Hyesu Lee on her colourful illustrations for brands and doodling honest, personal comic strips

Hyesu talks to us about comics, illustrations and live drawing – plus the Instagram follower bias affecting the industry.

The illustration world responded in droves to our recent feature on the creeping follower bias affecting professional artists everywhere. The piece, which featured artists like Dan Woodger among others, examines how art on Instagram "is now being judged so seriously by the numbers in the top corner instead of the content below it," to use Dan's words.

One of the best reactions that came out of it was the below comic by Brooklyn-based Hyesu Lee, inspired by the article to the extent its shares the same name of NO to Numbers, YES to Art.

The comic is representative of Hyesu's art in one sense, being a great example of her irreverent cartoon looks at modern life. Uniquely though, Hyesu juggles these personal strips with a blooming career as a colourful illustrator and accomplished live drawer for some very big names.

We interviewed Hyesu to find out more about her multifaceted practice and how she juggles each style to the same great success; if you're interested, Hyesu has over 10k followers on Instagram. Happy now? 

Hey Hyesu - how would you describe your style to someone who's never seen your work?

"That's a great question but also hard to answer; simple version would be badly-drawn endearing pictures that make you smile. Actually I have been thinking about this topic myself since I'd never considered myself as a cartoonist or comic artist before and it was a genre that I didn't think I would ever step into.

"To be honest, I still wouldn't call myself one since I'm not quite sure if I'm qualified for it. To me comics are a medium that's a perfect fit to communicate what I'd like with others at the moment, especially sharing short stories or moments of narratives in a daily life. It's perfect to tell a story in my own way, and it's like a therapy session.

"Although there was a period of time I was holding back on certain topics or what to share, eventually I was like 'Who cares?' and got braver and more vocal. As a result, it got more response as people supported and engaged with me. That also helps a lot to expand my horizon, and encouraged me to be more honest. We'll see how honest I will go!"

How do you create and colour your illustrations?

"It depends on a job but I would simply begin with what everyone does: a bunch of rough doodles and writings.

"I normally figure out compositions in a sketch stage and try to keep the sketch as loose as possible if a client allows me because I love having fun when I execute. 

"In addition, some of my illustrations have a lot of details and I want to make sure to hit a deadline on time by not sparing too much time in the beginning.

"With colouring, I like to go with a flow and experiment whilst working, so I normally decide on colour palettes based on my instinct (unless a client provides a colour palettes.)"

You do a lot of live drawing gigs. What are your tips for carrying such briefs out?

"Funny you ask that. If you see my work, you may think I'm a social butterfly and extroverted, however I'm actually quite shy and love spending time alone in my cave.

"Live drawing gigs often involve a lot of interactions with either clients or strangers or both, and it puts you under a lot of pressure since you're drawing but sort of performing in front of many people in a way that could make you feel naked and vulnerable.

"Naturally I thought it would be a type of job that I may not be suitable for but after having a few experiences, I realised how much love it and thrive in those settings (obviously I love having a spotlight on me, hah.) On top of that the pressure and challenge excite rather than stress me out.

"But you know, after talking with my husband who is also an illustrator, he said these jobs that I love would be pure hell for him. So in my opinion, knowing whether you like this kind of job is important and of course you've got to try and see if you would get used to it and enjoy before making a decision.

"Everyone is different and we should all focus on embracing what you're good at and makes you unique. Having said that it's hard to only do that when there's bills to pay."

What are you tips on charging clients a fair fee for live drawing?

"This is always tricky and I haven't quite cracked any secret code myself. I have an agent who helps me to come up with numbers, actually.

"But thinking about your hourly or daily rate always helps even if it's a per budget sort of project; you still can think of how much time you may spend and see if it would be a fair amount.

"Plus you should not ignore the fact that there's creativity you may bring into it, which is so valuable and makes it seem like more than just a job with a strict brief."

How has the 'follower bias' epidemic we wrote about recently been affecting you professionally?

"I have been struggling with this issue because of this one time I was bidding for a project. I got a deck from a client (I have a feeling it wasn't meant to be shared with me) which had info of five artists who were up for a job – and right below our names the first thing listed was how many followers we each had.

"Of course I didn't get the job and since then the numbers issue has stressed me out and I even joke to my husband that what I want for Christmas is him buying me followers. Haha :)

"However, I can't only focus on negative effects since it also got me a gig that I'm actually really excited to do this month.

"I still get to draw my silly comics and be able to connect with people out there, but when it purely comes down to numbers that judges you and your whole identity as an artist, it is quite sad and depressing.

"My illustrator friends and I often talk about it and some are actually take break regularly from Instagram or give up raising followers.

"Also there are some semi-trying but feeling resentful, sometimes like myself. I truly want to believe that numbers aren't the only factor about our business but it's definitely a big part now we can't ignore.

"However, some jobs such as live drawing may not be for everyone and would require certain portfolios or a certain path for artists outside of IG. Perhaps social media and numbers are more associated with certain styles of art, which means it doesn't have to be something every artist or illustrators needs to work hard for.

"If we can raise the awareness among us as well as people in this business, would it become something that clients won't consider in the decision process because it's become politically incorrect? Or maybe somehow it will disappear and we will go back to simple times when there's no such things as followers and likes...?

"I'll have my finger and toes crossed :)"

Read next: No to numbers, YES to art! Dan Woodger and other illustrators on surviving the 'follower bias'

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