High Note

High Note

We caught up with Rik Lee, the hugely popular illustrator whose music icons grace our brand new Music Genius cards. Read on to find out what makes him tick, and how you can win a special portrait created for you by the man himself…


Tell us a bit about your background, where do you call ‘home’?

I was born in a place called Paraparaumu, on the North Island of New Zealand. My Mum’s family is from NZ and my Dad’s from England. I have an older sister, Kiri, and the four of us moved to Melbourne, Australia when I was two years old. I grew up in the inner city suburb of Fitzroy.

Six years ago I met a girl while working in Sydney. I followed her to Bali (where she lived) and I never really left! We’re married and live together in Bali with our two dogs. So right now, I call Bali home.

“By my teens I was sketching friends and cute girls. I guess I’ve always just drawn what’s on my mind!”

Did you grow up in a creative family, were you encouraged to draw and paint?

My parents have always been really supportive of my creative career.

One of my earliest memories is Dad returning from work with huge rolls of paper. I’d spread them out on the kitchen floor and create these gigantic crayon drawings of epic alien, spaceship battles. Shortly after, I moved on to drawing skateboard graphics and by my teens I was sketching friends and cute girls. I guess I’ve always just drawn what’s on my mind!

Art was the only class that I showed any interest in during school. My parents were smart enough to realize that and encouraged me to pursue what I loved. Which I’m very thankful for. Not to mention, Dad told me that all the cutest girls went to art school – that alone convinced me to sign up!

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Had you drawn many famous people before you started work on Music Genius?

I generally draw my friends or fictitious people. However, I’d had the occasional commercial job that involved drawing a famous person.


Who were your most and least favourite subjects to draw, and why? What was the most challenging part of the project?

 Ooh… good question! My favourites are all the portraits that came together relatively easily and my least favourites are the subjects that I struggled to draw! So it’s nothing personal, it’s not about how they look or the music they create, it’s about how hard they were to draw.

Often, the people who I was looking forward to drawing and thought would come together easily, proved difficult. On the flipside, there were subjects that really intimidated me, who fortunately, I found quite simple to illustrate.


Is there anything you can’t draw? 

Too many things!

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When did you first start drawing and when did you get your first commission?

I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a crayon. I actually got my first regular illustration gig when I was 15, making a monthly cartoon for a surf magazine.

I guess my first proper, paid commissions came in my late teens and then I slooooowwwwwly began to get more and more work until I could make some sort of living from my art.


When did you realise you could make a career out of illustration?

When I exhausted every other career path!

For years, I worked a lot of weird, part-time jobs, while getting occasional art commissions.

In my mid-twenties, I was fired from one of those weird part-time jobs. I used the newfound free time to focus on making illustration my career. It worked! It was hard work, but I’m happy it worked!

“When the people (and animals) I love are happy – then I’m happy”

When are you at your happiest?

I live near the beach and surf most mornings. I’m happiest when I’m out in the water early – especially when the waves are good! Afterwards, I ride home and have coffee with my wife and two dogs. When the people (and animals) I love are happy – then I’m happy.

I’m also pretty content in my studio, drawing pictures and listening to music.

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What’s your studio like? Do you work alone?

I work from a home studio in Canggu, Bali. There’s lots of great, natural light and it looks out to our tropical garden. Most of the time my two dogs – Tiaki, a black Labrador and Susu, a tiger-striped Bali Dog, sit beside me. Dogs aside, I generally work alone.


What’s on the walls? And what do you listen to while you work?

There’s a bunch of art works on the walls. Some from my friends and others from artist’s who I love, including some classic skateboard decks.

I listen to lots of music. Such a huge variety that it’s hard to know where to begin. Right now, while I’m typing this, I’m listening to Guided By Voices.

I also listen to lots of Podcasts.


Where do you go to clear your head, or get inspired?

In the ocean or out walking the dogs.

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What’s the best thing about what you do now?

I love doing it. That’s the best thing. I don’t make much money but I live like a rich guy. I get to wake up and do what I love everyday while surrounded by people that I love.

“My drawings celebrate diversity. We’re all different and that’s awesome…”

You attract a lot of loyal fans… why do you think your work appeals to so many people? 

I think my work is quite accessible, which helps.

I use basic materials – generally just a pencil and paper, which anyone can get their hands on. People often see my simple sketches and say, “Oh hey, I could draw something like that!” Which inspires them to pick up a pencil and try. I love that!

My drawings celebrate diversity. We’re all different and that’s awesome. Occasionally someone feels a connection to a person I’ve drawn because it reminds them of themselves, a friend or family member. Again, that’s something I like to hear and may attract people to my work.

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Do you start with a blank piece of paper or a blank screen? What are your pencils of choice?

I start with a blank piece of paper, a pencil, my favorites are Faber Castell Polychromos “Scarlet Red” pencils, a knife (to sharpen the pencil) and an eraser (to help with all the inevitable mistakes!).


Do you finish one drawing and then go on to the next, or have several on the go at once?

I generally have a few on the go at once.


Can illustration change the world?

It already has!

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See more of Rik's amazing work here.

We are offering one lucky reader the chance to win an original black and white portrait by Rik himself (drawn from the shoulders upwards), supplied in digital form and ready for you to print out at whatever size and into whatever medium you so wish.

To be in with a chance of winning, just join our gift products mailing list using the box and the bottom of this page before 17th September 2018. The winner will be chosen at random from the list and will be notified by email. Please read the full terms and conditions here.

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