Rebecca Lee is the founder of LeeBeccaStudio. She is a freelance artist based in New York City and Cape Town. The highlight of her work is in spatial design with a specific focus on retail experiences. Lee combines romantic scenes which incorporate delicate color palettes and balanced architectural elements. We spoke with Lee about her long creative journey from studying furniture design at RISD to becoming a store designer and finally her own boss as a freelance artist. Lee also speaks about her enchanting signature: a spherical ball that appears consistently in her artwork and consequently defines the spaces that she creates. We feel there is much to learn from this ingenious designer whose creative free spirit truly inspired us.
1. Why is spatial design important to you? Why focus the design on retail experiences?
For me spatial design is more about the experience in the space than the structural design itself. I think how a space is designed can have a huge impact on how someone experiences it. I focus on retail experiences because I used to work as a store designer and my art was a way of challenging the conventional retail environment. I wanted to create beautiful spatial experiences instead of just filling a white box with shelves and racks. I think a retail environment can be a very interesting form of spatial interaction between a brand and its consumers. But it isn’t my only focus. I would love to design for a variety of experiences whether it be at a store or a museum.
2. One of the things I love about your work is that you create an atmosphere with your art. What is your process for brainstorming the ambiances that you want to create?
I think that’s because I usually start with an atmosphere or a mood in mind. Some people may work from specifics to generalities, like choosing to design a chair and then designing the room around it. But I prefer to consider the whole and then move towards the specific elements.
It can also depend on the day and what I experience on a given day. For example, it may be a windy day and I’ll see how the wind interacts with its environment, how it blows the curtains, how it affects the trees, and all that inspire me. And like photography, a general mood of a render can be directed by the light source. Before I’m set on a scene to render, I spend quite some time playing around with the light and shadow of the space. I’m trying to learn more about photography and lighting to be more intentional about the atmosphere I create with my work.
3. How much knowledge about architecture is implemented in your work? Would you like to see your designs become actual buildings?
Other than one semester of introduction to architecture philosophy and studio courses, I have little formal knowledge on architecture. But I have several years of experience in smaller scale built environments such as stores and trade show booths. I started doing 3D renderings as a tool to visualize my design before it gets built. But now it’s become a form of art that I use to express a vision. When I create my work, I’m always thinking about building them in real life. I would love to see my designs get realized in the physical world.
4. Tell me about the software that you use currently to create your work. What is the most empowering aspect of using it?
I currently use Blender for all my work, but I have used SketchUp and V-Ray in the past as well. Honestly the most empowering aspect of using Blender is that it’s free and pretty easy to learn. I learned all I know on YouTube tutorials. I believe Blender was designed for animators, so it has pretty cool built-in simulators to create interactions between different materials and the environment (i.e. curtains blowing in the wind.) I’m comfortable with Blender and it does what I want it to do but I would love to try out other software like Cinema4D or Redshift.
5. In many of your pieces, you seem to include a spherical element. Why? Is it a signature?
I never thought of it as a signature. But I do use it often, for different purposes. Sometimes I add a reflective sphere to show the dimensionality of the whole space. Other times I use them to add movement and tactility to the work. Also I think a space adds value when there is something or someone occupying the space – the spheres usually do a great job doing just that.
6. The shapes in your work remind me of Louis Kahn’s architectural creations. Is he one of your influencers? Who else inspires your artistic expression?
Wow, that’s flattering! I can’t say Louis Kahn specifically is my influencer but architecture in general is a huge inspiration for me. Having a background in furniture design, I first became really interested in spatial design when I traveled to Naoshima, Japan after college. Visiting the art work and architectural sites by Tadao Ando, Walter de Maria, and James Turrell to name a few really challenged me to think about human experience in the context of spatial design.
7. What did you learn from studying furniture design at RISD that helps you now with your spatial art?
One of the most valuable things I learned from studying furniture design at RISD is problem solving. I had to design and build all of my projects. It is one thing to come up with a cool design but a completely different thing to actually build it. From design to execution there are a lot of problem solving involved in the process. Even though I work in 3D now, I constantly ask myself if it could work in real life. It’s never in a limiting way though. I think it rather allows me to work freely within the guidelines of reality. If it was just pure imagination it would be quite baseless.
8. You work between Cape town and New York. How do these two very differing locations shape the ideas you manifest and/or how you create?
I recently moved to Cape Town and it is very different from New York. New York is a city where the built environment subdues nature—think Central Park being enclosed by the city around it. Whereas in Cape Town, the small city is surrounded by majestic views of Table Mountain and beautiful Atlantic coastline on all sides. Both New York and Cape Town are beautiful in their own but very different way. I often think about how the natural element (light, wind, water) interact and affect the built environment and vice versa.
9. What is next for you?
I want to keep creating. I’m pretty new to the whole freelancing thing and I’m just starting to get some responses on my work. I’m excited for different opportunities that are on the horizon this year. I am focusing on digital work now but eventually I want to realize my designs in the physical realm.