Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Escalante is a town of 800 + quirky inhabitants, surrounded by nature -- the ever-so-scenic Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Escalante River and various tributaries meander nearby, so there is endless landscape to explore, including numerous canyons to paint. The Dixie National Forest offers ponderosa pine forests, aspen groves, and reservoirs.

Since I'm actually more of a studio artist, careful planning is required to do mixed media collage pieces out there in the desert. Luckily I could borrow a folding chair and table to use.

This is where I set up to paint rabbit brush for the paint out, as the requirement was to paint on public land. This is the trailhead for the Lower Box Death (Wilderness) Trail -- along Pine Creek. A favorite trail. See the painting, below.

Ghost Car on the Desert Floor - 8 x 10. The story collaged
underneath the painting was also told to me by an Escalante
"native" -- and I will post the entire fun story in the future. I traded
this painting for a pastel by Bonnie Zahn Griffith.

This most fabulous plein air art festival happens every year during the last week of September. 2016 was my 4th year, and I am hooked. Every year between 80 - 100 artists come from all over the U.S. (and occasionally beyond) to participate. A few have returned every year since it began. Each year I make a few new friends. Since I was fortunate enough to live there from 10/2014 to 10/2016, I also became friends with several inhabitants, a fascinating bunch of characters for sure.

I'm happy to report that while some artists painted 5 paintings every day, I painted 5 paintings total, but the good news is they all found good homes!!! Also, what you can't see in these photos is that each painting is wearing "bling" in the form of glittering bits of crinkled and painted aluminum foil. While this might sound tacky, it looks so fun. And, hey. We all need a gimmick.

Leaves of a Book at 9 x 12 - a contemporary painting in a traditional frame. SOLD to a writer who lives in nearby 
Boulder, UT. A story is told on the trees. A friend who grew up in Escalante told a story about how as a child he sold 
cockle burrs to tourists for 25 cents each, told 'em they were porcupine eggs and to put 'em under their armpits to hatch.

This is a ponderosa pine showing the
prevalent red rocks one sees along the
Hell's Backbone Road north of Escalante.
This and a companion piece of a pinyon pine
SOLD to a couple from S. California.

Rabbit Brush painting at 5 x 7,
inside a frame made of rabbit brush
stems I had collected and cut to fit.
This piece went to a California patron.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Recent events aligned to give me an epiphany. And who doesn't love those???

I'm into recycling all the time -- so, of course, this applies to making art, and buying art supplies at thrift stores. I use born-again frames, canvases, papers, and other odds and ends, and love to collage onto cereal boxes to create "window sill art" (a future post will appear on this).

I was puzzling about what art materials to take on my upcoming trip to St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. My bag of travel art tricks had to be portable, but not limiting, and of course I do HOPE to make some money with my art experiments so I can continue to buy art materials at thrift stores and keep my tiny studio at the Waterfront.

A friend who has also lived on the island suggested I sketch a lot on my trip, that I could sell the sketches right there. I found this encouraging, but did not see how to find buyers. I mean, would I approach someone on a beach and say, "Hey, sorry to interrupt your nap but do you want to buy my sketches?" 

The very next day I realized my business cards were out of date and I ordered new ones on Vista Print. This left a few hundred wasted cards to recycle. That same day I found a package of those scissors that cut wavy edges, like you see on vintage b/w photos. 

And then it hit me, the way those things called epiphanies do. I'll collage torn bits of papers onto the back of the old biz cards, and paint island scenes on them. I'll glue each one to a piece of rice paper (from a huge roll of it I found at Goodwill for $2.00) -- cut a bit larger than the card, which I would cut out with a wavy edge. Then glue all of that onto a 5" x 7" piece of nice black crescent board -- to fit a standard born-again frame. And way-lah -- but wait. I needed to write a mini bio for the back of the crescent board. And insert the works into a clear plastic sleeve (also on hand).

Here is a sample:
Our Lady of the Glacier, 2" x 3.5", Acrylic m.m. 5" x 7" overall

Here is the About the Artist paragraph for the back (alert: shameless self-promotion):

About the Artist
     Rae Ellen Lee’s art is inspired by the patterns and colors of Diebenkorn, and the whimsy of Andy Warhol. With a history of rescuing things – an old mining camp brothel, dogs and cats, broken furniture, an old goat or two – she applies recycled bits of color, messages and symbols as a first layer. She then adds and removes acrylic paint to amplify a subject’s gesture – and to reveal the stories behind the flora, fauna and land forms she loves. This original mini painting is designed as a keepsake or gift, and fits a standard  5” x 7” frame. For more about the award-winning artist and author visit:  www.raeellenlee.com
Images of St. John - collaged/painted old business cards mounted at 5" x 7"
And . . . since the FRIENDS OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK gift shop(s) already carry my two memoirs, If the Shoe Fits and My Next Husband Will Be Normal -- A St. John Adventure, I will offer my wares to them for sale in their two shops (one of which is in the visitor center, where everyone who visits the island goes). I sure hope they say "YES!!!"

FOLLOW UP NOTE:  They said "Yes!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


AIRPLANE EARS - only 5" x 14", Acrylic Mixed Media

This little guy lives in Escalante, Utah, although now he's probably a full-sized trouble-maker. The other day while searching for a missing item, I came across an envelope I had sent from what was then Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to my parents in Laclede, Idaho. Colorful and exotic stamps all over it, the envelope was lined with text and patterns related to travel and passport stamps. 

