As I walked into D.Lee’s studio, my eye immediately went to a painting started earlier that day on the easel, four hounds. They were only “blocked in,” yet already starting to have personalities. Her studio windows overlook her farm, so she can see her five horses and three German Shepherds who are a continual source of inspiration and study for her art. On a computer screen to the left of the easel is a continual loop of wildlife photos she took – wolves, cows, calves, sheep, bison, foxes, and elk amongst them.
D.’s love of animals is apparent in the emotions she transfers into paintings. Animals have always been an intrinsic part of D.’s life. She was born in Saratoga, NY, lived much of her life in Idaho, spent some time in Prescott, Arizona and moved to “The Horse Capitol of the World” to live amongst the horses.
Look at any of D.’s paintings – they express untold emotions. Whether it be the inquisition in a sparkle of an eye, the movement of a shoulder as they run, the softness of a tuft of curly hair on a calf, or the serenity of a foal sun-bathing, D. gives them life on a canvas.
D. has always drawn. “Horses, mostly, as the majority of horse crazy girls do,” she laughs and her face flashes into one of her ever-present vibrant smiles that lights up the entire room, one of the traits friends love most about her.
She picked up a paintbrush in her late 20s when she took a local oil painting class out of curiosity. As she says, “What a life changer!” The smell drew her in, just like the smell of horses and the barn draws horse people in. “I knew then I wanted to paint. It was the beginning of a wonderful journey that will continue until I die.”
At that time, she was a professional horse trainer and instructor in Idaho, working in her husband’s metal art business. “Yes, I can cut steel.” Painting was reserved for when she had time in the evenings after she put her two young daughters to bed. They moved to Prescott, Arizona during when he developed cancer and wanted to spend his last months in the high desert sun. His death combined with that of her parents made her realize she needed to “live for today.”
“Living in the moment and all those catch phrases is easy to say, and a bit harder to do. Those are still words I live by.”
She has been “very lucky” for the opportunity to work with some of the best artists anywhere – Morgan Weistling, Dan Mieduch, Jim Wilcox, Greg Beecham, Jim Norton, Sam Savitt and most recently Andre Pater.
“Morgan was a huge influence early in my painting career. I was so fortunate to be in one of the few workshops he has done and that he stayed in contact with me afterwards. Jim helped me tremendously with plein air and it has greatly influenced my work.”
During this time she was accepted into a galleries in the resort communities of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Sun Valley, Idaho and she has never left. Jackson and surrounding areas, primarily Grand Teton and Yellowstone Park, she considers dear old friends. D. has spent time there since she was a child, and going there always feels like going home to her. “It’s hard to find a better place to observe and paint wildlife, nor a more wonderful place to do it. I am involved in the Fall Arts Festival in Jackson Hole every September, participating in the Quick Draw on the Square and meeting the collectors who come from all over for Jackson’s biggest art events of the year.”
She has been a Quick Draw artist, completing a painting in an hour from an empty canvas, for many years. 2013 will be her eighth year participating in the Jackson Hole Quick Draw. “I really enjoy it more and more. It’s a great challenge, I love painting with my good friends and meeting the spectators.”
Meeting and marrying Tim, also a widower, brought a huge change to her life. Not only to her personally, but to her ability to concentrate on art rather than on just survival. “In the last few years I have grown tremendously as an artist and am still striving to constantly improve.”
In 2006, they moved to Kentucky from Arizona. She laughs again as she explains, “as Tim likes to say ‘When the horses heard there was a chance we were moving to Kentucky they were in the truck and honking the horn!’ It gives me so much joy to see them playing and grazing in the grassy fields here, those are some of the moments I love the most”
She still spends time in the Rocky Mountain West, when she is pulled to get back to the mountains and the “hugeness of the landscape there.” Her cattle and bison paintings portray a gentle side to these animals, opposite to the norm and shows her admiration and adoration for them.
Painting has grown into a large part of her life, and has slowly taken over and she now sees possible paintings everywhere. “It’s true that once you start painting you never ‘see’ the same again. Mood and light are what get me excited and make me want to put something on canvas. I have occasionally cried when the sun set behind a mountain and ended what was a spectacularly lit scene of elk, or horses, or a brilliant landscape.”
Her studio is a haven, a place of comfort where she can retreat from the world and create. Although she cherishes the time she spends painting with friends, she describes herself as “a lone painter.”
D. occasionally paints commissions for people of their beloved animals, and while those can be some of the most challenging pieces for her, they are often the most rewarding as she sees the emotions her paintings bring to their owners’ faces. She delights in being able to capture that for them.
Supporting charities that are dear to D. is something she feels strongly about. She has donated paintings throughout her career to help animals, cancer research, land conservation, and art. Woodford Humane Society, Thoroughbred Charities of America, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Bluegrass Conservancy, Art Division Los Angeles, and the Lexington Cancer Foundation are among the lucky recipients of her art.
Art has taken her on quite a journey so far. “It lets me be alone, to spend time in remote places I love with the animals that inspire me, and yet it puts me in situations where I meet some of the most amazing people. It is humbling, exhilarating, frustrating, satisfying and it is work. I never pictured myself an artist when I was a kid, and yet here I am. I guess you just never know.”
D. will undoubtedly have many more adventures, and we look forward to viewing the paintings inspired from those. As she sums up her life and art in one of her favorite quotes: “The journey is the destination.”
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