There’s something about the night that makes the mundane more sentimental and atmospheric. Paired with the soft glow of the moon or the flicker of neon lights, a midnight rendezvous or a trip home after a long, tiring shift somehow lingers in your memory for slightly longer. Maybe it’s the tranquillity that’s in the air, or maybe it’s that shade of pink that you only see on a dusty sunrise that makes you feel like this.
John Lee’s illustrations are set in those late-night scenes. Drawing people eating at food carts, old friends drinking on a rooftop and the LA metro on a rainy evening, John is often drawn to the purples and pinks that are only present at late hours of the night. The artist, who also goes by the name Keebs, originally hailed from Torrance, and now is based in Koreatown in LA. He found his first few clients through MySpace and other similar forums, reaching out to “anyone willing to give a newbie artist a chance” and drawing flyers, album covers and logos in turn.
“I like drawing scenes that make the mundane look interesting by depicting familiar situations in life and using colour to create the right emotion and atmosphere,” John tells It’s Nice That. “I’m not sure why I’m attracted to night scenes so much. I guess it could be because I’ve always been a night owl and creative ideas come to me at night,” he continues. John’s depictions of these moments is something that’s often difficult to replicate using photography due to the low light, and his clever use of colour adds another dimension to his slice of life illustrations.
For one of his illustrations, he recreates a familiar scene from Korea. In a city alleyway washed in pink hues, four customers eat at a food cart, lit only by bare lightbulbs. It’s the small details that keeps you interested in the image: the cigarette tucked behind a man’s ear, a half-drunk bottle of soju, and another man shutting off the rest of the world with his earphones.
The illustration was inspired by the few years John spent in Korea. “In Korea, there are these food carts called ‘pojangmachas’ that are open until late and operated by nice middle-aged women called ‘ajummas’ who make cheap and delicious snacks for you,” John explains. The carts, serving popular Korean street food like gimbap (seaweed rice rolls), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and hotteok (sweet pancakes), are often a safe haven for late night travellers. “I wanted to create an illustration that depicted a group of people heading home for the night but not before being drawn into the smells and lights of a strategically placed pojangmacha cart,” he adds.
Another image, this time depicting an exhausted traveller at an airport, was inspired by John’s meditative experience at airports when travelling. “I wanted to capture that same calm in an illustration and came up with a group of people spending the night at an airport,” he says. More than anything, John’s illustrations are ultimately comforting, where people are allowed to rest, work, and commute in peace, even under the shroud of the night.