La Vie en Rose- Interview with Illustrator & Graphic Designer Lea Mairet

Lea Mairet was a student in our Portfolio Preparation Program a few years ago. She is a recent graduate of Parsons where she majored in Illustration & minored in Graphic Design. Lea came to New York from France and she was one of our first European students! She is so sweet and spontaneous and genuine as you will see from her responses to my questions. It was fun catching up with her and great to see how her work has grown over the years. She definitely has a promising career as an artist/illustrator/designer ahead of her.

Hayley Palmatier, Director

Ashcan Studio of Art


The Lovely Lea Mairet

photo Kyoko Kureda.

Hayley: You just graduated this past May from Parsons! Congratulations! What was it like at Parsons? And how did you end up there?

Lea: Yeah I did! Thank you! So, my journey in the creative/ art field was pretty long. I went to art high school in France and then I went on to study classical fine art at the Art Students League. After that, I went to Ashcan Studio, and then to Parsons.

When I was first in NYC, I was comfortable with the US in the sense that I found a host family that is now part of my ‘real’  family, no matter what immigration says. However, I wasn’t familiar with the way schools ran in the US, or how to apply. I didn’t know the requirements for a portfolio and after asking everyone I ended up at Ashcan Studio.

The work I made at Ashcan for my portfolio allowed me to be awarded a pretty big scholarship to study for my BFA at Parsons. This scholarship came up at a great time because my parents were in the middle of a divorce- a REALLY LIKE HATEFUL DIVORCE, there was A LOT of familial strife since my father cut all contact with us- until his girlfriend would fantastically one day understand that she should have to respect his past life. And so I really needed it. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to finish my four years.

Actually, Parsons was a complete accident because I applied to only two schools; SVA- that was my first choice, and then Parsons. However, when I went for an interview at Parsons the admissions counselor Sophia (I remember her name) was nicer to me. I mean just the vibe and the whole talk …  it just went better. I really did have a nice exchange with her, and Parsons offered me a scholarship that was way higher too.

I see my journey a little bit like music- at first you see the guy singing and then you see ok, this is rock or this is pop. Then you decide that you want to start making music, and you have to start with all the classical unknown or ridiculous songs. Some people will tell themselves- I’m not that not good, I am leaving or whatever, some will tell themselves I’m going to go straight to being a pop star, and some, like in my personal case are like Ah…. there is this Manouch French Jazz and I love that combination of styles, I want to do that! This is an example to illustrate but basically, I started and I wanted what I thought was simple, and now I am doing illustration and a certain type of graphic design and layout because this is what I love to do.


 Hayley: What was your major at Parsons?

Lea: My major was Illustration with a minor in Graphic Design. My required classes were in Illustration, and all my electives- besides my independent studies with Ben Katchor for comics- were graphic design based. I took additional classes during the summer to be able to complete a minor in Graphic Design.

So as a consequence of my personal experience, I have three different yet essential skills which are fine art, illustration and graphic design. Yes, it does make my life a complete mess sometimes, but my life is busy and I am really happy because it helps me to not lose steam on the projects that I am working on, because they are diverse.

Going to Parsons was one of the best choices in my life. Most people who apply don’t get in, and I can say that I feel complete in a sense, and proud that I studied Illustration and Graphic Design as a double major at Parsons. Parsons really helped me to develop my work to a professional level.

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Hayley: What was life like in art school?

Lea: I don’t really know. I mean you will always have those who are not really into it, and those who are actually trying to figure out their identity as artists.

It’s very funny because at Parsons, my Professional Practice teacher was like “in the real world no one cares if you went in art school.” It’s partially true in the sense that people don’t pay attention, and that if you grab the reins yourself you can learn anything that you want to.

Art school taught me how to advocate for myself. For example- at my level I can tell from a drawing on the web if the artist did study art or not, my eyes see it. Once I saw a drawing of a French rap artist on Facebook and I was LIKE OH MY GOD THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS THANK YOU. I printed the portrait, kept it and with my client I was like ‘this is what someone who has never studied does- look at all of the mistakes and this is what someone who actually studied art does- there is huge difference’ and I got the project because of that.

So I loved art school because I really took it like a learning environment where I could constantly develop my work and myself as well. And now I almost exactly know what I want to do for my career.


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Hayley: What was your experience like as a student at  Ashcan Studio?

