Lee at work

It’s hard for a lot of artists to “take the plunge” into full-time plein air painting, let along taking up art in the first place. However, the story of Emilie Lee is about as extreme — and entertaining — as it gets. Take a look!

The incredible plein air journey of artist Emilie Lee begins unlike anything we’ve heard: “In April one year, I sold and gave away almost all my belongings and moved into my Honda Element, which I outfitted for car-camping with a custom-made bed platform and storage inside. Ever since I started plein-air painting years ago, I’ve dreamt of traveling and camping across the country, relishing the freedom of the open road while painting wherever inspiration struck. When I made the big decision to move from Vermont to California, I saw the perfect opportunity to make my dream come true.

plein air painting setup
Lee’s Honda packed to the gills with gear
Plein air painting setup
Great views along the way
Furry companions always welcome
Furry companions always welcome

“I left Vermont and spent two months meandering through New York, Ohio, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico; it was the trip of a lifetime. I stopped, visited, and painted with as many of my artist friends as I could track down and eventually connected with Thomas Kegler, Mary Jane Ward, Clyde Aspevig, Sarah Bird, Ryan Brown, and Kamille Corry. I had a great time out painting with them and reconnecting with folks I hadn’t seen in a long time!

Painting on location
On location
Plein air triumph!
Plein air triumph!

“All told, I completed about 40 paintings. About halfway through the trip I did an online sale through social media and sold 15 paintings in four hours! I made enough to pay my bills and get back on the rounds for another month. Right now, I’ve just arrived in Santa Barbara, California, where I’m setting up for a new chapter in life.”

Plein air trips
More views!

In fact, Lee’s extreme plein air experience began some time ago, only culminating in her cross-country odyssey. “I used to be a really dedicated rock climber living an adventurous life out west,” she continues. “In 2004, I lived in a school bus that I had converted to run on vegetable oil! At that time, I made art for climbing magazines. In 2007 I moved to Salt Lake City to study with Kamille Corry for a year, then I moved to New York City and spent almost eight years studying with and teaching for Jacob Collins at the Grand Central Atelier. I went to the Hudson River Fellowship for six summers in a row. In 2015, I left New York and moved home to Vermont, where I taught private lessons and workshops, as well as life drawing, anatomy, and perspective at Champlain College.

Plein air painting

Not a bad sleeping arrangement
Not a bad sleeping arrangement
Painting en plein air
Looks as if Lee’s dog found friends as well

Artist Emilie Lee“Painting outside is my favorite activity, it brings me such pure joy. . .but as a full-time artist, it’s easy to let my time become monopolized by other tasks that keep the bills paid—marketing, teaching, commissions, and other business details. I don’t mind that part of my job as long as I’m still able to paint, but to be honest, I often struggle for balance between the two. For that reason, I made a concerted effort to set aside all other tasks and devote myself completely to the joy of painting, just to see what would happen. It was a thrill to spend two months immersed in the creative high of painting with no other agenda. . .and the lesson I’ve learned is that it’s actually what’s best for me and my work, resulting in massive productivity, unforgettable memories, and great sales! So from now on I’ll be making a lot more time for adventures like this.”

Learn more about Emilie Lee by visiting her webpage here.
This article was originally published in 2017

Pastel Live banner

Visit EricRhoads.com to find out all the amazing opportunities for artists through Streamline Publishing, including:
– Online art conferences such as Plein Air Live
– New video workshops for artists
– Incredible art retreats
– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

Learn More

> Subscribe to Plein Air Today, a free newsletter for artists
> Subscribe to PleinAir Magazine so you never miss an issue


  1. I would like to offer some advice to these plein air artists that are traveling with wet oil paintings…these paintings are toxic materials and you can get VERY SICK…I know because I did 35yrs ago. Please encourage these artists to get out more, please don’t educate them to sleep in the same place as their paintings are drying. [email protected]…check out the photo op in the Grand Canyon to speak for my experience as I’m sure that you’ve never heard of me as I started painting out before it was popular.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here