Katie Lee distinctively remembers when she started painting.
One day when she was 14-years-old, Katie Lee was using some of her mom’s old paints when a locksmith working on their house commented on how good of a painter she was. When she told him it was her first time painting, he didn’t believe her.
A few days later the locksmith returned with her very first canvas, telling her that he believed she would one day be a great painter.
Now, Katie Lee has sold paintings all over the United States, and will have first solo show beginning July 17 at the Third Street Gallery. The opening reception event will run from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Third Street Gallery.
Unlike most of her peers, Katie Lee didn’t learn her craft from an art school or formal training, she learned it all herself.
She doesn’t rely on the textbook ways to do artwork, instead preferring to keep things fresh and learn while she paints. When mixing colors, she refused to even write down the combinations of the paint she used to make the new color because she doesn’t want to be a by the book painter.
“I like the freeness of not knowing exactly what I’m doing. I just go and see what happens. That’s one of my favorite things about painting. I don’t really know what the end result is ever going to look like.”
Katie Lee said feels she has benefited from being a self-taught painter. Since she isn’t a textbook painter like some, Katie Lee said she never knows what her final product is going to look like. She said this gives her flexibility and allows her to look at her art in a different way each time she paints.
To make her paintings, she uses oil paints and an artist palette knife. The blunt painting knife allows her to create a textured look and feel with her artwork.
For inspiration, Katie Lee said she enjoys paintings places and scenes that she’s seen around Grand Forks. Featured in the collection that will be on display at the Third Street Gallery are paintings of the Toasted Frog, the waterfront and the Empire Theater.
She often paints these images from photographs she has taken or found.
“I like to paint the things that I know,” she said. “It’s so much fun to bring that image back to life.”
She said she tries to replicate the main subject while adding her own creativity to the background and shadows. She might paint a shadow a cool color such as a dark blue or purple when in the photograph it’s black.
Katie Lee said paintings can take anywhere from a day or two to a month depending on the size and the scope of the artwork. Katie Lee has been working on the collection that will be on display at the Third Street Gallery since January. Along with paintings of areas of Grand Forks, the collection also has artwork of buffalo, teepees and other nature scenes.
She said she enjoys trying to paint new things and enjoys the challenge of painting things that she hasn’t tried before.
“I just have fun trying new things and a lot of times when I do that, something great happens.”
After working several jobs, Lee now paints three days a week for eight hours, and spends the remaining time taking care of her two young children.
Katie Lee is also active in the arts community and helped co-found The Art of Giving (TAG), an annual event where area artists auction off art and donate a portion of the money to local charities and causes. TAG has raised tens of thousands of dollars.
As a self-taught painter, Katie Lee said she still wants to keep trying new things and learning as she becomes a more polished painter.
“I’m almost afraid to go take classes because for me, I like the open-mindness of trying new things and not knowing what I’m going to get. Some people that are textbook painters know what their end result is going to be. A lot of times I find out by trying different things that I’ve created something that I wouldn’t normally create.”