Merrilee Asla Lee has always had a soft heart for helping animals. But she never imagined that her journey to help animals would lead her to become an artist.

“This is something that in my meditations I’ve been told to do,” said the Ridgefield resident. “I do this, and I give all the profits to animal rescue,” she said of her colorful paintings.

Lee had never considered herself an artist, or even pursued art as a hobby. She had done some beading in the past, she said, her venture into the creative world. But then, “in November, I went out and bought acrylics and started painting,” she said.

Only months later, Lee has artwork on display at multiple restaurants and boutiques around Clark County and Portland. She has sold 12 pieces so far, she said.

Lee offers her artwork for sale with a twist; all of the profits raised are donated to animal rescue organizations. She lists the groups which have received funds from her artwork sales – Horse Haven, Ripley’s Foundation, Adopt-A-Horse Program, and Battle Buddies, to name a few.

“I didn’t pick one particular group; that didn’t feel like what I was supposed to do,” she said.

Lee’s vibrant paintings are a reflection of her love for color. Many of her paintings feature horses, but she recently sold a brightly hued creation featuring her Chinese pug, Zen.

Lee loves all of the animals, but she resonates most with horses, she said. “My husband and I both had a rescue horse.” The horses lived in her backyard pasture for 25 years, and she was a regular rider on area trails.

She adopted her horse, Fire, as a 7-month-old foal who was so neglected his halter had begun growing into the bones of his head.

“We were so connected I had to be careful what I thought,” she laughed.

Her husband’s horse was also rescued from a bad situation, and both equines found a home for life with Lee.

Lee also opened her home to a rescued Doberman Pinscher named “Sky.” He had been chained in a backyard and looked like a skeleton, she said. “Children were shooting him with BBs, and you could see every bone in his body.”

After the horses reached the end of their lives, Lee and her husband “downsized” from their farm to a house in Ridgefield, and Zen the pug is their canine companion.

“He’s so sweet and low maintenance,” Lee said of Zen.

Lee’s creative process starts with photographs she takes herself of animals. After making an inkjet print, she starts to paint over it with richly colored acrylic paints.

She didn’t just dive in blindly. Her brother is an artist, she said, and he proffered advice on products and techniques. For example, every piece of art has a protective coating applied when it is finished, to protect her work.

Lee offers canvas-printed reproductions of her work for sale, so she can keep it affordable for more buyers. “I want a low price point,” she emphasized. “I can sell a piece for $85 and still make money to give away.”

She hopes to grow her art business, so she can help more animals. “I want to get better at selling more art,” said Lee. “What does it take to be more visible at art, so I can give away more?” she asked.

Lee says that one of the unexpected benefits of her new mission is all of the people she has met who are quietly making a difference. “It’s amazing what people are doing,” she emphasized.

During the month of October, Lee’s artwork is on display at Lava Java, 2 South 56th Place, in Ridgefield.

Merrilee Asla Lee can be contacted at (360) 904-6019.

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