Soft, cloudy and ethereal, they’re like dreams or long-lost childhood memories. Joohyung Seo’s illustrations merge visual storytelling with impressionist spontaneity to bring out some of the most atmospheric art you’ll come across.
Looking at her mesmerizing works, it’s hard to imagine that Joohyung has officially started her artistic career only last year. In this week’s On The Spot, the Korean illustrator tells us more about her path so far – and how it all started with robots and pyramids.
Where do you live and what does your studio look like?
I live in a very busy port city in South Korea, but luckily my neighborhood happens to be in the quieter part. My studio is also my home, so the boundary between workspace and other “living spaces” is very blurry. It’s a small, humble space with a messy desk, a lot of books (half of them comic books), and little souvenirs I collected from all the places I have visited around the world.
It’s a perfect little space where I can focus very easily, however it would be even better if I could also get a cat as a studio assistant!
How did you become an artist?
I officially started out as a freelance illustrator last year, after graduating from college. As a child, I had a couple of different dream jobs in mind – one of them was a scientist (I wanted to build robots), and another one was an archeologist, as I have been fascinated with ancient Egypt archeology since I was young.
However, as the years passed, I realized that what I really liked doing was drawing the robots, and that I was specifically very interested in the art of ancient Egypt. And so I found myself spending a lot of time drawing and painting, and thought it would be awesome to be able to do this for the rest of my life. But while I was enjoying making art, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make this work as a career. It took me a while to decide due to financial concerns.
Now, as you can see, the decision has been made. I just went for it and started working as a freelance illustrator. I started out with private commissions, album covers, logo designs, and now I’m also running a print shop.
Do you paint every day? What does your typical day look like?
I try to paint most days of the week, unless I’m having wrist pain. After getting what I would argue is a healthy and reasonable amount of caffeine in the morning, I follow the plans I set up the previous day. I usually start the day by doing quick studies or sketches, and the study subjects change depending on what I think I need to improve on, whether that be anatomy, colors, etc. Then I start working on any ongoing projects and take care of my print shop orders, which includes running to the post office on shipping days.
When I have more free time, I like to start the day by going on long walks very early in the morning, usually for about an hour or an hour and a half. For most of the day, I draw and paint until the time comes to get ready for bed and plan out what to do the next day. And the cycle continues!
You have a unique style. How did you develop it?
My style is hugely inspired by the art of Georges Seurat. His drawings have a beautiful atmospheric quality to them and I did a lot of studies of his work as well as works inspired by his style.
I was also heavily inspired by the city where my college was located. There were days during winter when it would get very foggy at night, making my surroundings look like fuzzy charcoal drawings. I took a lot of pictures for reference and use them till this day.
And after I graduated from college, I got a chance to travel to New York City and spent a lot of time in museums. Everyday I would study oil paintings and pastel drawings very closely and specifically referenced a lot of impressionist paintings. I noticed there were many subtle color nuances even in something that looked like a very rough and simple stroke, and realized there were rarely any flat pure colors in the paintings. There were at least one or two other colors mixed in into that one stroke, making the whole painting have a sort of beautiful feathery and lively look. Whenever I start painting I always try to remember this and incorporate it in my own work. I was also inspired by the look of paints peeling off from old mural paintings as well as rust – I try to bring that old, worn out, and mysterious quality to my work.
Who are the characters you paint?
The two characters I often paint, who shall remain unnamed for now, are best friends who have been separated due to circumstances beyond their control. I created the yellow character to be the embodiment of childhood and the other character who is often painted with a darker color (usually purple) represents the transition into adulthood.
What are your biggest inspirations?
Sometimes it’s books and movies I enjoyed, other times it’s the need to illustrate feelings I am having a hard time expressing through specific words. A lot of the time it’s what I observe around me, like the colors of the sky and light, as well as the atmosphere.
My biggest artistic inspiration is, again, Seurat and his drawings. Some people might have noticed I draw a lot of figures in profile view and that comes from me watching Michelle Ocelot’s Prince et Princesses religiously as a child. I love the graphic quality of his movies and my memories of watching Prince et Princesses probably creep in subconsciously into my work.
If you could choose one place on Earth to live and paint, where would it be?
I can’t think of any specific cities or even countries, but I would definitely like to live in a place with a cooler climate. I love going on long walks as it helps me clear my mind and distract myself from anxiety, but doing that during hot and humid Korean summers has been difficult for me. As someone who is not very good with heat, a place with shorter summers would be great. The heat here can sometimes be unbearable and I would love to paint outdoors more.
Do you have any other hobbies besides art?
I love cooking and baking. I find it very therapeutic and meditative, especially when I’m preparing the ingredients (for example, cutting vegetables into nice even slices) and watching their colors change as they cook. It helps me relax when I’m struggling with my projects, plus I end up with some good food to munch on! Besides that, I also enjoy reading and watching movies whenever I have free time.
What are your artistic plans for the future?
In terms of projects, something I always wanted to do is making more narrative-based illustrations like book illustrations and comics. I’m currently very interested in doing book covers or variant covers for comics. Otherwise I just want to keep making more art, further develop my style, and experiment with more serious, darker tones.