In conversation with Joohee Yoon
Brooklyn based JooHee Yoon has been on our radar for some time. We fell in love with her latest book Beastly Verse and had to ask her to be a part of our Create Zine Issue2. We spoke to the award-winning serial illustrator and printer about her first commission, her love of poetry and how she creates her energetic narrative illustrations.
CZ: Tell us about where you grew up, studied and what your early influences were.
JY: I moved around a bit as a child, and looking back, I think this instilled in me a love of traveling and appreciation for new experiences. I also grew to love books and this is probably how I was first exposed to illustration. After college, I started doing editorial illustrations but now my projects span everything from advertising, picture books, to designing beverage labels. I also started teaching screen printing and illustration at RISD, which is where I studied.
CZ: As a narrative illustrator, you have worked with some excellent clients, from the New Yorker to the NY Times, when did you first get your editorial break? How easy was it for you to gain such commissions?
JY: My first commissioned editorial job was for Plansponsor magazine, art directed by SooJin Buzelli. The Magazine is an extremely dry financial magazine and really tests your skills in visual problem solving and creating parallel metaphors that go with the article. This first job set the bar high in terms of meeting the expectations of the AD and testing my image making skills. Having survived this hurdle set me up well to face working. with other publications and tackling all different topics, which is part of the fun of doing editorial illustration.
CZ: You style is energetic, colourful, and tells a great story; sometimes words are not even needed. How important is that for you?
JY: That is a very important aspect of my work. I want my images to be able to stand on their on, regardless of what initially inspired its creation, whether a piece of writing or from something I observed while walking.
CZ: Your work is a mixture of print and drawn illustration, as well as layering of flat colour, where did you hone you talents?
JY: I am fascinated by the process of printing, both traditional printmaking techniques and the industrial process. I got hooked on printmaking while studying at risd and by senior year ended up doing all my projects using some form of printmaking. I learned a mix of screen printing, photo litho, letterpress and relief printing.
CZ: Talk us through how you create a piece of work. Where do you start and how do you finish?
JY: My methods tend to change depending on my interests, and also what I think will work best for a given project. But the process usually starts with simple line sketches, figuring out the composition, which I refine by doing variations. Then I finish it, sometimes by hand, sometimes on the computer (often times both).
CZ: We love Beastly Verse, it’s a most wonderful book, why did you get into creating books and what is the significance of poetry?
JY: Beastly Verse’ was born from an idea I had many years ago. I wanted to create a book bringing together my interest in the natural world with poetry. Often people seem to view poetry as something daunting, perhaps a feeling left over from long days in school struggling through strange words and the anxiety of memorization. But this could not be further from the truth. I am always in awe of how poetry distills emotion and thought with only a handful of words. I wanted to share this appreciation, especially with children, who I think are naturally drawn to the rhythm and playfulness that can be found in poetry. And picture books had always been something I wanted to do, especially since that’s where my love for illustration began.
CZ: It appears, at least to us, that you find inspiration everywhere. From the neighbours cat to food markets, yet there is just so much imagination that goes into what you do. Where do you think some of your ideas come from and how do you get them down on paper?
JY: I think your observations regarding my work are correct. Whatever I see or experience gets filtered into my work and influences what I create. I think a big part of it comes down to slowing down and observing what’s around me. And I carry around a sketchbook where I try and record these observations whenever I can.
CZ: Are there any creative heroes of the past or present that have shaped how you approach image making?
JY: There are so many amazing artists it’s hard to name specific people! But I do really admire Milton Glaser, especially the way he combines illustration and graphic design. The variety in his work is great. Also the fact that he’s had such a long career and is still actively working today (well into his 80s!) is remarkable.