From Seoul to Chennai, London and back to Seoul again: Joonho Ko explains how travel has aided his illustrative practice

Cursed with a jinx that makes him move every two years, the illustrator sought out a versatile but highly portable medium. Here, he tells us more about his traveling lifestyle and how its shaped his work.

19 August 2021

Growing up, Joonho Ko was used to moving from place to place. Born in Seoul and raised there til he was 14, Joonho then ventured to Chennai in India before coming to the UK to study at university (with an interim stint in the army as conscription is compulsory in Korea). Though he moved from place to place, Joonho always had an art and design book to hand courtesy of his graphic designer mother. Naturally, he built a love for the visual arts over time and is currently working as a freelance illustrator in Seoul, having moved there from London during the pandemic. He tells us, “leaving the city I was in love with surely was a pain but coming back to where I belong on the other hand, was refreshing and brought me new inspirations.”

While traveling wasn’t always ideal for the young illustrator, it did allow him to craft his unique digital style. Hand drawing tools aren’t the best choice to ferry around internationally, so Joonho sought to find a medium which meant he didn’t have to carry around a set of oil paints, water colours, pastels, pencils and more. “I needed a medium that can: one, cover all my needs to use a diverse medium. Two, be compact so I can carry it around and three, doesn’t occupy much space,” he explains. And digital painting held the answer to all these needs, quickly becoming a staple piece of equipment for Joonho.

To this day, Joonho’s adventures around the world still inform the technical and conceptual impact of his work. “Seoul gave me an identity as a person,” he says. “Chennai taught me the harmony of diverse colours that could exist in the world, and life in London –a design powerhouse – taught me how to tie up my experiences in the two previous countries and how to present them.” In turn, Joonho’s work is an eclectic mix of cultures and styles; quite like we’ve never seen before. Editorial, interior and fashion illustration collide with an unpredictable colour palette overlapping fluorescent and pastel tones. And beyond the application of the digital brush, Joonho’s visual language is also focused on being “culturally neutral.”


Copyright © Joonho Ko, 2021

By this, Joonho means: “I always thought that a visual language has a relation to where the artist lives”, for example in Korea, the collective tone of voice tends to be “concise and cute” whereas in India it can be seen as “religious and immensely oriental”. Joonho’s work aims to lie between these distinctive pillars, embodying a creative space of its own. In this unique style, Joonho’s embarked on a number of exciting projects, most recently with the Korean-Arab society to promote the beauty of Arabic culture to a South Korean audience through a series of illustrations. Providing the illustrator with the chance to further delve into the cultural tones of his work, Joonho took the opportunity to embrace Korean traditional arts, which is now,his biggest inspiration when it comes to his creative practice.

Having known very little about the art form before he moved back to Korea, Joonho underwent an inspiration awakening when faced with the opportunity to watch his grandmother’s traditional Korean dance show. “I was shocked and fascinated by how beautiful the traditional things can be,” he says, “it opened my eyes to my surroundings – traditional clothes, furniture and architecture.” Joonho incorporates these elements into his contemporary work today, using traditional iconographies to reflect modern issues in plain site. In his illustration Stroll for instance, Joohno draws attention to gender identity issues by replacing a traditional masculine figure with a more feminine look. Elsewhere, in Returning home, loaded with honours, Joonho plays with identity constructs, blurring the line between existence and reputation.

Working on a range of commissions and personal works, Joonho has also tried his hand at movie poster design, graphic design, publishing and more – all of which are available to browse on the illustrator’s comprehensive website. As for the future, Joonho isn’t sure where he’ll end up in the next year or so (“I have a jinx that the place I live changes every two years”) and while once he was not a fan of all the change, at present, he is embracing the fact that he doesn’t really belong in one place as it “opens me up to a lot of opportunity to take in new inspirations and motivations.” Whatever is next in store for him, he’ll be sure to capture his next surroundings with his handy digital tablet by his side.

GalleryCopyright © Joonho Ko, 2021

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Copyright © Joonho Ko, 2021

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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