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Rich Lee Draws!

Motorcycling Is A State Of Mind For San Francisco-Born Artist

Perhaps you saw Rich Lee’s illustrations of MotoGP riders Marc Márquez, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales and others in “Rumblestrip,” a comic-book-style social media campaign for series rights-holder Dorna.

Or his colorful visual history of Suzuki’s seminal GSX-R sportbike, “30 Years of Performance.”

Not to mention the cover of this issue of American Motorcyclist, in which Lee recreated a teenage John L. Stein airing out his 1967 Honda CL90.

Drawing captured the interest of Lee in third-grade art class.

“A teacher taught us to draw a clown with a balloon,” he recalled. “She drew small squares at the top left of the balloon to indicate highlights. It was really simple, but I remember it so vividly.”

Lee drew so much he was suspended from school.

“I would draw on text books that weren’t mine,” he admitted, “so I spent a lot of time erasing.”

Illustration by Rich Lee

Art took a back seat to extracurricular activities for Lee in high school. In college, however, he returned to his roots.

“In my undergraduate graphic design classes, we started looking at artists and designers,” he said. “That nudged me back to the world of art.”

In 2003, Lee graduated from California State University of Sacramento with a bachelor’s in graphic design. He earned a Master of Fine Arts, specializing in illustration, in 2009 from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Like many of his peers, Lee has traded pencils for a stylus.

“The vast majority of my work is done digitally,” he said. “Clients don’t want original artwork; they just want a file.”

When he has time, however, Lee picks up pen and paper.

“I still enjoy the tactile feel of traditional tools,” he said. “My son sees me draw on a computer and an iPad, and he sees how perfectly the lines come out. I try to stress to him that it’s not about perfection. It’s more about putting down ideas.

“When you work with traditional mediums, you get happy accidents that you cannot do in a digital medium. And I want him to be OK making those accidents.”

Illustration by Rich Lee

Lee was drawn to motorcycling, like many, by its relatively low cost of entry.

“I wanted something that looked nice and went fast,” he said. “I could never afford a nice car. That’s how I started looking at motorcycles.

“My first bike was a Honda CBR600F2. I went to Sonoma Raceway every so often, and I did a track day at Thunderhill Raceway Park.

“For me, motorcycling was more practical, from point A to point B. I put 100,000 miles on my F2.”

Illustration by Rich Lee

Lee currently owns a Honda CBR600RR and a Suzuki DL1000.

“I love watching racing. First and foremost is the excitement. And then, of course, you have the personalities. My favorite racer is Noriyuki Haga.”

Lee’s artistic inspiration ranges from traditional American painters like J.C. Leyendecker and John Singer Sargent to German automotive futurist Daniel Simon and the French motorcycle comic, “Joe Bar.”

“I’ve tried to follow one style,” he said, “but I like drawing in these different styles. It’s what I imagine, what I feel.

Illustration by Rich Lee