscape is such a gift, when I’m out there all my anxieties are gone and I just think about how lucky I am to be present in this place.

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First Sunset on the Prairie, oil on linen 4/20/15

The time spent covering ground with the research crew has been incredibly valuable. Now when I approach my paintings, I’ll know a lot more about the landscape and I’ll pay attention to the subtle differences in ecosystems that exist all across this region. I’ve also seen some spots that I know I’ll return to paint, like the early morning lek trek, which left an impression on my memory. I’d like to take my tent and spend a few days working out there. It’s only day 4, and I’m feeling pretty inspired out here. I’ll try to keep up with the blogging and share as much as I can along the way.  Thanks for following along – Emilie

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Painting the Prairie

I am excited to announce my latest endeavor, a project that unites my interest in wilderness conservation and my love of adventure in a landscape that provides remarkable inspiration. In less than a week, I’ll be heading to Montana for a month of painting on the American Prairie Reserve (APR), a conservation area in the Great Plains that has caught my attention.  This organization is a unique voice in the field of conservation because of its creative method of merging previously-owned land into one encompassing open space. To do this, APR purchases land when it comes on the market and leases adjacent government parcels, then merges them to create a new wilderness. When it is complete, the reserve is expected to be three million acres, the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states.

As an artist who has spent the past six years studying the Hudson River School painters and the world they lived in, I am interested in how my work can investigate the subject of wilderness in the context of our time. We no longer have vast expanses of undeveloped land to claim for conservation, which makes the innovative vision of the American Prairie Reserve an inspiring model for our generation. Nature’s power to reclaim the land calls to attention the impermanence of our human-built world and highlights our own vulnerability as a species. It is important to preserve these wild areas not only for biodiversity and the health of our planet, but for our own consciousness as a civilized people, a sentiment beautifully summed up in this quote:

“Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should — not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.”

– Clinton P. Anderson

Former Senator, New Mexico

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I will spend my time on the prairie making drawings, notes, and plein air paintings while working with the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Landmark wildlife research crew to gain a deeper understanding of this unique place. In September 2015 and again in the upcoming winter, I will revisit the prairie to paint the landscape in the different seasons. Over the course of the year I will be working in my studio to compose a series of five paintings, each approximately six feet in width, informed by my studies from the field. I will share the resulting body of work in a show planned for spring 2016 that will lead the viewer through an intimate investigation of the prairie with delicate botanical illustrations, sketches, handwritten notes, and large-scale oil paintings that depict the wide vistas and Montana skies. My work will depict the prairie grasslands and the effort to conserve them in the time-honored tradition of painting, forever preserving this moment in culture for posterity.

Joining me on the prairie will also be musician and native Montanan Jessica Kilroy (Roki Rej, Flitcraft, Pterodactyl Plains) who plans to record elemental sounds (wind in the grass, bird calls, thunder) to use in a musical composition that will accompany my gallery exhibit. Kilroy’s work will bring attention to the value of an unpolluted natural soundscape and add a high level sensory experience for the viewer.

During the final week of my trip, photographer Eugenie Frerichs be with us to document Jessica and I at work in the field. I’m excited to have her perspective on the project because much of her personal work as an artist and photographer explores the concept of wilderness.

Valley of the Chugwater, Sanford Robinson Gifford, 1870.

Historically, artists have played an influential part in shaping American perceptions of wilderness and its role in our national identity. I see my work as an extension of this tradition, exploring a contemporary example of wilderness conservation using a medium and a process that is identical to those of an earlier generation of artists. Among the first European explorers discovering the west were landscape painters like Thomas Moran and Sanford Robinson Gifford who recorded their findings in sketches, small paintings and journals while traversing the unknown territory beyond the Mississippi. Back in their studios, these artists created monumental paintings that glorified the pristine beauty of the American wilderness. Their work had mass cultural appeal and presented a sentimental vision of wilderness to the American people. This moment in art history became known as “The Hudson River School” and is now recognized as the first art movement to originate on American soil. Their paintings sparked the first conservation movement in this country when Moran’s depictions of Yellowstone directly influenced the creation of our first National Park.

