Artist Q&A: Monica Lee

June 23, 2016

Monica Lee's drawings are undeniably impressive at first glance, but it's only when you take a closer look that you realise just how impressive they are. Monica has painstakingly poured over every intricate detail of her subjects in order to recreate them on paper in a way that's as true to the original as possible.

We spoke to Monica at her home studio to learn more about her journey as an artist, and discover that an important part of her work ethic revolves around challenges.

It would be great to have a bit of background to you and your work. How long have you been drawing for? What was the starting point for your artwork?

Ever since I was a child, I have loved to draw and wanted to become an artist. After art college, I didn't pursue a career in art – I didn't think I had the talent for it. Instead, I worked as a digital imaging artist in my dad's advertising photography studio for 12 years.

In 2013 I came across some artworks on Instagram, and I was so inspired by it that I decided to pick up drawing again. From then I realised that drawing was still my passion. So, I decided to quit my job and become a full time artist. The first portrait that I did – ‘Alisa’ – was a turning point for me: people began to take notice of my work. That gave me some confidence to continue my art journey.

Why did you choose this medium? What drew you (excuse the pun!) to working with graphite pencils?

When I first started drawing, I experimented with digital art, colour pencils, and watercolour. Finally, I chose pencils as my drawing tools. I like the idea of using something as simple as a pencil to create a piece of art, and nothing beats getting your hands dirty while drawing with a pencil.

Most of your images are black and white. Why do you choose black and white over colour for the most part?

I love black and white photos – it gives the artwork a classic/vintage feel to it. I think it's also a challenge, because without colour you need to rely on tonal value, contrast, textures, and details to bring the image to life.

Is there a pencil brand you prefer to work with in particular? If so, what appeals to you about the product?

Through Instagram, I'm always discovering new brands of pencils used by other artist. So, I'm still experimenting with different brands to see what works for me.

How long does it take you to create each work?

A piece takes around two to three weeks to complete. It also depends on the size and complexity of the drawing itself. A piece entitled ‘Rhino’ took me three months.

How do you choose what to draw?

Basically I work within these three themes: portraiture, wildlife and still life. I like challenging myself with complicated subject matter. Subject matter that has lots of details and textures excites me. For portraiture I prefer drawing people with beards, freckles or older people.

How has your style changed and developed since you first started drawing?

When I first started, I was really into drawing skulls and roses. As I progressed, I was introduced to photorealism. I was totally blown away by it. I said to myself, “This is the kind of art I want to make". And because I grew up appreciating photography, the concept of photorealism appealed to me.

I think I'm more obsessed with details now compared to when I first started. Although it is very time consuming and tedious, I can't seem to help myself. It's my OCD!

Do you ever struggle to find the motivation to draw? And if so how do you motivate yourself?

I'm a big fan of motivational quotes and books. My desktop wallpaper is actually filled with motivational quotes. My favourite is: "Train insane or remain the same.” If that doesn't work, looking at works from great artists like Paul Caden or Dirk Dzimirsky will do the trick. It serves as a reminder to myself, that in order to be as good as them, I need to work really hard for it.

You can follow Monica on Facebook or Instagram.