How did you get into illustration?
I always loved drawing. I was a very quiet child and shy for a long time, and I liked drawing more than anything. It allowed me to explain myself more than through writing or talking about myself. I remember not really knowing what illustration meant, but my favorite art was titled under illustration and I appreciated artists who called themselves illustrators. I always knew that was what I wanted to be. Eventually this led me to study illustration at RISD, where I learned how to make conceptual pictures that are more than just pretty. I like when my image have clear concept and story but still shows my sensibility and style.
What is it that you love about children’s books
It is just a great form of art. I love that every pages are made with care. An artist creates a special drawing and designers carefully choose type for it. The characters are funny and alive, and stories are just so charming and warm. I still get really excited in children’s book section in the library. I think they are just so magical and innocent.
What children’s books did you read growing up?
I was born and raised in South Korea until I was 16, so I grew up with Korean children’s books and tales. Also I remember reading famous children’s books such as Very Hungry Caterpillar and Rainbow Fish.
If you weren’t studying art, what would you study?
I would study chemistry. I secretly really loved chemistry when I was in highschool.
Illustration or prose-wise, what children’s books do you recommend every child read once?
Press Here by Herve Tullet, The Happy Lion by Roger Duvoisin, Books by Alice and Martin Provensen, and The Little Flower King by Kveta Pacovska.
What about books in general? What books are sitting on your bedside table?
The Librarian (Le libraire) by Régis de Sa Moreira. I read this book whenever I think too much, I could just open a random page in this book and forget what I was thinking.
Talk to us about “Tell Him.”
It is a personal project, featuring selected words from Emily Dickinson’s poems. I love poetry and Emily Dickinson’s poems give me a lot of feelings and surprises. I pulled out some words from her poems that I like and feel connected to. I redesigned it by illustrating and selecting a few words, and it became like a new conversation of man and woman.
Describe what we would find if we sifted through your sketchbook.
My sketchbook is just like my diary, so a lot of personal feelings and thoughts. I try to at least write a noun or a sentence with my drawings. They add more stories and charm, so a lot of random words. I carry them everywhere and draw places I go and see. Honestly everything I do and think is in my sketchbook. I care about each page and fill them with individual stories. Also, I explore a lot of medium in my sketchbook, so some pages are just experimental, collages, and overloaded with paints.
Congratulations on your graduation at RISD. What was your favorite class while a student?
Thank you. I loved going to RISD, asit was the perfect school for me and the illustration department was amazing with encouraging teachers. I especially enjoyed the writing and illustrating children’s book class called Picture and Word, which introduced me to the children’s book world. Also, for one summer, I went to study abroad for a journalistic drawing class in Viterbo, a small town in Italy. I think that travel was very valuable for me to find my own style and just helped me to get into a good habit of sketching.
What classes do you wish you had time to take?
Silk screen, animation, and poetry writing classes.
What is most challenging about your profession as an illustrator?
I am a recent graduate, and a lot of people in the industry don’t know about my work yet. I don’t get a lot of chances to meet art directors or great illustrators. Promoting myself and networking is a large effort for me. I try to update every social media and get connected to the illustration industry everyday.
When you hit a plateau, where do you turn to for inspiration?
I try to do many different things than just sitting and drawing in a studio. Most of my inspirations come from personal experiences, so I try to go to new places and just explore. Even trying new food could be a great inspiration! Now that I live in New York, I have been walking a lot and going to museums and galleries.
What language do you wish you were fluent in?
I never thought about this, and I can’t really decide one now. I think I am satisfied with speaking both English and Korean. But I always wanted to understand what birds say.
What would your dream travel itinerary look like?
If it is possible I really want to go to the space and moon. I think it is a perfect escape from everything. If that does not work out, I want to go to the random forest with someone I trust for a week.
What movies keep you inspired?
I don’t watch movies a lot but these are my favorites: Triplets Of Belleville, Paprika, Big Fish, and The Hours.
What’s your worst habit?
I have a horrible hair habit, so 1. picking my hair, 2. playing with my hair, and 3. sleeping with my hair wet.
In your own words, what is beauty to you?
When it is different than the others.
For more of Hae-Jin’s work, check out her website.