The Life Retrospective and Art of AAA Founder, Lee Down


This article is about Lee Down and thereby Arts, Artists and Artworks (AAA). I, Nikki Finnigan, have written a handful of these articles now and they’ve all been pretty similar to each other. This one is going to be somewhat different. There are a few reasons why. Firstly, Lee Down is the founder and custodian of AAA and is our leader. Secondly, he is my very good friend and thirdly, the line between number one and number two has gotten blurred as I’ve attempted to write this article too many times to count. I have been encouraged to write my opinions and only refer to Lee’s interview answers if I need to. After all, I already know this information, don’t I? Then that encouragement was seconded and thirded. Who am I to fight the masses? So here we go with our leader, my friend, Lee Down.

Lee Down, One Man Can and Arts Artists Artwork
Lee Down, One Man Can and Arts Artists Artwork

Lee Down—AAA’s Best Kept Secret

Lee Down is easily AAA’s biggest (and best) secret. Lee is the founder and custodian of Arts Artists Artwork with over 1.5 million social followers. It surprises me, and him even more so, how many people do not know that. This is the result greatly due to his wonderful team of 14 moderators and one other admin, Dawn Rodger. These people help Lee stay mostly behind the scenes where he is usually needed.

The team assists Lee in managing the activity on the AAA Shared Artworks group on Facebook. Both with art posts and new members. They also help choose new monthly cover photos from art posted by group members each month. As an admin, Dawn Rodger does all of this and helps Lee Down find and schedule content for all of AAA’s social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter). Dawn fields tons of questions. She also has a special knack for keeping things on an even keel within AAA.

At the same time, Lee Down is doing all of these things as well. Additionally, he is grinding away at the daily business that is AAA. This is probably similar to other online businesses of sorts. These similarities include things like dealing with website developers from foreign countries who need money upfront just to talk to you. Lee also has to deal with the normal daily business costs. He has encounters with the artists who sell on the AAA online gallery. They need to be able to run their businesses within AAA, but need to be treated as customers as such. Then there are the actual customers for the AAA site. Lee has to spend some time watching over the AAA online store that sells merchandise that promotes AAA. Finally, there’s the Shared Artworks group that we all LOVE. Lee Down does have a team to help him with some things. Even for those things, his fingerprints are everywhere.

Lee Down Making A Difference With AAA

Clearly, Lee Down is in the art business to make money. Not that he has yet (another surprise to many) as all the revenue it generates goes back into building, upgrading and advertising. What Lee does make is a huge difference in the world. He provides the most selfless opportunities to literally the whole world via AAA.

Through the AAA online gallery, Lee Down charges artists the lowest fees and commissions for anyone to own an Etsy-like shop (for comparison sake). Lee works tirelessly with web developers in Greece to keep the website running at top speed and in top shape. He is always doing his best to keep the site safe and running in the friendliest manner for artist and customer alike.

The Facebook Group AAA Shared Artworks

Lee Down also makes an unimaginable difference with the AAA Shared Artworks group on Facebook. This is a public group he created for people to share their visual art. There are rules to follow in this group regarding posts to keep things fair. By following these guidelines, people have come together through Lee Down and AAA to form a huge community…. to the tune of 32.5K (+) members.

Within this enormous community, true friendships have formed. Real relationships that have long surpassed the glossiness of many virtual meetings. People from all over the world come in contact with each other and who would have otherwise have never met for the miles between them. Not even with the internet. It took Lee Down and AAA specifically.

In these relationships, there is communication. Ideas are exchanged. People encourage each other, laugh together, learn from one another, disagree, figure out how to compromise, figure out how to disagree and the list goes on. Behind all of this, Lee Down has for years spent 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year monitoring the AAA Shared Artworks group and the other social media accounts. He works out the kinks. He will come to the surface to help settle differences when need be. Lee Down’s DNA is everywhere in AAA.