As a senior fellow at the Hudson River Fellowship, I have spent the past six years studying this moment in art history and painting in the same Catskills and White Mountains locations where these early artists made their work. In the American Prairie Reserve, I see an opportunity to celebrate an exciting new chapter in conservation history, recognizing nature’s ability to restore itself when the right conditions are created by a group of well organized individuals. This work will inspire not only our generation but those who come after us with a message of hope from the front lines of American conservation.

 

This project is made possible with support from

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

American Prairie Reserve

Jentel Foundation

Gamblin Artist Colors

Patagonia

*please take a moment to visit the new calendar on my website to see my upcoming schedule of artist’s talks, workshops, and exhibitions. I’m in a group show in NYC that opens next week and this summer I will be sharing my work in public presentations as an artist in residence at Telluride Mountainfilm (Telluride, CO, May 22), Jentel Foundation (Banner, WY, August) and Glen Arbor Arts Association (Glen Arbor, MI, September). I will also be teaching landscape painting workshops in Central Park, NYC in June and July.

Taming the Tempest

That's me doing my thing in the Patagonia catalog! Photo by Ben MoonIt was a nice surprise to open our mail a few weeks ago and find this picture of me in the latest Patagonia catalog! The picture was taken by Ben Moon during a storm that was testing our mettle on Rabbit Island with near freezing temperatures and driving rain in late July. I love how this picture captures the tough side of plein-air painting. There’s usually a bit of suffering involved in creating this art, but the thrill of working in a storm far outweighs the discomfort of the cold and wet. This is the fourth time I’ve been in the Patagonia catalog – previous images and articles focused on my involvement in rock climbing, bio-fuels, and composting, but I’m proud to be representing the painting life this time! In fact, the entire issue of the catalog is dedicated to artists, and worth checking out.


 

NEW WINTER WORKSHOP: COPYING THE MASTERS: AN INTRODUCTION TO LANDSCAPE PAINTING WITH EMILIE LEE
Jan. 13 – March 17, 2015  (10 weeks)

Fee: $450 (installment plan available by credit card only)  Sign up online here

I know I just got through telling you that landscape painting is all about being tough in the outdoors, but hey, it’s winter here in NYC and besides the fact that it is freezing outside, the sun goes down at 4 PM! In light of this I am offering a studio workshop as an alternative way for us to continue studying landscape painting and stay sharp for spring.

In each session, artists will choose from a selection of master paintings to copy in grisaille, limited palette, or full color. This is an ideal workshop for those who have little or no experience painting outdoors.

By copying existing paintings, we will learn how a successful painting has been composed and how to approach complex subjects such as foliage, moving water, forest interiors, and clouds. We will focus on identifying value hierarchy while looking for elements of design and composition. Besides being an extremely helpful way of preparing the artist to work outdoors, this exercise will train your eye to be more efficient at recognizing values independently from their color, and giving you more control and organization on your palette.  Think of this as “pre-season training” for landscape painting! When spring arrives, we will be ready to take what we’ve learned from the masters and apply it to the living landscape.

Artists will complete one copy in each studio session. Among the artists we will be focusing on are Ivan Shishkin, Frederick Church, Sanford Gifford, William Trost Richards, and Albert Bierstadt. Artists will be welcome to add to this list or bring in their own ideas for master copies.

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This is a copy I did in grisaille of a painting by Ivan Shishkin. I wanted to understand the value structure of the tree trunks and how to achieve the feeling of depth in a forest interior.

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the original by Ivan Shishkin


 

This is my latest painting, a self-portrait painted from life in the new studio. Last year was a bit rough for me, mainly because I had to move my studio three times and my apartment twice. It felt like New York City was trying to spit me out and I began questioning why I fought so hard to live here. Without planning on it, I poured all those turbulent emotions right into this painting. My intention was only to paint a self portrait that incorporated a landscape, but the result became a much deeper narrative that reveals my inner emotional landscape. I can happily report that I’ve emerged from this storm into a more stable life, but making this painting has been a unique experience in reflection and vulnerability.

