Maker’s Space

A home studio opens for business

Although Sarah Lee has “been creative [her] whole life,” it wasn’t until a few years ago that she made the decision to embrace her inner artist. Now, she paints images of the Maine landscapes, makes punch-needle pieces, sews pillows, and designs textiles from her studio in Saint George.
The artist in her natural habitat. Lee takes most of her inspiration from the Maine landscape.
When I think about my color inspiration, it all goes back to when I was a kid and I would spend summers in Deer Isle,” says Lee. “That’s when my creative self was born.”
The majority of Lee’s personal work, such as her hand-tufted rug pieces, is created in response to the world directly outside her door. “The colors you see in Maine are so different from what you would see in Santa Fe. This is my Maine color palette.”
In the summer, Lee sells her goods out of the Metal Shop in downtown Tenants Harbor. In the winter, she works inside this bright studio space above her garage.
Lee works at a punch-needle piece.
Acrylic paints sit on shelves above an original Lee painting.
Balsam-stuffed punch-needle pillows for sale in Lee’s shop.
In addition to selling her own art, Lee also sells objects by other local makers, including ceramics, candles, jewelry, textiles, and more.

Sarah Lee has always liked to feather her nest. “Everything I’ve always liked, the things that make me happy, involve being around the home, being creative, and making things nice,” she says. “My husband and I joke that, if we were going to live in a shoebox, it would be a very nice shoebox.”

Lee doesn’t live in a shoebox, but she does live in a much smaller house than she used to. After years working in the corporate world, Lee decided to make a change. “I realized I wasn’t being genuine to myself,” she says. “I was in my 50s when I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

What Lee wanted to be was a maker. She wanted to paint, to sew, and to make punch-needle pieces. She wanted to silkscreen pictures onto fabric. She wanted to knit. So now she does all that, and more, from her cozy studio on the shores of Saint George.

In the summer, Lee sells her wares out of the Metal Shop, located on Main Street in Tenants Harbor. In the winter, she holds open studios at her home and sells her goods online. Spruce Tree Studio, as her business is called, is more than just a way for Lee to sell her creations. It’s also where Lee collects items she loves by makers she respects. She currently offers soaps by Trillium (based in Rockland), creams by Ecovita (Deer Isle), mugs by ANK Ceramics (Lincolnville), candleholders by Ridge Forge (Saint George), and jewelry by Yikes Studio (which are made at an undisclosed lakeside location by Maine artist Suzanne Anderson).

“My thing is that I want to inspire people to make,” she says. To that end, she also offers workshops and classes, both at the Tenants Harbor location and out of her home studio. “Last summer, I had knitters and spinners come in,” she says. “It was so great. Next summer we’ll have a blacksmith, a wood turner, needle-punching classes, painting…” Lee trails off. There are always more artists to highlight, more classes to run, more groups to join.

For now, Lee is happy experimenting with color and composition. She draws inspiration from all around her. “My colors are Maine colors,” she says, a category that includes tomato red and magenta pink and canary yellow and a lot of slate blue. While Spruce Tree Studio isn’t open regular business hours, she does invite people to come by for open studios every Thursday, all winter long. “It’s just one day a week, but they can come, bring their punch needles or their knitting, and ask some questions,” she says. “They can say hi, they can do some work while I’m working.” And if they want, they can also go home with one of Lee’s abstract, colorful landscapes. Or one of her pillows, a little punchy bright bit of Maine coastline, rendered in yarn, stuffed with fragrant balsam. “People can buy things if they want,” she says. “But I’m really excited about the community part. I hope they read this. I hope they come.”

Every Home can Have a Studio
Lee says her first maker’s space was just a closet, outfitted with shelves and a stool and paintings pinned to the wall. It was tiny, but it was big enough. Whether you have a basement or a closet, here’s how Lee advises you construct your creative corner.

  • Paint it all white. “Let’s say you have a basement,” she says. “The first thing you do is paint it white.” If you don’t have any windows, make one! Lee suggests finding a “funky old window,” frosting the glass, and putting lights behind it. Start with a blank canvas and begin to build from there.
  • Layer the lamps. “I make sure I have both warm and cool sources of light,” says Lee, whose studio is rich with lamps of all types. She has clamp lamps, desk lamps, floor lamps, and affordable round paper lanterns that hang from the ceiling. “We have a few moons going on,” she jokes.
  • Bring in the plywood. Lee’s huge table was made very cheaply from a damaged piece of plywood and homemade sawhorses. She draped a piece of drop cloth over the top and switches it out every so often.
  • Make a mood board. “I like to do this exercise with people: go through magazines and cut out any images that inspire you,” she suggests. “When you see them all together, you’ll see that they go together because they are things that you like.” Tack up pictures, paintings, plants, old bits of fabric, fancy baskets—anything that makes you want to make.
  • Use your leftovers. If you’re worried about cost, make sure that every scrap of material goes to use. Lee makes splatter pillows from her old drop cloths. Bits of yarn from knitting projects can go into punch-needle works. “Get creative,” she says.