AAA Shared Artworks Members Share Their Observations

I myself have formed quite a few of these relationships. I’ve called on a handful of my friends to hear what the had to say about Lee Down and the advantages and opportunities he provides through AAA.

Cindy Bass stated that as an art lover she has found interesting opinions and feedback. This group, under Lee’s guidance has tempted her to start drawing. (She will be posting soon!)

Phil Sadler talked about the sense of purpose within AAA and the pleasantness of having such knowledgeable people taking care of the group.

Nancy Rausch used adjectives to describe Lee Down like accepting, encouraging and knowledgeable. She loves being on both sides of the interactions as the artist and the art lover. Nancy also appreciates all she has learned from the recent articles that Lee Down has been publishing on AAA’s website.

Glorinda Marie loves Lee’s kindness, structure, support and encouragement of every level of artist equally. She also included a wish for Lee to turn his kindness and encouragement for others into permission for himself to create art again.

Steffi Krenzek speaks to Lee’s intelligence. She loves the familiarity she feels her work has within AAA versus so many other online art groups.

Pete Greening described AAA with words like different, perceptive, well run, friendly and interesting. He highlighted a post Lee made about his struggle living with depression for many years. Not only was Pete amazed by Lee’s candidness, he admires Lee Down even more for suffering with a disease like depression and still thinking of and promoting others the way he does.

Sandra Rachel Damani speaks so much from the heart saying Lee Down promptly and graciously reacts to every single one of her posts. She goes on to say how much his encouragement means to her. Ending with the most sincere thank you.

Linda Boyle says due to finding AAA and Lee Down she looks deeper artistically. She also became braver joining AAA and seeing other art and meeting other artists. Linda has occasionally begun to post her art.

Built by Artists, Run by Artists

We’ve read a bit about how AAA is run by artists, now let’s find out how it came to fruition. The doctrine of AAA is indeed Built by Artists, Run by Artists. This is true to its very beginning in 2009. Lee Down was in a place of hardship in his life in every way possible—physically, mentally, and emotionally. He had recently experienced the worst day of his life when he ended up on Social Assistance after a serious bicycling accident. It was during this extremely difficult time, while he struggled to rebuild his life, that he met a lot of artists.

There was one artist in particular who bought him supplies and encouraged him to paint. She said to forget about the rules, forget about the substance. To just paint his emotions. This is how Lee Down got involved with abstract painting. It is also when Lee began the initial AAA fan page which now has 1.5 million followers. At first it was just a fun exercise with a generous algorithm with random art being shared worldwide. Everyone loved it. Including Lee.

Between 2009-2014, Lee Down continued to keep himself afloat in life. He suffered from depression with psychotic features. AAA kept him engaged with the world and gave him a sense of purpose. In November of 2014, Lee Down tried to take his life. During a split second of clarity, he saw reason and reached out to a friend……an artist friend on AAA. She called the authorities from across the country who then got Lee the appropriate help.

While he was in the hospital recovering, other artists kept AAA active and running. Even after he was released from the hospital, and Lee was still lacking the energy and wherewithal to operate AAA, those other artists were there until he was ready to take the reins. And when he did, AAA continued to give him purpose as he focused on his recovery.

In September of 2015, Lee Down went on a camping long-weekend with his brother. AAA had a handful of moderators onboard by this time. It was Dawn Rodger and one other moderator who volunteered to keep AAA up to snuff while Lee was away. When Lee returned from his weekend away, Dawn and the other moderator were the only ones left in the group. Years later, many of the volunteers family or health needs saw them leave. Dawn Rodger is the only person left from that original group, save Lee, himself. What a great team they make.

Peer Support, Lee Down’s Other Current Career

After a hell of an ongoing battle with depression and having four years experience as a Life Coach, a vocational counsellor at the mental health office Lee Down utilizes told him about Peer Support. It turned out to be a perfect fit.

