Several of Lee's completed works from her journey

It’s hard for a lot of artists to “take the plunge” into full-time 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 I’ve heard: “In April, 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 nine 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 this year, I saw the perfect opportunity to make my dream come true.

Lee’s Honda packed to the gills with gear
Great views along the way
Furry companions always welcome

“I left Vermont on May 7th 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!

On location
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.”

Lee at work
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.

Not a bad sleeping arrangement
Looks as if Lee’s dog found friends as well

“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 by visiting her webpage here.

This article was featured in PleinAir Today, a weekly e-newsletter from PleinAir magazine. To start receiving PleinAir Today for free, click here.

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Editor PleinAir Today, Andrew Webster
Andrew Webster is the Editor of Plein Air Today and works as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.

1 COMMENT

  1. First I would like to say that I’m very pleased to see some girls that aren’t gurls. I’ve been passing these plein air easels for years that are hangin out painting next to the lodge, restaurant, and parking lots with these portable easels, but never gettin down the trail. Second, 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. MEINEKEART@blogspot.com…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.

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