When others use their sketchbooks to record people or buildings, Grace uses them as a color collection reference. She uses her color picker on the city with extreme accuracy and care.
MC: What is your relationship to Tokyo?
GL: During my first trip to Tokyo in 2007, I knew I wanted to come back for a longer period of time. At the end of 2009 I decided to do a working holiday in Japan with the intention of staying six months to a year. Five years on, I’m still here. It has become my home in a way.
MC: When and why did you start drawing the city?
GL: Prior to moving to Tokyo, I worked as an editorial designer for an interiors magazine in Australia. Making the switch from design to illustration meant that I needed to build up a portfolio of work. I struggled at the beginning with drawing from imagination. Sometimes I still do. I started drawing packaging and daily objects and signage—I love Japanese typography. Eventually, as my confidence and skills increased, I moved onto buildings and people. This natural progression happened from trying to capture what I saw, but being able to do it with a photograph, I found that I could translate what I saw much more naturally.
MC: How do you combine drawing with your work?
GL: I’ve been working as an illustrator for about two years. I’m still learning and still can’t believe sometimes that I can do this for work. About a year ago I met up with my illustrator friend, Luis Mendo. He told me about his sketchbooks and asked me about my drawings. It was then I realized that I didn’t draw for myself. I didn’t have a love of drawing and had no desire to draw on my days off. Luis invited me to a few drawing nights with other illustrators and I began to start enjoying drawing for fun. I think joining Instagram helped too. Sharing work and being inspired by other illustrators and their love for drawing helped me immensely.
MC: What is it you tried to achieve with your drawings of Tokyo?
GL: I try to capture what I can’t do in photographs. Drawings help me highlight the parts I find interesting, for example, a pattern, the way a person is standing or the way a shopfront looks on its own. Basically, I have terrible photography skills and when I want to share what I see, I prefer to do it with drawing.
MC: What’s your favorite Tokyo place?
GL: My favorite place is the nature path behind my house. It runs from Daizawa to Ikejiri Ohashi. It’s a great place for a walk, run, and for a bit of people watching.
MC: Who is a reference for your work or is there someone whose work you particularly admire?
GL: I’ve become a huge fan of the ladies of Instagram: Leah Goren, Julia Rothman, and Lauren Tamaki. I love the looseness in their work and the colors they use. Their fashion drawings in particular take a life of their own. I love how they draw pieces that exist but somehow make them their own.
MC: Did drawing change your life and if it did can you explain us in what way?
GL: Absolutely. It has been a constant in my life, especially my Japan life. I wouldn’t say I’m at the stage of doing it religiously or everyday. Sometimes I do get sick of my own work and drawing in general, but I find I eventually can’t help but want to do a drawing just fun. Working as an illustrator also makes sure drawing is always in my life. I’m lucky, to say the least, that I’ve had and still have many opportunities to do this.
Grace Lee is a freelance illustrator from Sydney, Australia. She is currently based in Tokyo, Japan. Her work includes illustrations for Isetan, Beams, as well as Figaro, FRaU, Numero, The Ritz-Carlton and Red magazines. Prior to moving to Tokyo, she was editorial designer at Inside Out magazine.
www.graceleeillustrator.com | www.instagram.com/midnightgracie