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Fortitude, 30″x36″, oil on linen, 2014

’tis the season for openings and parties

Please come celebrate the opening of Eleventh Street Arts — our new gallery in Long Island City — during our inaugural group show on December 5th. The show will feature over eighty works by fifty artists from the extended Water Street and Grand Central Atelier community. Adjacent to the gallery, in our individual studios, guests will be invited to explore even more artwork, both finished and in progress. Over the last few months I’ve been working on a new painting–one that is much larger than my usual landscapes and that combines my plein-air work from Rabbit Island with a life-sized self portrait. I’m looking forward to publishing photos online but will wait until after the show opens before doing so.

 December 5th, 6-10 PM at The Grand Central Atelier, 46-06 11th St, Long Island City, Queens. On view until January 23, 2015.

 gca show invite


 PORTRAIT COLLABORATION WITH BEST MADE COMPANY

I’m excited to share two portraits I made of iconic conservationists John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. It’s great to have my work commissioned by the Best Made Company and included in their collection of classic and timeless products. And what a great era in American history to be celebrating! John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt were instrumental in launching America’s early conservation movement through literature and legislation while many of the landscape painters I admire were heading into the mountains and using their art to promote the same cause. Limited edition signed and framed prints available in the TriBeCa flagship store or online.

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SEASONAL STUDIO SALE

In preparation for the Grand Central Atelier’s open studio event on December 5th, I’ll be continuing to promote the smaller paintings I have for sale through social media. The response I’ve received from patrons has been wonderful and within the past month I’ve sold the following paintings to collectors who came to visit my studio in person or found something they liked online. I still have dozens of paintings like these for sale. Please see this album and don’t hesitate to contact me for my current price list if you are interested.


ON VIEW ELSEWHERE

Four of my paintings are currently on exhibit in the group show Art in Nature at the Oyster Point Hotel in Red Bank, NJ. Proceeds from this show will benefit the Monmouth County Conservation Foundation–preserving open space and wildlife habitat in this unique area along the New Jersey Shoreline. These two paintings are still available at the show, which will be up until Jan 5th.


TEACHING NEWS

For eight Tuesdays in a row my students and I enjoyed perfect weather during my plein-air painting workshops in Long Island City. It was such a pleasant treat to spend afternoons along the New York City waterfront observing clouds, sailboats, the skyline, and basking in the sun. During each session we spent two hours working en plein-air studying nature, making quick paintings, taking notes, and sketching with the intention to later recreate these scenes from memory in the studio. Once in the studio our memories were tested as we worked from the gathered notes and sketches.  This is an important exercise to introduce techniques needed to execute studio paintings without the use of photography, a rare skill in our modern age.

Recently winter has been knocking on New York City’s door and soon will be here to stay. Thus we are taking a break from plein-air painting and will resume again in April. In January I will be leading a workshop in the Grand Central Atelier studio that introduces landscape painting through the practice of performing master copies. I will be teaching students how to approach the landscape by copying in gray scale, limited palette, and, ultimately, in full color. I am excited about this workshop as it is an ideal way for the beginner to learn landscape painting and a great way for experienced painters to hone their skills in time for the coming spring. Think of it as pre-season training for the summer. Read more and register online through the GCA. Here are some pictures of the recently concluded Plein-Air to Studio classes.

 

New Landscape Painting Workshops in NYC

The last few months have been an exciting time of transition …  I finished off a series of big landscape painting commissions (will share pics soon!), and I’ve been busy helping to launch the new Grand Central Atelier in Long Island City, Queens.  This atelier fills the needs of an evolving community of artists that have come together through the Water Street Atelier and the Grand Central Academy. Located in a 12,000 square foot space lit by specially designed skylights, the new GCA is a collaborative workspace for artists pursuing the methodology of historic ateliers to create drawing, painting and sculpture from life. The space will include a gallery and private studios for artists like myself. There is also shared work-space for artists-in-training and another portion of the studio dedicated to ongoing workshops that meet during the days, weekends, and evenings. Stay tuned for more offerings, including events, exhibitions, competitions, lectures, and parties! We are conveniently located in Long Island City, 20 minutes from Grand Central Station on the 7 train. Below are two workshops I am offering through the new GCA.

