Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Five Minutes with Portrait Artist Jeremy Lee

I met Jeremy Lee through Twitter this week,@spooks_art. Not literally, since he lives in Australia and I in Minnesota, but we exchanged greetings. He'd responded to a tweet, visited my blog and shared his own site with me. When I checked it out I sensed the harmonic quality of our interests.

The interview revealed we had more in common than I had at first imagined. We both began drawing at an early age. Both had an early introduction to photography. Both have been married a long time, each with two kids. Of his he stated, "2 kids who are totally unique and can have no substitutes." Same here. And both have had a fascination with drawing faces.

For your edification, here's the rest of what I learned about Jeremy.

Ennyman: I see you have been doing art since you were a little tyke. What were the influences that led you to take an interest in making pictures?

JL: I started at age 4 - drawing people's ears. Go figure!

The most influential memory I have was at 6 years old when I made a blown-ink drawing into a kind of underwater sea-monster surrounded by every kind of sea dwelling creature you could imagine. I thought it needed a name and spontaneously made up something with about 40 characters and barely pronounceable. It was, I suppose, a nested compound-onomatopoetic word. At that age, I was forever building things. Come to think of it, that has never stopped. My latest major project is the stick-dwelling that we call home. I've been plodding at that one for the last sixteen years having damaged myself in one way or another on just about every element of construction. The house is a work of art in itself as a three story pole-house with an A-frame. I guess an appreciation for aesthetics, and an instinctive visual-oriented learning bias predisposes me to a life of creating 'things'. As a child I used to copy cartoon characters and spent many hours coloring in books, drawing insects in fine detail, and fanciful mechanical inventions including perpetual motion machines which I promptly abandoned upon learning about the laws of thermodynamics. I formally studied woodwork, metalwork, art and pottery and was offered an apprenticeship at Winchcombe Pottery. However, the pay was terrible and I opted for a career in electronics. But I can't stop making things, and I can't stop drawing and painting. It fills a gap that would otherwise swallow me up.

E: Where did the name spOOk come from?

JL: My electronics career was somewhat involved in the covert side of communications. That's all I can say. Thanks for putting in the gOOgly oh's in spOOk. I like the binocular/eyes/observation connotations. :-) Also it's a relatively unusual name which makes it easy to search on the Internet. If I used something more generic, then it would get lost in the noise.

E: I've kept my Ennyman moniker for the same reason, easy to find when people Google. How did you come to move from England to Down Under and what's the art scene like where you are today?

JL: Originally from Canada, having moved to England, one winter, my wife and I were holed-up in a flat in the UK so cold that we wore hats and clothes to bed. We decided to follow the sun. Canada was also cold, but Australia had a similar resource-based economy and stable democratic government. My electronics degree was a ticket out of the freezer and into the sun.

E: Have you been obtaining commission work via your blog? What is the price range your commissioned work is currently selling for?

JL: The blog and web site is very new. I consider it a tool and not the be-all and end-all. It's there to give to the community as much as to gather contacts and friends. Having an active blog is an asset which can be converted sometime later into more focused commercial activity if required. At present 'spooks-art' comes high up on the page-rank so it means I can just say to someone, "search for 'spooks-art' and you will find my work". The main motivation for selling my work and accepting commission is basically pressure from those who view it in person. For a long time I resisted, preferring art for the sake of art.

E: Pricing can be a challenge for many artists. Any suggestions to emerging artists on how to value what they produce?

JL: Unfortunately, to make a living from a small business you need to pull $40 an hour, 6 to 8 hours a day. So although one of my original detailed graphite portraits took 80 hours, it is priced at $2000, currently hanging in a local gallery, and I can only offer this price because it's not my main stream of income. I'll do a less detailed but quality A4 portrait for $200 which is a typical rate for that sort of work. But prints, publications and teaching are good potential sources. I intend to publish my book when I have finished the illustrations. I am releasing the contents of the book on my blog and encourage comments because someone at some time will say something profound, and if so I'll ask permission to include it in the final copy with attribution.

As with any business, pricing is simply supply and demand. If you are overwhelmed with work, then put the prices up, and if you have capacity, then lower them, but never sell at a loss. However, there is a strange psychological phenomenon where a more expensive piece often increases its desirability. We live in a strange world.

E: What is the most interesting portrait you've ever done and in what way was this so?

JL: When National Geographic published that now world famous picture of Afgan Sharbat Gula, I was transfixed and instantly produced a sketch of it. It was the eyes that got me. Several years later I also did an oil painting of the same subject. Today, I won't show it, not because it is a bad painting, but because too many other people have also done it. It's the same with 'Jack Sparrow' and 'Angelina Jolie'... I am tired of seeing cliche celebrity portraits. So to answer your question, the most interesting portrait is my Bolivian Woman in Prayer, featured in my gallery. She is unknown, intense, and full of emotion. One that I will likely do soon will be from a sketch I did in Corfu of a living monk - probably long gone now. He has/had a closed eye and a cheeky smile. Attempting this now will have to be based only on the sketch as I have no other reference. This will be interesting because a good portrait has layers. There is the technical execution, on top of an emotional content, on top of an informative layer to be seen by only those who properly observe. A hand drawn portrait has the potential to present much more than a photograph, even if the reference is photographic. My current project is a double portrait from a small blurry wedding portrait of some 50 years ago. It's a challenge to render an A3 drawing from a 6B photograph.

Enny: What's the art scene like there where you are today?

JL: My next door neighbor is a professional musician, his wife exhibits hand made pottery, one of our best friends is an impressive illustrator aiming to publish some children's books. We have the National gallery in Canberra, and huge galleries in the major cities. Rural Queensland is a burgeoning art mecca, and Sydney hosts the work of many strong artists. We have several boutique art galleries, and some excellent educational establishments. I'd say the art scene
in Australia is outstanding. The local art scene boasts a small Island overrun with artists, and the town councils actively promote local art.

E: Any favorite artists?

JL: Loads. Some living some not. Immediately coming to mind are:
Paul Lung
Armin Mersmann
Michael Angelo
Chuck Close
Denis Peterson
Some of James Gleeson's work.
Salvador Dali
Jackson Pollock

E: That's a good list. Thanks for your time!

JL: Welcome !

Be sure to visit Jeremy Lee's site,

Follow Ennyman on Twitter: @ennyman3

Inspiration for "What IF?" (the lower portrait) is from a friend of JL's called "Home Alone" at As Jeremy notes, "She has some great art, too."

1 comment:

Magda Magdy said...

Reading this was so inspiring!
plz keep em comin' ^_^ I follow u on twitter as well..