Lulu Lin Turning the ugliness of flesh into something beautiful

Cover Image - Lulu Lin
WordsAlix-Rose Cowie

Taiwanese illustrator Lulu Lin has a rotation of recurring dreams, one of which is the sensation of her body melting. A glance at her illustrations offers a more than vivid visual of what this might look like.

The bodies in Lulu Lin’s work are lumpy, fleshy and oozey. They’re folds of skin, gums, orifices and sockets. In a sea of faces seen through an augmented beauty filter, her illustrations are closer to activating the front camera on your phone unexpectedly and being met with a triple chin and a look of horror. “I think the ugliness-beauty duality is somewhat a product of patriarchal thinking,” Lulu says. “If I must recognise one of these either/or duality mindsets, it would be interesting-boring. I hope my drawings are interesting. I would understand if people think they are ugly. But maybe it’s like when some people don’t like a dish, they say it tastes interesting instead of bad. It’s still better than boring.”

It’s easy to imagine Lulu’s characters as nightmarish super-villains or vile politicians but perhaps they’re just misunderstood and it’s society that’s wretched. For Lulu, they’re not really characters at all but manifestations of her emotions. If her work’s a comment on society, it’s not so by design. “Most of the time, I draw for myself,“ she says. “I draw the intentions or emotions that I am hiding in real life. They are part of me.” She refers to her artworks as self portraits because each reflects the person she was when she drew it. She draws every day, it’s her way of keeping a diary. “I believe reality is a purely private matter, and that I am recreating myself constantly through drawing,” she says. Her creatures belong to her own reality but they could exist anywhere if only people would accept them.

Lulu finds inspiration from her own body — the folds of her squished palm, for example – and others’. She finds herself staring at people’s noses or ears or wrinkled skin and will even sometimes take secret photos of them. “I think I am simply fascinated by them but I haven’t really used them as direct reference,” she says. Other times she’ll be amused by something more random like a knobbly piece of chewed up bubblegum or shiny corn kernels.

None of Lulu’s artworks are planned beyond a first quick draft. She works from an iPad in Procreate and, like the Hulk, her drawings morph as she goes. “I usually start with a simple line draft and let the muscle grow without planning,” she says. “I don’t think when I’m coloring the folds and bumps, it’s basically meditation.”

Bulbous bodies have always been Lulu’s signature, but she used to draw women exclusively; with rounded bodies, curled and curvaceous. Scrolling through her work online, there’s a definitive then and now. She’s found her style switches when she has a major mood shift or life event which triggers self doubt. She’ll ask herself what she’s doing and why she’s doing it which motivates her to change her ways and try new things. “I very much enjoy the space and freedom drawing has given me,” she says, “but at the same time, it’s not simply a way of expressing myself but also a way to communicate with the receivers. And since I am interested in communicating different things, I am constantly looking for different ways of doing it.”

Lulu moved away from drawing only women partly because she wanted to disassociate from being too gender specific. “I want to communicate emotions and feelings through my illustrations,” she says, “and gender is not a necessity in such context.” Interestingly when she made the change to more grizzly subject matter her male followers on Instagram increased by 10 percent.

Other dreams of Lulu’s include appearances from her grandmother, losing all of her teeth, pulling plants from her throat or floating in the sky not able to touch the ground. “I think dreams are fascinating,” she says. “For me, they archive the intangibles and the restricted impulses.” Her Master’s thesis at the Design School Kolding in Denmark is about using dreaming as a mode of communication and revealing knowledge of ourselves. The concept resonates with the intentions behind her drawing practice, using art to communicate pieces of her most authentic self. And maybe as she continues to tell the truth, instead of turning away, we’ll see some of our true selves in her creatures.