Skip to Main Content

Meet an Old Haileyburian who’s designing money

Rob Cook (OH 2001) has painted and drawn for as long as he can remember. He honed his artistic talents at Haileybury and then at university and eventually joined Note Printing Australia to take on an unusual role as a bank note illustrator.

NEWS 4 Apr 2022

When did your love of painting and drawing begin?

I was drawn to being creative – I had a feel for drawing and painting from a young age. My family always encouraged it, as I think my family are all creative in ways, but I always enjoyed sitting down to draw something and I knew I had some ability.

How did your art continue to flourish at Haileybury?

I joined Newlands campus in Keysborough in Grade 4 and went through to Year 12. I’d draw for myself but also for friends in class. I grew up hanging out in the local newsagency after school reading comics, and I’d then draw comic characters for friends that brought attention and enjoyment. I also pursued art by choosing subjects like Art, Studio Art and Graphic Design in my later years.

What were some of your most interesting artistic projects at school?

Every lunchtime, break and spare lesson I’d gravitate towards the art shed—it was a haven for creatives. I spent every spare moment there working on drawings, paintings and sculptures. We were a creative community and that was a really enjoyable aspect of school life for me. I produced artwork for school—I did illustrations for editorial publications and would draw posters advertising school plays. I once remember doing a pencil portrait of the Principal that appeared in the school magazine.

What happened after you graduated from Haileybury in 2001?

I applied to do a Fine Arts degree but didn’t get into uni initially, so I spent a year at Holmesglen TAFE doing a diploma in Visual Arts. It included print making, sculpture, illustration and painting, it was a broad ranging and enjoyable course. After a year of building a folio I got into a Bachelor of Fine Art at Monash University.

You are now Design Manager at Note Printing Australia. How did you arrive at that position?

I saw a job advertised on a job website for a bank note illustrator, it sounded perfectly suited to me. After finishing my degree, I worked as a builder’s labourer for a while and continued to paint and draw in my spare time. I particularly enjoyed doing portraits of notable Australians and I did a portrait of Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop that ended up in the local paper and on the cover of a veteran’s magazine. I then sold that work to ANZAC House where it hangs today. Opportunities opened up after that, and I was successful in applying to be a bank note illustrator. Essentially, I drew portraits and imagery for bank notes. Now I manage the design process, though not drawing as much as I used to.

How does the illustration process work?

On a bank note, you see a portrait or image of buildings that have been translated into lines. It’s an old process called intaglio engraving. The linework forming the images used to be cut into a metal plate by hand. When I started in 2006, I drew the imagery with pen and ink and would spend six to eight weeks translating a portrait or image of a building into line work for the printing process. A customer requests a certain portrait or figurehead they want on a bank note and they supply a photograph, or we do a tonal drawing and when that concept is approved, we translate that into line work. We draw digitally now but I still enjoy hand drawing with ink because of the feel of pen or pencil on paper.

Where can we see your illustrations?

I drew the Queen on our $5 note and Parliament House on the back as well. I’ve drawn bank notes for Australia, Chile, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Singapore and Brunei. The Chile series of notes were my first portraits, and the Brunei notes were my first landscapes, which were all hand drawn, so they are among my favourite pieces of work. Recently, I was also fortunate to meet and draw the Governor of Victoria’s portrait and official Christmas card one year.

What do your children think about what you do for a living?

My three sons are at Haileybury. Finn, the eldest, is seven and he’s held a $5 note in his hand, pointed to the Queen and said, ‘My Dad drew that!’ Our twins are five and they are increasingly aware that I can draw. We sit down and draw together most nights and I enjoy teaching them what I know.