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Koko Lee

Koko Lee

Meet Taiwanese Canadian illustrator, Koko Lee.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a Taiwanese Canadian freelance illustrator based in Osaka, Japan. For my illustrations, I combine textured calligraphy brush strokes and contemporary digital colours.  I specialize in editorial illustration for magazines, newspapers, books, and branding illustrations for stores and shops. But I am always willing to challenge myself to work on projects for different industries. In my spare time, I like to solve the crimes of criminal TV dramas (before the detectives). I also like to daydream about creating a rival to Hello Kitty featuring my own cat, Miko.

 

Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

Many people have asked me this question: You were born in Taiwan, then immigrated to Canada, now, how did you end up in Japan!? Well, actually I married my husband, who I met in Japan while I was working here temporarily; therefore I am now living in Osaka. Osaka is a nice city with delicious food and wild people. I wouldn’t say I ENDED UP in Japan, living in Osaka is just the beginning of my life journey, and I am very excited to explore the world more in the future with my husband, Miko, and son who is coming to this world in January.

 

Living in Osaka is just the beginning of my life journey

 

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

The best thing is to be able to get myself surrounded by both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture/art. And the worst thing is the over-crowded trains during rush hour.

 

Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.

Challenging

Chaotic

Rewarding

 

How did you start your career in art?

When I was a university student back in Canada, I had always loved Studio Ghibli’s films. After graduating from OCAD University (Ontario College of Art and Design University) with a Bachelor’s degree in illustration, I thought it would be the best timing for me to challenge myself and to pursue what I had always wanted to do: move to Japan to experience life there. I spent 6 months working part-time, doing freelance illustration, and studying the Japanese language before I finally made my way to Japan. I taught English at public elementary schools in Japan while doing freelance illustrations from time to time until my husband encouraged me to go full time. That is how my career started.

 

After graduating from OCAD University (Ontario College of Art and Design University) with a Bachelor’s degree in illustration, I thought it would be the best timing for me to challenge myself and to pursue what I had always wanted to do: move to Japan to experience life there.

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

My husband, definitely yes! My parents respected my decision but they still secretly hope I can work for the government. My sister and friends were and still are supportive enough to share my work on social media and to send me pictures when they spot my illustrations in the city.

 

What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

My goal is to get my work and name out to the world and eventually become an influential person one day. Just like Studio Ghibli, director Hayao Miyazaki and his team used their work and fame to spread ideas such as anti-war and to evoke environmental issues. I want to be a person whose voice is loud enough to bring positive vibes and changes to society through my illustration.

 

I want to be a person whose voice is loud enough to bring positive vibes and changes to society through my illustration.

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

If you asked me this question 6 years ago, I would say Studio Ghibli. But Studio Ghibli no longer exists anymore. Therefore at the moment, I would say I appreciate any collaborative opportunities that make me a better illustrator, or even a better person.

 

How would you describe the women around you?

Women have become more and more independent and are able to make choices over their lives now, and that is how I feel about women around me, and myself as well. Getting married, having children, and building a happy family is no longer the standard way to become a so-called successful woman. I am really happy to see women around me being free to have different lifestyles and goals.

 

Women have become more and more independent and are able to make choices over their lives now, and that is how I feel about women around me, and myself as well.

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

I actually never thought I would be a freelance illustrator when I was little. I spent my childhood in Taiwan where being in the creative industry wasn’t really a popular thing. Even if there are people who end up being very successful as a creative, the majority of them are male. There weren’t any local female creatives that I looked up to when I was growing up, but I do hope that one day my work will pay off and I will be able to encourage and inspire young people in the illustration industry.

 

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?

I once met someone who offered me an opportunity to collaborate on his children’s book only if I were willing to go on dinner dates with him. I have also had someone telling me that women should be more family-centred. Women like me are too aggressive to serve your husband and children. Right now, I am facing the challenges of being a pre-mother. Unlike men, women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth to new lives. That alone can drastically change one’s lifestyle, as I have myself experienced this year. I suffered from severe morning sickness for almost 3 months during my first trimester. I felt so ashamed seeing other people making progress in their careers while I was miserably bedridden. This feeling still bothers me as my son’s due date is approaching. However, I am sure I will find a way to balance both my work and personal life.

 

Love and be confident in what you do.

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

Love and be confident in what you do. Things are always hard at the beginning (and later it still gets tough from time to time). It is very important to never give up and to be consistent. Also, NEVER do free work even if you are desperate. Just like we don’t go to a restaurant and tell the chef there: “Hey! Could you please offer me some free dishes? I will pay if I think your food is good”! Working for free or cheap will never lead you to anything good. If your clients value your work enough, they will pay for it.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Koko Lee.

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