Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Artist Collective member Michelle Lee about her involvement with the Collective and her work. A dynamic group of artists from across the country comprise the ArtsQuest’s Artist Collective, a resource of creative, networking, professional development, and career opportunities for visual artists. A talented artist, Lee resides in the Poconos area, but has a studio close by in Allentown. She works in a variety of mediums, and she dabbles in jewelry making as well.
Sam Sorensen: Tell us a little about yourself as an artist! What mediums do you work with? How did you find art, or how did art find you?
Michelle Lee: I work with various media, either singly or in mixed media pieces—including acrylics, graphite, pastel, watercolor, and resin. I also make jewelry on occasion, though that’s not my main focus.
I got an early start with art classes at around 5 years old while growing up in Harrisburg. The local newspaper did a full-page spread of my work in a kids’ art class, and I think that built an early confidence in my creativity. In high school, I was a double arts and graphics arts major, and I was awarded the Kiwanis Club art award at graduation. Then, I moved onto a graphic design degree in college (a “real job” per my parents’ influence), started freelancing at 25, and opened a full-time ad agency when I was 29. As I used up my creative juice during the day, my time for creating art dwindled over the years, until I only had ideas, no energy left for execution.
Still self-employed with my advertising/web business, I ended up getting divorced in 2012 and was suddenly a single mom. I didn’t know who I was anymore. So, I went back to my roots, driven to start taking art classes and expressing myself through art again. I was no longer willing to wait until “the right time” or to retire before starting my art career, which was always the dream for me. It literally saved me from the clutches of too much responsibility, too much creating on demand, on deadline, for a corporate profit—too little me time! So, I jumped in feet first, went out of my comfort zone, and rented an art studio in downtown Allentown where I knew no one. And, I focused on creating art and a life that speaks to the soul.
SS: What are you currently working on?
ML: I’ve always been inspired by women—our innate sensuality, love, the vulnerability that is our strength. Although my subject matter ranges from abstract to the natural world as well as the female form, that essence of the female spirit is at the core of everything I create. As the world becomes more and more distant, technological and cynical, so patriarchal and left-brain dominated, I want to spread beauty and help people really connect through the divine feminine found in us all.
I am currently finishing up my third painting of The KISS Project. I started in January and launched it on Facebook, requesting couples’ kiss photograph submissions to do one drawing a day for 21 days. I gave every couple a free 8×10 print of their piece for Valentine’s Day. I then posted the collection on Facebook and asked people to vote on the top 3 to be turned into paintings. The couples chosen got to pick the media and style from my previous works and will get to title the paintings as well. The first painting (Ronny & Bill, acrylic) and the almost-finished second piece (Nyssa & Rob, mixed media) are shown below:
The third painting will be done in the mixed media style as well, based on the sketch below:
I’m hoping to get a solo exhibit somewhere when the series is done, and continue The KISS Project over time, with a new focus for each series: People kissing their pets, parents and/or grandparents with children, friends kissing, LGBT couples, etc.
Recently, I’ve also started experimenting with abstract art using acrylics and resin, which is a thick high-gloss coating similar to epoxy or polyurethane. I do paint pours within the resin and plan to incorporate 3D objects into future pieces as well. My resin art is not yet shown online due to the difficulty of capturing the high gloss without glare.
I also host monthly figure/cosplay drawing sessions at The Cigar Factory, called WickeDraw. It’s like a drink and draw with wine and snacks, but focused on a sensual theme for the model and music. I’ve had sessions ranging from pin-up and pole dancing to nude hats and heels, nude with flowers, belly dancing, and more. You can see albums from these classes here.
I recently became a Licensed YogArt Facilitator and will start holding classes in August or September. YogArt is a practice of tuning the mind, body, and spirit through a bunch of fun, creative exercises, and it’s for everyone, not just artists. From creative visualization and stream of consciousness writing to easy yoga poses, mandala art body mapping and other chakra-opening activities, YogArt provides a safe space to explore your inner world. It does not require any art or yoga skills. It only requires an open mind and can help put students on a path to self-healing, removing blocks, self-awareness, etc.
SS: What prompted you to join the Artist Collective?
ML: In the past, I’ve taken some watercolor classes with Angie Snyder Lande at the BF [Banana Factory Arts Center] and just loved the experience, the entire scene, and vibe there. As to what prompted me to join the Artist Collective… First and foremost, I wanted to be more involved with the Banana Factory and the Bethlehem art scene. I am from the Lake Harmony area of the Poconos and have a studio at Allentown’s Cigar Factory (#413), but find it a little difficult to network and find opportunities being a little farther away. The benefits that drew me to the Artist Collective program are the teaching and commission opportunities, the class/workshop discounts, the juried exhibitions, the BF [Banana Factory Arts Center] website listing (yay!), and the mentorship part of the program.
SS: What opportunities has membership in this new program given you?
ML: So far, I have taken a “Photographing Your 2D/3D artwork” workshop and that certainly gave me some much-needed guidance in getting great photos of my work. [I took] the “Grant Writing” workshop and am excited about the subject—a grant is something I’ve never even considered as a relatively new artist. I was asked to teach a visiting artist workshop during Summer Art Camp [at the Banana Factory Arts Center] on July 14, and that was my first official teaching experience. I was so excited to be asked, and I got my 9-year-old daughter involved pre-painting the backgrounds a few nights prior. Then, I taught a group of 19 four- to nine-year-olds how to create space paintings for the Star Wars STEAM theme. I was just asked to do a demo at Musikfest and facilitate classes at Oktoberfest, and plan to take part in those events as well.
SS: Since the program is a mere six months old, what are you hoping the Collective will yield for you as an artist?
ML: I would love to meet serious art collectors and sell some art, as well as get commission work at some point. Also, I want to grow as an artist by taking advantage of Artist Collective opportunities like teaching and mentoring, and maybe eventually apply for a studio at the BF [Banana Factory Arts Center]. Although I did not get selected for the juried Visual Artist Collective Exhibition this year, I will continue submitting and hope to make my way into future shows. I also plan on taking advantage of all teaching/demonstration opportunities and hope to get some mentoring for my art career.
Visit Lee on her blog regularly to follow what she’s up to!
Interested in the ArtsQuest’s Artist Collective?
A yearly fee of $50 ($45 for ArtsQuest members) unlocks a wealth of resources, including teaching artist positions, networking events, class and workshop discounts, commissioned opportunities, mentorship, and more. Though based in the Lehigh Valley, the collective is open to anyone in the country. Sign up today!