Designing costumes for Lady Gaga didn't lead to this artist's big break. A website did.

'For someone who's part of a marginalized community, I feel like I'm finally being seen.'

Artist Fin Lee was living the not-so-glamorous freelance life, when they got the gig of a lifetime.

In fact, if you watched the 2016 Grammys, you probably saw their work. They designed and illustrated the costumes Lady Gaga's backup dancers wore during her tribute to David Bowie.

After years of struggling to catch a big break, Lee (artist name: Lostboy), who identifies as queer and uses they/them pronouns, finally got a foot in the door.


Lee's artwork in the style of Egon Shiele (Bowie's artist icon), as well as Bowie's actual hands on jumpsuits for the dancers. Image used with permission.

You'd think designing costumes for Lady Gaga would be a career-changing milestone. But that's not how things went for Lee.

Lee continued to get the occasional illustrator job, but still had to work as a barista to make ends meet. Occasionally, they'd be in the running for a big, exciting gig again, only to watch as someone else got the job instead. Lee noticed a troubling and frustrating pattern to who that "someone else" often was. Though not always the same person, these artists had a few traits in common — namely, they were male, and often white, straight, and cisgender too.

"I think the way our society is — we’re used to seeing a certain type of person in a certain type of field," Lee explains.

By Lostboy. Used with permission.

Employers or potential employers often aren't aware they might have subconscious biases influencing their hiring process, but the data doesn't lie. This is a problem.

According to a study recently published in the American Sociological Review, white men are more than three times as likely to get called in for a job interview than a woman with the same qualifications. And that discrimination gets exponentially worse for transgender women.

So where do you go to find work when a potential employer's subconscious biases about who you are prevents them from seeing the good work you're capable of doing?

The turning point in Lee's career came when they became an early user of a new website called Women Who Draw.

Women Who Draw is a database of artists designed to give marginalized artists visibility and a deeper sense of community in a competitive field. The website specifies that it is "trans-inclusive and includes women, trans and gender non-conforming illustrators."

Photo via Women Who Draw. Used with permission

Lee was brought on as a beta tester by one of the site's creators, San Francisco illustrator Wendy MacNaughton. MacNaughton, together with fellow creator and artist Julia Rothman, hoped Lee, a queer Asian artist, could offer advice on how they wanted to see the site operate.

Lee happily obliged. "It's the first of it’s kind that I’ve seen where it’s so inclusive," Lee says.

By Annelise Capossela. Used with permission.

“Women [on the site] can choose how they want to identify in terms of their race, orientation, location, religion," says MacNaughton. "There are many other ways people identify, but those four seemed very relevant in terms of visibility, and useful for art directors when they’re looking for specific people who might have specific experience, expertise, or perspective."

For employers who want to hire more diverse illustrators, Women Who Draw is an incredibly helpful resource.

Heather Vaughan, an artist and art director for a gaming company, explained over email that "[Women Who Draw] actually came at a really great time. She says she was "specifically looking to find female artists to work with ... since women in games are an even smaller group."

By Heather Vaughan. Used with permission.

Today, Women Who Draw features over 700 artists, with portfolios that are an incredible representation of diversity, both artistically and demographically. Gracia Lam, who is Asian-Canadian and identifies as gay, says that Women Who Draw makes it so much easier for clients to choose illustrators who can help tell "fuller, more well rounded" stories.

By Gracia Lam. Used with permission.

Similarly, Annelise Capossela, a Brooklyn-based illustrator, says that Women Who Draw helps art directors who are looking to diversify their hiring pool and make the conscious choice to search for illustrators and artists who have "uniquely personal insight into certain topics or experiences."

By Annelise Capossela. Used with permission.

Shortly after Women Who Draw's public launch in December 2016, Lee got their first big editorial job.

On Christmas Day, Lee got a call from Rodrigo Honeywell, the Art Director of the travel section at the New York Times, offering Lee an opportunity to illustrate the feature image for an upcoming article.

Honeywell found Lee through Women Who Draw's database.

By Lostboy. Used with permission.

Lee has also seen a major uptick in visits to their website since WWD's database launched — over 600 hits on the first day alone.

Lee has come a long way in the year since the 2016 Grammys. But it was Women Who Draw that really helped them open the door to a full-time career as an artist.

Thanks to all the exposure from Women Who Draw, Lee now has a full-time job with an illustration agency that represents artists. They no longer have to serve coffee.

While that's great news for them, equal opportunities for artists like Lee may diminish under a Trump administration. There couldn't be a better time for a site like this.

"For someone who's part of a marginalized community, I feel like I'm finally being seen," Lee says.

More
Twitter / The Hollywood Reporter

Actress Michelle Williams earned a standing ovation for her acceptance speech at the 2019 Emmy Awards, both in the Microsoft Theater in L.A. and among viewers online.

As she accepted her first Emmy award for Lead Actress in a Limited Series/Movie for her role in FX's "Fosse/Verdon," she praised the studios who produced the show for supporting her in everything she needed for the role—including making sure she was paid equitably.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
'Good Morning America'

Over 35 million people have donated their marrow worldwide, according to the World Marrow Donor Day, which took place September 21. That's 35,295,060 who've selflessly given a part of themselves so another person can have a shot at life. World Marrow Donor Day celebrates and thanks those millions of people who have donated cells for blood stem cells or marrow transplants. But how do you really say thank you to someone who saved your life?

Eighteen-year-old Jack Santos wasn't aware that he was sick."I was getting a lot of nosebleeds but I didn't really think I felt anything wrong," Jack told ABC news. During his yearly checkup, his bloodwork revealed that he had aplastic anemia, a rare non-cancerous blood disease in which there are not enough stem cells in the bone marrow for it to make new blood cells. There are 300 to 900 new cases of aplastic anemia in America each year. It is believed that aplastic anemia is an auto-immune disorder, but in 75% of cases, the cause of the disease is unknown.

It wasn't easy for his family to see him struggle with the illness. "I didn't want to see him go through something like this," Shelby, his older sister, said. "It was terrifying, but we were ready for whatever brought with it at the time."

Keep Reading Show less
Family

Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

Five people die from vaping, and the government talks about banning vaping devices. Hundreds of American children have been shot to death in their classrooms, sometimes a dozen or so at a time, and the government has done practically nothing. It's unconscionable.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information

After over a hundred days protests and demonstrations over basic freedoms in Hong Kong, the city has been ground down both emotionally and economically. So, the government there is looking for leading PR firms to rehabilitate its somewhat authoritarian image with the rest of the world. Only one problem, they're all saying no.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy