About My Costa Rica Artist Residency

I’ve just returned home from my artist residency in Costa Rica, where I lived and worked for the entire month of January, 2024!

Last year I received two artist grants that helped to fund this opportunity for me.

The Villa

The Mauser Ecohouse is breathtaking. Every room of the house has tile floors and soaring cathedral ceilings. The main room is an open floor plan with a large communal kitchen, dining area, and seating area.

A breezy veranda with arched openings wraps around the whole exterior of the house.

I worked in a shared studio space along with three other artists. Huge barn doors opened up to let in the light.

There is no AC anywhere in the villa, so, whether I was working at my desk in my room or in the studio, I worked with a fan pointed straight at me.

I arrived at the beginning of the year with the ambitious goal of filling 22 canvases during the month, which took up most of the space in my luggage!

I prepared all my canvases before arriving. They were primed, textured with molding paste, and toned a vivid lime green.

Cedar Lee's painting studio during her artist residency at Mauser Ecohouse in Costa Rica
Cedar Lee’s painting studio during artist residency at Mauser Ecohouse in Costa Rica

When I wasn’t painting, I went on long hikes through the mountainous countryside surrounding the villa, and day trips to various jungles, beaches and waterfalls.

Inspiration Everywhere

It was a month full of new experiences to inspired my future paintings. I collected a lot of reference images for future art!

Green jungle leaves and monkeys: Photos taken at Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica

My eyes filled with vivid green from the lush jungle, and the bright pinks and oranges of each sublime tropical sunrise and sunset, I put all those vibrant colors straight into my paintings.

Close-up detail from Cedar Lee painting "Sun Through Leaf"
Close-up detail from Cedar Lee painting “Sun Through Leaf”

The human desire for transcendence goes very deep.

It’s the reason why people have always taken psychedelic drugs. It’s the reason we go to great lengths to lose ourselves in music, dance, or sports. It’s the feeling we seek out when we go exploring outside in nature.

Cows at sunset near the Mauser Ecohouse in Costa Rica
Cows at sunset near the Mauser Ecohouse in Costa Rica

And it’s the feeling we get when we draw, paint, build, sculpt, or design any kind of art. We want to somehow go beyond and above the ordinary, everyday state of consciousness.

Sunrise in Costa Rica during Cedar Lee artist residency
Sunrise in Costa Rica during Cedar Lee artist residency

I think one purpose of an artist residency, and why artists want to do them, is to snap us out of our ordinary, everyday routine, which makes it just that little bit easier to reach the transcendence we find in making art.

Cedar Lee painting a work in progress of a sunset painting on a small canvas, with a paint palette full of mixed paint colors.
Cedar Lee work in progress

Even though some of the paintings I was creating were images from the woods near my home in Portland, Oregon, the intense Costa Rica jungle colors ended up in every painting.

Close-up detail from Cedar Lee painting "Rainbow Rhododendron." Shows the sun shining through the forest, painted in many colors.
Detail: Rainbow Rhododendron painting by Cedar Lee

The Art

During my first half of the residency, I created eight tree-themed paintings, one of them a triptych spanning across three canvases. You can see the original paintings, as well as prints, currently available in my shop.

Collection of 8 tree paintings made by Cedar Lee during Costa Rica artist residency in January 2024
Costa Rica Tree Paintings by Cedar Lee completed January 2024

In the second half of my residency, I decided to shift away from those intensely saturated bright colors. The way I described it at the time was that I felt like I was overdosing on color! It was glorious and amazing, but the intensity was ringing in my head all day.

I felt compelled to follow an impulse in the opposite direction. I scrapped the rest of the lime-green canvases and painted over them with creamy tones of beige.

I craved to paint something in neutral earth tones, something soft, delicate and brown.

Cedar Lee working on many small canvases in her painting studio during her artist residency at Mauser Ecohouse in Costa Rica. Paint palette shows a mix of warm brown colors.
Cedar Lee works in progress during artist residency

I started reading about the variety of moths native to Costa Rica. I became fascinated with the beautiful, intricate details of these little creatures, and a new series of paintings was born!

All of these original paintings, as well as prints, are also currently available in my shop.

Collection of 12 moth paintings made by Cedar Lee during Costa Rica artist residency in January 2024
Cedar Lee moth paintings completed in January 2024

I did it! I brought 22 canvases with me in my luggage at the beginning of the month, I worked long hours, and I created paintings on all 22!

On the last Saturday of my residency, my fellow artists and I held an Open Studio event and invited all the local community to come see the art we’d been working on. I had a lot of opportunities to practice my awkward Spanish conversation skills!

Artist Cedar Lee with her artwork during Open Studio event at Mauser Ecohouse in Costa Rica, January 2024
Cedar Lee Costa Rica Open Studio

Experience of a Lifetime

The whole residency was an awesome experience. Besides meeting a lot of lovely people in the local community, I made great friendships with my fellow artists.

We stayed up talking around the dining table having long discussions about the art world, how creativity works, and what our lives are like in regards to our art, our families, food, politics, and everything else.

We went to a weekly yoga class together. And, we went on really fun adventures!

Left-Right: Cynthia Roberts, Cedar Lee, Heather Cook, the director of Mauser Ecohouse, Haley Crowder, Heleliis Hõim
Artists at Nauyaca Waterfalls in Costa Rica. Left-Right: Cynthia Roberts, Cedar Lee, Heather Cook (director of Mauser Ecohouse), Haley Crowder, Heleliis Hõim

I’ll be keeping the memories and the visual inspiration I gained during this time, and I think the experience will continue influencing my life and my future work in the studio for a long time!

A toucan in a tree outside Mauser Ecohouse in Costa Rica. Photo by Cedar Lee.
Toucan in Costa Rica. Photo by Cedar Lee

Fellow artists: I encourage you to constantly seek out places that inspire you, and the company of people that inspire you. All of it will come back around into your art, one way or another.

To stay updated on all the things I’m doing, and to be the first to see my new art before anyone else, make sure you’re subscribed to my email list!

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