The official artist for the All Blacks and the America' />

Portrait artist Craig Primrose has captured many of New Zealand's most recognisable faces.

The official artist for the All Blacks and the America's Cup has also painted international greats including Brazilian soccer star Pele and singer Sir Elton John and was Sir Edmund Hillary's preferred artist.

Primrose has been awarded the Queen's Service Medal for services to art.

He said the acknowledgment of his work came as a real surprise.

"I don't really know how to deal with it. It's only now that it's really sinking in," he said.

"There are so many people who have stood by and behind me. Ed and June Hillary are two of those people."

But there will be no time for celebrating in the Primrose household as he is getting ready for a show in Queenstown and busy building a new home and studio in Karaka.

Primrose loves capturing the lives of his subjects whether they are rich and famous or everyday people.

"For me it's telling the story which is the most important part," he said.

Primrose said he has been painting for most of his 53 years. He began his career in advertising and design, but by his late 30s realised his true passion was painting.

He took up mainly sports and landscape work before specialising in portraiture.

"Even as a young kid I was always drawing people and I was always fascinated by people's stories," said Primrose.

Primrose creates his art from a centuries old technique of layering paint and describes his work as realistic without being surreal.

The late Sir Ed was his favourite subject and also a personal inspiration and friend.

Primrose was invited to do a special painting for the 50th anniversary of the conquest of Mt Everest, and in all worked on 14 studies of Sir Ed's life, all signed by both artist and subject.

Primrose said the latest award had made him reflect on how far he had come in his life and work, including making it through a battle with depression.

"You do think hard about how I've got where I've got and it's just not you on your own."