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Art & Life with Leon Lee

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

Leon, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I did most of my growing up. However, a memorable part of my childhood was spent in Houston, Texas, where I had attended elementary school for a couple years. It was during this brief period that my passion for drawing began. While in this American school, I entered a drawing contest and chose the quintessential American subject: cowboys and horses. When I won the contest, something sparked in me. Since then, I spent my free time drawing despite being a very active and outdoorsy kid. It was this brief time in Houston that nurtured my desire to be both creative and active, as I was encouraged to participate in multiple club and sports activities. That passion and drive carried through high school, where I would represent my school in track and field and win multiple awards at both the district and national level.

I later went on to study engineering at an esteemed university in Malaysia, but eventually decided to pursue my passion for drawing instead. Even though I thrived on creating, I realized there that engineering was not for me. I then spent some time putting together a portfolio of my personal art and was accepted into the Illustration program at The One Academy of Communication Design. That decision, accompanied by several others, would eventually lead me to the prestigious ArtCenter College of Design a couple years later. Although ArtCenter would be where I would do most of the formal training that would help develop my skills into the professional artist I am today, the switch from engineering to illustration was not an easy transition for me. I felt behind many of the other students who were in the program since most of them had already received prior training or knew they had wanted to major in Illustration early on. Catching up was difficult, but I was determined to work hard and was able to receive invaluable guidance from many amazing instructors and mentors who helped me realize my potential. Today, my work has been exhibited and recognized by distinguished organizations in the field, such as The Society of Illustrators, Cartoon Network Studios Gallery, Giant Robot Gallery, Light Grey Art Lab, and Creative Quarterly. Although being recognized by these venerable organizations seems like an unreal dream, it is the pure joy of creating that drives me.

I am currently working at Renegade Animation on The Tom and Jerry Show as a background and prop designer, and have previously done background designs for DreamWorks TV Animation as well.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I am an illustrator/designer first and foremost, but also an avid plein-air painter and urban sketcher during my free time. I enjoy telling stories and sharing my experiences through my illustrations and designs. I was fortunate enough to have the privilege to travel quite a bit thanks to my parents, and that has been a huge source of inspiration for me when I am creating my work. Because I have been exposed to so many different types of people, architecture, and cultures, I was always intrigued by the art of world building, layout design, and landscape painting. I am thankful to be in a position where I am able to utilize my knowledge and skills as a layout artist/background designer to help design different worlds, props, and sets on animated TV shows.

My exposure to different cultures from a young age has granted me a greater appreciation for the beauty and intricacies of life, nature, history, as well as the different types of people in the world. All of this circles back to my passion for sharing my experiences through the work I create. I hope my work is to be able to spark a connection with a person on an emotional level or even inspire in someone the desire to experience and live in the world/art that I create.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
Keep looking for ways to improve and don’t be afraid to explore new ideas. The journey of an artist is never-ending, and that is what makes this profession so beautiful. You will always be learning new things along the way to not only take your skill to the next level but also to mature your understanding of how to think and solve problems creatively. That being said, it is also important to try to find a healthy balance between your work and life. Though the constant practice of our craft is necessary, it is equally as imperative to have other hobbies, life experiences, and interactions, because this fuels our creativity as artists. Especially today, where the creative industry is changing quite rapidly, it is easy to get caught up in a constant state of work and consequently overwork. Hence, it is vital to have a healthy mind and body in order to sustain a lasting career in this field.

An important lesson I wish I had understood earlier when I was first starting out is that everyone will progress at different rates and that it is okay to not break through as quickly as others. As artists, we constantly compare ourselves to others that are better or more successful than us and try to figure out how we can achieve that level of greatness, too. Though this may be quite unavoidable, it is vital that we realize we are all distinct individuals with contrasting backgrounds, experiences, and interests. These unique differences will inevitably influence the type of work we create, as well as our journey as artists. What makes art so interesting is that everyone has a unique story and point of view; each person’s art would look different even if the topic was the same. It is crucial to recognize that this is not a race but rather a journey. My advice to others is to enjoy the process and be open to new experiences.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
You may find my work being exhibited in selected shows throughout the year. Last year, my work was displayed at the Cartoon Network Studios Gallery, several shows at The Society of Illustrators, and also in the annual Post-It Show at Giant Robot Gallery in LA. If you happen to be in Minneapolis, Minnesota, be sure to check out my work in an upcoming show titled “Innuendo” at Light Grey Art Lab this February 2019.

My work can be found on Instagram (@leonlee.art), Behance (https://www.behance.net/leonleeart), or on my website (www.leonleeart.com). You can also follow me to stay tuned for updates on upcoming projects and shows.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Xiao Qing Chen

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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