My trip to Seoul was without a doubt one of the most moving and interesting experiences of my life. I’ve had brief, tertiary interactions with Korea, through food, students and weird picture books. Although I couldn’t say that I possessed any true false impressions, nothing really prepared me for how incredible Korea and its people are. It was such a rewarding experience to visit a foreign country to teach a workshop. To have creative purpose every day and young, engaged artists to interact with made the whole experience really special.
I couldn’t have done any of this without the help of my friend Joon Mo Kang. Joon invited me on Hongik’s behalf and together we conceived and taught the workshop. Thanks Joon, New York misses you.
Our intention for the workshop was to explore a series of ways to generate ideas and content as an illustrator. I’ve always believed pretty strongly that the technical(syntactic) component of image making is actually less important than the conceptual. In many instances, technique can be learned through practice and time. Add to that the breadth and variety of today’s visual culture and I think the discussion of how to paint or draw something quickly becomes tiresome. Please don’t misunderstand me: The surface quality of a work is essential and something all picture makers must constantly address. In fact for many artists the surface is an integral part of the concept, so much so that to divorce the two is perhaps impossible even to begin with. So rooted in practice and training however, I sometimes find the best technical advice I am equipped to give often sounds something like “keep working and let’s talk again in a couple of years.” So with all that said, what are some ways to generate meaningful images as an illustrator?
One of the best lessons I took away from my graphic design education at ACAD was the importance of gathering visual content at the beginning of a project. Bearing that in mind, Joon and I sent the students out for two hours to take photos of objects and found typography in the surrounding HongDae neighborhood. As a group we addressed the gathering process together and the results were visually stunning. Like hundreds of small glimpses into Seoul. As a foreigner, the photos offered me a unique look into the color, texture and mood of a city I was only beginning to know.
We laid the photos out on the floor and they became the visual inspiration for the entire week’s creative exercises. A collection of type and image we could draw on or recombine for our own creative purposes.
Those exciting, lateral visual connections that make image making so interesting are almost impossible to happen upon without a large variety of visual material to mix around and choose from.
Joon and I were constantly encouraging students to simplify their ideas and think less literally. I realize much of that is personal taste, I think when it comes down to it, I prefer a less literal more poetic solution. In the end most students experienced a really interesting moment, where a series of literal sketches suddenly lead to a strange and magical detour that set the idea generation process moving in a new and much more interesting direction.
Over the course of the weekend we asked the students to select an object and draw it 100 times. This is a project Josh Cochran and Jon Han give their students, and I think the results are always worthwhile. The idea being that interesting things begin to happen visually once you’ve exhausted the usual ways of representing something.
For the final three days of the workshop the students worked on a small zine or book. The subject matter and form were entirely up to them, the only requirement being that the final object be easy to reproduce and somehow personally relevant.
I brought a bunch of zines along with me for the students to look at(most of them are Jillian’s). What is it that’s so magical about small, inexpensively produced books? The first few days of the workshop were spent working mainly on conceptual exercises. For the last three I wanted the students to spend time creating a complete object. I think there’s something intensely valuable about taking a project from start to finish, including the actual reproduction of the final form. It’s so important to see how decisions from one part of the process effect results later on, and how the challenges of reproduction can effect the kind of images you are able to make.
Above by Sounion Hong
Production mishaps even created some really exciting results, like images mistakenly being printed on top of others in interesting ways.
I think illustration students can miss important experiences by not being asked to actually produce or reproduce work beyond the two dimensional images they create. Watching the students overcome issues of binding, construction and the limits imposed by the technology available to us was thrilling. I think in many ways the results, adapted to fit the materials and tools at hand, were more interesting than what was initially planned.
Below are some more scans from the finished books. Great job kids, it was such a pleasure watching you work.
Above by Sounion Hong
Over the course of the entire week we talked a lot about the importance of being selfish as an artist. Why extracting from a problem that which excites you and leaving everything else behind is an essential step towards creating powerful images. Thank you again for all your hard work. I hope you took away as much from this experience as I did.
I would be remiss if I did not also thank the generous staff and faculty at Hongik University, especially Mr. Ahn Sang-Soo and Mr. Moon Chul. Thank you so much for having me.
There are some more photos on my flickr if anyone is interested.
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