We always love cozying up with artists in our In the Studio series, and the current moment’s made us even more grateful for the opportunity to mix up our milieu. It’s been especially interesting to hear how our artists are adjusting to the new normal, how they’re keeping their creative process cranking along.
SoCal-based artist Ariel Lee talks about just that — and much more! — in our newest In the Studio installment. Though she had to move her studio back to her home following the COVID-19 crisis, Lee’s seasoned when it comes to live-work spaces. Her new setup isn’t a foreign concept, so she’s been able to adapt pretty seamlessly. She has noticed, however, a (probably wise) impulse to treat her supplies more preciously since the pandemic struck. And we totally get it! The right tools help make magic happen.
When you peep all the pics, you’ll see Lee’s workspace is bedecked in brushes, pigments, pens, and bright paint splotches — all treasures befitting a painter whose layered brushwork and colorful palette turn out dreamy, lush landscapes. Her windowside desk nook looks out on some greenery, and we gotta think that helps keep her creative juices flowing. Lee’s super inspired by the outdoors and constantly finding ways to commune with nature. (Her obvious organizational skills can’t hurt either. We’ll take summa that savvy please.) Of course, her studio accessory pièce de résistance is her pupper, June, who does double duty as a gateway to procrastination. More on June (cuz who wouldn’t want that!) below. — Team 20x200
Where's your studio?
Currently, I have a home studio. In February, I had started renting a studio space at a local ceramic studio hoping to be able to focus more and create larger paintings on canvas. I have always worked from home and wanted to change things up. In the end, it did help with focusing but I missed being able to weave back and forth from working and living. Then the quarantine happened and I had to cancel my studio and set up shop back home.
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
I have this water jar that has been in my studio for more than 10 years. It is an old Korean citron tea (yuja-cha) jar. The rim has dried paint caked on it. The sides are streaked with color which eventually gets muddled and messy. I kind of see it as a combined reflection of all the paintings I’ve made in the past.
What do you wear when working in the studio?
My daily workwear is very comfortable and I normally wear casual clothing. I’ve recently been getting into making my own clothes and have been putting pockets on everything. If I’m painting larger projects and know I’ll be messy, I have a specific don’t-care-if-paint-gets-on-it outfit.
What's on your in-studio playlist?
My playlist is a bit all over the place. Some of my favorites are Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Ella Fitzgerald, Dr. Dog, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Portugal. The Man, and Led Zeppelin.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
I check my emails, look at my calendar, and make a to-do list. I have been trying to transition my lists digitally but recently I’ve had to go back to pen and paper. For some reason, I hold myself more accountable when it’s written down physically.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
I find that it’s easier for me to get in the flow at night. My style is definitely intense creative bursts but I’m trying to learn how to take larger projects slower and being more consistent.
Your art draws a lot of inspiration from nature. Tell us a bit about how you approach new landscapes and how you take them from nature to paper.
I’m constantly inspired by being outside. My landscapes are of my personal experiences with nature. Since my partner and I love hiking and climbing, we are constantly outside. I document with my camera and use my photos as reference for new landscapes. I’m playing with the idea of painting plein-air but haven’t gotten my setup dialed yet.
How has your work space set-up or working style changed since the COVID crisis, and what effect is your new arrangement having on your artmaking?
Aside from moving my studio back home, I did notice I was treating my supplies more preciously. I think I was afraid that when I use up all my paint I wouldn’t be able to get anymore.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
I have a dog named June who is crazy (in a good way) and requires a lot of attention and training. I love working with her, teaching her new tricks, and playing games.
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how’d you get there?
I started young. My older cousin who is extremely creative got me into making things as a kid and since then it has been almost like an obsession. At eleven, my dad suggested I take some oil painting lessons at a local framing shop where I was introduced to Impressionism and playing with color. I feel very lucky—my parents were extremely encouraging and supportive. I eventually attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where I studied illustration, and have been freelancing ever since.
How do you get over creative blocks?
I think certain creative blocks require different treatments. There are the daily blocks where I just need to sit down and work it out—it helps to warm up in a sketchbook. Sometimes I’ll look at a few art books to draw inspiration. Then there are the more stubborn creative blocks where I will need to get outside in nature. I don’t draw or paint. Instead, I just observe, take it in, and capture photos.
What do you like best about 20x200?
I love the accessibility and flexibility it allows people to choose beautiful works of art for their homes. Also, 20x200’s print quality is really professional and clean.
Which artists' 20x200 collections do you most covet (and why)?
I love Esther Pearl Watson’s work. Her paintings have a naive and beautiful quality to them. It’s like having a peek into a childhood memory. Also, Martha Rich’s work is a wonderful combination of humor, style, and color.
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
Getting in the flow is crucial. Having a dedicated space won't eliminate creative blocks but I find it helps me manage them. Your workspace doesn’t need to be fancy. The purpose is to have a place to make work. I have found that I can get tunnel vision and focus on getting the best set up then end up having a cluttered desk and thus defeating the purpose. Have a bookshelf nearby, keep it simple, and make it easy on yourself.
The 411 on Ariel Lee
Lee, based in Southern California, predominantly paints landscapes in gouache using bold color and layered brushwork reminiscent of artists such as David Hockney and Fairfield Porter. An avid hiker, camper and climber, her works are direct reflections of her personal experience in nature.