Artist of the Month: Rita Lee


00LaVerne Kyriss

Rita Lee’s work has taken her around the world. She learned about photography and portraiture by being a photographer’s model as a young woman. She learned about architecture, drafting and reading building plans by handling architectural sales in the construction industry and she spent 40 years working as an interior designer, learning the business from the ground up. She’s always loved the construction end of the business and managing projects. “I love a project where I get to design various aspects of it,” she said. After trying retirement for a while, she’s even gone back to work for a local design firm, focusing on kitchen and bath designs.

Lee says she loves making a place that makes people happy. To that end, she uses design skills to create murals in homes and businesses. “Usually, I see a spot where a mural will work in that particular setting. What I do is decorative painting. I’m not a traditional artist, but more of an architectural specialist. I don’t want my pieces to look fully realistic. I want them to have a bit more of an impressionistic feel.”

“Often times, I use a filter or a screen to help me move away from becoming too realistic and too detailed. I generally start with several photos and work ideas from them into a scene that fits the space,” she explained. In Miami, she created a city skyline view in a round room featuring a 70-foot diameter.

“As you turned around the room, you literally had a view of what was beyond the walls,” she explained. We painted a chair rail height border with greenery peeking out of it and the tall buildings along the horizon. The room also had a center supporting post that had to remain so we turned it into a fountain that adds a wonderful ambience.

For a project with a Tuscan feel, she painted a mural of a scene straight from the hills of Italy. “I created a trompe l’oeil view and put the owners’ home in the scene. I used drywall mud to get the right texture for the stones wrapping around the arched window that frames the scene. Getting the perspective right and figuring out where the light is coming from are key,” she said. “You just have to know the rules and then apply them!”

One surprise she often incorporates into a mural in a home is a faux brick surround. “I love doing window scenes. I work with the homeowner to choose a scene. I often work from photos and use an LCD projector while I sketch in the main elements so the proportions are correct,” she explained. “Then I change the colors and add in the elements to get what I want. I love working with glazes, too.”

Lee confided that people often come up to her finished work and touch the bricks only to find they are painted on the wall. That really makes her smile, she said.