Michigan native, artist and art teacher, Soomee Lee was born with an artistic gift and inspires the over 700 students she sees on a weekly basis.
Brilliant artists live among us, tucked away on residential side streets in our neighborhoods, at our offices, at the gym, grocery store and bank. They are the hidden creators that you may or may not know have an unprecedented talent within them. They are inspired by music, their city, the people they acquaint themselves with or their pasts, their educations or even their future goals. They are someone you know. Maybe you are one of them. Regardless of societal status, accolades, public recognition or expectations, they work. They create, practice and perfect the art they call their own.
An artist named Soomee Lee, who lives in Royal Oak, known by her students as Ms. Lee, teaches at Schuchard Elementary School in Sterling Heights. She has a tough crowd of 700 kids per week with active bodies and imaginations. They adore her, whether they are artistic or not. Somehow, she, no pun intended, “draws” art out of them.
She believes all people have an artist within themselves and her enthusiasm is contagious. Art is her passion and apparently has been since she was a tot. “My mom said she’d find me in the corner drawing all the time, happy as a clam,” she says.
Growing up in Michigan, she attended Wayland High School where her artistic experience soared. Lee has personally thanked her teacher, Judy Ritz, for guiding her to be an artist. “Mrs. Ritz was a person I could rely on,” she says. “She believed in me and my gift and challenged me to use different media and create my college portfolio. I tried acrylic paints, printmaking and ceramics, which helped my acceptance into art school at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. There I studied illustration.”
In addition, Lee has received a bachelor’s in art education from Eastern Michigan University and a master’s of art in teaching from Marygrove College.
At Kendall, she won an exhibit in the Society of Illustrators with other classmates. “As an illustrator at Kendall, I worked with traditional media such as crayon, oil paint or pen and ink,” she says. “At Eastern, I fell in love with watercolor and created most of my figurative pieces from what I learned there.”
Currently, she is “falling in love with acrylics on canvas, while exploring different surfaces and how each art supply company trademarks their paint with certain qualities, such as thickness or transparency.”
“I love mixing my own colors,” she says. “Recently, I had seven different blues mixed on my palette just to see which warm and cool tones interested me. I used every single one. That’s the exciting thing about painting. It’s constant discovery.”
In the sanctuary of her home-based art studio, Lee listens to soothing music, lights candles and lets the art evolve. Her design aesthetic is based around color (she is drawn to warm colors and earth tones) and mood. It’s broken into various categories such as figurative, whimsical and floral. She also paints murals.
Lee says she is a child at heart and her teach-ability makes her open-minded and curious. She believes her art “has its own life” and her job is “to pay attention and have good supplies on hand.”
Another inspiration for Lee is nature. “Nature is born in darkness, similar to humans,” she says. “It has just as many stages to grow to full maturity. Nature and humans run parallel in my mind. Things have to die to be reborn. Just this past winter, when it was bitter cold outside, I’d look out my window and remember all the important work is underground. Anything that matters in my life is behind the scenes. Some creative periods are stronger than others.”