Orange moons, yellow moons, inky black moons.
Artist Kang Lee Sheppard is a lover of that mysterious orb that hangs like a plump white peach in our night sky.
Descending into her studio, conveniently on the ground level of her home, one sees that heavenly body peering back at its viewer from many of her abstract Asian works, created with sumi ink and watercolors on rice paper. But just as often as she captures the moon’s essence, she also is inspired by the mountains, particularly the Rocky Mountains, which she features in her plentiful landscape paintings. And not to be ignored are her poignant paintings of characters and scenes from the Bible.
“I try to get something in my soul and bring it out of my heart,” said Sheppard, who’s from Seoul, South Korea. “I’m painting from the inside out. It’s not a copy of a photo.”
In her studio, she lifts the heavy top off an inkstone, where she slowly grinds ink for her abstract works. The ink’s smell, coupled with the slowing of her breath, brings about a meditative process that helps her center herself spiritually and prepare to dip giant brushes, including one made from a feather, into the ink and sweep it across the rice paper. Standing next to the inkstone are vials of all-natural pebbles of colors — cobalt blue, carmine, ochre, burnt sienna — that she grinds to add to the black ink.
One of her abstract sumi ink and watercolors was juried into the National Watercolor Society several years ago, a prestigious honor that still makes her smile widely. It’s only one in a long list of international and national awards she’s acquired throughout her long career.
Sheppard will have two shows up through July. She’ll exhibit her abstract Asian art at Orly’s Art Gallery while displaying her Western art at Arati Artists Gallery. She’ll be on hand for a free reception from 4-7 p.m. July 9 at Orly’s. Both exhibits will be available Friday during First Friday Downtown and Old Colorado City’s First Friday Artwalk.
Sheppard’s thirst for art goes back to first grade, when her teacher was so captivated by her crayon drawing of a little house and trees that she hung it on the wall, thus sealing the tot’s fate. After earning her bachelor’s in Asian art, she arrived in the U.S. in 1967 to study Western art and got a master’s from the University of Colorado.
She grew roots in Colorado Springs and began teaching art classes at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College, while also serving as president of the Colorado Springs Art Guild, Arati Artists Gallery and Pikes Peak Pastel Society.
While teaching at the two schools, she encountered numerous residents who wanted to take art classes but were put off by the cost, so she started giving free classes at the senior center. It was a success. The numbers grew so steeply she decided to open Sheppard Art Institute, a nonprofit art school, in 1998, after she retired from teaching at the colleges.
She, along with other professional Springs artists, have taught classes in a variety of mediums, and also cultural classes, for the last 22 years. They’ve moved from spot to spot, but haven’t been able to find a permanent location. And when the pandemic hit, they had to stop. She hopes to reignite the institute and find a permanent building.
“I’m proud to say the Colorado Springs art society grew so big,” Sheppard said. “There are so many professional artists in town now. I’m proud of that.”
She is clearly prolific. Stacks of her works hang on the walls of her large studio, lean up against the walls and spill down the hallway and into a bedroom. It peppers the rest of the house, too. One of her biblical works hangs over the fireplace on the main floor. It’s a large painting filled with giant purple grapes hanging off a long branch. She created it during a service at her longtime church, First Presbyterian Church, where she also built the church’s art program.
She decided to use paintings to depict biblical stories: “People like to watch TV more than read a book,” she said. So the minister asked her to paint the verse John 15 (“I’m the vine, you are the branches”) while he preached.
She had only 8 minutes to capture the essence of the story with one paintbrush. She went on to do several sermon paint-alongs over the years.
“It’s expressing myself,” she said about her art. “It gives me joy.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270