YT Tommy Lee


"Stay true and honest. Seek to be more of you rather than the amazing artist you so admire. You are your own unique blend of personality and experiences with your own way of seeing the world..."

Freelance illustrator YT Tommy Lee shares her advice for aspiring art students and more about her creative journey

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Could you share a bit about yourself, like where you’re from and what you are doing right now?

I am from Singapore and I studied Visual Communication in Temasek Design School with a major in Illustration. I worked as a graphic designer for over a year and decided I had spent enough time trying to fit myself into a mould that I was obviously not fit for. I’m currently exploring life as a freelance illustrator, and working on personal projects that I never had the time or guts to do.

What made you decide to go to art school, and how was it?

Since young, I have always wanted to be either a paramedic or someone who draws. I'm not a hardy person so I chose the latter. I'm not sure if I would consider myself having gone to art school because it was more design than art. The system was fast and packed so there wasn't much time for error and exploration. In a way that has trained me to be a practical designer and helped to nurture me into a better thinker with all the concepts and rationale writings we had to do to explain our works. For that, I wish I hadn't been so caught up with the idea of delivering and allowed myself to be more experimental. 

Are you very much inspired by your surroundings, or is it a mixture of things?

I am mostly inspired by words and emotions that I gather from my surroundings or personal experiences. When I feel a certain emotion, words and phrases start to form in my head to describe the current situation and that's usually when I get inspired.

Do you draw based on a reference or just from what you have pictured in your head?

I usually draw with the help of a reference. I really admire artists who are able to draw freely so I try to do that occasionally.

What advice do you have for a first-year art student, or anyone who wants to go freelance?

Stay true and honest. Seek to be more of you rather than the amazing artist you so admire. You are your own unique blend of personality and experiences with your own way of seeing the world, and the beauty of being an illustrator is being able to share that unique way of seeing through your drawings. 

What materials do you use in your art and why?

Currently, I am still most comfortable doing digital paintings with my Wacom tablet because of practical reasons like the ease of editing and viewing different colour compositions. But I am a little bored of it, so I have been doing more pencil and watercolour paintings. I also work with clay and do sewing on the side. I like to explore different mediums from time to time and create different outlets for my ideas. 


What pisses you off as an artist when you take on commercial work?

When the client tells me they love my style of drawing but asks me to copy another style instead. When clients refuse to pay. When clients disappear because they refuse to pay. 

Are there particular themes that you like to focus on?

I guess a theme that is most evident in my works is that of isolation. I like to capture the time space of people being alone with their emotions, such moments that are delicate and precious but are often hidden from the world. 

Could you share your work process?

I start off working with words. I'll read the brief, highlight the keywords and make a mind map out of them. From there I try to find themes that I can work with and proceed to sketch the ideas out, send them to client for revision, and then work on the final. Of course it doesn't always work out so ideally. Sometimes I need to turn on some music, tidy my table, or take a long walk in the neighbourhood.

For personal works, I do the same but in my head. I find that my ideas tend to escape from me when I write them down, so I keep them floating in my mind until I have the time to execute them. 

Share a one or two of your favourite artists and why?

Jimmy Liao: For the childlike wonder in his bittersweet poetic stories coupled with whimsical illustrations. 

Tessar Lo: I like how his paintings have this unreserved quality to them. With raw strokes and a dreamy blend of colours, he creates surreal landscapes that pokes at our inner child.