We’re in love with the intricate, paper cutout-esque illustrations of Hye Jin Chung. She’s a New York-based Korean illustrator who graduated this year with an MFA in the Illustration as Visual Essay program from the School of Visual Arts. Her work reminds us of old children’s book illustrations - a little dark (themes like a mother’s anxiety are explored) but playful. One of the first comparisons that comes to mind is Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline series. She’s already won multiple awards such as CMYK’s Top New Creatives.
I hadn’t thought about studying in New York or becoming an illustrator while I was studying graphic design in Korea. However, even though I had to sit in front of the computer and stare at the monitor while moving the mouse tediously, I tried to use my drawings for most of my assignments. I also participated in fun craft projects outside of school. After graduation, I thought working as a designer wouldn’t give me any happiness or satisfaction. This led me to think about illustration seriously. Unfortunately, the history and market of illustration field was so short and so barren there that I couldn’t think of studying illustration or working as a freelance illustrator in Korea forever. I taught myself illustration but felt limited and realized that I needed a guide. So after serious consideration, I decided to study illustration here in New York. I would say, however, studying graphic design has tremendously affected me because I’d learned how to carry ideas and content effectively into an image and how to make the image visually strong.
2. What is your process like and how has it been changing?
When the project is given or if some interesting idea comes up, what I do first is keep thinking about it and developing it in my head. I don’t start sketching right away. Plus, I am usually stressing about doing sketches because I don’t want to use my energy and time for sketching (and I feel guilty about it because I don’t look like a real illustrator). So after thinking about the image for a long time, I start to do several thumbnail sketches that no one could recognize (they are more like scribbles.) Sometimes, I put down words instead of images. And then I start making images right off. Mostly, I am not satisfied with the first or second pieces. So I discard them and redo. I would say my work is not totally planned before. It’s done spontaneously and accidentally.
I can say my work has been changing a lot in terms of visual problem solving. While I was studying illustration in BFA illustration program at the SVA, I felt guilty about not doing work traditionally. So I tried to avoid using the computer and struggled with making one final piece. And I had hard time putting equal effort into figures, landscapes, colors and stuff in one piece at the same time. That means it was hard to control the entire image as I wanted. So I’ve been trying to approach different styles, cutting and rearranging several pieces, and putting my own textures or images on them to help me control the image in a way that gives me satisfaction.
3. What kinds of images do you like?
I usually get inspiration from design annuals, children’s books, fashion magazines, small indie magazines, etc. I spend a lot of money buying those books. I always reacted to and was attracted by the images where there were no artists’ hesitations in creating images. Also, since I studied graphic design, I get inspired by an image that is simple but conveys the idea well.
4. Can you talk about your thesis project? What is your interest in obsessions?
While I was doodling on my sketchbook, I realized that the things or ideas that I was interested in kept repeating. This led me to think about obsessions that dominate our lives. And then the idea flew to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D). The funny thing was that until I researched about O.C.D I didn’t realize that I obsessively checked things when I was a teenager. So, because of that, I was able to attach myself to my thesis subject even more. I also think that obsession is the source of power to continue life in many people. Whenever I see my classmates’ thesis work, I can feel their obsessions, too.
5. Can you talk about your Brave New World illustrations?
Those were the illustrations for the Folio Society competition. I don’t want to limit myself in making illustration to one field, which means I am interested in working various fields like book illustration, children’s book illustration or whatsoever, so I thought that creating images based on the long story would help train myself creating images for those fields.
I had a really hard time making images for the Brave New World story but it was great experience for sure. From that work (and my Hit-and-Run OCD piece), my work has been more focused on doing cutting papers and collage.
6. You combine simplicity and complexity in such interesting ways (in how you use shape, texture, line, etc). How do you choose to leave out what you leave out? And to put in what you put in?
I try to focus on how to convey the idea or story well, visually. So I usually come up with the main image first that will dominate the piece and then think about the supporting elements (decoration, color, etc) later. And now, I think about colors too; I try to create images that will reflect the color that I chose well. Although, I prefer simple and strong images, if I feel something is lacking then the texture and decoration things come after. I try not to overuse those elements. If I feel those sub images are unnecessary or work against the main image, then I decisively take them out.
Ok… so the reality is… I start to make an image confidently, like: “I’ll do this and this and that and add this and this and that and will eventually make a masterpiece!!!” But then in the middle of cutting, drawing and filling I suddenly realize that I have to do so many things, hence I feel tired and bored. My laziness helps me to know where to stop.
7. How does silkscreening influence your work?
I was conflicted about the results from silk screening and from drawing by hand because they looked different. I had no idea how to fuse those different ways of solving visual problems into one way. So I just divided those two processes into two different groups. But now my work is going toward shapes and vivid colors, I can easily shift my drawing to silkscreen.
And you know what? I always feel sick in the middle of silkcreening because the process involves a lot of things, for instance, coating, lighting, washing… and to a person who prefers quick and easy processes like me, I always promise myself that I’m not going to do silkscreen anymore but after seeing the beautiful solid color and spontaneous effect that only slikscreening gives, I can’t stop doing silkscreen.
8. What has being in this program meant to you?
This program helped me develop insightfulness of my work. The two- year program gave me enough time to think about my work and myself.
Also I really want to say (and this is true) that I have learned a lot from my classmates. I got the most sincere, hardworking and talented friends and I feel so lucky to have them.
Again looking at different styles of animation. I like all the different elements that this wolf is made up of. Would be good to look into doing some illustrations.
“Hye Jin Chung is a New York based Korean illustrator. She was born in Singapore and has lived several countries: Singapore, Iran, and Korea. Currently, she is a student in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts, New York.” http://hyejinchung.com/