Artist Profile: Mirae Lee

Mirae Lee is the illustrator for Gradations I and Gradations II.

Name a few of your creative visual inspirations?

Much of my creative work derives from, inspired by, or accompanies music. A song or maybe even a full playlist plays in the background of my work. As for Gradations, I had sunwashere and Oohyo’s songs on repeat, as I felt the melodies struck nicely with the mood, and the lyrics share the feelings and thoughts of the protagonist. I was also inspired by everyday life. Bus rides played an important role for this, watching the natural landscape and people, and letting my mind wander.

How did you storyboard the images for Gradations? 

Gradations I has more continuity, while II has more individual images that disrupt continuity. I has a melting train, while II has a melting sun. I had images in my head when I first read the poems, and the more I read them, the more they moved like gifs. I took those and the emotions I felt and tried to work through them. It’s my first time creating a set of images that tell a story, so it was a difficult process. I started with the girl and what she could be feeling to let her moments unwind.

Do you have a favourite illustration in the books? 

My favourite is the illustration spread in Gradations II of an incense stick and a melting sun linked by a circular shape. It turned out exactly how I imagined when I first read the poem, and I love the impact it has. It’s also a state that I wish to be in, although I don’t exactly know how to describe it.

Spread from Gradations II

Do you have a favourite poem quote in the books?

“What feels like childhood, you lean in, / is sweetness / hollow with / promises / cementing our parched throats” (from Gradations II)

And I really love the words, “deliciously purpled mystery” in Gradations I. Both came to me so familiarly, putting words to something I’ve only felt.

What are some rituals you use to get into a creative workflow? 

This has been a struggle for me since the majority of my work isn’t being an illustrator. To truly switch my brain to be completely creative has always been difficult for me. I usually set a morning time in advance (I need natural light), and on that day, I put my muted phone somewhere, have a full cup of water (I don’t drink coffee and rarely tea), and play songs in the background that I think fit right. These set the right atmosphere for me.

Does book materiality matter to you? If yes, why?

First of all, I’m a bit old-fashioned, or in Korean, I have “아날로그 감성 analog sensitivity(?)” I love physical books. I feel that touching, feeling, and even smelling is part of the journey of reading a book. That’s why it’s so hard for me to read e-books. And that’s why I think the construction of the book, from the cover colour to the paper texture and binding, is part of the author’s story, and as a reader, that feels very special.

What colours do you find yourself working with lately?

I love contrasting colours like purple and orange. I’ve been living in a world of monochrome, muted colours that blend in or can easily hide from attention, but now I’m craving bolder colours and combinations that may not always go well together. I currently have three books on my desk with a neon orange, emerald green, and purple spines, respectively, and they’re the perfect examples (not that I judge a book by its colour).

Any projects you want to promote? 

I don’t have any upcoming illustration projects, but I’m also the co-founder of an online publication for Korean women living in the diaspora, called choa. We’ll be launching our second volume on “home-cooked meal” in August with some wonderful histories, memories, and processes behind the dishes we find comfort in. I’m also the one creating all the graphics and little illustrations to accompany pieces, so you can find my work there as well —, @choamagazine.