Lea: I was a student at Ashcan Studio, for about a year and a summer. I was slowed down applying to schools by my parent’s divorce, which was happening right at that time. I felt kind of like I was on a long distance war field with them. So I continued my studies at Ashcan a little longer than most students there. I felt supported at Ashcan during this hard time by my instructors and other students, that is one of the reasons why Ashcan Studio is still very important to me.


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 Lea in her studio at Ashcan 

Hayley: So you would recommend going to Ashcan?

Lea: I would totally recommend going to Ashcan for several honest reasons. Seriously we have to be true at this point and say the truth. Being a foreign student, which is the subject of my thesis and unfinished graphic novel, the whole game is different. I have a lot of American friends, and speaking to them I have found out how different the process is. As foreign students, we have to keep in mind that our status is different.

Here are some examples:

1. As an international student it’s important to get a scholarship, because of the lack of financial aid available to us, and also I feel that I got a scholarship mostly because of what I learned at Ashcan.

2. It’s also really good to make friends in a new place where you’ve just arrived, this is really important, and I made a lot of new friends at Ashcan.

3. Many people do not realize that it’s very difficult to get into the different art schools, and later in to careers in the various art fields- and that if you don’t start training before college, you are more likely to get lost.  I have seen many people change once they’ve graduated and say ‘this is not what I want to do’. Going to Ashcan Studio helped me to do this pre-work and being there I found my Identity as a creative

4. Ashcan helped me to understand an educational system that I didn’t know about. I mean unless you have experienced life as an International student, you wouldn’t really know that your status changes everything.

5. Ashcan studio helped me make my work valid and I learned a creative process that I later developed even more during my years in college. At first I didn’t know what I did, but because I was trained in a new way of seeing and thinking, I know that what I do is valid. This helps me now to turn down jobs where the employer doesn’t see my worth as an artist and designer. I know that I need to work with people or for someone who actually recognizes people in the creative fields and trusts their vision. I am at an advantage because from an early stage I have been educated in places where I was trained well as an artists and an individual.

When I went to Ashcan for the first time I was the only white (non asian) student, and then after I started, people from different countries started to take classes. But at first I was the only one and I called my father and I was like is this really for me? And to my father- who is a huge fan of Asian cultures (at one time he and I studied various asian philosophies together) the answer was clear right away: this would be the best experience that I could have. He told me that he would help me pay for it, because Asian people tend to have the best work philosophies. The next Saturday, I came in and my seon-saeng-nim (which means teacher) showed me to my desk and he said: “ I’ll give you the one that faces the wall, it’s better for concentration.” I didn’t say anything but I was like holy cow my father is right!

That day, and for many days after, I sat there next to Jin Hee and she was my first friend in my age range and now we are roommates.



Hayley: What are the best things about being an international student in the US?

Lea: Honestly, I could go on about this forever, but the most important is that I learned that the world of art and design has a global language.

I have learned so much from Korean and Japanese cultures and their design aesthetic, I learned that the American culture is a work in itself. Learning about different cultures has had a huge impact on me as a person so as a consequence my work has grown.

Being able to be trained by Americans, Koreans and teachers and Professors from all over the world at Ashcan Studio, the Art Students League and with master artists and designers at Parsons has had a huge impact on developing my sensibility as an artist. An artist can copy a style or be influenced by someone and use it, but no one can replace your own distinct sensibility. The moments as artists when we build thoughts, contemplate our experiences and consider ourselves as creatives are what make us unique.

My experience as an international student is what led me to make a graphic novel on the subject, to describe how it is to discover a new culture as a student. It’s a lot of work to grasp a new culture and honestly it’s really hard but it’s also so much fun in so many ways. I explored all of it in my graphic novel.

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Hayley: Do you have a good story about Ashcan?

Lea: I don’t really know, I had such a good time there. Something ultra important to me about Ashcan is that all the people who I was really close to at Ashcan are, to this day, still my friends. To me, this is kind of funny or a form of life irony, but Yong Seon, Jin Hee, Summin, Hey Weon and Carole we are friends. Which I am absolutely delighted about that.

Ashcan did become a  good community of people for me which is so good, rare and important. It was nice to be around people who are equally passionate and interested in the same things as me. When I graduated I started to see people who have a day job, and at five or six they are done and they are like ‘hey I am into watching this TV series’, and you are like ‘Hey I want to do my own work, and my own thing’ …they don’t get it. But I have many friends who do get that, and it’s nice.

