CEDAR LEE

 

www.artbycedar.com

Biography

 

 

Cedar Lee has always been an artist. At age 9, she wrote an essay outlining her plans to grow up, develop her art skills, and sell her paintings for a living. The oldest of five children, Cedar comes from a nomadic, fun-loving family who values self-education, innovation, and entrepreneurial enterprise. Born in 1981 in St. Louis, Missouri, as an infant she lived with her parents for a year in Olympia, Washington, then in Miami, Florida until age 10, Eugene, Oregon until age 14, and Asheville, North Carolina until she graduated high school. Cedar was home-schooled until 7th grade, and her parents, though neither of them are visual artists themselves, are creative people. Cedar's childhood memories are filled with her mother sewing quilts and clothing, playing the violin, and working in her garden, her father building furniture and play structures outside, inventing clever fixes for little things around the house, chopping vegetables and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen, always working with his hands. Both parents worked from home during Cedar's formative years in Miami. They owned a small business growing and distributing wheat grass, sunflower and buckwheat sprouts to all the health food stores in the Miami area. When people ask Cedar how she got her name, she always says, “Oh. My parents were hippies.” The children spent many hours playing and imagining in the tropical jungle-like private enclosure of their back yard. This flexible lifestyle allowed Cedar and her siblings to learn and grow in an uncommonly free and rich environment. Cedar's parents noticed her passion for artwork and encouraged her creativity with a constant supply of paper, crayons, paints, tape, and scissors. Her paternal grandparents were art collectors, and she spent many happy days in their beautiful home, surrounded by original artwork. This early start catapulted her into a creative life. As a child, she was self-taught, and became more serious about painting around age 12, the transformation of puberty coinciding with her coming-of-age as an artist. That year she started experimenting with oils and sold a painting for the first time, to one of her schoolteachers for $40. It was a painting of a woman with a baby on her back and a basket in her hands, harvesting tomatoes in a field. That teacher was the first of many friends, family members, and strangers to purchase Cedar's work. Today a large, diverse group of people owns her paintings, which are scattered throughout at least 17 U.S. states, and around the world as far as Canada, Sweden and Italy. Cedar was hired for her first job at age 15, assembling jewelry from semiprecious stones and silver, and continued to work in that field part-time throughout high school and college. During her junior year in high school, she took a college course in large-scale painting at University of North Carolina—Asheville. That summer she had her first solo showing of her artwork in the public library in Asheville, NC—already establishing herself as an exhibiting artist in her teen years. A serious and hard-working student, she applied herself wholeheartedly to academics, graduating high school first in her class. Following in the adventurous spirit of her family, immediately after graduation she married her high school sweetheart, Kevan, following him to Fort Meade, Maryland where he was stationed with the Army. As a young military wife and college student, she continued painting in all her free time. She had started college pursuing a degree in writing and journalism, but by the middle of her second year she switched her major to studio art, unable to deny the overwhelming draw she felt towards art-making as her life's purpose. Aside from selling paintings occasionally, she earned money throughout her college years by working at health food stores while continuing her part-time job designing and assembling jewelry, and later working as an art instructor at Anne Arundel Community College. Her husband's connection to the Army allowed her to procure a solo show in the National Security Agency's main headquarters, although she was not allowed to hang the show herself because she didn't have a security clearance. In 2001, Kevan was released from the Army and the couple purchased their first home in the suburbs of southwest Baltimore. Even at the age of 20, she was beginning to synthesize the common threads still evident in her life today: a penchant for adventure and travel, a health-conscious, holistic lifestyle, commitment to home and family, giving back to her community in the form of teaching others and showing her work to the public, and always, in everything she did, the continual creation of beauty and cultivation of her creative vision. As she worked towards her art degree, Cedar delved into photography, drawing, and sculpture. She continued her interest in writing, producing poetry and studying English literature. Outside of her college courses, she also took courses in pottery at a clay studio in Baltimore--in fact, many of the dishes currently in her kitchen are colorfully glazed hand-thrown bowls and mugs signed “Cedar” on the bottom. But despite her experimentation with many media and forms of creativity, she always came back to her greatest passion, painting. In 2005, she received her BA from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, graduating at the top of her class with honors in the field of studio art and a minor in writing. Her senior thesis show was entitled “Roots and Wings,” a series of large-scale portraits of her nuclear family—her roots—displayed alongside landscapes including flocks of birds flying raucously into large colorful skies—her wings. This is when she began her career in earnest with the genesis of her business, Art By Cedar. She started a website, showed her work in solo and group exhibitions in galleries, arts centers, and alternative venues, and procured regular gallery representation in the Baltimore area. She had her first solo show in a gallery in 2006, resulting in $4,000 in sales on its opening evening, cementing her commitment to pursuing a career in art. She was active in the Baltimore-area art scene for seven years, represented by galleries in several U.S. states and building a loyal collector base during that time. Throughout her twenties, Cedar traveled around the world: on road trips around the U.S., to Mexico for a school trip, to the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Panama, Italy and Switzerland with her husband, and to Sri Lanka for several weeks with a friend. The places she's seen have influenced her work. Everywhere she travels she takes photographs and stores mental imagery. “It all makes it into my work in one form or another,” she says, “even if it's just a visual element, like the choice of color and use of light. I'm so inspired by the beauty of our natural