Cedar Lee has always been an artist. At age 9, she wrote an essay outlining her plans to grow up, develop her art skills, and sell her paintings for a living.
The eldest of five children, Cedar was born in 1981 in St. Louis, Missouri. She spent her childhood in Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina. Cedar’s passion for artwork evidenced at a young age. Her paternal grandparents were art collectors, and she spent many happy days in their beautiful home, surrounded by original artwork. This early start catapulted her into a creative life.
At age 12, Cedar began painting with oils and sold a painting for the first time, to one of her schoolteachers for $40. That teacher was the first of many friends, family members, and strangers to purchase Cedar’s work. Today a large, diverse group of people owns her paintings, which are scattered throughout at least 17 U.S. states, and around the world as far as Canada, Sweden and Italy.
During her junior year in high school, she took a college course in large-scale painting. That summer she had her first solo showing of her artwork in the public library in Asheville, NC. Cedar applied herself wholeheartedly to academics, graduating high school first in her class before starting college in Baltimore, Maryland.
Aside from selling paintings occasionally, she earned money throughout her undergrad years by working part-time designing and assembling jewelry, a job she had been doing since age 15. Later, she worked as an art instructor at Anne Arundel Community College.
In 2000, she procured a solo show in the National Security Agency’s main headquarters, although she was not allowed to hang the show herself or even go inside to see it because she didn’t have a security clearance.
By the age of 20, she was continually cultivating her creative vision, and committed to giving back to her community in the form of teaching others and showing her work to the public.
In 2005, she received her BA from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, graduating at the top of her class with honors in the field of studio art and a minor in writing. Her senior thesis show was entitled “Roots and Wings,” a series of large-scale portraits of her nuclear family—her roots—displayed alongside paintings of flocks of birds flying raucously into large colorful skies—her wings. This is when she began her career in earnest with the genesis of her business, Art By Cedar.
She started a website, showed her work in solo and group exhibitions in galleries, arts centers, and alternative venues, and procured regular gallery representation in the Baltimore area.
She had her first solo show in a gallery in 2006, resulting in $4,000 in sales on its opening evening, cementing her commitment to pursuing a career in art. She was active in the Baltimore-area art scene for seven years, represented by galleries in several U.S. states and building a loyal collector base during that time.
In late 2011, Cedar relocated from Maryland to Southern California. During her three years in California, Cedar took on leadership roles in her local community. She founded the North County Painters Critique Group, a group of professional painters still active today, now under new leadership, to give and receive feedback on their artwork.
As a self-employed artist working most hours alone in the studio, she created the group to connect with other artists, both socially and professionally. “Social connections are crucial for creative entrepreneurs,” she says. She also taught art lessons to children in her home, meeting a high demand for art education in the area.
In California, she painted in a small, sunny outbuilding nestled in the avocado grove in her back yard. “I was surrounded by trees while I painted trees,” she says. “It was a gorgeous studio!”
In early 2015, Cedar relocated to Portland, Oregon, attracted to the bustling city lifestyle contrasted against the flowering and forested terrain she remembered from the years she lived in Oregon as a child.
“I’ve lived in many places, but Portland feels like home to me. Over time, I’ve been making more connections here and I’ve tapped into the artist community. I like city life. The more concentrated population creates so many opportunities for sharing my art with people.”
A thirst for adventure and beautiful locales has shaped Cedar’s life. She has traveled to many U.S. states, Mexico, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Panama, Italy, Switzerland, Sri Lanka and Belize. Everywhere she travels she takes photographs and stores mental imagery. “It all makes it into my work in one form or another,” she says, “even if it’s just a visual element, like the choice of color and use of light. I try to recreate the feeling I got standing on top of a mountain, or at the ocean.”
Cedar’s work has always been characterized by her bold, splashy use of color. The same artist’s hand is evident throughout all her past work. But her themes are quite varied through several collections of paintings.
Practically all of her hundreds of works have been sold to private collectors, including the “Looking Up” series—paintings of tree canopies and forests, the symbolically rich “Tree of Life” series, the “Eclipse” series—colorful images of solar eclipses and the cosmos, the elegantly stylized red-toned “Lotus” series featuring lotus flowers, as well as a series featuring sunflowers, many portraits, animal portraits, and various landscapes.
Several fans commenting on the “Art By Cedar” Facebook page describe the feelings her work evokes in them: “The colors are soothing and the scene enveloping. The lights seem like those of the netherworld—peaceful and comforting.” “A reminder of the power of the universe we can pray to.” The feeling of “being in a place of contemplation and sometimes dark inner turmoil, then seeing the colour and light that offers hope on the horizon. A new dawn, a new way of being.”
On her arrival in Portland, Cedar spent several months working in a rented studio space in an industrial building downtown before setting up her current studio in a sun-filled outbuilding in the back yard of her home.
Besides the studio, she has a home office where she works on the business side of things: marketing, writing her blog, packing and shipping her artwork to galleries and buyers. Her paintings fill every wall of her home. “I’m so extremely lucky,” she laughs, “that I’ve never had to think about decorating, because the walls of my home are already like an art gallery!”
Today, new collectors of Cedar’s work often discover her through her presence on the Internet. Through her blog and social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Cedar provides free career advice to aspiring artists, and she has a large and growing Internet following. Cedar’s original pieces are valued in the range of $300 to $3,000. For fans of Cedar’s work not currently in the market for an original, affordable prints are available for a selection of Cedar’s most popular paintings through Fine Art America, with new images added each year.
Cedar’s interests include her vegetable and flower garden, exploring Portland and the surrounding area, vegan cuisine, and devouring huge quantities of fiction. Her schedule is busy.
She packs and ships her paintings, markets her work, runs her business, and participates in exhibits and events in short spurts of activity fit in around her studio hours.
“I’m a pretty quick painter. When I’m engrossed in a painting, it transports me into the scene I am creating. I get lost—‘in the zone.’”
“I always have to-do lists going on in the studio. Magic happens when you just show up and work, to the best of your ability.”
Cedar has made a commitment to use eco-friendly materials whenever possible to create her work. In addition to her paintings on canvas, she paints on wood panels crafted by hand in the USA from sustainably sourced wood.
“Painting is how I express my love for life,” she says. “There are lots of artists who found their way to art later in life, but I’m one of those artists who has always just known it’s what I’m meant for. I can’t not follow this path.”