At Ashcan there were circles of influences around me that totally understood me and shared a similar lifestyle. So, for me this is more than a good story it’s actually kind of amazing.


Hayley: Is there an event or experience with another student or instructor that you are especially proud of?

Lea: I am really proud of the work that my friend who I met at Ashcan, Jin Hee, has done with her final thesis this year. I have seen her evolution during all of these years and for me this is amazing. I am also so proud of the work of Ashcan Instructor (seon sa eng) Dong Hoon because he and I are so into the same thing, which is comics and he has also done animation. So, I am trying to get him to go to the New York Comic and Picture Story Symposium with me. I am also really proud of the fact that the team at Ashcan studio has really pretty much stayed the same, and that they have all of these extra events, and that they actually do care about their students past and present. I am so proud of another friend Yong Seon who this year fought way more than I did to get in to the Fashion world, while I have been more stubborn and have followed my own ideas. I am really proud of all of us actually because we are still doing what we set out to do, and I know firsthand that this is not an easy path. It’s too easy to be- I am sorry but it’s actually accurate it’s so easy to be a “ dick” in the Art World. It’s so easy, and I am proud that we are all doing it in a good way. It’s way harder but it’s a thousand times more admirable.


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Hayley: What did you learn at Ashcan that will help you succeed in the future?

Lea: I mean I learned so much, I think the things that have helped me the most are the benefits of hard work, and how great it is to be part of a creative community. Spending all day every day working on a portfolio takes over your life,  and it was nice to have friends there doing the same thing. And the work philosophy that I learned at Ashcan I seriously use in my day-to-day life. If today I am multi-tasker it is because I came to understand that I had to be, for so many reasons, by watching Instructors at Ashcan studio.


Hayley: Now that you’ve graduated how do you feel about starting a career as an artist & designer?

Lea: Jobs in art and design are subjective jobs, and this is the main reason why people are like… “We don’t want to pay you for this and that…” It’s because there is a misunderstanding about what being creative is. There is actually a process where you have to pick up the materials you’re using and make things and it become a habit in some sense. How you personally start from nothing and turn an abstract idea into a real thing


Hayley: What inspires you?

Lea: I really have a hard time pinpointing the things that inspire me. But if I really have, I think that what inspires me is being a human being in general. I started to get interested in Graphic Design when I saw that Illustration majors were mostly only people drawing and painting animals doing humans things and I was honestly a little bored of it. Not that I do not like animals. I have a cat that is actually my roommate and I do love him a lot, he sleeps next to me and I am totally crazy about him.

Most of the themes I work with are narrative so my work is very human life oriented. I am really interested in the lives of people from different cultures.  There are elements of topophilia in most of my work as well. Lately I have done a lot of one-page comics where the reader has to insert a their own place. So the ‘place’ is beginning to appear more and more.

Then, I also obsessively read a lot of comics. My New York and French comic book collection is pretty decent for someone of my age, because I read all of the different categories, but the comics are my ghost inspirations.

When I find an author that I like I become obsessive, and I have to read everything and know all about it, and its a blessing and curse because I really do learn a lot on my own. But I because I’m reading them so much I don’t do as much of my own works as I could. If I look at it closely, I can say that independent comics attract me the most because the drawing is particular and the story as well. That s why I decided to do a blog along with mine on Tumblr for that.


Hayley: What are your goals as an artist?

Lea: That s a really good question. I would like to end up finding a balance between writing stories and making the comics that I do, and graphic design which is really interesting for me. Making comic stories takes forever and I love it. I love everything about it.

So my goal would be to be able to make a name for myself in order for my work to be trusted, so that the companies that are hiring illustrators know that I will do a great job for them. I am just starting to work on that now that I’ve graduated.  I love layout in design and independent comics and illustrations and I want to live and be known in the field for it.


Hayley: Thank you Lea

Lea: Thank you so much all of you I love you and I would like to see you again very soon. And I have to thank my dad too, I am really thankful for what my father has done. He made all of this possible for me.



Lea will have two books on sale by the beginning of July

Raphael Dream, which is a children’s book and We Should See La Vie en Rose

Follow Lea here:




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