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Rising Stars: Meet Elaine Lee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elaine Lee.

Hi Elaine, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. It was always just random doodles on line paper. As any kid would, I watched a lot of cartoons and would draw inspiration from the cartoons I watched. My parents, especially my dad, never took art as a serious career. I never had a strong support system to help keep art going, but I remember receiving art supplies as gifts here and there from my aunt. It used to frustrate my dad so much when I was in middle school, when he’d find so many random pieces of scrap paper filled with doodles, while double checking to make sure homework was done. In school, my classmates would come to me to draw on their homework or selfies. My aunt would tell me, “You can turn your art into a business, you know?” I disregarded her words for years.

I lost my dad to cancer when I was fourteen. Art was a way for me to cope with grief. There was an art gallery that had opened up on Main Street called Gallery Nucleus. It was so hip and so different from any other art I’ve seen. I’d go there every other week to check out new exhibits to get some inspiration. I became so inspired by artists such as James Jean, Audrey Kawasaki, Mark Ryden, and Alex Gross to name a few.

Towards the end of grade school, I decided I wanted to go to art school. So I enrolled at the Academy of Arts University and majored in Illustration to be a comic book artist. I was in the institution for three years and then I dropped out because I figured I could go without it. My goodness, after college it was a huge challenge. I’m originally from California, and if anyone knows about the state, it’s me. It’s so dense and it lacks community to bring people closer with support. I had done a couple of art shows but it was still not enough. So I thought, “How do I turn this into a business as well?” No one gave me tips and tricks on how to get myself out there. So I did a lot of research on art business in my free time.

Fast forward, my husband and I moved out of California to Utah in 2016. I’ve been doing a lot of maker markets and connecting with other fellow artists since 2021, which makes me so happy that we all share the same passion and bond for art. Besides doing maker markets, I’ve also formed a community with a friend called Cloud Nine Collective, to help other artists grow their art businesses. I can’t believe within the six years of living in Utah, everything feels amplified, from getting my art out there, to connecting with others, to building a community with other artists. It’s truly amazing to see the growth that comes with it. And now I just started my new venture, which is doing tattoos!

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
NEVER EVER A SMOOTH ROAD FOR THE ARTIST. Ever.

After dropping out of college, it felt like a black hole. From figuring out where do I go from here to what do I want my art to stand for, I think I spent so much time trying to define what my art meant to me. Also, California was so challenging for me to find an art scene I’d fit into.

After moving out to Utah, I’ve found many amazing DIYers that I started to feel like this was for me. Everyone was so helpful and resourceful that we all offer each other help. Of course, after taking that initial step of building my own business comes with how do I balance my personal life with my passion to avoid total burnout, which is still an ongoing thing. I think as artists we are so hyper-focused on our dreams and goals, while forgetting that there’s more to what we are doing and neglecting our health. But this is our fire and we cannot let anything burn us out, so we burn ourselves out. So that’ll always be a challenge.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I’m an illustrator. I feel like my art is very positive, very empowering, and maybe healing to some degree. I can’t explain, but the first thing people notice is how bright the use of colors are in my work. I’ve been told it’s so bright it hurts the eyes!

Ever since I became socially aware to current events, I feel like my art is a way to help others navigate their way to healing, especially for women. We experience so much in our lifetime and we’re not even done with life. So I wanted to create for women. Besides for women I enjoy drawing cute animals and characters, almost as if I can tell a story. I love to connect with my inner child because being a kid is full of colors and imagination. I think that’s one of the many reasons why people enjoy viewing my art; because in one way it’s full of bad-assery, and then the other it’s so fun and kid-friendly.

Ever since COVID happened, I gained more confidence in myself and in my work that it really shows. I’m also proud that I’ve created a community to help other artists make a name for themselves, especially for it to be so inclusive!

Lastly, I’ve started my new venture to do tattoos, which I’m very excited about because it’s been one of the many dreams I wanted to do and I finally have the moment to start it!

What were you like growing up?
I was very weird, maybe a little extreme to some. I used to dig up earthworms and put them inside of an empty water bottle that other girls would get grossed out sitting next to me. I also used to touch dead crows with my bare hands, thinking I had magic powers to revive their lives. I was very into witchcraft and Halloween was my all-time favorite holiday because it celebrated witches and vampires. I think I was so weird that kids could not relate to me so I was always singled out. I was also very hyperactive that I almost got misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD when I was five. The school wanted to have me on medication but my aunt strongly declined. She’d tell my parents that I’m just a kid, doing kids’ stuff. It’s normal to be a kid.

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Image Credits

Portrait photo by Janessa Ilada

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