Not Just One Thing | Meet Artistic Director & Photographer Elaine Li

Author: Zenna Wilberg / Photos: Prasan Shrestha
10.08 / #CommitToYou
Elaine Li is a talented photographer and the art director behind several major global ads, but she's also "Not Just One Thing." We got to chat with Elaine as part of an ongoing series with Vans, intended to showcase multi-faceted individuals who are breaking the boundaries of what one person can do.
As an art director, photographer, online content creator, and more, Elaine is certainly #NotJustOneThing. She has helped create memorable campaigns like KFC edible nail polish and Nike Air Max 95 Collectables, amassed a social media following of over 235K, all while working and travelling extensively. We spoke with Elaine about the different ways one can pursue a creative career, some of her favourite ad campaigns, and more.
Get to know Elaine below!
Did you always know you wanted to be an artist? How did you get your start in photography and art direction? 
Growing up, I had no idea that being a "creative" was even a job. When I was in school, I got an E grade in Art because I can’t draw. Literally. I still can’t. And I never thought I'd be doing anything related to creativity, because I always thought you have to draw really well to get in the industry. But that’s not the case. Creativity is also about the thinking, how you see things and come up with ideas. With photography, it kind of came to me naturally. I think it's in the genes (my dad was an amateur photographer when he was younger). He gave me a digital camera when I was in middle school, and I've been shooting since then. With advertising and art direction, I've always been interested in consumer culture and the art of persuasion. And advertising does just that.
As an artist who is “Not Just One Thing,” how would you say having multiple creative outlets has contributed to your career?
Being an art director in the advertising field is really different from being an art director in fashion or magazines etc. With advertising, whatever you come up with has to align with what the brand stands for and of course their look and feel. And that's what I find fun and challenging; to come up with ideas that push the boundaries, make clients slightly uncomfortable but still remain faithful to the brands. I see advertising as my career, not just a job. Photography, on the other hand, has always been and still is mostly a hobby. I simply enjoy clicking the shutter and capturing ephemeral moments.
While pursuing various interests like art direction, photography, and traveling, how do you stay organized and keep a balance? 
My advertising day job is pretty much a 9-5 kind of gig. Well, usually 9 to 6... or 7... or 8. sometimes 3 am. So with my other interests like photography and traveling, I just do them during my spare time, whether it's after work, on weekends, or during lunch breaks.
It can be challenging to find an original idea for an ad—how do you stay inspired and create interesting content? 
The kind of advertising we do mostly is quite traditional and 'above-the-line', so campaigns that consist of different aspects such as TV commercial, print ads, social campaign etc. The fact that it's hard to come up with an original idea is what makes advertising so fun. Sometimes you come up with something you think is genius, then realize someone else did it. And so you try and come up with something different and even cooler. That's the thing I love most about creativity, it's constantly evolving and quite limitless.
What’s one of the most memorable campaigns you’ve worked on so far? What did you love about it? 
We did this campaign for KFC and made edible fried chicken flavored nail polish. Because... well it's finger lickin' good. It sounds weird I know, but it also kinda makes sense which is fun. It also went so viral even Stephen Colbert mentioned it on his show. The process of actually making the nail polish was really fun, and obviously not something you'd do every day.
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers? 
Keep shooting. There's no better way to get better than to just keep shooting and practicing.
As an avid traveler, what’s the next place you’d like to visit? What’s one of your favorite places so far? 
I would absolutely love to visit Iran, Morocco, and parts of rural China. My favorite place, despite traveling quite a lot, is still Hong Kong because it's home.
What does MISSBISH mean to you? Who is your MISSBISH? 
MISSBISH are women who are independent and thinks for themselves.

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