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, 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


Every summer I drive all over Northern Idaho, NW Montana, and over to Bellingham, WA, to be with people and landscapes I love. This last summer I also took a wonderful online art workshop with the fabulous mixed media collage artist in Colorado named Kellie Day and made art along the way. Basically, you use acrylic medium to "glue" meaningful scraps/pieces of paper -- old letters, images of birds, maps, flashes of color, poetry, etc. onto a canvas. Once that dries you sketch your main subject free hand with fluid black paint using an eye dropper -- which resulted (for me) in  a globby calligraphic outline. Then you paint the background, removing paint in some areas to reveal some of the collage elements. Then you paint the main subject. All paints/mediums are acrylic. At any time you can add more collage elements. YOU CAN'T GO WRONG with the fun method. You just keep playing until . . . well, that is the mystery. When is a piece "done?"

Here is the basic process in photos:
F is for Fireweed -- 12" x 24"
After  doing the collage I outlined the fireweed from a sketch I did years ago, and then painted
a cream background. I repainted the background in light blue. No cigar. 
Then I painted the fireweed and repainted the background a pale cream
 -- losing most collage elements. I threw and drew bits of white onto the fireweed.

I added a few more collage elements and touches of white. I gave the painting to Bobbie Ryder,
who has generously shared her cottage The Vinyl Villa at Sunnyside with me for many summers.
She had Ward Tolbom of Hen's Tooth Framing and Gallery in Sandpoint frame the painting in black wood.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


For fabulous facts about ravens please click on this link:
The comments at the end of that article are also fascinating.

In February I had a visitor named Victor Jacinto Cano from Bellingham, WA. He arrived in his small motor home with his small and altogether adorable Havanese doggie named Lola. While Victor and I have nine mutual friends in Bellingham, we had never met. He and Lola found a mostly level spot to park the RV and stayed two nights. We had a nice time and Sudsie liked having Lola around as we drove to sights on the Grand Staircase.

Vic and Lola at Devil's Garden

Sudsie and Lola

Prior to Vic’s arrival, he had posted photos of his travels on Facebook – including several pics of two ravens.  He had taken these photos while camping in Northern Arizona. With Victor’s permission, I set about painting the ravens in various poses using mixed media techniques with acrylic paint.  After learning that ravens mate for life, I decided this particular raven couple had relationship issues. My friend Howard Hutchison, a world famous paleontologist and a very witty person, suggested I name the ravens Ed (for Edgar Allen Poe) and Lenore (for the woman EAP wrote about in his most famous poem).

The next thing you know, I started having “commercial” thoughts about my experiments with ravens in art. I would make prints of the three paintings as well as note cards. I gave the paintings titles – captions, really – of what Lenore might be saying to Ed, based on their “body language.” Remember, their relationship is troubled. It was great fun thinking up titles.Then an artist friend, whose opinion I value, suggested that I might sell more note cards if the titles were “friendlier.” She probably has a point.

Below are the images along with their current titles, which will be changed for the note cards. See what you think.
You Know I Love You Just the Way You Are **SOLD**
Mixed Media, Acrylic, 12" x 12"
by Rae Ellen Lee

Ed, look! It's Your Higher Power!  ** SOLD **
Mixed Media, Acrylic, 12" x 12"
by Rae Ellen Lee

We Could Just Ask For Directions! **SOLD**.
Mixed Media, Acrylic, 12" x 12"
by Rae Ellen Lee

Monday, March 9, 2015


When you make a mistake in real life, it is sometimes difficult to mop up. And it’s nearly impossible to extricate from some choices one makes. It can take years to set things right.

But . . . with painting, If you don’t like a color you just applied, well, just paint over it with a new color. It’s as if that icky color choice never happened. I love this about painting. 

I recently spent entire days painting a large (for me) painting – 18” x 24” I believe it was. The scene was a rock wall which contains a hanging/suspended pothole beneath what we call a “pour-off” -- a late afternoon scene with big shadows. I called it SUSPENDED. This is from a sketch I did on the way to Zebra Slot Canyon here on the Grand Staircase. As I painted and painted, I had to keep painting over areas – mopping up. As an exercise, a learning experience, it was quite grand. However, when I could fix on it no more, I realized the thing did NOT hang together as one whole piece. A more professional statement would be that it “lacked unity.” See what you think:

