Soljee Lee on the power of creating purely for yourself
Having shifted from being a nurse to a designer and now with a thriving illustration practice on the side, Soljee’s spontaneous pieces are perfectly imperfect.
- Lucy Bourton
- 25 September 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Working as a graphic designer and as an illustrator in her own time, Soljee Lee originally turned to creativity in need of a bit of “a break from life”, she tells It’s Nice That. About a year into working as a registered nurse, “I grew weary of life and work in general” and, feeling a desire for “beautiful things”, Soljee applied to a local art programme. Encouraged to pick a major on her application, “I just thought illustration had something to do with comic books and cute things,” she recalls, “and everything else sounded too intimidating.”
Yet, despite being initially intrigued by illustration, after coming to know a graphic design professor “who expanded my horizons” she switched at the last minute. She never returned to nursing and has worked as a designer, largely in the beauty industry, ever since. Soljee’s first instinct to choose illustration has returned now with a side practice. “Many good things followed after I started drawing,” the creative says, “inspiring friends, co-working, mentors, better health. I am a very lucky person.”
Although to us perfectly imperfect in their execution, Soljee describes her illustration practice as “a collection of incomplete studies”. Purely made for her own enjoyment and regularly shared on her Instagram, her works have an ethereal quality to them, due to Soljee’s choice of delicately applied tools. “Most stuff isn’t meant for anything, or ever really finished,” she says. “It is far from serving anything purposeful or practical or lucrative.”
However, her creations are endlessly enjoyable to look at precisely for that reason. It was Soljee’s use of texture that particularly intrigued us, another quality she has a tendency to downplay: “All those good textural effects are just talented programmers behind the app.” Working pretty much solely with Procreate and the iPad pencil since they came out, she says she is “beyond grateful for technology advances. Or else I wouldn’t draw at all outside of my job,” she says. “I find it very hard to make efforts to do things that are not required,” she adds, “I am so sorry if I sound so lame and unsurprising.”
However, it almost feels as if by being selfish in her creative choices (in the nicest way possible), Soljee has managed to create a genuinely refreshing practice. Choosing her brushes on a whim – “although there are certainly favourites, like pencils, gouache, acrylic, spray paint, water pen” – to make her work noticeably textural, the illustrator tends to combine five brushes at one time. “I pick a brush randomly and make a few strokes. If I am hooked, I keep the strokes.” She adds that, possibly, it’s this spontaneity that “amplifies the textural effects you see in my drawings”. The only downside: “Most of the time I cannot replicate what I have done, and that can be a real bummer sometimes.”
Spontaneity is also a feeling Soljee seeks out when creating, as it gives her a kick: “I put down whatever I feel like, and if I get something interesting or even beautiful, I get overly delighted.” Not knowing the end result, and knowing that if it doesn’t work out, it also doesn’t matter either, also gives the illustrator a sense of calm. Noting how at art school you’re often taught to develop a consistent style, “to have a brand,” it was this pressure that “discouraged” her from drawing altogether, until it became a practice just for her.
Now blissfully ignoring any rules, the creative has a happy balance: “I can still study in a methodical approach to visual language at work, but I can keep drawing all to myself, self-indulgent and hedonistic.” And, despite running with “no prompts to follow, no clients to please, no audience to get validations from,” she has managed to create something we’ll be following keenly.
Soljee Lee: Prada Spring 2020
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.