Jinhwa Jang draws abstract figures, neon landscapes and dystopian futures

Inspired by Japanese comics, anime and games, the Seoul-based illustrator knows how to work a good (and weird) narrative.

Date
9 April 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

It’s no surprise to hear that Jinhwa Jang pulls her influences from the likes of Japanese black and white comics, anime and games she played in her younger years. Because, when observing her cartoonish creations, you start to notice how each and every one tells a detailed story in a single page. This can be anything from a neon-hued, sci-fi scene bubbling away with chaotic decorations and informative panels, suggesting that we may indeed soon be living in space. Other cases take you on similar journeys through varying metropolis, where fish offer you food and it's normal for the sky to be filled with planets.

Jinhwa’s works are undeniably bizarre, but that’s exactly what we like about them. And ever since we last heard from the illustrator, she’s continued to stun us with her latest accomplishments and various editorial commissions for the likes of AIGA Eye on Design, Aliexpress, BBC Focus, Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg Digital, FT Weekend, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Nike and Wired, to name a few.

Jinhwa is originally from South Korea and moved to Shanghai for a total of eight years, before moving to New York to study illustration. She’s long been creating art and first picked up a pencil in her younger years – but she never thought she could specialise in the medium, let alone work in the field professionally. “My professor in the foundation course advised me to go to the illustration department rather than design,” she tells It’s Nice That. “The more I got used to it and learnt about the field, the more I became aware of many talented editorial illustrators who work with a fast turnaround, making editorial illustrations with their own visual languages and voices. I dreamt of being a good editorial illustrator like them.”

As things turned out, Jinhwa was expectedly adept at this style, hence all the commissions in this field. Perhaps her success is due to the fact she’s constantly surrounding herself with ephemera and publications of a similar ilk, attending art book fairs and collecting Risograph zines at any spare moment – a hobby that began after landing in New York. What’s more is that, during her time in school, she started learning about Risograph printing and thus decided to dedicate her work to this craft, adhering to a more limited colour range for easy editing.

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Jinhwa Jang: Weekly Illustration (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

Having lived in a handful of cities worldwide, bustling environments and concrete landscapes were always going to seep into Jinhwa’s subject matter. “Cityscapes and portraits taken with my phone have always been a good inspiration and reference for my work,” she adds. “I like to draw people passing by in urban landscapes, and I hope audiences feel curious about their stories but also feel as someone in the crowds.” Giving off a sense of familiarity, the ways in which Jinhwa incorporates these elements with a hint of supernatural provokes even more questions. The viewer gets a craving to find out more.

Jinhwa goes on to talk us through a recent commission for Wired, a lede illustration she created last year for an article titled Orientalism, Cyberpunk 2077, and Yellow Peril in Science Fiction. “I’ve always enjoyed working on an editorial piece because I like the quick ideas and sketches which come from the fast turnaround developed into a finished illustration with art direction, and the process is sometimes spontaneous and unexpected.” Working in this manner means reading the text before hand, and thus ideating various compositions and figures from the story laid out in front of you. For Jinhwa, this often ignites interesting perspectives that she’d otherwise not think of. “I remember the game was a big hit when it was first published, and it was fun to read its cultural background and the critical viewpoint.”

Another favoured piece of hers is for Medium Onezero, accompanying an article titled Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom. The text, more specifically, is an excerpt from Exhalation by a fiction writer named Ted Chiang, who’s compiled a collection of short stories that go against the stereotypes of dystopian diction. “I really enjoyed reading the story and was happy with my final piece. It’s a great narrative, and the illustration (art directed by Claire Merchlinsky) has won a Society of Publication Designers Merit Award in the Digital Original Illustration category for 2020.”

Even though Jinhwa works predominantly in the editorial landscape, you can wholly imagine her pieces taking on a life of their own; her works bellow with narrative, where her signature style continues to reign even if she’s bound to a specific story and brief. “My editorial pieces are shown through many different audiences in news and journalism media,” she concludes. “I hope to present better and advance goals and political aspects and visions. I try to show gender and cultural diversity in such works, even though I usually draw relatively abstract and simplified figures.”

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Jinhwa Jang: Weekly Illustration (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: Fragments and Unit. Risoprint for Kiblind Atelier (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: Summer 2. Risoprint for Kiblind Atelier (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: Summer. Risoprint for Kiblind Atelier (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: Weekly Illustration (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: Medium Modus, How You Can Tell You’re Getting Better - Being a better designer is about being a better person (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: The New Yorker, Time Spans Festival (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: Wired, Orientalism, Cyberpunk 2077, and Yellow Peril in Science Fiction (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: Medium Onezero, Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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Jinhwa Jang: Digital Media City. Risoprint for Kiblind Atelier (Copyright © Jinhwa Jang, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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