Landscape Painting: Plein Air to Studio Process

Tuesdays, 1-5 PM Long Island City waterfront & GCA studios, 46-06 11th St, Queens, NY

painting from memory and sketches, by Emilie Lee

painting from memory and sketches, by Emilie Lee

 

A successful landscape painting relies on the mastery of nature’s vocabulary and this fluency is best achieved through direct observation from life. However, working only from life can be limiting due to the interference of weather, fleeting light effects, and the constraints of time. This class will introduce a technique that will strengthen your ability to work from memory, liberate your imagination, and instill effective observation habits. No photography!

We will spend the first half of each class session making plein air studies and taking notes on location in the outdoors. With our memories fresh, we will go immediately back to the studio and learn how to use our outdoor studies and our creative vision to create finished paintings that are inspired by nature. We will also study examples of how this method has been employed by artists from the past and present. We will be working on the waterfront of the East River in Long Island City, just three blocks away from the new GCA studios.

 

weekend workshops in NYC cemeteries, co-taught by myself and Anthony Baus

Oct. 10-12 Green-Wood Cemetery (Fri-Sun) , Oct 17-19 Woodlawn Cemetery (Fri-Sun)

Grant's Tomb, by Anthony Baus, ink wash

Grant’s Tomb, by Anthony Baus, ink wash

Relieve yourself from the darkness of the classroom! In the spirit of Halloween, Emilie Lee and Anthony Baus will be using the backdrop of Green-Wood and Woodlawn cemeteries for the setting of two 3-day landscape workshops. Explore the decorative gravestones, richly ornate mausoleums, and guardian angels that haunt these New York City landmarks. Perhaps we will even commune with the spirits of the deceased!
In plien air fashion artists will be encouraged to complete 2-3 oil paintings and/or ink drawings at each location. Anthony’s instruction will focus on the shortcuts of perspective to accurately depict built structures and properly scale objects from foreground to background. Emilie will introduce an efficient approach to plein air painting, addressing concerns of time management, shifting light conditions, atmospheric perspective, and color in nature.
Good drawing is the foundation of every great painting, and in this workshop, we will spend the first day focused only on drawing, establishing accurate perspective and strong composition. On the second and third days, we will show you how to use your initial drawing as a foundation for your final painting.
Individual critiques will be tailored to suit your personal goals for each weekend. The benefit of two instructors is a rare and special opportunity not to be missed!

have paints, will travel

I’ve been on some amazing trips over the past six months and I always try to bring my paints along, so here is an update with the places I’ve been and the paintings I’ve made while traveling.  Enjoy!

MYKONOS, GREECE

JUNE 30. Two of my Greek friends just got married, and they invited a whole gang of friends from NYC to come on their honeymoon in Mykonos!  We started planning the trip a year ago and it was an incredible adventure to discover Greece with Greeks who knew all the secret spots.  The trip was not without a touch of anxiety, however. The morning after the wedding in Thessaloniki, I left my oil paints in a hotel, and spent the first few days on Mykonos mourning my absentmindedness… I was forced to experiment with my watercolors – a hidden blessing, perhaps?  Then I was saved when a friend who traveled after us brought my paints to me.  Anyway, that’s why theres only a few small oil paintings from my time in Mykonos. It could also be because we were busy hiking through ancient ruins, sailing, exploring beaches, staying out late, and enjoying the food!

 

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Painting on the beach in Mykonos

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reunited with my paints!

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6″x9″ sketch from Mykonos, July 2014

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exploring the ruins on Delos Island with the gang

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Clean lines and colors in the local archtecture

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Mykonos, July 2014

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Portrait of the Groom, Leonidas Trampoukis. 4″x4″ oil paint and sand (it was VERY WINDY on the beach that day!)

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Portrait of the bride, Eleni Petaloti … 4″x4″ oil on panel … less sand here because I was smart enough to put this one in the car right away! I gave these two small portraits to Leo & Eleni for their wedding present.

