Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Lori McNee-From Duck Stamps to Monet’s Garden
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Lori McNee says her art is about light, whether she’s painting wildlife or still life.
 
Thursday, February 15, 2018
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Lori McNee’s mother once told her that she could hold a bird in her hands if she sprinkled salt on its tail.

The 5-year-old took her mother’s words to heart, running around the back yard of her Scottsdale, Ariz., home trying to sprinkle salt on birds’ tails so they couldn’t fly.

She never did become the great bird catcher she imagined. But Lori did get to see birds up close and personal thanks, thanks to a neighbor lady who rehabilitated injured birds, keeping them in cages in her living room.

 
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“Evergreen Mist,” 24-by-48-inch oil on canvas, is part of the current exhibition at Kneeland Gallery.
 

And today birds dominate many of McNee’s oil paintings.

McNee has included paintings of Bohemian waxwings, hummingbirds, ravens and a snowy owl in her exhibition currently on display at Kneeland Gallery in Ketchum. And she will be wearing her art during the Valentine’s Gallery Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16.

Though the artist started drawing at 5, McNee was frustrated by college art classes that focused on abstract work, rather than the more traditional art she was interested in.

So her formal training came from workshops offered by those like Canadian naturalist and painter Robert Bateman and Robert Moore, a longtime Kneeland Gallery artist whose home overlooks the Snake River Canyon near Declo.

 
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Lori McNee has titled this painting of a chickadee facing a raven, “Facing Fear.” “I’ve been facing fears over the last 10 years and I’ve grown from it,” she said.
 

While her children were little, she entered Federal Duck Stamp painting contests.

“I never won—I got second places and third places, instead. But it gave me a goal and got me painting. And pretty soon I started painting for The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited—I even illustrated a celebrity wolf cookbook, which raised money for the Wolf Education Research Center as it was trying to  get wolves reintroduced into the wild,” Lori said.

As her children entered high school, McNee challenged herself to do a painting a day. She accumulated a hundred paintings over the summer while they were participating in ice skating and other activities. One day she walked into Kneeland Gallery with a few in hand, and gallery director Carey Molter fell in love with them, asking McNee to bring her more bird paintings.

“I used to keep birds in my freezer so I could study their feathers,” said McNee. “I had hummingbirds, even a trumpeter swan that died in my yard at Lane Ranch. You have to be so accurate in the stamp contests—they count the feathers.”

 
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Lori McNee named her recently published book, “Fine Art Tips,” after her blog.
 

Over the years, McNee’s birds have become more impressionistic, although representational.

“I got bored with counting feathers. I now paint their essence, their feeling,” Lori said.

McNee paints birds from thousands of pictures she’s taken.

She often makes clay models for still lifes, shining a spotlight on the model to understand how light interacts with it.

 
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Lori McNee melts bees wax with a blowtorch to add depth to some of her paintings. “It’s very labor intensive, but I love it. It’s like playing with candle wax as a kid—it sets up quickly.”
 

“I like taking my viewer from left to right. We read from left to right so I think that’s a natural comfort for the eye.”

Years of plein air painting have informed her backgrounds.

“My first plein air painting was with Robert Moore and it was a monumental shift for me because I had only done studio work. After that, we did a still life using things he had set up throughout his studio. Still life had been mysterious to me until that point because I didn’t know how to set one up.”

In the studio, McNee is in charge, getting to control lighting and other aspects. Outside, Mother Nature is in charge, throwing everything at her from sun to wind to rain.

“But I love that and the immediacy of trying to get something on canvas.”

The new exhibit includes three paintings including that of the Bohemian waxwings that were inspired by Japanese scroll art, which emphasizes spatial design as it strives for a perfect balance of yin and yang and feng shui.

 Molter loves the fact that she never knows what she’s going to get from McNee.

“Her paintings are constantly changing. Even the frames might change. She did encaustic for awhile. Now, she’s doing oil with cold wax rubbed on top, which gives her paintings a richness without the thick encaustic you see in so many works.”

McNee is continually asking Molter what viewers are interested in.

“I like doing what pleases me but I’m a showman, too,” she said. “One of the things I do now is provide a contemporary feel to my old wildlife art. Even though my work is traditional, I want it to fit into more contemporary homes with their mountain modern architecture.”

McNee gets up to 100,000 followers a month on her “Fine Art Tips” blog.

Lori will shoot two DVDs in Austin, Texas. One will teach aspiring painters how to paint glass and grapes as she highlights the difference between transparency and translucency. The other will teach how to paint with non-toxic COBRA paints, which are water-soluble mixed oils where the water evaporates leaving the oil behind.

McNee also teaches three major workshops a year, attracting students from around the world.

In May she took 12 painters to Claude Monet’s Giverny garden in France, where they were allowed to paint before and after visiting hours. She will take another trip there this fall, with a group that includes three Sun Valley residents.

“It’s almost like being in church it’s so special,” she said. “And I had an opportunity to understand what inspired him.”

She pointed to a painting of hers titled “Spring Duet.” Inspired by Monet’s art, it uses what she calls “broken color,” getting warm blues to vibrate against cool greens.

“If you squint, you can see the temperature shifts, the shift of color. It makes me feel like rippling water or sun dancing. I’m easily bored so I love trying new things.”

 

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