Min Heo has never been an auditory learner. She admits that until something is written down or drawn, it just doesn’t seem to stick. It’s no wonder then, that the Seoul-born, California Bay Area-based Min is an illustrator. Having studied at ArtCenter College of Design, Min quickly signed up to major in illustration even though, she tells us, “I had no idea what illustrators did exactly.” She thought “lots of picture books maybe?” which sounded pretty good. If it didn’t work out, maybe she could switch to the arguably “more employable” sister to the medium, graphic design. But thankfully, work out it did and, since graduating back in 2013, Min has been working as a freelancer ever since.
On a dark and gloomy day like today, Min’s work is just the pick-me-up we need. Hilarious and witty with an unexpected twist of cheek, storytelling is at the heart of the illustrator’s work. It’s this aspect of the medium which first drew her in: “being able to break down a story or concept into visual elements.” Using this technique, Min makes sense of the world, recording her observations in a quirky and endlessly charming manner.
Much of her personal work is influenced by the idioms of daily life. She expresses funny things said by her sister, astute conversations with friends, emotions she needs to vent or simply, something cute and furry found on Instagram. “When I boil all that down into my work, it seems to equate to a lot of women figures,” she tells us. And as a result, fluffy animals collide with warm colours and silly humour in a visual style which is uniquely and marvellously Min.
Her work is famously characterised by semi-wavering line work, poised with confidence and personality. This line, Min explains, “is just a continuation of how I tend to sketch out ideas – each line leading the other until it ends up into a figure or object.” Injecting her block coloured illustrations with the depth of texture (which is the line) Min alternates between the use of approximated ten different colours. A staple which offers uniformity and an element of unmistakable Min-ness about the work. She’s landed on these colours for their shiny jewel-toned shades evoking a sense of luxury. There is emerald green, golden yellows, sapphire blues, an orangey-red, pink, pink, and more pink.
A style which hints to vintage fashion from 1920s Vogue spreads, Gucci runways and even 18th century paintings of ladies in those big and flouncy dresses, Min works a myriad of historical references into the layers of her illustrations while elevating them with a contemporary twist. It’s an achievement particularly visible in Min’s commission for the esteemed New Yorker. Titled Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling, the fun and humorous piece has all the bearings of a classical fairytale piece, but with signature Min hilarity.
Whatever the commission, Min likes to use her blacking pencils on just regular copy paper. “I get nervous whenever I see nice, fancy paper,” she tells us, “so I’ve always felt more natural drawing on the cheapest paper I can get my hands on.” Completing several iterations of the composition before landing on the specific look she wants, Min then scans in her finalised composition before colouring in the artwork with colour in Photoshop.
As for now, Min is currently working on some daily drawings themed on the month of October. It’s a fun drawing challenge that she embarks on every year. But in spite of its annual regularity, she admits, “drawing challenges motivate me and crush me at the same time.” Invoking pressure on one hand which consequently means over thinking is not allowed, on the other hand, completing such a vast amount of illustrations in a short period of time is exhausting. Though a piece takes around one or two hours to fully realise, Min can be thinking about it all day. Despite the hard work, we can’t deny that it’s worth it once we admire the outcomes. And luckily for us, we can do more than admire her work in the near future. With the hopes of launching an online shop soon, we’ll be able to secure our very own Min Heo prints for ourselves. We only have to the end of this month (October 2020) to wait too.
GalleryMin Heo (Copyright © Min Heo, 2020)
Min Heo: Sunshine (Copyright © Min Heo, 2020)
About the Author
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. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.