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Hyesu Lee’s New SVA Subway Poster Exudes a Buoyant, Childlike Spirit
September 8, 2021 by Rodrigo Perez
An image of MFA Illustration as Visual Essay alumnus and faculty member Hyesu Lee's Fall 2021 SVA subway poster.

MFA Illustration as Visual Essay alumnus and faculty member Hyesu Lee’s Fall 2021 SVA subway poster.

Credit: Hyesu Lee.

“My belief is that anything warm and cheerful is contagious” is one of MFA 2011 Illustration as Visual Essay alumnus and faculty member Hyesu Lee’s words-to-live-by maxims. And that concept definitely seems to be the driving force behind her new Fall 2021 SVA subway poster. Filled with her characteristic whimsical characters and colorful palette, Lee's subway poster captures the busy energy and vibrancy of New York mixed with her jovial creativity that imagines people, cats, anthropomorphic pizzas and more, all happily living in the city together.  


Raised in Seoul, South Korea, Lee graduated from the University of Arts in London with a BA in Illustration and then moved to New York City to earn her MFA at SVA. She’s been in Brooklyn for over ten years now and is a renowned illustrator, artist, comic-book maker and muralist, on top of a dedicated educator. Her long list of clients includes The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Washington Post, Quaker, Random House Kids, Samsung and USPS, among dozens of others. 


Designing an SVA subway poster was a goal and milestone she always wanted to realize. “Finally, I achieved one of my dream jobs that I always wanted to do,” she said. 


Most artists struggle with their abilities, no matter how adept they are, and Lee experienced the same feelings of doubt but soon used her strengths—“childlike, friendly drawings,” she says—to her advantage. “This is who I am,” she explained of coming to terms with her style. “This is Hyesu Lee. Let’s embrace that.”


Lee is a curious observer of the world, constantly sketching, and always considering her environment and the people around her for inspiration. “I bring my sketchbook wherever I go,” she says. “I do one [drawing] a day, at least.”


In designing the poster, Lee started with the famous SVA ‘Art Is…’ tagline and meditated deeply on what the open-ended question meant to her. “What ‘Art Is…’ means is a place to feel safe. It’s like my own world: things are different and unique.” Check out the new SVA subway poster video below and listen to Lee explain how she developed her unique personal drawing style.

SVA Subway Series: Hyesu Lee

SVA faculty and alumnus Hyesu Lee gives us a behind-the-scenes look into how she developed her unique personal style of drawing and shows us some of the fun characters she invented for her SVA subway poster.