Peer Support is people who have lived experience come alongside other people in their recovery journey to help them find their way. Even more important, Lee says, is to give them hope of recovery. Lee Down says the work of Peer Support is both hard and very rewarding.

Another reason Peer Support turned out to be a great fit for Lee Down was the schedule. Peer Support is not an 8am-5pm job. This helps immensely with Lee Down’s dedication to AAA and focusing on his mental health. The time Lee is currently required to focus on Peer Support allow him to give it his full committed attention away from AAA, always knowing he has a moderator to cover for him.

Lee Down the Poet

Lee Down is a gifted poet. Like so many of the artists on AAA, he is self taught. He initially began writing in a journal he carried with him and got others to make entries in his journal as well. Soon, Lee spread his wings a bit and got involved with online chat groups where he would post his poetry.

At the time, Lee’s subjects were things he pined for…mainly life and love. Two extraordinary examples of such poems are Soul Healer and This Kiss. While Soul Healer speaks almost frankly to a life Lee wished for, This Kiss is directed toward a certain young lady he’d been seeing in his later 20’s, early 30’s. Both poems literally make me catch my breath every single time I read them.

Lately, Lee Down has been writing creatively more for AAA. Both poetry and articles. Being self taught and the typical artist, he says he frequently questions if anything he writes is good at all. No matter how we see Lee poke his head out, it’s always a treat. To me, poetry will always be the cherry on top.

Lee Down the Abstract Artist

It does bear mentioning again that Lee Down is an abstract painter. He even has a few pieces on the AAA site. On one occasion, Lee dabbled in some portraiture. He took a class where the assignment was to paint a black and white portrait of Christopher Walken. Lee says he did fairly well. He is colourblind. it may have been a coincidence. Sorry Lee. No harm, no foul.

Lee Down Abstract Art & Photography Sampling

Cup of Life, mixed media acrylics by Lee Down
Cup of Life, mixed media acrylics by Lee Down
Wild Mind, acrylic painting by Lee Down
Wild Mind, acrylic painting by Lee Down
String Theory-The Source of Creation, mixed media acrylics by Lee Down
String Theory-The Source of Creation, mixed media acrylics by Lee Down
Photography by Lee Down - Stanley Park Seawall
Photography by Lee Down – Stanley Park Seawall
Photography by Lee Down - Stanley Park
Photography by Lee Down – Stanley Park
Photography by Lee Down - English Bay Vancouver
Photography by Lee Down – English Bay Vancouver
Photography by Lee Down - English Bay Winter
Photography by Lee Down – English Bay Winter

Favourite Art and Artists of Lee Down

Aside from abstract art, Lee Down truly appreciates realism, surrealism and impressionism. With surrealism and the tremendous imagination of these artists being his favourite of the three. Along with these styles of art, he mentions Gary Aitken aka Dasmang, Mary Walsh, Milly Martinou, van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock and Picasso as artists he finds at the top of his list also.

If Lee Down were to pick another type of art to create, he says it would be ceramics. He has not been able to indulge in pottery since he was a little boy in elementary school, and he loved it. That love was more than evident to me in Lee’s recent article about sculptor, Johnson Tsang. He is not only an all-time favourite of Lee’s, but mine as well.

Lee Down’s Inspirations

In Lee Down’s life, an influential inspiration is the story of the life of Jesus. I’ve experienced Lee’s kindness and compassion here, and it’s where his belief that one man can make a difference originates. Lee also speaks of Albert Einstein. Both for his intelligence and his science. Lee highlighted a quote by Einstein that he tries to remember in his daily life, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”

Artistically, Lee Down is inspired by a local woman named Janet Kvammen. She is extremely active in their creative community. Janet volunteers with Royal City Literary Arts Society. She is an accomplished poet, painter and photographer (the latter of which Lee Down is exceptional at also….this is a fine example of the blurred line I spoke of in the beginning). Janet Kvammen also volunteers and spearheads activities with the New Westminster Artists Association. Lee sees all of her freedoms as lucky, but so very inspiring that she chooses to use her freedom to elect to so successfully participate in all of these areas.

