Mother and artist Kate Lee is one of the newest faces at Deseret Book. Her unique watercolor artwork is a beautiful display of her testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and her love of family. We recently asked Lee about the inspiration behind her work and why she loves it.
How did you develop your style?
One morning while I was getting my boys ready for school, the song “As Sisters in Zion” came on and an image popped into my head. I couldn’t get the boys ready fast enough—I wanted to sit down and draw that idea in that moment so I could paint it. After I had drawn and painted it, I was hooked. It spoke so loudly to me. I felt like I could express what I was feeling inside better with this particular style. My testimony and the emotions I wanted to express were finally being expressed.
What led you to become an artist?
I wouldn’t say anything led me to become an artist. It’s just something that has always been a part of me. I remember at a very young age having a deep love for drawing. I would often get in trouble in school starting in kindergarten for drawing too much.
Is it true that all the money you made on prints originally went to helping others in need?
Yes. One of my goals from the beginning was to pay it forward with and through my art. I started something on my art Instagram account I called “Paint for the Good of It.”
I would post a certain painting labeled “Paint for the Good of It,” and all of the money made on that print would go towards helping someone. My family and I would pick a family who we felt needed a little extra help or I would take to my art Instagram account and ask my followers if they knew anyone who needed a little extra help. That experience with giving back has had such an incredible and humbling impact in my and my family’s lives.
What made you switch from cartoon art to the watercolors you do now?
I started playing with watercolor paints in high school. They intimidated me, but I loved how they made my cartoons come to life. I was hooked. I would paint with watercolors as much as I could.
The change from cartooning to where I am now happened after my husband and I were married. We met a couple in our student ward in Logan, Utah. Both were phenomenal artists, and their art inspired me in a way I hadn’t really experienced before. I craved to be a more realistic artist but always felt I wasn’t good enough for that, so I stuck with what I was comfortable with, only occasionally attempting to paint more realistically.
About five years ago, my stake president asked me to paint him a picture based off of a scripture. This was my chance to do something I really wanted to do, and I was terrified. I reluctantly but happily accepted his challenge. It took me nine months to finish. His request for this Christ-centered painting opened a door that started me on the path I am on now.
As an artist, wife, mother, and avid mountain biker, how do you balance everything?
It comes down to planning. I am not always great at this, but I certainly try. Wife and mom come first, always. The rest I fit in where and when I can. During the week while my boys are at school and my husband is at work, I’ll try and plan my painting, get-the-house-clean, shopping, or meet-up-with-friends days. I try and get these things done so that I can be there with my family when we are all home together. Taking it day by day is the key because you never know what might come up during the day or week. I don’t always fit everything in and sometimes I wish I had more time in a day, but with the time we’re given, I do the best I can do for that day.
What was your biggest setback as an artist and how did you overcome it?
For me, it was my self-doubt. I had a very hard time believing that what I drew or painted was good enough for anyone. I would hide what I had created because I was embarrassed. It wasn’t until I was willing to be vulnerable that things changed for me. It was baby steps, but every time I found the courage to share my art with someone, the more confidence I found not only in my paintings but in myself. I feel like my paintings and I grew together.
What advice would you give to others who struggle to see their own value?
I would say that the first step is to accept yourself for exactly who you are—how you are in that moment—and build on that. Don’t put the “I have to be perfect or good at everything” label on yourself, because you’ll only find disappointment. Not one of us is perfect or is expected to be perfect in this life. This life is for learning, growing, and changing.
Find ways to block out or at least quiet those things that are causing you to question your self-worth. Learn to trust your qualities and abilities. And for sure, stop comparing. You are who you are for an amazing purpose. Find things that make you happy and don’t be ashamed of those things. Being vulnerable can be difficult, but being vulnerable is where growth and change happens. Last but not least, be patient and forgiving toward yourself.
What is your favorite work of art you’ve created?
My favorite painting is “Through His Light.” This painting is my story. Self-doubt plagued my life and my decisions for so long and kept me from stepping outside of my comfort zone and doing so many things I wanted to do. When I finally started to understand that Christ died for me personally and that I could heal through Him, little by little, I was able to let that light I hid away from everyone start to shine. I could finally hold that light up without being afraid.
Which artists inspire you?
Minerva Teichert and J. Kirk Richards. I love how they let the paints and the colors tell the story.
How do you find inspiration for your art?
Through my own personal experiences or those of others who have shared their stories with me. Through scriptures I read or a lesson at church. Sometimes even just one word can inspire an entire painting. I always try and have my sketchbook with me because you never know when an idea will come.
What is your favorite dessert?
Oh, man. My favorite dessert is really anything chocolate, but if I had to pick out of all the chocolate? It would be a chocolate molten cake. I cannot get enough of the melted chocolate inside the chocolate cake and the melting ice cream on top. My mouth is watering just talking about it.
What is the best part of being a mother?
I love watching my boys grow. I love to see them experience new things, even though those things might be difficult for them, and my heart hurts for them in those moments. I know that those moments are shaping them. I love when they hug me, and especially when they tell me they love me out of the blue. I love when they open up to me and share with me what they love or what is hard for them, or if they just want to share a funny story with me. That one-on-one time is so cherished. I love the change it has created within me. These boys have no idea how much their little lives have influenced mine for the better.
What is your favorite scripture story?
Abinadi. I cannot get over the faith, courage, and determination he had to share and do what he knew he was supposed to do, even when it meant death. His story inspires me to keep pushing forward, especially through the difficult times.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My stake president said to me once, “Are you going to act or be acted upon?” Those words hit me hard. This advice goes through my head every single day. If you want something, whatever it might be, you have to be willing to act. Sitting still will get you nowhere.