Asked how she would describe her work, Seoul-born, London-based illustrator Elaine Song replies with three words: “Melancholic, dreamlike, surreal.” Having recently completed her bachelor’s at Kingston School of Art, Elaine has a portfolio packed to the brim with observational drawings that blur the real world, interpreting it through Elaine’s perceptive.
Throughout her hand-drawn works, Elaine utilises myriad media including fine liners, markers and pastels on black or white paper, which give her works their surrealist aesthetic. “I enjoy drawing with a detailed look, which fine liners work well for,” she explains. “Pastels, however, give me a different joy, constraining the fine liners, their smoothness giving the drawing depth which harmonise with the crisp lines.” Although most of her work is finished digitally, beginning with pen on paper is important to her in order to “catch a liveliness”.
In terms of subject matters, Elaine simply records her reaction to the outside world. “I take references from almost everything. It could be films, photography, or small chats I share with my friends.” These become bundled up in a mish-mash of experiences and observations. This manifests as series including Looking through the glass, a reportage drawing project made in London’s Chinatown.
Elaine describes how the series documents “a culture within a culture.” As an area, it’s steeped in contrasting colours, architecture and people, and history and this is documented in Elaine’s eclectic aesthetic. “The simultaneous life of the people who live and work there became my specific interest,” she explains, “with the project aiming to capture the people who exist in this space every day. By concentrating on windows, I began to look inside the space to capture the people who became an integral part of the space.”
Even in projects such as these, where characters form the backbone of each drawing, a signature attribute throughout Elaine’s illustrations is an absence of facial features. “The idea of the face in illustration has always interested me,” she tells us, “because it is the most well-known communicative tool to express emotions to other people, I also felt it could become a way of blocking ways of feeling from the visual imagery.” Instead of using facial expressions to convey emotion, Elaine builds tones through her unique use of colour, texture and abstract shapes.
On the latter, Elaine explains: “Wavy lines are something that is noticeable in my creative projects. Drawing something that exists or not, I always feel the subject has its own movement and energy. Nothing should stand still. Animation works tend to easily express and visualise movement but to express that in a still drawing, I try to feel the movements and trace them with my thoughts, putting it down on paper, training myself not to have concerns about how the drawing will turn out later on.”
Having most recently produced a short animation like Close(d) about a young girl who discovers her favourite restaurant has closed down, Elaine is an illustrator to firmly keep your eye on.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.