Profile: Artist Karen Lee


Story by Matt Young. Photo by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, NC – CaryCitizen visited local artist/author Karen Lee at her home studio on the west side of Cary last week. Like so many artists, she is humble, even slightly embarrassed, to have us go through some of her work. She seemed more comfortable talking about her husband, Tim, also an artist (and bluegrass musician).

We talked about raising children for a while and then learned about her.

I commented that none of her art was hanging on the walls. She insisted that it wasn’t “wall material”.  I didn’t agree.

“The Story of Me is a Straight Line”

She never wanted to be anything except an artist. On her web site she describes herself this way:

“The story of me is a pretty straight line. I always wanted to be an illustrator and fortunately that is exactly what I’ve done. Passionately. I also write, garden, read, quilt, make props, and coach Odyssey of the Mind to fantastically creative kids.”

Move to Cary

Karen has been in Cary for 7 years.

Karen was schooled at Columbus College of Art and Design, where she met her husband.

Karen and Tim graduated from the college and then moved to Atlanta at a time when there was lots of migration to the booming Georgia city. There, they lived in a tent for a while and ultimately moved to an artist’s community in Atlanta where Karen worked as a free-lance. After they had a family she got into children’s illustration.

They thought they should move to a place where they could raise their kids.

“We had been to Cary and around this part of North Carolina. At first we were focused on moving to Western North Carolina. We decided that we needed to find a place that would make our move as painless as possible.  We wanted to find a place where there were good schools and activities for the kids, that was safe. We thought Cary provided good value.”

Her Art

Karen has done several illustrations for Highlights Magazine. She did the cover of Highlights’ 1 Billionth Edition, which is now in the Smithsonian Postal Museum. She continues to be an illustrator for the magazine.

Over time she has transitioned from sketching, refining and water color to employing digital methods. She gave us a nice demo of the process which involves a sketch, refining the sketch, scanning, and digitally perfecting and adding color.

Her first book, ABC Safari, which she wrote and illustrated, was originally submitted as a portfolio piece. She later added the narrative. For this she won a Don Freeman Award (Don Freeman is the author of the Corduroy Series of children’s books) and was able to sell the book to a publisher (Sylvan Dell 2007).  The publisher also commissioned her art for My Half Day, My Odd Day and One Even Day.

She has done training, lecturing, coaching and speaking in the past.

But it’s actually “doing illustrations” that gives her joy. That joy is clearly reflected in her art.