PELION, GREECE

JULY 4th.  After Mykonos, I traveled to Volos where my friend  Joel has been living for the past 9 years.  Joel’s wife Anna is from Athens, and together they decided to settle down in this area where they are raising their two sons and restoring an old stone house in the mountainous region known as Pelion or Pilios.  Joel is an architect and a stone mason, and the house is a work of art, honoring old world tradition and full of personal details like custom woodworking and stone carvings, all made by Joel himself. It was really wonderful to see this project in progress and to see what Joel and Anna’s life is like in Greece. During this part of my journey, I explored a very different landscape in the mountains.  While Mykonos is extremely hot, dry and windy, the mountains of Pelion seem to be gushing with spring water everywhere I looked.  The forest felt like a jungle, which reached right down to the pristine white beaches of the Agean sea.

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The view from Joel’s house in Paleskastron, Mt. Pelion region, Greece July 2014

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exploring the village Agios Laventios, Mt Pelion region, Greece, July 2014

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9″x12″ oil on canvas, Fakistra beach, Mt Pelion region, Greece.

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painting in Agios Laventios … these villages are all built on steep mountain sides and usually have one avenue for cars and the rest is accessed by narrow cobblestone pedestrian walkways like this

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painting on Fakistra Beach … happy to be in the shade! Temperatures were in the 90’s

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this is Paleokastron, the tiny settlement where my friends Joel & Anna are restoring an old stone house

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Joel & Anna’s house in Paleokastron

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A typical view looking out over the village roofs of Agios Laventios, the Pagasetic Gulf in the Agean Sea and the city of Volos. This mountainous area is the mythical home of the centaurs, unusually lush and green for Greece.

PLUM ISLAND, MASSACHUSETTS

June 1. I had a few days to paint on Plum Island, a magical spot north of Boston that is largely protected by the Parker National Wildlife Refuge. A few years ago, I sold my first big commission to a couple who have their permanent home here in Plum Island. I got to see my painting hanging in their house and spend a few days exploring the marshes and wetlands here. This trip was a real teaser, I only had a few days to paint, but I plan to go back later this summer for more!

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The refuge is accessed by these boardwalks so that hikers don’t disturb the nesting birds

 

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It rained one morning, so I did this sketch from the car …

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then later I made this painting using my memory and the sketch as reference. fun challenge! The birds are plovers, which were nesting in the marshes. 

RABBIT ISLAND, MICHIGAN

May 26th. Rob Gorski and I spent a few days on Rabbit Island doing some spring cleaning and preparing the camp for this summer’s artists in residence.  The Keweenaw peninsula endured one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record this year – for the first time since 1979 Lake Superior froze solid!  When we were there in late May, the ice was still breaking up, which is quite unusual. We spent 3 days on the island witnessing the melting icebergs.  I made a few iceberg sketches out there, and I took a fearsome plunge into the water, which was about 34 degrees out there!  You can see some of Rob’s pictures and read more on the Rabbit Island blog: http://www.rabbitisland.org

 

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Rob navigating the icebergs on our way out to Rabbit Island

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He left me on an iceberg!

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A tiny iceberg sketch

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Yeow! that was cold!

 

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A rare springtime treat of wild fiddleheads. I stir fried them with garlic and olive oil, served on pasta it was a nice lunch!

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Spring cleaning

OSA PENINSULA, COSTA RICA

February 2. These paintings are from a midwinter trip to Costa Rica!  I went with my yoga teacher Christine Hoar, who is also an avid surfer.  This was a very active vacation – we practiced Ashtanga yoga every morning, followed by at least two surf sessions!  The surfing was super and I also did these paintings, which were quickly snapped up as souvenirs by other people on the yoga retreat. It was a very successful vacation!

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Surfing in paradise

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waking up at 5 AM to paint the sunrise

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up & at ’em! early bird gets the worm!

 

 

Show Opening this week!

