Sarah Lee has a penchant for ancient folklore, rituals, and mythology from around the world. Her illustrations reinterpret these narratives through a whole new lens. We were inspired by Sarah’s art after her illustration “Hopeless in the Mist” was published in CMYK’S Pro Showcase in CMYK Vol. 53 (Summer 2012).
Sarah is a San Fran based artist and recent Art Center College of Design alumni. She is currently working on new art for her show at Giant Robot 2 in Los Angeles this January. She received her BFA in Illustration, but we are also excited to share her sculpture series of animals covered and made of eggshells. We got in touch with Sarah while she was traveling in Korea to discuss her style and inspirations:
Hi Sarah, I’m glad we could get in touch while you’ve been traveling Asia. Where have you been and where are chatting with us from?
Hello. I’ve been traveling through Mongolia, China, and currently in Korea.
How have your travels influenced your illustrations?
While taking my final term in Art Center College of Design, a teacher told me that traveling around the world would stimulate new ideas and creativity from your brain’s pocket, and here I am.
My pieces all have a story rooted from different folktales, legends, myths, and moral stories from different cultures. While traveling these three countries, I’ve learned a lot about various cultures. Observing how the people live, and some insight into their religions. I’ve visited many shrines, read many stories about their gods, and saw many ancient artifacts. New ideas that will later translate into my illustrations.
What’s your background?
I am Korean, born in San Francisco and raised in different parts of the bay area. I grew up watching a lot of Animal planet, Discovery channel, and the History channel. I have a love for animals and ancient history, which later combined became my current illustrations. I am also raised in a Christian home, so the Bible became an important resource for my paintings. What’s also neat is that my mom used to be a traditional painter, so DNA happened and I was destined to become an artist.
Your illustrations evoke distinct narratives. What is the narrative of the “Air Pirates” series?
If you flip to the History channel and watch long enough, you will without a doubt come across a war documentary. I love watching war movies or any action movies with a battle scene whether it’s an ancient Roman war, modern war, Star Wars or kung fu war. Almost all war movies are the same, it’s a power game. The opposing sides both want to gain more power than the other side. So in the series “Air Pirates,” I’ve decided to make my own war between two opposing tribes. I’ve created these two tribes from dissecting myths and legends from different existing countries. With these creatures I’ve decided they should meet as rivals in an inventive battle scene in hot air balloons. I wanted to do a fusion of traditional tribal war mixed with the modern day era.
What type of media are we looking at? What’s your favorite to use?
Everything is usually some sort of mixed media. I generally use whatever I can find and it depends on the time allowed for each piece. Acrylics and inks are definitely a favorite.
The detail and texture in your illustrations are immaculate. How did you develop such an eye for detail?
I just become obsessed with mark making. The same pattern of mark making becomes a form of meditation and it relaxes me. After constantly researching and sketching rough sketches; the details then becomes the fun part and once you start, you don’t want to stop.
Where do you find inspiration for such epic narratives?
Roman myths and legends, the Bible, different folklore and moral stories from around the world. Books on different tribes and how they lived and what they believed in, different religious beliefs and rituals, the third world countries, and traveling.
Do you remember the first artist that profoundly influenced you? Do you have any current muses?
I admire Henry Darger’s work.
What is your typical process from initial idea to completion?
I would usually doodle a character, and then place him in a story inspired by my own experiences or from my gained knowledge of different cultures. After setting up a story, I would start sketching in a rough sketch. I usually then scan in my rough drafts and move them around in photoshop to the right composition, and then get tighter with my drawings from there till the ideal finish.
What’s the story behind your 12 piece series titled “Broken Home?”
At first, I wanted to create all the zodiac characters, but then I started to drift off and painted other animal fused humans that weren’t included in the zodiac circle. The zodiac signs were said to be god’s chosen animals and they were designated a specific year, so each year is a different zodiac animal to be celebrated. It seemed a little unfair for the rest of the animals that weren’t chosen in the zodiac circle, so I painted them as royals. They deserve some attention too, and I plan to add more to the royal circle later in the future.
I see you also experiment with sculpture. What’s the story behind your series of animal sculptures?
These sculptures on the surface are covered and made of eggshells. I've used white and brown chicken eggshells, quail eggshells, and duck eggshells. I've used all the eggshells I could get my hands on. I've wanted to juxtapose the idea of animals that are typically born from hard armored shells with that of more fragile eggshells. In a way the eggshells also ask the view the age old question of. "what came first the egg or the animal?"
I wanted the animal to be made out of their origin, the egg. The eggshell of the egg is very weak and fragile, but it still shields and acts as armor for the yolk inside. Same goes for the animals I’ve sculpted. The crocodile, the armadillo, and the snake are all animals born with protective skin and armor. The armadillo is a weak animal to start with, and the snake is only dangerous when it grows to an uncontrollable size, but crocodiles are born strong.
The twist on the crocodile was that I made it with two heads. I’m fascinated by mutated and deformed animals. These animals appear to look strong on the outside, but are actually weak and short-lived. I’ve made my twin attached crocodiles appear strong, when in fact two headed crocodiles may never exist. Even if they did somehow survive, they can never grow that big.
- What is your advice to young artists?
- Don’t be afraid of failures because sometime you can create happy accidents.
- Make sure you enjoy what you’re doing, or it’ll just become work.
- Tell your story in your art. Let me hear what it has to say.
Interview by: Jacqueline Bon