Colour is the driving factor behind the work of Seoul-based illustrator Damien Jeon. A freelancer based in South Korea, her transition into the industry was a steady and evolutionary one – and also one that’s inherently infused with neon greens, iridescent silvers and peachy pinks. “I love drawing charismatic girls with retro and vivid colours, making a mysterious and surreal mood,” she tells It’s Nice that. “Exploring colour is my favourite process while working.”
Damien studied illustration in New York and, after graduating, began contributing to independent magazines and completed a book illustration. During this period of experimentation, Damien started dabbling in the realms of a cartooning – a career option that had been in her mind for many years. In fact, she’d even majored in cartooning for a year before heading to the city of New York. “Cartoons affected my artwork in many ways,” she continues, citing Japanese cartoons and anime from the 90s as key influences since his childhood. “Also, it affected the whole process of work. I used to make comics with ink, so I feel comfortable using this medium in my artwork and I keep the colour mostly flat.”
What’s more is that, while creating her pieces, Damien has always paid closer attention to the artwork, rather than the story. And this is exactly how Damien fell into her medium as an illustrator: “Since I loved to make stories and illustration is mostly based on stories, I was more interested in illustration rather than other creative media.” But that doesn’t mean she avoids the narrative all together, as she’s also greatly inspired by the books and films that she indulges in on a regular basis. A vital part of the process, she’ll often utilise this media as a technique for garnering her thoughts and imaginations. “I used to read books and listen to music as a habit before I started drawing,” she says, “and I realised these were important as an input.” Otherwise, when not watching a film or nose deep in a book, she’ll take inspiration from the “glam rock era” – more specifically David Bowie, Roxy Music and the “nostalgic mood and sexual tension” that these aesthetics bring to the work. Or just music videos in general, especially from the K-pop genre: “I refer to their fashion and vivid colour palette.”
When this inspiration is in full force, Damien will commence work on her lively digital creations. Everything she makes is done so using his Cintiq and iMac which, characteristically, is decorated in sticky notes. To achieve his dramatic storyboards, often she’ll collect photographs from the realms of interior design and images of various objects in order to suffuse her compositions. Once this stage is complete, she’ll move things onto the thumbnails, before inking on Clip Studio and colouring on Photoshop. Just like many flourishing illustrators, Damien keeps countless folders filled with references and archive material to flit between while developing the sketches – a move that wholeheartedly adds to the flourishing details of her illustrative style.
With such a bright and expressive portfolio, it’s no wonder the illustrator has already been recognised for her efforts so far. Not only has Damien been selected as a long listed artist for the World Illustration Awards 2020, she was also noted as American Illustration 38 Chosen Online Winner 2019, SOI Student Competition Winner 2019 and Highly Commented World Illustration Awards 2019. She’s also taken part in numerous shows, including I See Me at IUK Art Gallery, plus exhibitions at Kenektid X Gallery and Sva Chelsea Gallery among others.
One of her recent pieces, entitled Behind the Curtain, is a self-assignment she created in response to an article. Devised as part of a project called Weekly Illustration – wherein the artist creates illustrations every week navigating around different topics – she’d proceeded to centre this piece on the theme of Viel. “I wanted to convey a sense of sexual tension and mystery in my illustration,” she adds, “so the audience could imagine a story.” As such, she’d put extra efforts into designing fantastical objects and vividly coloured interiors in order to garner this illusory sensibility.
Another self-assignment piece she points us in the direction of is an editorial illustration named Loungewear. Lensing the notion around people who would avoid wearing uncomfortable outfits post-lockdown, she says: “I made a lounge wear party to describe the story." With all of her characters sporting comfy joggers, headbands and sliders, is this what a post-pandemic world will look like?
Whatever it is that Damien’s building, the result is a hyperreal and embellished version of our reality. Even if it's highly likely that we’ll be donning tracksuits and slouchy clothes for a long time to come (even after the pandemic), Damien’s vision of this future is lavished in intense and theatrical colours. “I’m trying to catch a moment between fantasy and reality,” she concludes. “The reason for this is that I would like to give some fantasy to people, by combining everyday life with illustration. It’s like a dream. In our dream, most things look familiar but it’s a little bit twisted and weird. I want to describe that weirdness and twisted feeling.”
Damien Jeon: Don't Hurt Yourself (Copyright © Damien Jeon, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.