Jaenam Yoo’s illustrations are surreal “but in a simple, intuitive way”

The illustrator juxtaposes elements from nature with more synthetic inflated forms.

4 October 2021

A familiar story for many creatives, Jaenam Yoo was inspired to follow a creative path by a family member. “Reflecting back on my early childhood, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by all kinds of people,” he recalls. But it was his uncle in particular who was the biggest influence and who opened the door for Jaenam to explore the world of creativity, art and design. “He was an illustrator and a designer who participated in the art and design scene of Korea and Japan,” he explains. “I still remember the days he showed me Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies animation, while he was working on his sculpture besides me.” Although Jaenam drifted from pursuing a creative practice for a while, he eventually made his way to the School of Visual Arts in New York: “This was a reconnecting moment to the world of illustration and it really sparked my ambition to create my own version of the illustrated world.”

Today, Jaenam works as a designer and illustrator, and has previously held positions at Mother New York and Pentagram New York, and is currently working in-house at Hugo & Marie. Alongside this, he operates a personal illustration practice and it was this work that drew us in. Glossy yet muted, hyperreal yet organic and textural, Jaenam’s illustrations are captivating for their many juxtapositions. And it turns out that interplay between fantastical and biological is wholly intentional. Jaenam sees the drawings as a place “to explore all kinds of various natural shapes and vibrant colours that originate in nature.” The inflated synthetic look comes into play “as a means to juxtapose the organic shapes and the content, to give a bit of tension to the familiar subject matter,” he continues.


Jaenam Yoo (Copyright © Jaenam Yoo, 2021)

Through instinctive experimentation, the universes inhabited through drawing evolved into “a more dream-like world where things are misplaced and mixed together in a surreal, but in a simple, intuitive way.” Thematically, the imagery represents Jaenam’s desire to capture the fleeting moments of nature that we often miss. Whether that’s “the way the morning dew glistens on a flower petal,” or the moment a plant unfurls its leaves to the sun. Although the compositions are abstracted far from these initial moments at times, the essence of Jaenam’s intentions are clear through his delicate use of light, colour and shading which fills each frame with a pleasing beauty.

On the more technical side of things, Jaenam explains that he always begins with a 2D sketches which gets translated into the artworks we see using 3D programmes. “While there might be some technical restrictions within these 3D tools, they actually allow for happy accidents that provide really interesting angles that I never thought about,” he says. “Colours and textures are tweaked and amplified in the final phase in Photoshop.”

Having focussed so heavily on the flora, Jaenam’s new work has begun to incorporate more humans figures, with a particular emphasis on movement. “I've been doing a lot of figure drawing sketches, so I can not only capture the beauty and lines of the human figure in dynamic motion, but also evoke emotions,” he says. Inspired by fashion, photography, architecture, or “anything that is visually explosive and inspiring,” Jaenam is an illustrator to keep an eye on. We certainly will be, especially as he’s set his sights on an exhibition in the coming year.

GalleryJaenam Yoo (Copyright © Jaenam Yoo, 2021)

Hero Header

Jaenam Yoo (Copyright © Jaenam Yoo, 2021)

Share Article

About the Author

Ruby Boddington

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.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.