Monday, September 26, 2016

Alumni Spotlight: Emilie Lee

Emilie Lee at work in her studio with her puppy, Honey.
For seven years Emilie Lee lived in NYC, four of which were spent studying as a full-time student at GCA, and the next three years as an Instructor. When we moved to Long Island City, she helped launch our Artist-in-Residence program and taught weekly classes in landscape painting. Last year she moved back to her home state of Vermont where she's thriving in the great outdoors and raising a new puppy. Emilie and I chatted about what she's been up to.

How would you say your life as an artist and the work you create has changed over the past year?

After struggling in New York for so many years, I now feel like I'm living a pretty dreamy life. I have a large well lit studio space in Burlington's South End Arts District, an eclectic neighborhood that is home to hundreds of artist studios. We have an art supply store and a hardware store in my parking lot, and it's a 10 minute walk to the beach, 3 breweries, downtown, or my apartment! I spend about 10 hours a week teaching classes and the rest of the time I am working on commissions, studio projects, or exploring the beautiful local scenery and painting outside. I've been impressed with the level of enthusiasm for the arts in Vermont and it seems I'm not alone in choosing to relocate -  I've met at least ten other artists who've recently moved here from NYC! 

Emilie & Honey living the dream.
As far as my work goes, I've been doing a lot of small plein-air paintings purely for my own pleasure, and in the studio I am working on a series of big paintings inspired by my time in the Montana prairie, these are for a solo show coming up next year. 
I made a conscious decision earlier this year to take a break from relying on my paintings to pay my bills because the pressure of constantly producing new work was making it impossible to find time to finish my Praire paintings. I've put more energy into developing my teaching career by offering a combination of workshops, private lessons, weekly classes, and my new job as an adjunct faculty in the game art and animation department at Champlain College. 
I've found that teaching is incredibly energizing and rewarding - being able to share what I love to do with others who feel the same way is so much fun and I always learn something from my students.

In March 2016, Emilie traveled to the four corners region to participate in the upcoming Convergence Film being released by 3 Strings Productions.

You've immersed yourself in a wide variety of environments these past few years talk about some of your discoveries and the paintings you created.

When I was in New York, I was completely focused on learning as much as I could from the GCA community. I just wanted to hone my skills. In 2014 I started to feel very restless in New York, so I planned a big project that would get me out of the city. I proposed and raised money for my own artist residency at a remote conservation area in Montana called the American Prairie Reserve and I spent 5 weeks exploring and painting there. 

Immersing in Montana's great plains. 
My experience working with wildlife researchers and others involved in the effort to conserve this landscape had a big effect on my work. I gained an intimate understanding of the ecology and history of this place and it helped me feel engaged with my subject on a much deeper level. 

One of Emilie's landscape studies in the prairie.
 She encountered a variety of grasses, sage brush, greasewood, juniper, wildflowers and cactus.
The prairie seems so vast and empty at first, but the more knowledge I gained, the more it opened up to me as a rich and beautiful place. I'm still working on these paintings in my studio, but after this I plan to continue working on projects where I can learn and collaborate with conservationists. 

Praire Dog Hole, 10"x10", oil on panel, 2015.
Another recent project was a commission last summer on Appleton Farms, the oldest continuously working farm in America! Sustainable agriculture practices ensure that these 133 acres provide protected grassland, forest and wetland habitat for wildlife in the area. Visitors can wander the network of public trails or take part in their public programming in addition to buying fresh produce, milk, eggs, cheese and meat. 
Appleton Farms plein-air study, 9"x12" oil on linen panel, 2015.
It's located 20 miles outside of Boston in Ipswich, MA and my client was an art collector who lives near the farm. I was tasked with spending a day exploring the farm and making plein air paintings, that my client could choose from. When they picked one, I went back and did a careful pencil study on location. 

pencil sketch done on location at Appleton Farms, 14"x20", 2015.

A detailed pencil sketch can be extremely helpful in the studio, and I often make written notes on my sketches about colors, value relationships, or even less tangible things like emotions that are triggered or artists I am reminded of. Anything that will help me recall that state of inspiration once I'm back in the studio. 

Final painting of Appleton farms commission, 18"x11".
Back in the studio I developed the final painting using my sketches and plein air paintings as reference. I enjoy the process of working without photos, it forces me to use my imagination and problem solving skills, and it's easier to infuse the painting with a unique soul of its own. There are so many reasons to work from life rather than using photos, but I love what happens when I am under pressure from limited time and the ever changing light conditions outside. I am forced to be completely engaged with my process and make quick, confident decisions. 

There are a lot of similarities to how I feel when I am rock climbing. When I trust my intuition and make bold moves, there is no time for doubt and I am capable of things I didn't know I had in me!  

To view more of Emilie's work check out her website and instagram

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