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My Story

Lee Munsell

I was born in San Francisco and then grew up in the Santa Monica Bay area.  My wife and I currently live in Mission Viejo and I have been painting probably more than 50 years.

When I was about nine years old I became interested in drawing pictures of hot rods, planes and various other things. My mother picked up on this and enrolled me in a Saturday art class at a local art supply store in our town. At that first summer class, a group of kids were fortunate enough to have a Disney animator come in and teach us drawing.  I still have the sketch pad of some of the sketches he did of Bambi, Mickey Mouse, Goofy and other Disney characters.  The next several summers we learned oil painting from Bonnie Wade.  She had a bin of different prints by various artists, and we would pick out what we wanted to paint and she would help us with the process.  I still set up my palette the way she showed us. One of my most frequent picks were paintings by Van Gogh. Some of these I still have to this day.  When I was in high school, Miss Wade said we had learned all she had to teach us. Time to fly.

During the years after high school I spent more time surfing than painting.  I did an occasional picture but did not have the motivation to pursue a career in art. I had the tools but lacked the vision.  The waves promised more excitement.

In the 1970’s I began to get back into painting.  We were living up in the Pacific Northwest and I explored the Puget Sound coastline for subject matter.  I also lived in a communal situation located in a large home in the Northwest. A couple of other artists and I were commissioned to paint murals in some of the rooms.

In 1979 we moved back to California and I was painting more ocean scenes. A few years later I was in an art show at Concordia University in Irvine, California.  One of the photographers at the show had a shot of an old Monterey Cypress hanging on the edge of a cliff above the ocean.  I asked him if I could paint a copy of his photograph and he replied “no, you’ll have to go find it yourself.”  After some searching I was able to find that tree in Point Lobos State Reserve just three miles south of Carmel, California.  That cypress is called the Old Veteran.  This was a game changer for my painting.  The whole process of trying to capture the essence of that tree took me about a year to complete.  Since that time, my subject matter is primarily the west coast of the United States which is so varied and dramatic that it draws me back to paint it, again and again.  The wildness of Big Sur, the rocky cliffs and Cypress trees of Carmel and Monterey and the fog shrouded sea stacks of Oregon and Washington have been a source of inspiration to me for years.  I usually take a journey at least once or twice a year up the coast, photographing these magnificent places for future use in my paintings.

One other event impacted me probably as much as finding the Old Veteran, and was to push me further along. In October of 1997 the Promise Keepers organization held an event in Washington, DC.  After the event, I had a chance to visit the National Gallery of Art, which was having an extensive exhibit of Thomas Moran’s work.  This introduced me to the Hudson River School painters and opened a whole new level of painting to strive for.

I know the journey is not complete but working toward it is half the fun.  The other half is being able to capture a scene that stirs emotion and draws one to reflect on the beauty and grandeur of this amazing creation.

I hope you enjoy my work and return often.  Please email me if you have any questions or just want to chat and touch base.  I would love to hear from you.





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