In general, Lee Down is inspired by artists as a whole. Lee says artists see the world differently. They forge their own path. They have an insatiable need to create. They feel things deeply. In this description, Lee Down seems to me to be detailing himself today, and as the artist who began AAA.

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The History of Lee Down

Lee Down was born September 5, 1964 to Marty and Marilyn in Middleton, Nova Scotia. Marty Down was initially in the Air Force and many years later became a real estate agent. As a result, Lee had a very gypsy-like beginning to his life. By the time he graduated from high school, Lee had lived in seven different locations, 22 different homes and had attended many different schools.

When Lee Down was in eighth or ninth grade, he got his first job as a paperboy. This was short lived. It was followed by a job selling subscriptions to the newspaper over the telephone. To everyone’s surprise, especially Lee’s, he had the gift of gab and was very successful at this position. He was soon hired on for a different telephone job selling memberships at a local gym. However, this did not last long either as Lee was promoted to an inside sales position with the fitness centre. All of this took place during Lee’s high school years.

The Military Years

After high school, Lee Down was made to join the military by his father. Lee found boot camp to be exactly like it was portrayed in the movies. From boot camp, he went onto trade training in Kingston, Ontario to become a Communication Researcher. Their trade number was 291, and their nickname was the 291ers. They were a top secret trade.

At the time, a 291er learned how to copy Morse code and the Russian Morse code alphabet. The Russian signals they listened to and copied were recorded 17 days earlier from a listening post in the northern arctic. All of this took place in a building with no windows and that was surrounded by barbed wire. Lee Down was a spy.

Not only did Lee Down become a spy after boot camp, he also became a married man. He met and married his first wife who held a different position than Lee among the 291ers called a POET—otherwise known as an electronic technician of sorts. Lee also became a stepfather to two very young boys with this marriage. He says parenting them was the best part of his life.

Communication Researcher Trade Training, CFB Kingston, Graduating Class 1983
Communication Researcher Trade Training, CFB Kingston, Graduating Class 1983
Lee Down, Graduation, CFB Kingston, 1983
Lee Down, Graduation, CFB Kingston, 1983

Canada Post and Information Technology Years

Being a 291er in the military did not provide Lee Down with adequate skills for civilian employment after discharge. He wandered through a couple of ambiguous jobs before his gift of gab and his mad typing skills landed him a data entry job through an employment agency at Canada Post’s head office IT department. Lee loved this job and he was good at it.

After two years of moving from one job to another via the employment agency within Canada Post, a Human Resources representative in IT notices Lee Down and offered him a full time position as a Procedures Analyst. A couple years after that, Lee was promoted to Management Analyst. Then some years later, IT projects began to be outsourced and Lee’s job disappeared. He was able to transfer to another position within Canada Post called Address Management. This was also about the time his first marriage ended.

Lee Down, Address Management, Canada Post 1995
Lee Down, Address Management, Canada Post 1995

The End of Security and Moving West

Lee stayed at Canada Post for a couple more years after his divorce. Both working and partying hard. The whole time, he had and undeniable need to reconnect with his family who he hadn’t seen in a decade. So, without the ability to get a transfer from Canada Post, he took a leave of absence that would later lead to the end of his 10 year career there in Ottawa, Ontario. He sold all of his belongings and he moved west to be closer to his mother, father, and his brother’s family in the greater metro Vancouver area and Vancouver Island.

More lost now than ever, Lee Down stumbled through life for quite some time. Discovering he had Ulcerative Colitis derailed his life in many ways shortly after arriving in Vancouver, and he spent some years trying to recover. He had short lived employment situations, difficulty establishing a social network despite his best efforts, and had a brief marriage with a Korean woman who left him after she received her immigrant status.

