Instagram: @byloelee

1. What’s your story? Where are you from?

My name is Loe and I’m an illustrator, designer, and muralist from New York City. My parents migrated here from Hong Kong and I grew up in a fairly conservative immigrant community. Like many Asian-Americans, I grew up with the expectation of becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. My father, who worked in IT, was secretly an amazing artist and taught me how to draw when I was very young. However, he was diligent to remind me there was no future in drawing. There wasn’t any ill will, but my family wanted me to have a stable life, something they never had growing up.

As I and my interest in art grew, my parents tried harder and harder to distance me from a creative career path. But against their wishes, I applied to a design university, and upon acceptance, my studies became a looming tension in the household. It was definitely a naive decision at the time and their worries were valid. I had zero exposure to the creative industry, no role models—I didn’t even know what types of jobs were available. All I had was this burning desire to succeed.

As a freshman, I applied for an internship at a big broadcast network, changing my graduation date to a graduating senior in order to qualify. I got the internship and hid my age the whole time (even making up excuses for happy-hours since I wasn’t old enough to drink). At the end of the ten week trial, I was offered a full-time position at which point, I admitted to being a college freshman and turned down the offer in order to finish school. Instead of getting angry, my supervisor was pleasantly surprised and spoke with HR to make me a part-time designer. I would come in 3-4 days a week and attend school full-time the remainder of the week and on the weekends. It was a hell of a lot of work, but it was also the validation, evidence, and jump-start I needed to chase my artistic journey. Now, my parents are very supportive of my career and my dad is even looking into illustration courses.  

2. Tell us about your aesthetic.

My favorite pieces are imbued with whimsy and wonder. My goal is to tie together everyday life with a little bit of magic. That being said, I also value context and make sure every element I incorporate has relevant meaning.

3. What is your favourite medium and why?

My favorite medium more recently is drawing digitally. It opens up such a world of possibilities and options via texture, lighting, and scale. That being said, I appreciate a good brush with paint or ink. It almost makes me a bit sad to say “digital” since I used to do everything on paper and I often miss the tacticality of it. 

4. What is your artistic process like?

I do a lot of research before the pencil even hits the paper (or iPad). Whenever I’m tasked with a project, I do a deep dive into the subject. I then create a doc of keywords, findings, and a moodboard for myself, my client, or both. Since I incorporate a lot of detail, I like to sprinkle in relevant symbols. It may take some gazing to find, but I like to think the people who discover those easter-eggs appreciate the time I took to know their subject. After all that comes the sketching. 

5. Who and/or what inspires your work? 

I’m extremely inspired by Miyazaki and his early Studio Ghibli films. I watched them in Chinese when I was five years old, since the American version wasn’t available until much later. Their surreal, almost-mysterious qualities captivated me as a kid and I rewatch his films whenever I feel uninspired. I draw a lot of inspiration from films, TV shows, and Asian comics as well.

6. What role does art play in your life? How does it change the way you view the world?

Since I started illustrating full-time last year, art never really leaves me. It’s a constant in my mind, for better or for worse! I’m definitely thinking about art when a deadline is coming up. Even when I’m totally at ease, I feel like I’m daydreaming in my visual version of a fantasy world.

7. Where did you study?

I studied branding at Parsons School of Design. I worked as a branding designer/strategist coming out of school and eventually advanced into a senior position. Though what I do now is completely different, already knowing the art director/producer’s process, both strategically and technically, has been a major advantage in my illustration career.

8. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’m a self-taught illustrator, so I really want to be more immersed in the professional illustration community. There’s a whole ecosystem of collaborators, societies, and organisations I’m still learning about and I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do! Of course, I also want to make the same salary (or more) than I did when I left my full-time position.

9. What about in ten?

I have a super vague ten-year plan. In my mind, I see myself, my husband, and our two dogs moving out to a quaint house in quiet America. We take daily hikes and I’m working on my illustrated book. Maybe that sounds boring compared to growing up in New York City, but I feel like I’ve been chasing my whole life. I’d like to be in a place where I can live simpler and take my time. 

10. What do you hope to achieve with your art?

I hope people smile when they see my illustrations, maybe even think of a fond memory. I also want people, especially with a similar upbringing, to realize that “drawing” is a real career. You may have more hurdles than others, especially if you come from a PoC upbringing, but with the right amount of grit and vigor, you’ll be fine. 

11. Now, tell us a little more about you as a person: what is your favourite food?

My favorite food is salmon maki and whipped cream (not together).

12. Favourite book?

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. 

13. Favourite genre of music? 

My favorite genre is cinematic music and movie scores. I’ve been really into battle-scene music lately. They make for an epic workout session, but anyone hearing it through my headphones is probably raising their eyebrows.

14. What are your hobbies? 

I do a lot of outdoor activities, probably because I live in the city and miss nature. My go-tos are hiking, fishing, and crabbing, which I do outside of Manhattan.

15. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

I’d definitely be a writer. Writing a novel is a secret dream of mine.