Step into a world where vibrant colours reign supreme, every shade of the flamboyant rainbow splashes across this world and its inhabitants. Nothing in this world is dull or drab as fantastical creatures roam free and accompany their humanoid friends on a journey of exploration and whimsy. Only your imagination is the limit in this world and nothing can stop this imagination from running wild and free. This is the world of Zeke’s Lunchbox and it truly is a mixed bag of wonders.
Zeke’s Lunchbox is the whimsical world and brand created by Melbourne-based artist Julia Rich. Zeke’s work radiates brightness and warmth within her flamboyant universe where bold colours feel completely natural and hybrid animals spread themselves all across her work. Her pop surrealism art style takes inspiration from everything from R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Garbage Pail Kids to kitsch art, alongside everything space age and B-Grade.
The origins of Zeke’s Lunchbox didn’t begin as the artist she is known for being today. Instead, the Zeke’s Lunchbox brand began as a fashion label as she originally pursued a degree in Fashion and Textiles. Upon finishing university, Zeke decided she needed to further explore the artistic part of herself and give herself the chance to explore a career as a full-time artist. Zeke’s brand has grown over the years as her colourful universe has featured on Australia’s famous Bondi Beach, in art shows such as Miami Art Basel and has worked with clients including YouTube and Huion.
Zeke’s Lunchbox is currently working on her most ambitious project yet, Zeke’s Arcana. The Tarot card project which can be found on Kickstarter takes inspiration from the classic Rider-Waite deck with a Zeke’s Lunchbox twist. When Zeke isn’t working on her Arcana, she can be found over on her YouTube channel where she shares art advice and content with her 33,000+ subscribers.
Zeke is the character I put on and the Lunchbox is the place where I pull ideas from, a mixed bag of wonder.
Interview with Zeke’s Lunchbox
Where did the name “Zeke’s Lunchbox” originate from?
I’ve been using the moniker since 16 when it was my old MySpace handle. I was always a maker and had a treasure box of fabrics and trinkets that I would use to make clothes and accessories. A friend and I went vintage shopping and found an old toy packet with dinosaur characters named on the back, one was called Zeke. I thought it was cute and unique, and since it was imperative to put a name to my creations, the two ideas married and Zeke’s Lunchbox was born. Zeke is the character I put on and the Lunchbox is the place where I pull ideas from, a mixed bag of wonder.
Zeke’s Lunchbox is a whole universe filled with whimsical characters and creatures, which feel far removed from our own universe. Do you craft backstories or names for the characters you create?
Yes but they’re not always fully realised stories, more character traits and how their environment shapes them. It’s a bit of a chicken or egg scenario, sometimes the characters are given backstories post creation and some are fabricated before being made. This routine bounces all over the place. Back when I painted creatures mostly, I would name them like you would a pet. It helped me be attached to the creatures and form a bond with them.
How has your painting technique developed over the years?
Well, I’m definitely more patient now! It was always a mad dash to create a new painting without too much planning or foresight. Now there are more studies and mood boards involved. I’m more methodical in my approach now, I plan out the sketch and composition entirely and transfer the sketch to a canvas and get to painting. I’ve also transitioned to more digital work too, so that cuts down a lot of prep time.
Do you have a favourite part of the painting process? If so, what is it and why?
Who doesn’t love the final details? The tiny flecks of highlight on a cheek, the highlight in the eye. I love anything that has great flow too, hair and fur are always a blast. I can really let the arm flow and be loose.
You’ve been working on your Tarot deck project for around three years now. How did ideas for this project first come about? Is Tarot a long-time interest of yours?
The idea was approached to me by my Tarot partner Julian, he brought the idea forth and we ran with it. I was and am still a novice to the world of Tarot. I didn’t know anything prior to starting the project!
It’s forever changed my approach to making art and I’ll always use the lessons of what makes for successful storytelling. The symbolism involved is fascinating and I love the visual language that feels universal. I don’t really know why I’ve stuck with it for all these years, but I mostly hate quitting and I hate letting things defeat me. My naivety said yes to the project but my ego and determination kept me going.
Do you have any particular favourite Tarot cards that you’re drawn to? If so, which ones and why?
The first card I made was The Star, I love the original card for the obvious celestial themes but the woman depicted had a strong energy, she had autonomy but still felt tender. Unfortunately, being the first card I made, the execution isn’t where I would want it to be. It’s my least favourite card of the bunch! My skills have changed a lot in three years, it’s almost impossible to not have evolved working on a project like this for such a long time. I guess I’m frustrated by my version because the original deserves to be honoured with a better artwork.
What has been the most rewarding part of working on the Tarot deck project?
Seeing such a big body of work all come together. I’m really proud when I see all the cards compiled. When I go through art books from artists I admire, I get completely overwhelmed and I’m unable to digest it all. That’s how I feel when I see all the cards together. I can’t help but feel like that’s a good sign. I’ve never made a body of work like this, and will probably never do anything to this scale again.
The Tarot project has really taught me a big lesson, time is the most valuable resource I have. I can’t squander and waste it.
What has been the most challenging part of working on the Tarot deck project?
Sticking to my guns and shifting all my attention to the project. I spent a year being in denial and not focusing on the project but eventually, I realised it needed full-time attention. It was hard saying no to so many opportunities that have come in that time span. Commissions I’ve had to turn down, client work, murals etc… It’s been really hard saying no and you never know where your next paycheck is going to come from. So it’s been a big sacrifice.
Since you are in the final stages of painting the Tarot cards, how are you feeling about the project now the end is in sight?
Happy it’s coming to a close. Really ready to get to the next chapter. Excited and nervous to launch the Kickstarter to fund the production. It’s been a huge risk but I’m hoping it pays off in more ways than one.
What has been a career-defining moment for you within your artistic journey so far and why?
In 2019, I was asked to speak at Creative Mornings, an organisation that runs creative community events globally. Being asked to speak in front of my peers in the industry has been a sobering touchstone of where my place is in the industry. As a freelancer, you don’t often get events to solidify a point in time. So I’m very grateful to have that moment.
I was wondering since you have a background in Fashion and Textiles, do you think you’ll ever delve back into that side of the art world?
I definitely want to post-Tarot. I’ve been wanting to focus more time into fashion merchandise. As far as using textiles and fashion as a medium for my art, I can’t see it happening. It’s unfortunately just too slow of a medium and the tarot project has really taught me a big lesson, time is the most valuable resource I have. I can’t squander and waste it.
Here’s a little thought experiment for you. You’re given the opportunity to show an alien three pieces of your work to help them understand human creativity and what art can portray, which would you share with them and why?
The Strength Tarot card, to show them tenderness and care. The Three of Swords to show heartache and violence, and lastly, the Six of Cups to show them innocence and humour. I think that’s a good array to show a snippet of diversity in the human creating experience.
When you aren’t working on your Tarot deck, your YouTube channel and any other Zeke’s Lunchbox related work, what do you get up to?
I love cinema! I love learning from directors, reading interviews about their methods and why they want to tell their stories. Directors like David Cronenberg, John Waters and Nicolas Winding Refn are usually my go-to when I want to watch someone chat about their passions. I find them all very funny and earnest, some qualities I try to capture in my work.
As an artist, what are you looking forward to doing next? Any personal projects on the horizon or maybe other big-scale projects?
I cannot wait to paint big canvases again! I’m aching for it! I’ve been painting digitally for 9 months or so, and I’m ready to move on. Big canvases and murals are on my radar.