Heejae Kim on overcoming burnout through new experiences and fresh perspectives
Over (nearly) three years, the LA-based designer, illustrator and art director has evolved in many ways – his work is bigger, better, busier and way more animated.
- Ayla Angelos
- 3 February 2022
You should all know by now that we love to revisit a creative’s work, especially if said creative is doing something so wonderfully unique like Heejae Kim. Since we last spoke in 2019, he’s been working hard to say the least; he landed a job at Apple Music, moved to California, worked on various freelance and personal projects, all the while finding his voice in the medium. Speaking of his evolution, he explains how a large portion of his development has been driven by the three years’ spent at Apple Music. “Working at a large company was a unique experience for me,” he tells It’s Nice That. “The flexibility required and iterative process has bled attentiveness and discipline into my own work practice. Dually, the consistency had fuelled and supplemented a growing interest in dabbling and experimenting in more mediums.”
Everything has excelled – especially the moving side of things – where commissions have become larger, animations have become more technical, and posters have become busier. His reasons for working this way are simple: he’s striving to be better. “There is a lesson to learn with every experience,” he notes. “This gives me motivation to try projects I haven’t tried before.” When reaching the point of creative block or burnout, however – a universal experience felt across the industry – this mindset becomes paramount in order to get out of the funk. “I’ve found that exploring something unrelated adds a fresh perspective – film, animation and music are the most exciting sources of inspiration for me.”
So when it comes to tackling a brief, Heejae explains that it’s helpful for him to write down his thoughts from the get-go. He’s rarely sketching and instead prefers to work with his ideas before transitioning onto the computer. The most regularly used tools are the Notes app, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and AfterEffects. “I find that no project has the same process or is ever as linear as I plan it to be,” he explains.
Take his recent commission as an example: an artwork for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (AAPI) devised for the Van’s project We Will be Louder. Uplifting the voices of four Asian American and Pacific Islander poets in the context of the Stop Asian Hate movement, Heejae was tasked to reflect on his own identity as Korean American. “With how multifaceted Asian American and Pacific Islander culture is, I was interested in referencing something universal for the artwork.” Heejae landed on traffic signage as a tool to “divert attention” to AAPI month, with an “illuminating path” that directs the viewer towards the voices of those sharing their experiences.
Besides a handful of top commissions from the likes of Crack Magazine in collaboration with Edwin, Heejae has also released multiple freelance projects. He has two ongoing works at the moment, one that started during quarantine after moving to LA – “the main goal was finding a way to process my anxiety”. Turning to creativity as a remedial outlet, Heejae started journaling and writing poems, then twisted them into a photo collage and graphic series. “With the collages, I’d take pictures of moments that I found interesting during walks,” he says. “I’d then silhouette the people, plants, signage and architecture and recompose them to re-illustrate how I responded to the space.” The graphic side of the project became more abstract as he reflected on his written thoughts and stream of consciousness in a spontaneous way.
Overall, Heejae shows us how time is the best antidote to any creative hurdle, pandemic included. Having left his role at Apple recently, his future is looking full as he pans to expand his independent design practice and focus on more experimental personal projects using 3D or the written word. More soon!
Heejae Kim: People by the Board Walk (Copyright © Heejae Kim, 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.