In Plein Sight with Erika Lee

︎Mancos, Colorado
Website |
Social | @erika.leeart
Medium | Watercolor on 140# paper + ink lifework

With a stroke of a brush, Erika Lee begins to paint the desert landscape in front of her. The blank page is quickly transformed into hues of red, yellow and orange in shapes outlining towering red rocks. Intricate linework with black and white ink finalizes the piece, creating a flow of geometric patterns that captivate the viewer almost hypnotically.

The outdoors has undoubtedly been the inspiration for her artwork. Raised in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, Lee grew up with the mountains and rivers as members of her backyard. Now, the outdoors is Lee’s canvas, her passion, and her job. When she’s not painting, she’s leading backpacking trips as an outdoor educator and teaching avalanche training courses for backcountry skiers.

While working the field, Lee brings along a small journal, a set of watercolors, and a couple of ink pens to paint the surrounding landscapes. She says, “Watercolor painting is portable and allows me to capture the landscapes I travel through without needing many materials.”

Each piece she creates is reflective of the love she has for these wild places - whether it’s in a desert canyon, along the Grand Canyon’s River, or in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. “In changing environments, and by returning to the same places annually, I can see both subtle and drastic changes in the landscapes,” says Lee. In plein air fashion, she begins by drawing what she sees - whether in person or through a photograph.

But her artistic expression is not limited to landscapes. No piece from Lee is complete without the addition of a geometric element into the mix. She uses geometric patterns to reflect changes within the layers of a landscape, as well as intriguing structures and textures.

“Rocks have unique patterns and textures to them, as do wood and flowers,” Lee stated. “One of the main places I note these patterns is within snow crystals. When you analyze crystals through a magnifying lens, they have exquisite geometry.”

Lee also noted that environmental conservation is a critical element reflected in her pieces. “I use art to represent the raw beauty, expansiveness, and fragility of wild places that many people may not have access to,” she explained. “I depict environmental conditions through my work, creating an aesthetically pleasing platform to capture people’s attention, then deliver conservation messages.”

Her artwork is both a metaphorical and a physical representation of these principles. She uses reclaimed wood and recycled fabrics as much as possible, both to use sustainable resources and connect her pieces with tactile elements of nature. She believes this brings a platform for a tangible experience to her viewers, bringing the idea of conservation to a personal, present moment.

Lee explains that backpacking, skiing, and climbing provide avenues of inspiration for her art and give her reason to protect the environment. She hopes her art can “spread this stoke” for conservation, helping people build respect and awareness for nature through creative endeavors.

Erika Lee’s work is currently exhibited in various art galleries in Mancos, Colorado, where she is now based, and her prints can be found for sale throughout the Southwest as well as Northern California.

Published May 6th, 2020

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