Once a week, Julie Lee arrives at a Santa Monica farmers' market at 8 A.M., tote bags in hand. "I'm looking for what's in season or anything I've never cooked or seen before," she says. "I usually leave with four bags of produce hanging from my arms!" A few years ago, Lee, a longtime foodie, began turning her hauls into colorful collages, using her dining room table as the backdrop for imaginative assemblages: candy cane–striped beets, sculptural dragon fruit, crimson blood oranges. "Collaging was a way to think about food differently," says Lee, 33. "As sustenance and as art."

For eight years, Lee spent her days focusing on a different kind of market, working as a financial analyst—somewhat reluctantly, she admits. "My parents came to the U.S. from China and Hong Kong to give my sisters and me a better life," she says. "I was drawn to creative fields, but they put pressure on us to pursue stable careers." Lee started her days by 6 A.M., which left afternoons free for indulging her love of food, taking on catering gigs and throwing epic dinner parties. In 2007, she started Julie's Kitchen, a photo and recipe blog where she now sells prints of her pieces. "I loved that readers said my creations made them hungry."

Today Lee's collages—which she might arrange by color or food type, like purple asparagus with purple cauliflower or a group of sunny citruses—have earned her more than 115,000 Instagram followers and photography clients like Apple. Her experience in finance has come in handy: "I work fast and lean on the precision I learned," Lee says. "It doesn't take long for vegetables to wilt!"


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