Acrylic Mixed Media  at 18" x 24" by Rae Ellen Lee
Almost without hesitation, I got out my utility knife and a scissors and cut up the offending canvas into small pieces -- none larger than 5" x 7". Quality and quantity were increased with a few slices of the knife, a few quick snips with the scissors. Other problems in life should be so quickly resolved. Oh, there were new needs to be met – sizing, adding a raven or a tree or two, finding appropriate frames, etc. Here are 5 pieces I consider finished. I'm "resolving" 2 more (one of them with the feature that looks like a lizard's head). I’m rather pleased with the results.  These are highly textured (with layers of tissue) and sport a sheen of metallic gold. They look better in person, but you can get an idea from these images: 

"Tree Shadow" **SOLD**
5" x 7" Acrylic Mixed Media
by Rae Ellen Lee

"Look! It's a plane." **SOLD**
4" x 6" Acrylic Mixed Media
by Rae Ellen Lee
Pinion Pine on Red
4" x 6" Acrylic Mixed Media
by Rae Ellen Lee
Canyon Shadows
6" x 6" Acrylic Mixed Media
by Rae Ellen Lee
Canyon Colors **SOLD**
4" x 4" Acrylic Mixed Media
by Rae Ellen Lee

Friday, February 20, 2015


Acrylic on wood block -- on rabbit brush stems.
Total size 7" x 7"
While the actual painting in this piece, RAVENS ON RABBIT BRUSH, is only 1.5” x 1.5” x .5 the “twig” base is actually rabbit brush stems in winter. These soft green stems are woody in winter and will die and turn gray in future seasons.  The reference photo of the two ravens was taken by a new friend, Victor Jacinto Cano, an artist and musician from Bellingham. We have about nine mutual friends on Facebook but had never met, so he stopped recently to visit me while on a road trip around the southwest. He’s traveling with Lola, his adorable little Havanese doggie companion.

I have decided to include this piece in my #70Paintings70Years project.

A few of the #70Paintings70Years pieces I posted previously are in my first art show, with friend Reiser, at the Anasazi State Park in Boulder, Utah. I wasn’t actually ready for a show, but could not pass up this fine opportunity.  It runs until April 11, 2015, so if you are passing through the area check out this fine state park. Before or after you watch the video about the Coombs Archeological Site, look at G. K. Reiser’s colorful paintings and whimsical sculptures (occupying most of the wall space) and my paintings (at the back of the room).

At my first art show (paintings look better in person)
Anasazi State Park gallery
Boulder, UT

Victor Jacinto Cano and Lola

One of Victor's mask carvings

Lola and Sudsie running free 

THE COLORADO RIVER, acrylic on paper
by G. K. Reiser

by G. K. Reiser (stone, wire, wood)
about 18" high

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


To go with the latest painting done for my project #70Paintings70Years -- One Woman Paints Her Life, I found an autobiographical piece I wrote while messing with words in a group of wonderful writer friends in Bellingham. I added a few words and here it is.

“Please, God,” she said as a child. “Don’t let me grow up to lead a boring life.”

In winter she looked out the window at the snow and wrote a poem that started with “the wood violets sweet. . .” and went on to win a contest so at the age of eight she became a “published writer,” no matter it was only in the Priest River Times. Encouraged, she wrote more often and climbed higher trees to look out beyond the valley of the creek where she lived, over the fences and cows to the river that led to the ocean where she would go someday. After she climbed down out of the trees to graduate from high school, she left the valley to search for big vistas that led elsewhere, always elsewhere.

When she finally found the ocean she’d always longed for, the water was so very cold, and she got lost. She longed for trees and land and for creeks you could jump across. How could she get it right? How could she discover where she belonged? Then she met a new friend and moved to a small desert town, where she found a convergence of air and scenery and endless big vistas to explore. Life is definitely not boring in the desert, and this is home, for now.

The making of CONVERVENCE 

Ready to paint - but first decide a color scheme.

One would expect the sky to be blue and the ground in the
desert to be orangish. But since I have neither a "brand"
nor a reputation as an artist, I am totally free to experiment.

CONVERGENCE, 9" x 12", Acrylic on Wood Panel

Monday, February 2, 2015


Occasionally I take care of my friend Louise’s llamas. Louise has installed a curious fence – not really like the one behind Ricky -- but one made out of sticks from a couple of beaver dams that had been disassembled by people who aren’t so smart about the value of beavers and beaver dams to the watershed, here in the desert. But I won’t get on a soapbox now. Louise had permission to gather the sticks, because it so happens that sticks from beaver dams are all fairly close in diameter and length. 

Back to the llamas. They are friendly and enjoy smelling one’s face. When their muzzles actually touch my face I hold my breath and make smooching sounds. They don’t seem to mind. Ricky is the friendliest of the 4 llamas, and his mostly black coat makes him particularly photogenic.