Contemporary Tradition FLTApril 11 – May 25

Edwards Art Gallery at Holderness School

Plymouth, NH

Opening reception is April 11, 6:30-8:30 PM

 

     Well, this should be fun! I’ll have about 20 paintings ranging from figure to still life to landscape.  There will be plenty of small landscapes for sale from my time painting in the White mountains, and a few larger canvases too.  Jonathan Sherman is a very talented artist who spent six years in Italy studying the techniques of Rennaisance masters.  He keeps a low profile online, so this is a special opportunity to see some of his work in person!  We are both alums of Holderness School and we will be spending a day on campus talking about traditional drawing and painting methods.

Holiday Exhibits and More

Here in the city, the chill of winter is setting in but memories of Rabbit Island are still stoking my creative fire.  While my collection of paintings from that trip have been away at the De Vos Museum of Art exhibit, I’ve been busy working on some commissions in my studio. Recently I published another story about Rabbit Island on the Stio blog and I hope you  check it out!  As an ambassador for Stio, I share my writing on their blog throughout the year, you can find links to other articles like this on my press page.  Big thanks to Stio for keeping me warm and dry!

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Taking in the endless expanse of Lake Superior! Divide Henley by Stio.

PAINTINGS FOR SALE:

I always have small paintings for sale in my studio and I usually sell them through word-of-mouth.  If you are interested in buying something, my small paintings are all between $200- $800 (sizes range from approx 5″x7″ – 9″x12″) These are all plein air paintings that I’ve done on my travels and excursions out of the city.  Each one comes with a story behind the day I created it!  I’ve tried to organize an album of available paintings here, and I hope that before too long I’ll get a real online store up and running. Meanwhile please email me if you are interested in learning more about a painting or buying something: emilie@emilielee.com

Salmagundi Club Thumb Box Exhibition, 47 5th Ave, NYC:

November 18 – January 3. Reception is Thursday, December 5th, 6-7:30 PM.  All paintings in this show are under 108 square inches.  Here are the three paintings I’ll have in the show:

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Consternation, 8″x10″, oil on linen, 2013

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Straightforward, 8″x10″, oil on board, 2013

Afternoon Melt, oil on archival bookboard, 8"x10"

Afternoon Melt, oil on board, 8″x10″, 2013

Group Show at the First Bank of Greenwich, Cos Cob, CT.

Reception is November 20th, 5-7 PM. These paintings will be on display (and for sale) at the bank throughout the holiday season:

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Greenwich Point Park in Gray, oil on linen, 6″x10″, 2013

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Sunset from Red Hook, 5″x12″, oil on board, 2013

wave study, 8"x6" oil on linen, 2011

wave study, 8″x6″ oil on linen, 2011

Stay tuned for more exhibits coming up this holiday season!

Report from Rabbit Island

Rabbit Island, a 91 acre oasis of wilderness in Lake Superior, first came to my attention in 2011 when a friend emailed me about a Kickstarter campaign.  An artist residency was planned for the island and when I read about the fledgling project online my heart skipped a beat as I realized how much I would love to go there. The Great Lakes have captured my imagination for many years and this summer I had the chance to be one of the artists at work in this magical setting.

Under the creative vision of Rob Gorski, the residency has been developed with considered restraint – the only shelter from the elements is a 3 sided cabin that serves as a communal kitchen and dining area.  Artists sleep in tents, cook on the campfire, and swim in the frigid water. The intention is to leave behind all distractions of modern life and live close to nature. We tried to cultivate an ethos of simplicity by keeping our off-island imports to a minimum. For instance, processed food and beer cans were discouraged in favor of a “less is more” approach.  We were constantly asking ourselves “what else can we live without?”  This being the third summer of the residency, we were essentially part of a beta testing phase and learned so much that will help shape the experiences of future residents.

