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DIGEST | Elaine Lee

If you have purchased one of our gift boxes before, you are probably familiar with the scenic illustrations we put on each gift box. Whether it's a map of Taiwan with mountainous terrain or a little kid stealing linzers off the kitchen table, we spend countless hours working on them because we want to bring you a sense of joy beyond the delicious products.

This year's holiday gift box design is no different. After working with Youkee for our 7th anniversary golden ticket, we thought we would take a completely different stylistic direction by working with another local illustrator working mostly in watercolor and pencil drawings. Elaine became a friend of the tearoom during the pandemic through a mutual friend. She generously illustrated our teas and treats after visiting the tearoom. We've adored her dreamy and colorful pastels since and were excited for the opportunity to work together this year.

Working with the same rigor and details as years past, we are excited to present this year's holiday gift box illustrations. Both images bring a festive energy and encapsulate the mood we want to create for the holidays. We are especially excited about the painterly teatime with a view of the snowy tearoom that brings an extra touch of warmth and joy.

We've asked Elaine a few questions to get to know her beyond her wonderful illustrations.

Where are you from and how long were you in NYC? What was your favorite & least favorite thing about NY as an illustrator?

I was born and raised in NC but I always knew I would move to NYC one day. There's something about the hustle, diversity and culture of NYC that attracted me. I lived in the city for about a decade before moving to DC. I love that New York is a melting pot of people and food. My least favorite thing about NY: the cost of rent and how tiny apartments are.

How did you become an illustrator? Did you start drawing at a young age?

I'm pretty sure it started with a compliment from my kindergarten teacher. It's kind of silly but at that age, being an 'artist' was my identity and I felt like it was my superpower. It was the one thing I felt like I was good at and if I kept practicing, I'd only get better. Eventually I left my small hometown to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Moving from city to city introduced me to so many talented people and broadened my creative horizon.

It seems like many of your drawings are scenic illustrations - places and plants (lots of flowers). I've noticed you don't draw a lot of people, particularly not people's faces. How do you typically pick your subjects?

It's all true! One reason I loved living in NYC was because I could find inspiration around every corner. I used to bike and walk around the city a lot and I took pictures of buildings, interiors, nature and food. I feel like a flaneur, I'm always looking up and down because there might be a decorative ceiling or an interesting plant, I just love experiencing the spaces I'm in. I think picking art subjects is something intuitive to every artist. Maybe it's inspiring because of the combination of shape, color, and detail or maybe I just like how it makes me feel.

We met you through a friend of ours who knew you from church. How much does faith influence your work?

Yes and I'm happy that I met you guys through her! Well I am inspired by God's creation but aside from that I don't think my faith visually informs my work that much. However, I would say that my faith sets up a healthy boundary for my artistic life and work. As a workaholic, I can endlessly work on projects I enjoy; but as a Christian, I recognize that my work is only one facet of my life. I think for artists the line that separates life and work is blurrier because creating is something we enjoy and we don't put work hours on it. But my identity as a Christian helps me understand that my time is finite and valuable to God. So I would say my faith influences my artistic lifestyle and helps me live a purposeful life for Christ.

What does your favorite teatime look like?

I am a sucker for afternoon tea in a lovely garden with friends. Flowers all around, a decorative tea set and lots of savory and sweets snacks.

You can find more of Elaine's work on her Instagram.

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