Julie Lai's 'chrysalis' illustrations celebrate the artist's personal healing journey

After suffering from chronic pain for several years, Hong Kong artist Julie Lai used her creativity as part of her healing process, illustrating pivotal moments from her journey back to health. The resulting series, Chrysalis, is as though she is emerging from a cocoon.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Julie Lai studied Illustration at Falmouth University before returning home after graduation. Today, she works as a freelance illustrator, drawing inspiration from urban and natural landscapes and adding emotion to every piece. Fluid lines and textures are a common feature of her work, which she describes as honest and expressive. "The marks that I make are influenced by brushwork found in Chinese calligraphy and painting," she tells Creative Boom. "I also often find myself creating more organic shapes rather than neat and straight shapes because they bring about a feeling of comfort and gentleness."

A recent self-initiated project is Chrysalis, a series of seven illustrations that reflect current turbulent times. "They're based on imagery from meditations and experiences in nature with a magical twist," Julie explains. "I wanted to capture the feeling of opening up one's heart slowly through the healing process in a figurative and magical kind of way, emerging as something beautiful like a butterfly."

Each piece also represents the chronic pain Julie suffered following various life-changing events. "I believe it was a result of the trauma and stress from what happened in 2019 and 2020. After trying countless different things such as physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture, I ultimately realised it was a matter of healing both body and mind. I realised I had been trapped in a cycle of being hyperaware and constantly feeling unsafe," she tells us.

"This journey of healing has allowed me to deepen my meditation practice and self-awareness. Hence, I wanted the illustrations to honour those pivotal milestones where I understood what my body was trying to tell me through the pain. The environments in the project are lush and nurturing places that I envision my healing to take place, connected to nature. What began as a quest to search for a cure has become so much more than I ever anticipated."

Drawing has frequently been a tool for healing throughout Julie's life. She remembers art was an escape at school to explore new ideas. But it wasn't until secondary school that she discovered illustration and could see a future career doing something she loved.

"My art teacher at the time encouraged me to pursue it. After my art foundation, I realised I would be a better fit for illustration rather than graphic design. As for my childhood and education, I did take classes in both Western and Chinese painting classes, but I often found these lessons restrictive and limiting. I didn't realise there were such expansive and freeing ways of creating art until I went to university in the UK," she says.

You can discover more of Julie Lai's work at laijulie.com or give her some support over on Instagram. For those of you interested in potentially purchasing an art print by Julie, you can browse her Etsy shop, too.


Get the best of Creative Boom delivered to your inbox weekly