With muted palettes and papery textures, illustrator Lea Woo aims for a subtle “vintage” aesthetic

Qianqian Woo, the Shanghai-based illustrator who goes by the moniker Lea Woo, discusses her main influences and how she creates her illustrations like a “collage”.

4 April 2022

Simplicity and elegance reign supreme in Lea Woo’s peaceful illustrations. Her careful compositions revolve around two main focus points – women and nature. In terms of how she likes to depict these themes, she goes for something that’s “simple but moody and deep in thought”. This is how she describes the atmosphere in the work of some of her favourite artists like Milton Avery, Sanyu, and Pierre Boncompain. With her major creative influences being 20th century artists, her interest in fashion and her obsession with accomplishing a “vintage” feel to her illustrations, it’s easy to place Lea’s work in harmonious comparison with some of the great illustrators of vintage Vogue covers, like George Lepape.

While Lea is currently based in Shanghai, she studied her master’s in illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. Always inspired by her everyday surroundings, Lea was enthralled by the “beautiful sky in this beautiful city” to such an extent that she made a book about it, depicting all its subtleties in soft pastels for her final project at university. The sense of wonderment that Lea feels towards the natural environment resonates throughout her body of work. Especially in her nighttime scenes like Blue Night, where the moon glows mysteriously through a heart shaped hole in a tree trunk, or in her charming illustration of two women surrounded by a twinkling throng of fireflies.


Lea Woo: Fireflies (Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022)

The poise and balance in Lea’s compositions results from a very ordered way of working. First of all, she always keeps a list of key words relating to themes and compositional elements, “so that I won’t feel at a loss for what to draw next”. Another thing she keeps ticking over is a collection of sketches from the little things that inspire her in everyday life – a particularly nice pair of boots walking down the street or a bud that’s about to spring into blossom. Gathering this collection of “unfinished pieces” she then picks out the best and redraws them. When she has these sketches just right she will position them together in an imagined composition. “So the drawing process is sometimes like doing a collage”, she says.

While Lea has done a lot of painting in her time, she enjoys the freedom of digital illustration: “Many new ideas will come to me during the process so I always add or delete things as much as I wish.” She also loves the papery textures she can achieve when drawing digitally. Pairing this subtle texture with grey-toned palettes with lower colour saturation, she aims for “a vintage, subtle and poetic atmosphere which can bring the viewers a sense of calmness, tranquility and peace.”

Next on Lea’s list of creative ventures is to get into ceramics and knitting, creative disciplines which appropriately match the calm slowness that emanates from her illustrative practice. “I am also seeking more fun projects and hoping to collaborate with great brands, be it fashion or lifestyle or magazines… Just learning to be a prof.”


Lea Woo: Girls love Girls (Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022)


Lea Woo: the 90s (Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022)


Lea Woo: Flower Feast (Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022)


Lea Woo: Blue Night (Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022)


Lea Woo: Girl in Vintage Boots (Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022)


Lea Woo: The Gaze (Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022)


Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022

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Lea Woo: Westlake Fantasy (Copyright © Lea Woo, 2022)

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About the Author

Elfie Thomas

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.

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