RICKY BOY, 8" X 8"
Acrylic on Wood Panel

Ricky Boy and the fence constructed of sticks
from a disassembled beaver dam

Ricky Boy, Cristo, and Friz the Goat

I saw a travel show once in which Anthony Bourdain ate goat's bladder stuffed with spleen, roasted over an open fire. I have not told Fritz the Goad yet.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


East and south of Escalante, 26 miles down the Hole in the Rock Road, are two slot canyons in close proximity -- Spooky and Peek-a-Boo. I had struck up an acquaintance at the gym named Jared Nixon, a friendly young man who happens to be a guide. Since it was off-season -- November -- he offered to take me and another woman named Marcie through these slot canyons. He brought his cousin, Darrell, as they often hike together. All I can say is WOW!!!  These two slot canyons live up to their names. Jared and Darrell were kind, generous and helpful to us as we attempted to "chimney up" one area, and descend 10-foot drops. Jared said 85 per cent of people he leads in Spooky don't make it, and I can see why. At one point I had to step into his cupped hands, then onto his back to get up the "chimney" area. Good thing he is so big and strong. I would highly recommend you contact Jared if you need a guide. He knows the area better than anyone else I've met, and he's a nice and fun guy to hang out with. You can catch him at or call 435-676-3121. 

Anyway, there was no way for me to make a piece of art that does justice to either slot canyon, so I messed around with drips of paint and came up with this small piece that captures it as well as anything.  Using a watery drip method to capture the essence of a slot canyon is appropriate, since water has carved them.

Pee-a-Boo Slot Canyon
4" x 12" Acrylic on wood panel

Friday, January 30, 2015


Today artist friend, Diana Pace, sent me the following inspiration:

"All the music I write is a search for myself." - Bruce Hornsby

"While writing my first book, I came upon a Buddhist text in which the author confessed, 'I have no pretension that I am writing this book for any purpose other than my own awakening.' His candor struck a chord deep within me as I realized that I, too, write primarily for the healing of my own mind and spirit. Since then, I have spoken to countless creative artists who agree that even if no one else ever read their books, saw their paintings, or listened to their music, all of their efforts would be worth the sheer joy of producing the work. Your right place is the one in which you are receiving the most edification. The fact that other people receive a benefit is the icing on the cake. Do what is healing to your spirit, and without effort you will offer the world healing in return. Direct me to the work that will feed my soul, that I may feed others. I do what I love, and the world loves what I do." - Alan Cohen

At this gloriously mature age, as I paint my life, reading such words feels like a group hug. I love my artist friends. Another artist, Reiser, who also lives, hikes and paints in Escalante, has a lavishly outfitted shop. He cut dozens of wood panels between 4" x 4" and 9" x 12" x 1/8" thick -- from a door skin that another local artist, Howard, had layin' around. Now I can mess with paint and not worry about wasting precious or expensive resources. 

The twigs you see on the confection below were collected and cut on Lopez Island, Washington. I found them while looking for something else (that's when I find most missing items). I glued them on an 8" x 8" panel weeks ago. And then just yesterday I painted this little aspen pic -- and matched up the two items for a pleasing piece of work. I have totally amazed myself!!! This is number 4 of #70Paintings70Years.

GROUP HUG, 8" X 8" Twig Frame, with
4.5" x 4.5" acrylic palette knife painting on wood panel.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


For a 4-H club project when I was a 12 or 13, I raised a sheep named Hoppy. At the time we had a goat with two kids, and the kids would stand on top of Hoppy. She didn’t mind. I really like sheep, so I intend to paint them often. In this particular painting, I make reference to a Monet work titled “The Turkeys at Montgeron, 1877,” which I saw a few years ago in a Paris art museum. I also love the Gravelly Range in Southwest Montana, where I had photographed a sheepherder’s wagon near Black Butte (the neck of an old volcano) in the 1980s. OK, so I decided to arrange sheep in the approximate location of Monet’s turkeys, and instead of a chateau at the top of the painting I placed the sheepherder’s wagon. The piece is 20” x 24” on a pre-used canvas, which provided interesting textures. I tried making the grasses the same color as Monet’s, but ended up using a palette knife to scumble lighter colors over the green-blue. And, of course, every band of sheep deserves a good guard dog, so I placed Sudsie in the scene. There’s an “accidental” quality to the piece. This is also the first painting of mine that I actually L-O-V-E.

Monet's painting is 5'8" x 5'8"

20" x 24" Mixed Media on Canvas
by Rae Ellen Lee

Work in progress. Too much green-blue.