Drawing can be form of healing, relaxation, and expression for so many, but for Alice Lee, it’s her life. The designer and illustrator came to New York City at the young age of 16 with her family, and had no idea at the time, that the city would encourage her drawing abilities more than she could ever imagine. The effects of having grown up reading Sailor Moon and Naruto comic books (and watching the cartoons) are clear, as Alice’s drawing style boasts a playful creativity that tells a story much bigger than the two dimensional canvas of a blank page.
Check out our interview below with the creative designer who now works at Shutterstock in New York City. Read on to learn about her journey from Taiwan to New York City, how she fostered her love for drawing, and catch a glimpse of her food-loving visual diary.
Tell us a bit about your background, your life in Taiwan and your move to NYC?
I was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. My dad was a police officer and my mom was an art teacher. I grew up in a pretty strict traditional Taiwanese family but I was rebellious and weird. I hated being told what to do and I didn’t follow the rules. As a kid, I wasn’t the best student in school but I wanted to do something creative — drawing was always my passion.
My mom brought me and my brother to New York in 2009 while my dad was still working in Taiwan to give us financial support. They believed that there were more opportunities in the US and we could benefit from learning English. They also believed that this country gave you the freedom focus on your interests.
How did you discover your passion for illustration and design?
I’ve always loved drawing and illustrating my crazy ideas on paper or canvas. I am very impatient, so people are surprised when they see me sitting at my desk drawing for hours.
I have to thank my parents for always supporting the pursuit of my dreams. My mom was an art teacher when she was in Taiwan – I was lucky that I inherited some of her talent and artistic abilities :^) I used to take her paint brushes and let my creativity go free on the walls. Once when I was about 4 years old, I remember I used purple oil paint and it was everywhere — she wasn’t too pleased about that.
Even through all that, my mother encouraged me to be creative. That’s quite rare for someone of Asian descent, where the thinking is usually that artists will never make any money. She sent me to art classes like ceramics and watercolor classes and bought me all the art supplies I needed. I used to read a lot of anime comic books, like Sailor Moon and Naruto, and watch a lot of cartoons when then helped me learn how to imitate those styles.
How was your transition from Taiwan to NYC? How did you handle the difference between the two cultures?
There was a really dark period when I first moved to NYC. I was 16 and just started high school with very limited knowledge of the English language.
I remember one day when I forgot my student metrocard. I had to walk 40 minutes in the rain to get home and I cried while I walked. I did not understand why my parents sent me here. I had a decent life in Taiwan — my parents had good jobs and I was surrounded by family and friends. At the time, I just didn’t know if it was worth leaving that life behind.
By nature, I am a very talkative person but I couldn’t communicate and interact with others because of the language barrier. As a result, I realized that I had to learn English quickly and study harder than other people if I wanted to fit into this new culture. Soon, I understood what people were saying but I still couldn’t express myself well. But once I learned how to communicate, I quickly and easily made new friends.
In Taiwan, I attended an art high school but in NYC, I was in a regular high school. I would still doodle in class but I didn’t get a chance to draw that often because I was busy with exams and studying English.
How is Taiwan’s lifestyle and culture different from the lifestyle in NYC and the US??
I think the cultures are similar in that they are both very international places with lots of foreigners. However, I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the Europeans and Americans in Taipei.
I find people here to be super polite. Some can be direct but most Americans sugar coat a lot of things they do or say.
Besides Americans, there are also Europeans, South Americans, and people from every corner of the world. It’s this cultural diversity that makes New York very unique and more open-minded.
What do you like to draw most? Explain your approach to your visual diary.
I love observing people and the things around me, especially in New York City, because you can see all sorts of different people from all around the world. It is so interesting to learn about the different cultures. Making friends with people from other countries definitely brings different perspectives to my life.
I like to draw FOOD because I love to eat! (Fun fact: I eat a lot and probably too much.) I started doing illustrations in my food diary and then expanded it to “Alice’s Diary” that includes the events that occur, food, friends, workouts, etc. It is interesting to record my life and any memorable moments in a visual way and share them with people.
Besides Illustration, you work as a designer at Shutterstock. What do you do?
As a designer, I work on everything from marketing emails to social media assets, posters, invites, and even swag for events.
What’s your experience like working for a tech company? What do you like and what do you sometimes find challenging?
We are lucky to have a really relaxing working space that helps stimulate our creativity. There’s no dress code, we get free lunches, and there are fun events. I enjoy working with talented individuals and learning from them. It’s definitely busy but I enjoy what I do.
What are your three favourite places in NYC?
How do you see the future evolving for you?
I want to keep growing as an illustrator and designer. I’d love to go back to Taiwan one day and have people know my name.
Who are your favorite artists? If you could ask them any question, what would it be?
My favorite artists of all time are Salvador Dali and James Jean, who is also a Taiwanese American artist. I think most people would ask them questions for answers they want to hear but I’d rather listen to whatever they’d want to tell me.
Make sure to check out our shop to get yourself a cute new pair of shoes!