Jen Yoon (Jeongin Yoon) is an illustrator based in Seoul and New York. Her works specialize in both digital and traditional mediums, creating line works arouse deep, strong emotions.
We’d love to hear how you got started. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Korea, and also worked for a while as an illustrator in a design company. It was a steady job but cannot provide an exciting project or fulfillment. Fast-paced illustration project that was supposed to be finished within a day or two, which I was told not to put too much effort into it. Then I decided to learn more about what I actually want to create. I moved to NYC in order to study illustration in SVA. For those years, putting 6 months to 1 year into the same illustration project taught me to push my limits a bit more, and developed the foundation of my work. It was a huge turning point in my work especially in terms of drawing style, and after that, I’ve focused on delivering the social message and raising awareness of it.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice? Is there a theme you are currently addressing?
Ever since I moved back to Korea, naturally I had more interest in social problems here. The recent project I’ve been working on is called “Witch Project”. This is about the Nth Room case that happened from 2018, and now is under trial. It was the most awful and horrific case I’ve heard in Korea so far, which includes sexual exploitative videos and cybersex trafficking of minors. However, these criminals were only sentenced to less than 10 years in prison, and not disclosed their personal information to the public. Witch Project was calling for justice to actually show proper punishment and protection of victims. I will keep addressing this case through my illustration until it doesn’t need to be.
Do you have a mentor that influenced your practice?
In my last year portfolio professors, Marcos Chin and Yuko Shimizu. Senior year was the year to focus on preparing a professional portfolio and learning about the industry rather than focusing on personal works. Learned a lot about small details, how to pitch ideas out there, and being a professional illustrator. Professors’ work ethic, enthusiasm, and new challenges inspired me to do better and keep learning.
You’ve been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far?
Exhibitions. Definitely. Personally have passion/interest in interior decor and making a harmonious place, which influences a lot when it comes to planning the exhibition space. On top of that, it was always a pleasure to meet someone who loves my works and also purchase it on site, talking about what they felt and their interpretation. I did an illustration fair in the past as well, but it doesn’t have that much time to talk with people since I suppose to organize/sell/talk at the same time. So, when I visited Gallery Nucleus LA for the group show, seeing all the original works and talking about my works made me realize how much I love this work. It became a starting point to explain the meaning behind my works in the public/exhibition. Then it gave me the chance to do interviews on Youtube or magazines. This experience is the most exciting and meaningful thing these days.
What does “community” mean to you? Has your local community inspired you as an artist?
Ever since international travel seemed almost impossible, the local community began to inspire me more often than before. Especially small communities around local coffee houses or local farms. Sharing and supporting was the thing I was deeply moved by. After I started to care about people around my place, it became actions to improve the environment around me as well. It was pretty much a new feeling I haven’t felt since I had lived in typical busy places that rarely know their neighbors. And right at this moment, I feel like this kind of connection gave people power to go through this tough time together. One certain thing during this uncertain time.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a personal project for an upcoming exhibition and a children’s book. The exhibition will take place in Korea next year. The theme was about witches that are also connected with Witch Project I mentioned earlier. Judging, labeling, inaccurately accusing someone, and discrimination will be the core idea of this exhibition. It will talk about restrictions that were unconsciously grown in our minds by the mass media, and what happens if someone is outside of that little box. Hope all this progress and the exhibition will change the perception of how women are supposed to be in society.
Is there any advice you would like to share with others?
Believe in yourself. Believe in your works. Uncertain future and vague career path is always with art-related jobs, but I felt like there is always a silver lining. The biggest fear is that we don’t know when it will be, which makes us vulnerable to fall into that depressed cave. Love towards your own works helps you endure that period, move forward, and keep working. This is our own journey. We don’t need to keep up with other’s speed. It could be slow, could be fast sometimes, only need to go the full distance.
text & photo courtesy of Jen Yoon