INTERVIEW with EMILIE LEE
I just moved to Santa Barbara, CA two months ago!
I'm a Painter.
Rhode Island School of Design and Grand Central Atelier, NYC
WHAT ARE SOME LITTLE KNOWN FACTS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT YOURSELF?
I won my first art competition when I was two!
YOU'VE MENTIONED THAT ART IS A LIFESTYLE FOR YOU. HOW DO YOU INTEGRATE ART INTO YOUR LIFE?
I fell in love with plein-air painting when I realized how naturally it fit with my outdoorsy lifestyle. Whether I’m camping, rock climbing, surfing, or hiking, I can take my painting kit with me and capture the beauty of the places I love to explore. With my latest project in Montana’s prairie country, I’ve realized that painting has allowed me to access a much deeper, more meaningful experience - one that goes far beyond painting pretty scenes and has given my work a sense of purpose.
TELL US ABOUT THE COLORS ON YOUR PALETTE AND ANYTHING NEW YOU HAVE BEEN EXPERIMENTING WITH?
I started visiting the American Prairie Reserve two years ago when I became fascinated with the unique story of this conservation effort and the remote landscape it is working to preserve. Located south of Saskatchewan and north of the Missouri River, this zone of eastern Montana has seen very little human impact which makes it feel eerily removed from time.
I’ve made three visits to the prairie, totaling six weeks in all. During my time there I worked with a group of wildlife researchers to help me gain a deeper understanding of the place. In my first three days, I covered 24 miles on foot checking camera traps on game trails, monitoring sage grouse mating sites, and mapping prairie dog towns. Outside of this, I spent the majority of my time painting and exploring by myself. I was two hours from the nearest paved road, surrounded by 5,000 square miles of flat land and open sky. It made me feel small, wild, and free. I went running for hours and miles into the endless sea of sage, crossing paths with bison, antelope, and coyote. I woke at three AM to trek through the darkness looking for sage grouse doing their mating dance at sunrise. I camped out next to the sounds of elk bugling through the cottonwoods while the northern lights played across the sky. It was, by all accounts, an exhilarating adventure that has captivated my imagination and re-affirmed my belief in nature’s ability to heal when given the chance.
To paint this landscape, I used a lot of raw umber, yellow ochre, ivory black (which I consider a blue), ultramarine blue, titanium white, and cad orange. I also have alizarin crimson, cad red, viridian, raw sienna, and cad yellow on my palette.
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS WHEN PAINTING?
After collecting forty plein-air paintings and drawings on location, I got started on a series of larger studio pieces to complete the show. I’ve been making these without the use of photographs, intentionally limiting myself to the information I could capture in my sketches made from life. Memory plays an important role in my process. I don’t have the exact quote, but I read that Thomas Cole believed his memory filtered out all unnecessary clutter from a scene, leaving only the essential information that actually made an impact on him at the moment of inspiration. I’ve found this to be true, and with practice over time, relying on my memory has strengthened my observation skills, improving my painting efficiency by leaps and bounds. My teacher Jacob Collins describes this as a feedback loop – when you’re in the studio, you realize what you failed to notice when you were outside, so that next time you’re outside, you pay better attention. It can feel like a punishing process at first, but the skills gained are worth it! When I’m in the studio, I try to transport myself back to the prairie, feeling into the depths of my emotional memory, and when I can feel the wind in my hair and the vertigo of the endless horizons, then I start painting.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOOLS OF CHOICE?
I use Gamblin Colors, an Open Box M Easel, Jerry’s Artarama Pro-Stroke Brushes, and when I’m in the studio I love using my New Wave Expressionist Confidant Palette. My painting backpack was made by my friends at Buck Products in Bozeman MT. It’s the perfect size for all my gear and it’s one of a kind!
DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING SHOWS OR WORKSHOPS?
I’m teaching a drawing and a painting workshop in Santa Barbara on September 16-17. One is designed as an intro to working in plein-air with a focus on drawing and composition, and another is for painting. We’ll be on the beach!
My entire collection of prairie paintings will be at Old Main Gallery in Bozeman, Montana, November 2017.