world.” Her thirst for adventure and beautiful locales has continued into her thirties. In late 2011, Cedar and Kevan decided they were ready for a change. With their two-year-old son and newborn daughter in tow, the family relocated to southern California, moving around before finally settling in a spacious home with cathedral ceilings in the hills of rural Escondido. Cedar's work has always been characterized by her bold, splashy use of color. The same artist's hand is evident throughout all her past work. But her themes are quite varied through the earliest years of her career. She has completed several collections of paintings, practically all of which have been sold to private collectors, including portraits, animal portraits, landscapes, and florals, particularly lotus flowers and sunflowers. Cedar's current focus is on her “Looking Up” series—paintings of tree canopies in the forest, as well as her “Cosmic Dance” series, which includes colorful images of the cosmos, solar eclipses, and the symbolically-rich Tree of Life. “It's taken me a while to find my voice,” she says, “and honestly, I think my style even now is continually evolving. But I've settled for now on trees and cosmic themes, because I see so much potential there. I'm still inspired every time I sit down to work, because it's such an interesting direction for me. The all-encompassing influence of Mother Nature over us humans, particularly the symbolism I find in trees, which reach both into the earth and the sky, the interplay of celestial bodies seen from afar—these are universal themes that can touch everyone on Earth.” And Cedar's work is clearly touching people. Several fans commenting on the “Art By Cedar” Facebook page describe the feelings her work evokes in them: “The colors are soothing and the scene enveloping. The lights seem like those of the netherworld—peaceful and comforting.” “A reminder of the power of the universe we can pray to.” The feeling of “grounding yourself, blooming, being able to then expand upward and outward. Being able to draw strength from below and become something more.” The feeling of “being in a place of contemplation and sometimes dark inner turmoil, then seeing the colour and light that offers hope on the horizon. A new dawn, a new way of being.” Cedar currently paints in a small, sunny studio nestled in the avocado grove in her back yard. “I'm surrounded by trees while I'm painting trees,” she says. She has an office in her home where she works on the business side of things: marketing, writing her blog, packing and shipping her artwork to galleries and buyers. Her paintings fill every wall of her home. “I'm so extremely lucky,” she laughs, “that I've never had to think about decorating, because the walls of my home are already like an art gallery!” Today, new collectors of Cedar's work often discover her through her presence on the Internet. Through her blog and social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Cedar provides free career advice to aspiring artists, and she has a large and growing Internet following. Her leadership is evident in her local community as well. In the summers, Cedar teaches art lessons to children in her home, meeting a high demand for art education in her area. She also founded the North County Painters Critique Group, a group of professional painters that meets monthly to give and receive feedback on their artwork. She created the group and invited other local artists to join her shortly after moving to California. As a self-employed artist working in isolation with small children, she felt the need to connect with other artists, both socially and professionally. “Social connections are crucial for creative entrepreneurs,” she says. Cedar's hobbies include hiking, experimenting with vegan food, and caring for the avocado grove and beautiful grounds surrounding her home. “I love watching movies, she says, “and I’m slightly addicted to video games.” Cedar's schedule is busy. She and her husband, Kevan, who works as a network engineer, have two small children and a rambunctious Labrador retriever. She creates paintings, packs and ships them, markets her work and runs her business in short spurts of activity in between organizing exhibits and events with other artists, teaching, and taking care of all the daily tasks of mothering two preschoolers. Because of her limited time in the studio, Cedar has learned to paint quickly. “Before I had kids, I would sometimes stay up all night to paint. I would paint ten hours in a row without stopping. I've always been kind of a fast painter, but now I can fill my whole canvas with the first layer of color in two or three hours, because I have to,” she says. “Yes, motherhood has definitely changed my relationship with my work, and how I view my work also.” “My work has always been about nature and beauty, but now there are more layers of meaning in my work. In some of my recent paintings I'm playing with the idea of the celestial image as a parallel to the state of the human spirit—so I'm thinking about this huge transformation that I've undergone as I've moved basically from a child into a woman and a mother, the natural life cycle from one stage of life to the next, and how similar cyclical patterns can be seen on a cosmic scale in the birth and death of stars. How everything is related to everything else. This ties into my trees too—walking under tall trees, you're just in awe—you're just another little animal walking on the surface of this huge planet, teeming with life. And this huge planet is really just a tiny speck in the universe.” “Having two children so close together during those preschool years is intense. So those days when I feel like I've lost myself because I'm pouring everything I've got into caring for other people, coming back to the big picture really keeps me centered.” Cedar paints in oils on wood panels or canvas, usually applying the paint over two or three painting sessions, building up layers of color and detail. “Some of my paintings have thinner glazes, while some have more texture, with thick paint and very obvious brush strokes.,” she explains. “I do have certain methods and styles that I come back to over and over, but ultimately each painting tells me where it wants to go.” Cedar has made a commitment to use eco-friendly materials whenever possible to create her work, and her most recent work is painted on panels crafted by hand in the USA from sustainably sourced wood. She describes her motivation to paint as a desire to add beautiful things to the world: “Painting is how I express my love for life. I'm in awe at how the natural world, seen through our eyes, can be so immense and so simple at the same time. I think of humanity not as separate from nature, but as an integrated piece of the whole, and I want to cultivate a respect for nature.” Cedar is a member of the International Association of Astronomical Artists.