It is a goldmine. I scanned the envelope and made color copies for use in artwork -- like little AIRPLANE EARS here. He's a study for a 12" x 24" painting. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

ESCALANTE CANYONS ART FESTIVAL 2015 -- A Radioactive Experience

Every now and then a string of curious events can result in a fabulous surprise.

For decades I wanted to make art (see my first blog post). Over those years I wrote several books (see www.raeellenlee.com), collected art supplies, and made many artist friends. I sketched but simply could not paint. Artists with both MFA degrees and teaching credentials tried to help me paint. No dice.

In 2013 when I left Bellingham, WA, to explore Southern Utah, I discovered Escalante -- home of the famed Escalante Canyons Art Festival (ECAF). I moved here and participated in the plein air festival that year. My entry: a tight little pastel pencil drawing. The next year, a fabulous artist friend in Bellingham, WA, Lorna Libert, finally got me going with oil paints. That fall at ECAF I managed to paint a large aspen tree to enter in the plein air competition and, be still my heart, someone bought it. Of course, I had priced it very low. But still. That winter I painted and hiked, hiked and painted. I loitered on Pinterest looking at art and stalking artists. I watched Youtube videos on how to mix paint. And one day I discovered Kellie Day, a mixed media/collage artist near Telluride, CO. On her website I learned that she planned to teach an online workshop. I got on her email list and managed to win a scholarship for her summer 2015 online workshop.

This fabulous workshop, with the lovely and generous Kellie Day, was just the boost I needed. Using her techniques, I painted up a storm all summer as I traveled in Montana and Idaho. I shared the techniques with my 11 year-old granddaughter and a couple other friends – one of them a very successful artist who’d been in a painting slump. There were so many happy tears – because you cannot do it wrong, and it is SO much fun. The techniques are so freeing. Generous friends and family members who hosted me during my travels received paintings. They invited me back!

And then I returned to Escalante to participate in my third ECAF event. But could I use these mixed media collage techniques to do plein air??? I already knew what scene I wanted to paint – a row of hoodoos east of Escalante that I call The Doll Men. While I had sketched them often, and painted them in oils before, I had never used the mixed media collage techniques with acrylic paints. So I worked smaller (9 x 12) and carefully prepared. I collaged the panel with a story told to me by a geezer – about uranium prospecting by dogsled in the 1950s – and painted the sky in red tones and two of the doll men in gold tones, leaving much of the story readable. I had gelli-printed papers that I cut up and added for the shrub. When finished, the painting fit into a bold black and gold frame. The judges called my painting “original,” “fresh,” “unexpected,”and said it had a wonderful “pow” factor from across the room. The photos below show where it happened and what the results were at ECAF 2015. I could not be more pleased.

Painting "The Doll Men" for the art festival
Photo by Irit Reed

Sudsie helping me
Photo by Irit Reed

Using a portable masonite "table"
Photo by Irit Reed
Winning a Merit Award in the Watercolor/Mixed Media Category and $500.00
Photo by Allysia Angus

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Last summer while driving on the Trestle Creek road in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest looking for huckleberries, my daughter-in-law, Lee, and granddaughter, Madison (10 at the time), and I encountered acres of beargrass in bloom. We were gobsmacked. Then we found huckleberries -- and -- later encountered a juvenile moose on the road. It was the loveliest of evenings. 

This summer my daughter-in-law graduated with a masters degree in business administration from Western States University, so I gave her my painting, B is for Beargrass, an acrylic mixed media collage piece. My son -- who had never seen beargrass -- asked the question some artists dread, "What Is It?" But as an emerging artist I am happy with my location on the artistic style spectrum -- somewhere between Ordinary Realism and What Is It. (Note to self: Next summer take my son up in the mountains to see beargrass.)

Below is the evolution of this painting.

Collaged items include a gelli print sky, pages out of a sketchbook,
bird image, sheet music, and a salmon pic off a paper grocery bag. The
beargrass was haphazardly orchestrated in fluid black acrylic paint.

Basic colors were added. The bird and fish are now difficult to see.
In future paintings, I want to leave more collage items visible.

B is for Beargrass
16" x 20" Acrylic Mixed Media
(You can see the bird and the fish if you get up close and personal.)

Friday, September 11, 2015


In May of 2008 I was lucky enough to go on an artist trip with the Blue Horse Gallery in Bellingham, WA. We were in Paris a week and Normandy two weeks. Everyone LOVES Paris, but I couldn't wait to get into the countryside. Oh the pastoral landscapes, the villages, the old buildings. I fell in love with France. I think of Etretat about every other day -- still. And the fading tulips in Monet's garden in Giverny -- well I have painted them (from my sketches and photos) many times since. I have one in progress now. I will include the latest ones done just this summer, and I'll include the steps I took along the way. 

Detail of Grande Dame in Monet's Garden
16" x 20" Acrylic Mixed Media
This piece is now in the show, Itinerant, at Dakota Arts in Bellingham, WA

Here it is in its entirety. 
The same flower with collage background
8" x 10" Acrylic Mixed Media

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


While loitering on Pinterest one day I saw paintings made of mostly torn pieces of colorful papers. I had started an 8" x 10" portrait of a jack rabbit but did not like it much. So I tried my hand at this new method, using bits of paper from magazines, maps, and Gelli prints I had made in the spring. The evolution of J is for Jack rabbit speaks for itself:

With a barn wood frame from NORTHWEST HANDMADE in Sandpoint, ID
now proudly resides at the home of Sherry and Sam Irwin in Priest River, ID