Nien-Ken Alec Lu
(He/Him) • San Francisco, USA
Nien-Ken Alec is an illustrator based in San Francisco. He creates illustrations for clients from magazines, newspapers, books, advertising campaigns, and more. His style incorporates lively color and graphic shapes to create engaging narratives and fun-to-look-at characters. His careful process starts with many pencil sketches on paper to experiment with different possibilities, and to create effective visuals, then finalizes with color and texture digitally.Read more
ESPN, VISA, HGTV, The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, Popular Science, The Telegraph Magazine, Unicef, IDEO, Commercial Observer, Cincinnati Magazine, Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, 826 Valencia, Oakland International Airport, Pharmacy Practice + Business Magazine, McGill University Delve Publication, Redbubble Inc., The Chronicle of Higher Education, Environment for Aging Magazine, American Way Magazine, Bob Cut Mag, Patreon Inc., Hammerson UKRead more
- 2022 | Communication Art, Shortlisted
- 2021 | Communication Art, Shortlisted
- 2020 | American Illustration 39, Chosen
- 2020 | Communication Art, Shortlisted
- 2020 | 3×3 Magazine No.17, Honorable Mention
- 2019 | American Illustration 38, Chosen
- 2019 | 3×3 Magazine No.16, Honorable Mention
- 2018 | RAW SF, Featured Artist
An interview with
Nien-Ken Alec Lu
Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
When I was a kid, I always like to draw and doodle on any surface. My brother and I liked to spend time together reading comics, and then we would discuss the characters and started creating own. At that moment I just knew this is what I want to do forever, so I decided to go to art school after high school and started to follow my passion as my career.
Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
When I was in high school. My stained glass teacher, Mrs. Vinich, was always showing us her amazing skills on design and how to turn them into an actual stained glass window. She encouraged me to feel free to create and to start finding my own voice. For a long time, designing and creating stained glass were the ways I started to find my art voice; and Mrs. V was truly one of the influential role models how I get to this point.
Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
My first public artwork was a senior project of a stained glass window that is a pair of hands holding a bubble with a feather in it. It is now in my old bedroom back in Taiwan where I grew up.
Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
I was that ambitious kid who needed to get aces on ALL the subjects. I was studying so hard that I stopped drawing for a while. At one point, I got so tired of studying and started drawing again, then I realized drawing is just part of me. Drawing and creating illustration makes me feel alive and happy, so I decided to major illustration in college and pursue my passion.
Did you study art in school?
Yes! I studied oil painting, figure studies in high school, then went to Academy of Art University majoring in Illustration in San Francisco.
Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art?
My inspiration comes from things around me. The news and the topics that I care about. I believe my work should be an instrument to speak for our community. I feel most creative when I’m walking around, so I normally grab my sketchbook and take a walk to a cafe or a park to sketch out some ideas to make things flow.
How would you describe the process of creating art?
I always have a sketchbook with me. I’d like to do a good amount of thumbnails to secure the composition, then start my sketches from there. Once the sketch is done, I’ll upload them on the computer and finish coloring digitally.
Do you have a favorite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
Too many. J.C Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Frederick Remington. Their work all have that quality that grabs audience’s attention with their engaging narratives and brilliant execution. I can’t get enough with them.
If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
At an old company I had an internship with, we played this game called “What would you do if you didn’t get to do the thing now.” My answer was and is “Going into politics.”
Do you remember your first set of paints, pens, or markers?
I remember my first “professional” watercolor brush I got right after college, which made me almost broke at the time. The way it absorbs the amount of paint at one time with that perfect pointy point. The best brush I’ve ever had. I’m still using it now!
Do you have a favorite illustrator supply, a favorite method, or favorite location, where you like to create artwork?
Absolutely. Mine is really simple. A pencil and a eraser are my best friends. Then, I’ll scan them on to computer to finish them on Photoshop or an iPad in my studio.
If you could give a viewer clues to understanding your art, what would you say?
Engaging, fun-to-look-at, intriguing.
Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved upon?
I believe illustrations are very important to our Surroundings. Different styles of illustrations attract various audiences. I think the industry can collaborate more with illustrators to embark a more abundant creative environment.
Why does art matter to you? Why should it matter to the world?
When we look up the word “art” in a dictionary, it shows large amount of definition. The broader sense of the word is personal expression through different forms of action. For me, art matters a whole lot, it is in design, marketing, advertising, music, engineering, etc. Anywhere we see is full of art, we wouldn’t have this advanced civilization without it to express what we have inside of our creative brains.
If you could look back or forward 100 years, do you think the life of an illustrator was or will be better than today?
If we are talking about the ages before camera was broadly used, in 20’s to 50’s, illustrators are the one of most demanded jobs in the US. Every advertising campaign and magazine’s covers are created by illustrators. It was a great era for illustrators.
But now, we have so many options to create illustrations. It was better in that Mad man era, but we are on our way to the best era for illustrators as long as we keep on illustrating!
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