Nien-Ken Alec Lu

Nien-Ken Alec Lu

(He/Him) • San Francisco, USA


Nien-Ken is an illustrator who specializes in editorial and advertising. In his home studio in San Francisco, California, he starts his process with many pencil sketches on papers, then finishes the final illustrations digitally. His carefulness with the linework and sensible colors brings a sense of positivity in the context of all his work. When he is not collaborating with clients, he is eager to improve his craft by learning different techniques from books, online courses, and lots of personal projects.
With his diverse backgrounds and experiences, he creates his work in the most compassionate, honest, and sincere way. As an immigrant growing up in Taiwan, he knows the hustles and grinds to become a successful professional. As Asian and gay, he understands the importance to be loud and proud to show representation in his illustrations. With his headphones on, a pencil and a pad of paper in hand, he is always ready to get the work cracking.

Selected clients

ESPN, VISA, HGTV, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest UK, BuzzFeed News, The Telegraph, IDEO, Commercial Observer, Popular Science, Kiplinger’s Finance Magazine, 826 Valencia, Oakland International Airport, and more.

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Editorial, Advertising, Animal, Book, Business, Character Design, Cultural Diversity, Digital, Family, Figurative, Food, GIF Artists, LGBTQ+, Lifestyle, Magazine, Map, Nature, Political, Sport, Technology, Travel, Urban

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  • 2022 | Communication Arts,Shortlisted
  • 2021 | Communication Arts,Shortlisted
  • 2020 | Communication Arts,Shortlisted
  • 2020 | 3×3 Magazine No.17, Honorable Mention
  • 2020 | American Illustration 39, Chosen
  • 2019 | 3×3 Magazine No.16, Honorable Mention
  • 2019 | American Illustration 38, Chosen

Career Milestones

After art school, Nien-Ken had a full-time job for several years before he transitioned into his freelance illustrator. He officially started working full-time illustrating in 2019 and joined Anna Goodson Illustration Agency. Ever since then, he has worked with a wide range of creative organizations and has created some quality works. He is on his path to work and collaborate with more creative forces globally, and see what sparks will be made with his illustrations.

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Nien-Ken Alec Lu in the Spotlight

Nien-Ken Alec Lu

Your pronouns

How do you define your identity? Do you identify with (or advocate for) any marginalized communities?
I identify myself as gay, Asian, and an immigrant.

Where is home?
I was born and grew up in Taiwan, then immigrated to the U.S. Currently, residing in San Francisco, California.

Describe your illustration style in one sentence
My style incorporates fluid contour lines and robust colors to create engaging characters and narratives.

What lights your soul on fire?
Any moment I can use my illustrations to voice for my community and bring awareness to my audiences ignites my inner fire.

What themes do you enjoy exploring in your illustrations?
I really enjoy exploring any theme related to technology versus humanity, animal rights, LGBTQ+ topics, culture and history of immigrants’, and climate crisis.

What techniques do you use?
I start with pencil and papers to sketch out ideas, and create final linework and color blocks digitally on Photoshop and Procreate on iPad mostly.

How much of yourself and your own story can we see in your work?
A lot. I’m a relatively happy and positive person. Even while creating illustrations with serious subject matters, I often use bolder colors to create a sense of positiveness in the context to indicate a side of improvement and lesson that can be achieved.

Is there an unmistakable thread in your creative work?
Yes, the fluid contour line work, the bold colors, and a sense of positivity can always be spotted in my creative work.

What do you want to be known for?
My ability to execute professional illustrating techniques with effective visual meaning.

Which projects excite you most?
Any projects that tackle issues that are aligned with my personal values excites me, such as immigrant’s culture and history, LGBTQ+, climate crisis, social justice, mental health, etc.

What is your dream gig?
My dream gig is to illustrate for one of The New York Times weekly columns consistently.

Where, when, and how do you best create?
I love to enclose myself in my home studio and start creating, drawing, or writing in the early morning surrounded by my collections of plants, books, and fun knick knacks. The Outdoors or a coffee shop is often too distracting for me except if I wanted to do some life sketches.

How has your style evolved since you started?
I didn’t start using contour lines until 2 years ago. I found incorporating lines with various line weights reallys adds more interests to my work. They have evolved from flat shapes of colors juxtaposing to each other into fluid lines intertwining with colors and simple shadow indication.

What do you find most challenging in your practice or in the illustration industry?
Meeting and networking with people for sure. I’m the type of person who connects better when it comes to a more personal level. In a social event with a large group of settings, I find it challenging to start a conversation with people I don’t know, which is kind of a skill that is needed as an artist to make connections and get your work seen.

How has being an illustrator changed your life?
I have become more adventurous, confident, and independent. There’s a lot to say here. If you’d like to know more, here is a blog post I wrote about How Being an Illustrator Changed My Life.

Name a tool you can’t live without!
My iPad for sure!

Tell us about a project you worked on that was meaningful to you as an artist.
The coaster promo of My body, My choice with my agency in 2019. It is such an important matter for us to tackle, and I was honored to be part of this project to face this issue straight on with no hesitation.

What influences or inspires your art?
I read a lot of graphic novels to immerse myself in a visual storytelling world. Seeing how different artists tell stories with their crafts really inspires me.

What would you tell your younger self?
Be fearless, confident, and do nothing but pursue your dream with absolute love and honesty.

Why do you think art speaks louder than words?
Words are mostly written or told directly in a fixed form. But art is often very subjective. Its subjectiveness can be interpreted differently from one another, and differences spark conversation, conversation leads to change. Naturally, art resonates more effectively in a multi-faceted way than words.

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