Painting on the Sonoma Coast

It’s been six months since I’ve updated my blog and now I will attempt to share some of what I’ve been up to since March! I like being able to look back through this blog and see all the different stages in my evolution as an artist, so I’m determined to keep it up.

In April I went on a road trip to the Sonoma Coast where I made plein-air paintings on my Cousin’s private property. I wrote a story about this trip that was just published online at Artist’s Network, so if you want to read more about it, follow this link. Below are some of my favorite pictures from that painting trip:


Gallery Opening Recap, Patagonia Essay

Last weekend I was in Bozeman, Montana for the opening night of my show titled “Infinite Landscape” at Old Main Gallery. The paintings will be on view until December 30th 2017. It was an incredible feeling to see all my work framed and hung on a gallery wall, and I sold four paintings on the opening day! To read more about my work on the American Prairie Reserve, scroll back two posts on this blog, or you can read my essay that was recently published on Patagonia’s blog where I discuss the historical context of landscape painting and wilderness conservation and how I was inspired to paint in this part of Montana.



Summer in the City

I came home a month ago after a grand adventure in the west, where I spent one month painting on the American Prairie Reserve and one week showing new work at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. Time is flying, and I’ve been busy teaching, working on a new commission, and preparing for my next trip to the prairie. Here are some highlights from the past month in New York City.


My painting “Fortitude” won first place at the Mills Pond House Gallery juried show. You can see this and another painting of mine “Saco River” at the gallery in Saint James, NY (Long Island) until July 22.




Saco River


These two paintings are in an upcoming juried show at the National Association of Women Artists. 80 5th Ave, New York, NY. July 8-29. Opening reception is July 16, 5-7 PM


Portrait Study


Ball Mason


I came home to my studio and couldn’t find enough room to hang up my latest paintings from the prairie, so it’s time for a spring clearance sale. In the past I’ve sold my work through emails and Facebook connections, so I hope this new store will help make the process more efficient.



We managed to dodge the frequent thunderstorms for my Tuesday plein-air painting classes in Central Park, but for the workshop last weekend the weather caught up with us. Despite the rain we had a productive weekend and everyone made great paintings!


These two paintings were done by students in my class


staying dry under the terrace


Commissions like this are a dream. One of the shareholders at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA, asked me to make a painting of this very special place. The farm was founded in 1636 and operated by the Appleton family until 1967 when it was acquired by a local conservation organization. It is the oldest continuously operating farm in America, producing dairy products, beef, and produce. Sustainable farming practices ensure that the landscape also provides a safe habitat for wildlife and birds. I spent two days working on location and have since been finishing the final painting in the studio.



From August 15 – September 15 I’ll be in Wyoming at the Jentel Artist’s Residency where I’ll be working one of my big studio paintings inspired by my time on the American Prairie Reserve. Jentel is located in the Bighorn Mountains, just five hours south of the Prairie Reserve, and offers writers and artists a quiet place to focus on their work. They don’t even have cell or internet service, I can’t wait! After the residency is finished, I’ll be driving north to the Prairie Reserve for a week of plein air painting in mid September. It will be interesting what this landscape is like in a completely different season.



An essay I wrote for Alpinist Magazine’s fiftieth issue can be read online as well as in print. The Dumpster Diaries, Then and Now  reflects on an adventure I wrote about for the Alpinsit ten years ago. It involves climbing, art, and the Trader Joe’s dumpster. Read the original 2004 article here. An article I wrote about my ongoing project on the American Prairie Reserve was published in the RISD XYZ spring/summer issue, free to read online here.

IMG_4462Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 8.40.57 PM




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.


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.


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.

Ivan Shishkin-685258

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.


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

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!


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


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:

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:


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


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:


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


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!

New Hampshire: trip report and radio appearance.

My trip to New Hampshire was energizing and inspiring!  The “West of Washington” exhibit includes some outstanding paintings.  I spent much of Friday in the gallery talking with students and other visitors about the artwork.  I was among the people interviewed for a radio piece that will air on NHPR tomorrow night (4/27/12) between 5:30 – 6:00 PM.  Once the show airs, I’ll be able to post a link where you can listen online at any time.  The evening reception was quite busy,  I met many people who share my enthusiasm for 19th century landscape paintings and the White Mountains.  On Saturday, I met with advanced drawing students and talked about how to do master copies of the paintings in graphite and grisaille.  I was thrilled to learn that the students at Holderness have been doing some cast drawing and Bargue copies in their classes, so I spent some time discussing how we teach these things at the GCA.  Kudos to art teacher Kathryn Field for introducing these valuable exercises to her classes!  


Below I want to share the essay that I wrote for the show catalog:

As a student at Holderness, the White Mountains were the playground of my formative years.  It was here I experienced my first winter camping trips, learned to push myself on long mountain runs, and where I first fell in love with rock climbing.  I fearlessly threw myself into every outdoor activity that was available, exploring the rugged mountain terrain with endless fascination.  In my early twenties, the White Mountains were my regular escape from the city where I went to college.  Rock climbing was the driving passion in my life and the Whites provided an ideal environment for those challenging adventures.  I had never experienced anything more thrilling than being delicately balanced on an exposed granite cliff, high above the world, with all senses engaged, my body in top fitness, my mind calm.  This was the feeling of being wild, like an animal, in tune with my environment, aware of everything and yet completely focused at the same time.  In my mind, this was the pinnacle of human experience and I wanted to express it in my paintings.  Although this thought occurred to me more than ten years ago, it remains a defining aspect of the work I strive to create today.