I shared the island with a colorful cast of artists, musicians, writers, scientists, and chefs.  The atmosphere was abuzz with creative energy, and adding to that dynamic was the presence of a New York Times journalist and photographer who were writing a story about us. I felt some conflict between my desire to find solitude, and the excitement of the activity around me. In my normal routine I spend a lot of time alone but I recognized the value of this opportunity to work alongside such a diverse group. I loved seeing what fascinated other people about this unique environment and imagining how it would manifest through each individual’s creativity. While I was out painting, completely absorbed in my canvas, I could occasionally look up to see one of the other artists at a distance, equally absorbed in another kind of work. Once when I was walking back to camp, I passed Jessica Kilroy, who was standing on a wobbly rock, shifting her weight side to side and listening intently to the hollow clunk underfoot. I knew she was collecting field recordings to use in her music compositions … I had never thought of it on my own, but now I heard a melody every time I wobbled across those rocks! This is just one example of the kind of energy that was sparkling around me this summer, and I encourage you to visit the Rabbit Island blog to read about all the different projects that took place.

I spent my time making small plein air paintings, choosing my subjects based purely on a fascination with light and form. The warm sandstone bedrock of the island as it disappears under the deep turquoise waters crashing over it was a fun challenge for me to decipher. As a group, these paintings are a collection of intimate moments, each one exposing a piece of Rabbit Island’s character.  To me, they serve as windows through time, bringing me back to the moment I was painting in quiet meditation surrounded by waves, wind, rocks, and sky. Those afternoons spent in focused awareness were precious for their lack of distractions.  Even though we had cell service and I was able to use my phone daily, it was often out of commission with a dead battery. If I were to repeat this trip, I’d give myself a true digital detox and I might even give up the ability to take photos altogether, that way I’d be forced to use my drawing and writing skills to record my memories.

Exercising smart-phone restraint has been a popular topic of conversation around me this summer.  They are such powerful tools to connect us, and as an artist it is an invaluable way to promote my work and share the journey behind how I make it.  My instagram feed has allowed me to stay in touch with my friends and find inspiration in their adventurous lives.  Maintaining this sense of community has been a positive gain, but at times I feel overwhelmed by information and I struggle to find the presence I need to fully develop my thoughts. On the morning we were packing to leave the island and re-enter the outside world, I considered how I could simplify my life and bring more presence into my daily routine. I realized there were quite a few things I could live without – in material possessions, habits, and thoughts. So, in keeping with the “less is more” motto we had on Rabbit Island, I’ll be doing some spring cleaning this fall!

Some of my paintings from the trip:

and some photos to help tell the story!

New Paintings From Colorado and New Hampshire

Over the past six weeks I’ve been traveling and painting in some amazing places across the Rockies, Great Lakes, and New England.  It’s been a whirlwind tour and I’m excited to share some photos from the field.  There are quite a few new paintings and some good stories to share, so this will have to be spaced out over the next few posts. Stay tuned for more summer updates to follow.

Hunter Creek, oil on linen

Hunter Creek, 8″x12″,  oil on linen

For July 4th, I took a trip with my family to Aspen, Colorado.  It felt so good to be out in the Rockies again! Ever since my years spent traveling and living out west, Colorado has had a special place in my heart. Early morning trail runs through Aspen groves and fields of wildflowers … there’s nothing quite like it.  The days were hot and I sought refuge along Hunter Creek in the mountains above town. I became fascinated by the challenge of painting the elusive qualities of moving water… a theme that captured my imagination everywhere I went on my travels this year.

After Aspen, I had a 24 hour transition in NYC before jetting off to Jackson, NH for the Hudson River Fellowship.  This was my 5th summer as a fellow at this wonderful retreat, where I spent 4 days painting before my next adventure in northern Michigan as a resident artist on Rabbit Island.  More on that experience in my next post!  For now, here are a few paintings from my time at the Fellowship:

oil on linen

Lake in the Mountains, 12″x8″, oil on linen

Sarah Bird

Sarah Bird sussing out our options the morning after a big lightning storm.

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Jamie Morren enjoying a quiet morning sketching on the river.

Ellis River, oil on linen

Ellis River, 12″x8″, oil on linen

Jackson Falls, oil on linen

Jackson Falls, 10″x8″,  oil on linen

River Study, oil on bookboard

River Study, 5″x6″, oil on bookboard

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And with this I leave you, a parting shot. Until next time!