“I’m quite cautious when I meet people,” says the Korean illustrator Byun Young Geun. “Even though I meet many people in person, in the end, I feel like I don’t really know them that well. However, through the images that she or he makes, I can see that person more clearly.”
For the Seoul-based illustrator, images are much more than a depiction of something. What he likes most about illustration is how it resembles “looking into a mirror” of that particular creative, “it’s like a passage that enables you to feel someone more intimately,” explains Byun. Byun has spent the last five years producing work for posters, publications and zines. He kickstarted his career with self-published comics that he sold at various fairs which led to big and small commissions for all kinds of things.
Since then, Byun’s been trying to balance his income between commissioned jobs and the sales of his self-published work. From a young age, he developed an interest in the visual arts through movies and music videos. “This organically led me to make my own illustrations in a graphic novel format”, says Byun, and resultantly, his illustrations are based around a grid structure echoing these kinds of narratives.
In contemporary illustration, it is becoming increasingly popular to divide the page into rectangular sections. The style evokes the layout of graphic novels and provides a clearer mode of communication within the design’s narrative, not to mention the fact that it looks sleek in its angular layout. While some illustrators may take a liking to this layout for its growing ubiquity, for Byun, this design choice makes sense as he carries over the grid-based designs from his work on graphic novels.
Byun’s latest graphic novel, Flowing Slowly, took him around a year to illustrate. Published by Your Mind, the graphic novel has no dialogue whatsoever. Painted in full with the delicacy of watercolour, the graphic novel follows a journey to a large waterfall. Byun demonstrates his tact for depicting differing qualities of water. Startlingly realistic, he pays particular attention to the way light falls on the water’s surface and the way fields of wheat and the branches of trees move in the wind. Amidst creating this book with the publisher, Byun has also been working on the cover art for a Japanese singer-songwriter and hopes to, one day, produce a music video for a favourite music artist.
He reinforces how he loves watching music videos. “There is a charm to how they express ideas visually without having any restrictions; a freedom within the few minutes they last.” While Byun’s illustrative work is undeniably beautiful in its two-dimensional form, his curiosity lies in translating his work into moving image, bringing his cinematic illustrations to life through motion.
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