The delicious, the silly and the strange: expect all this and more from Bryan Lee’s playful illustrations
The illustration artist and animator tells us how he cooks up his characters with a wide range of influences and “sprinkles of humour”.
- Elfie Thomas
- 8 February 2022
Bryan Lee loves to draw very muscular characters, the artist tells It’s Nice That. “I’m not sure what it exactly is, I just find it quite humorous and it finds its way naturally into my work.” Despite their brawn, these muscular figures manage surprisingly elegant poses as they dance and prance through Bryan’s portfolio, dolled up to the nines in sharp suits with deliciously decorative patterns. “Delicious” is definitely the word, because when Bryan describes his practice he can’t help but turn to metaphors about food. “Over time, I’ve seen my creative process as ‘making a new dish’ or ‘creating a new recipe’. The more food, flavours, smells, recipes, etc you consume… the more you have to work with!”
On describing how he came to develop his own “innate taste” for illustration and animation, Bryan transports us to the adorably-named town of Walnut, just outside LA, where he was born and raised. He was brought up a Christian by his parents who are from Taiwan. “Despite growing up with an eastern background, I was raised primarily on western cartoons and storytelling.” As a young thing, Bryan avidly created “scribble storms” and “pirate ships” inspired by hours of watching Spongebob and Disney shows. While his current practice retains the cheeky “sprinkles of humour” from his early experimentations, it has now been enriched by the “wonders of eastern animation”, citing Masaaki Yuasa (among many others) as one of his creative heroes.
“Yuasa exploded and rebuilt my understanding of how characters can move in 2D space,” he tells us. The dynamic poses which abound in Bryan’s illustrations are deeply inspired by the Japanese animator. But he also delves into the realms of Austrian expressionism for his exaggerated figural compositions – Egon Schiele is another big influence on his work. In Bryan’s recent Fashion! series these disparate influences combine seamlessly through the well-dressed and balletic figures of his cheery “muscular men”.
Turning to some of his favourite projects, Bryan looks back to one of the first animations he made as part of his thesis during his final year at USC. Cage Match is an animation drawn entirely with blue ballpoint pen which tells the story of a businessman starting a new day at work. When the businessman gets into an elevator “things get a little bit strange”, says the illustrator. The animation encapsulates all the things Bryan loves – “humour, surrealism, weird characters, forced perspective, muscular men.”
While Bryan revels in the silliness of everyday life and loves to translate this in his work, for his recent illustrations he has been taking inspiration from the Bible. “I am a Christian and that is a very important part of my life,” he explains. When finding himself in the long and revered tradition of Biblical art, Bryan admits “I’m no Da Vinci or Michelangelo”. But something undeniably special is produced when the “powerful and striking imagery” of the Bible is transformed through Bryan’s technicoloured creative lens in works like Psalms.
Going forward, we’re excited to see what Bryan comes up with for the new animated film he’s working on. True to his trademark style, you can expect to see the intriguing themes of “romance, mystery, faith, science, and a little bit of Greek tragedy” all taken with a large dose of silliness in the adventures of “Mr Rabbit” in Sallytown.
Bryan Lee: Fashion! (Copyright © Bryan Lee, 2021)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.