Artist Profile: Stephanie Lee

Stephanie Lee is a mixed media artist best known for her jewelry and plaster work. Her work has been published in Somerset Studio, Belle Armoire and Somerset Workshop. She regularly teaches sold-out workshops both in the US and abroad. Stephanie has written two books: The first, Semiprecious Salvage, focuses on her jewelry techniques. The second, Plaster Studio, is co-authored by Judy Wise.

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: Lotsa plaster. (It’s everywhere!) Judy [Wise] and I are working on our online class offering which means a ton of experimenting in the studio! [The Plaster Studio workshop is underway; you can learn more about it here.]

Q: Why do you make art?
A: This is one of those questions that I never quite know how to answer. Not exactly because I don’t know the answer, but because I feel like the answer should be something a little more insightful than “because I just do.”

Q: What’s your current favorite, can’t-live-without-it tool?
A: Gosh. I’d have to say my 12” wide metal trowel. Seriously. I can get some wicked awesome texture in plaster AND create a super smooth honed surface. It’s my go-to multi-tool. Love!

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
A: I read a lot and love each book for different reasons. I recently read Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and despite the cheesy title and industry exclusive language, I loved the heart of the message and felt reaffirmed in a lot of the beliefs I have about life, relationships, and taking action.

Q: What’s the most inspiring trip you’ve ever taken or adventure you’ve ever had?
A: My imagination’s most inspiring adventures are still on my to-do list. A week (or more) hiking in each of our national parks, sleeping in the top of a 200 foot Redwood tree (in a tree hammock of course), and spending a month in another country in service.

However, there is nothing like a road trip across the Oregon/Nevada/Utah desert in spring to awaken all my senses and get my mind in creative mode. There is something about the wide sky and the even wider hours it takes to cross that land that stretches my ideas of life and art and what kind of person I want to be. Then again, a long weekend in energetic Portland isn’t half bad either.

Q: What’s the last thing you cooked?
A: Fish tacos. A family favorite. With fresh-pressed corn tortillas, black beans, green salsa, chipotle mayo, shredded green cabbage, and crisp-broiled cod (or halibut). Yum!
Q: If you could surround yourself with only one color, what would it be?
A: Green. As in plants. As in I could happily live in a fern grotto if a wide sunny sky weren’t also equally as therapeutic to me. Then again, I love the color of sandstone. Not exactly white, not exactly brown. It’s creamy—like rest and mother’s milk and sunrise.

Q: Do you have a talisman/power garment/magical thing you wear?
A: My wedding ring. It’s a small, antique thing…white gold with flowers around the tiny little diamond in the center. Very understated and not blingy. It is a constant reminder of why I want to be my very best self and the incredible support I have in the journey. (Hang on…I need a tissue.) Poor thing…always getting plaster smooshed into it. J

Q: What’s your favorite place in all the world?
A: I’ll have a different answer when I’ve seen more of the world, I’m sure. For now, it would have to be a three-way tie between the alpine Rockies of my home state, the black-gold-moss haven of my current home state, and any place where there is a little house on a knoll where I can look out over a valley (with orchards in bloom, let’s say) and watch the sun rise.

Q: What one thing do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
A: Spend a week in each of the national parks hiking the trails. Oh, and speak at TED. Oh my gosh…did I just admit that out loud? One can dream, eh?

Q: What’s the best day you’ve ever had?
A: My life has been full of so many good days but the day(s) that popped into my mind first when reading this question were the first day after the birth of each one of my daughters (I have two). I had them both at home and that magical-beyond-words time of feeling total and complete surrender to any schedule while staring/sniffing/touching a brand new baby…those were days that were unmatched by anything.

Q: What’s today’s Word to Live By?
A: What if. Seriously. When I let my mind explore the question of “what if,” my imagination kicks in overdrive and I am able to conjure up visions of possibility that I had never known before. It’s where impossibility becomes a dream and then becomes a plan and then becomes a reality.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
A: Reading. Though I don’t feel guilty about it. I consider it personal edification without which I would be boring and cranky.

Q: What do you listen to when you create?
A: I’m all over the map with this one. My iPod has Feist, Peter Gabriel, Brandi Carlile, Andrew Bird, David Byrne, Rodrigo y Gabriella, Fatboy Slim, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Florence and the Machine, Janis Joplin, George Gershwin, musical soundtracks (Porgy and Bess, South Pacific, etc….even Urban Cowboy, if that counts), Bread, Xavier Cugat, and some cool French stuff I can’t think of at the moment. What you WON’T find is Yanni. Ugh.

Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
A: Time travel. For sure.

Q: With whom would you love to spend one day making art?
A: Any artist, living or dead? Edward Hopper. Hands down.

Q: When is your favorite time of day?
A: Early morning. Really early. Like before it gets light, especially in the summer. Not that I get to see that time very often.

Q: What is on your workspace right now?
A: Well, since I just got back from a good, long teaching trip (two weeks) my studio is full of stuff that needs unpacking and stuff that didn’t get finished in time to take with me before I left. The studio is asleep right now. I’ll be waking it up very soon.

Q: What is your earliest memory?
A: I remember driving from Utah to California to visit cousins (three of whom are Mulatto). When I turned three a few months later, I told my neighbor friends that I had “black cousins” and they called me a liar. I sat on the porch and cried while my mom explained to me that all families are different. It was on that same porch not long after that I ate an entire quart jar of bottled cherries in a euphoric daze and then promptly horked them all up. It was also on that porch that dad taught me what the little spikey blue flowers were that we had growing by the aspen trees. Bachelor Buttons. I never forgot it.

Q: What is your least favorite technique that you still use anyway?
A: Foam based sculpture work. The foam is my least favorite material that I use—cutting it, cleaning it up, handling it. I really don’t like that part. BUT it allows me to create the forms I want when combined with plaster, so I use it and make peace with the process.

Q: What’s your favorite tool or material?
A: I love plaster. Hands down it’s at the top of my list. And wax. Yummy. (I’m a sucker for fabric too, but rarely use it in work other than personal pieces.)

Q: What’s your one favorite material thing?
A: Hmmmm…..our land. Does that count as “material”?

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for artists?
A: To do what you do the best you can. To consider learning new things all the time as part of the adventure, and to let go of any ambiguous idea of what will make your work “good.” You take care of the quantity and trust your skills, intuition and the universe to handle the quality.

To visit Stephanie’s web site, click here.

To listen to a podcast with Stephanie Lee and Judy Wise talking about their friendship and their shared love of plaster, click here.

To learn more about or to purchase Semiprecious Salvage by Stephanie Lee, click here.

To learn more about or to purchase Plaster Studio by Stephanie Lee and Judy Wise, click here.


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