As I searched for how to communicate this swell of emotions inspired by nature, I was led to study the 19th century American landscape painters who so beautifully captured the drama of wilderness in their work.  When I see these paintings of a bygone era, I am immediately transported into the scene, with all the sensory awareness of experiencing the real thing.  These artists were able to make paintings that transcend time and strike an emotional response from people of all generations.  As an artist, I am in awe of the technical control that these painters had over their work and I became convinced that this was necessary for me to develop for my own goals.

I’ve since become part of a vibrant community of like minded young artists who are passionate about reviving the techniques of these 19th century painters.  We have recognized that all great advancements in art history were born out of tight knit groups of friends working in close proximity and challenging one another.  Just as the Hudson River School painters traveled and worked together, we have created our own group, called the Hudson River Fellowship.  Each summer we spend a month painting in the places made famous by these historic painters, studying their work and learning their methods.  We are driven by a common desire to gain the level of fluency and skill that these old masters possessed.  Our guidance comes from Asher Durand’s 1855 “Letters on Landscape Painting”, in which he advises aspiring landscape painters in their endeavors.  Our top priority is to master the ability to work from life, without the use of photography.  By spending long hours in all weather conditions carefully studying nature, we strive to gain a more thorough understanding of our subject and to forge an emotional connection with the place.  This practice involves sitting still for up to six hours at a time – something that has completely changed the way I experience the outdoors.  As an athlete, I’ve always moved fast through the landscape, focused on my physical performance and viewing the terrain as a set of obstacles to overcome.  When I am painting, I am an observer, still as a rock while the landscape around me is buzzing with life.  Animals go freely about their activities without noticing me, plants seem to grow before my eyes and the activity of insects becomes fascinatingly important.  These long hours of quiet observation may be a contrast to my thrilling climbs, but the experience of losing myself in nature is very similar.  In both activities, I feel I can let go of my ego and merge with my surroundings, experiencing a level of focus and calm that is rarely accessible in today’s modern world.
Although we are approaching the landscape as contemporary artists more than 150 years later, the powerful effect that nature has on us has not changed.  By striving to follow in the tradition of the 19th century landscape painters, we are not trying to replicate a style from the past, but rather learn to use the same level of skill  and attention to detail so that we may be able to more eloquently express our own experience on this earth.

just a few of the beautiful paintings in this show

"Outing on the Lake" by Alfred Thompson Bricher

"Outing on the Lake" by Alfred Thompson Bricher

I got to go running in the woods!

and rock climbing!

Talking about the paintings with Phil Peck, the headmaster of Holderness.

Three days was not enough!  Good thing I am heading back up there soon to immerse myself in landscape painting for the summer.  The Hudson River Fellowship is going to be epic this year. My life couldn’t get any better! 

We’re in the Wall Street Journal!

Mustafah Abdulaziz photo for the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal ran a great article about my mom and I!  Here is the link to read the full article, but I’ll pull out some of the bits that talk about my art:

“Ms. Lee, after living the itinerant life of a rock climber and a model for outdoor-gear companies since she graduated from college—and living out of dumpsters, her mother volunteered (but more about that in a moment)—recently moved to Brooklyn and is studying painting at the Grand Central Academy of Art. I can report without exaggeration, based on a recent visit, that she’s a landscape painter of great promise….

Ms. Lee’s figure studies are as elegant and feel as confident as an Ingres. I also loved a small Vermont landscape that reminded me of college. She said she’s baffled by much of contemporary art: “It’s all about shock. You get to the point where people aren’t shocked anymore.

“A lot of contemporary art seems to be about the inner struggle of the artist,” she said. “It’s not about the execution. The way I approach art it’s not about me at all. It’s just trying to be faithful to nature.”

But about that dumpster: “I spent 10 years pursuing climbing and a life in the mountains and lived in a school bus for a while powered with vegetable oil,” she said. “And eating out of dumpsters. It went really well. Trader Joe’s was the best. They individually wrap everything. If one egg breaks they throw out the whole box.”

While I was there, a gentleman who had found Ms. Lee on Facebook and collects the art of her teachers dropped by and purchased one of her figure drawings (she would go on to sell four more works Saturday). Afterwards, he told her she was underpriced, and reminded her to buy those red dots artists place beside sold paintings.

“Yes!” she shouted as soon as he was out the door but still well within earshot.” — Ralph Gardner for the Wall Street Journal

ACOPAL open competition

My recent still life painting made it to the top 100 finalists in the open competition for the America China Oil Painting Artist’s League.  Three winners were chosen to join the exhibition at the National Arts Club in New York City and at the World Art Museum in Beijing.  Two of the three winners are my good friends Josh LaRock and Cesar Santos, who both submitted incredible paintings, congrats you guys!

Ball Mason, 10"x12" oil on linen by Emilie Lee 2011