One Man Can and Arts Artists Artwork Are Born

Concurrent with Lee Down’s second wife leaving him, he was let go from another job he loved and excelled at. On the way home from that termination, the thought, “One man can make a difference,” was ruminating in his head. With that phrase in mind and some trial and error, Lee Down became a Life Coach. The career change was a perfect match.

One Man Can Human Capital Development
One Man Can Human Capital Development

One Man Can, Lee Down’s Life Coaching business became the precursor to AAA. His time as a Life Coach came to an end with the bicycling accident mentioned earlier. It left him unable to work. He could not operate a computer or even hold a phone. Bills piled up, creditors were calling and Lee’s already fragile mental health was taking a severe beating. All of this lead him to the aforementioned rabbit hole of having to go on social assistance and disability. Here we are back at the beginning of AAA.

Even when Lee Down was at his worst, his motto was still, One Man Can (Make A Difference), and he was busy making a difference. He was busy starting AAA. Thank goodness he did. Thank goodness for Lee Down. ♥️

About the Writer

My name is Nikki Finnigan. I am a visual artist and I love the opportunity to write about all of these amazing artists as it is another way to bring art to my life. Please follow me on-Granny Finnigan’s Art.





8 responses to “The Life Retrospective and Art of AAA Founder, Lee Down”

  1. Glorinda Marie Avatar
    Glorinda Marie

    Wonderful, thought provoking article Nikki! Cheers to you and to Lee !!!

  2. Chadi Avatar

    Really nice to hear Lees background 22 schools, my gosh Thank you Lee, for providing this wonderful platform but even more for simply going through your journey through hardships and blessings. Your story is both interesting and inspiring May you keep up at all the amazing things you do. (Also thanks Nikki for writing the article)

  3. Jess Jess Avatar
    Jess Jess

    This amazing article has given us so much insight into Lee and the AAA group. What a story, filled with struggles, pain, hope and friendships. I so hope that you are finding some contentment, peace and joy in your life, Lee. You are not alone. Thanks to Nikki for putting all the words together in such a graceful way and to Dawn for her compassion.

  4. Philip Redman Avatar
    Philip Redman

    A wonderful testament to the perseverance of the spirit of Lee. Thanks, Nikki. I love your work and so do my daughter and artist/musician granddaughter. Many of us can not comprehend that we are truly suffering mentally , many times brought on by physical injury. We are always expected to be strong through adversity. We can’t deny it. I personally have found greater strength after my commercial art career, in renewing my decades ago avocation of creating and painting now at the latter part of my life. It gives me great satisfaction and contentment along with my family. AAA has given me a great connection with others around the world with art important in their lives. Lee Down was the first to compliment my work. Thanks, Lee and all the other hard working administrators of AAA.

  5. Sadia Avatar

    I’ve had Lee as a facebook friend for years now. I did not know him as well as I do after reading this article. What a life. And he still remains to be a cheerleader for all of us artists. It’s amazing! He is truly a wonderful, brave and a kindhearted man! I hope I know him for the rest of my days. I will soon be joining AAA again for the 3rd time. This time I’ll stay! 😀

  6. Rich Avatar

    It’s good to hear of someone who has persevered through various challenges. Lee and I have some similarities in our backgrounds and that gives me hope for the future.

  7. Jen Beaudet Z Avatar

    Lee is a very special person to me. We had a small healing group on Facebook where we shared many personal things about depression, anxiety, life. He was a big supporter of my art and still is today. Always encouraging. Through his page, my art reached 1000’s and this encouraged me to paint more. It was a great time. He will always remain dear to me. This article is so wonderful and a tribute to a man who is so generous and kind.

  8. artworksbysadia14 Avatar

    Big hugs to you both. Wow!
    No wonder Lee, you let me bug you with my woes all times of the day!
    Thank you Nikki, for writing such an awesome piece. Lee is one of the best people I haven’t yet met personally! But he is among my very few good/kind friends!

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