Aubrie Lee: Art(iv)ist

Pictured: Aubrie Lee. Photo Credit: Blaze Lee  @visions_of_blaze

Pictured: Aubrie Lee. Photo Credit: Blaze Lee @visions_of_blaze


“I think of myself as an artist, because I want to be, and I think of myself as an activist, because I have to be.”

California-native and award-winning artist, Aubrie Lee, defines herself as a namer by trade, engineer by training and artist at heart. Her work has been exhibited at the Manhasset Public Library, published in Stanford's Anastomosis Journal and in the Hektoen International Journal of Medical Humanities

Pictured: Drawing of a skull by Aubrie Lee. Photo Credit: Aubrie Lee  @aubrieality

Pictured: Drawing of a skull by Aubrie Lee. Photo Credit: Aubrie Lee @aubrieality

Besides her phenomenal craftsmanship and artistry, what truly sets her apart as an artist is her raw insight on the creative process:

  • “Let go of perfectionist tendencies. Not everything you make has to be perfect. For a long time, I had so much pressure for everything to be a masterpiece.  Every doodle on a sticky note had to be amazing. I don’t know why I was thinking that way. Maybe I felt like I had to prove it to other people. In school, I was always the one that was good at drawing. There was a lot of pressure to live up to that expectation. Let go of that.”

  • “Get your ideas out of your head. It could be by writing them down, drawing them out, or talking about them with another person. Creativity isn't just about thinking outside the box, it's about taking your thinking out of your own mind. Externalizing your ideas will help you develop them, see them in new ways, and eventually act on them."

  • “Don’t procrastinate or get caught up in creating rituals in order to get creative. Let’s say I wanted to work on an illustration. I used to feel like I needed to find the right song on Spotify. I needed to put my pens in the right order or I needed to start drawing at a specific time of the day. I’m so much more open minded when I stop worrying about all these superstitious rules.”

On activism

Even though Aubrie characterizes herself as an artist, she often feels defined by her disabilities. “I’ve been in a lot of spaces where disabled people are not common.” She is hard of hearing, has facial weakness and has a rare form of muscular dystrophy: the more she uses her muscles, the weaker they get.

While she gladly takes on the role of disabilities activist in the spaces she occupies, she points out that not all disabled people want to take on that responsibility. “I don’t mind it, but the only reason I’m in that role is because other people aren’t there to do it. It’s my responsibility to do what I can. My personal challenge has been finding how I can continue to do my part in disability rights.”

Despite the pressures, she is hopeful that allies are willing to learn about disability and work towards creating more inclusive spaces. Wondering how you can be a better ally?

  • Know the facts. The United Nations called people with disability the biggest minority in the world. “Too often people think that disabilities are anomalies, but people need to realize that disability is an aspect of someone’s identity. Often when people talk about diversity, disability is not on the list. That’s a huge problem, because it’s the largest minority in the world.”

  • Change the way you think about disability. “I think that what’s more useful to think about is not how I am disabled by my body but by the world around me. I use a wheel chair. For people who don’t use a wheelchair, they think of it as a symbol of lacking the ability to do something. For me, it’s a way to do more. Wheelchairs are examples of assistive tech. Tech is one way that disabled people become less disabled.”

  • Product designers: keep the disabled community in mind. “While tech is a serious aspect of increasing inclusion of disabled people, more than often, people are disabled by society because of the existing infrastructure. For example, if I want to go on the sidewalk, and there is no ramp or no place to get on that sidewalk, then I am disabled. But if there’s a ramp, then I’m not disabled in that way. It’s not advanced tech. So much of the reason why disabled people are disabled is because no one thought about them or they weren’t included in the planning process.”

“My ideal for the future is that one day my disability is no more important than the color of my hair. That I am so well integrated in society and so accommodated and included that I can do anything that a non-disabled person can do.”

Pictured: Aubrie Lee. Photo Credit: Blaze Lee  @visions_of_blaze

Pictured: Aubrie Lee. Photo Credit: Blaze Lee @visions_of_blaze



Marushka Hirshon is a Tahitian-American nonprofit founder, community organizer and freelance journalist. She graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. in Science, Technology and Society with a focus in Environment and Sustainability. Follow