“Drawing started with my obsession for recreating something I saw that I couldn’t have in person. But by recreating it, I could somehow own it,” explains New York City-based illustrator Subin Yang. With a love for books, zines and any printed material, Subin’s joyful illustrations act as a means to capture the fleeting and unobtainable moments in life, all awash in a Lego-inspired palette of primary colours and pinks.
Subin is originally from South Korea but spent a stint in India before heading to Portland, Oregon to study, finally settling in Harlem, New York City. Her first memory of drawing was as a child, creating fan art of a Japanese manga character Sailor Moon. “I would often collect colourful scraps of paper, stickers, tickets and bit from magazines and bind them together to make little books which I’d also draw in,” she continues.
From smiling papayas to peaceful yogis, it’s hard not to smile when looking at Subin’s illustrations. Cute but with enough wit and humour to keep them captivating, Subin combines wonky shapes and detailed line work to convey themes of home, nostalgia, dignity and culture. “I often make digital collages of colour palettes I’d like to use in my own work later,” she tells It’s Nice That, “I tend to go for super bright and saturated colours: work that looks kid-friendly and cute with a feminine vibe to it.”
Throughout her personal work, it’s the world around her that inspires Subin’s subject matter which mainly focusses on people and food. “The best part of living in the US has been meeting and making friends with so many different kinds of people,” she explains, “the experience has definitely shaped the way I try to portray people in a more flexible and diverse way.” When travelling around her now home city, Subin constantly draws what’s around her to use as references later on: “The drawings often look really silly and rough but whatever interesting or funny things I see and experience in the Subway, I try to record.”
When it comes to food, it’s the subjects ability to “represent so many things all at once: community, culture, tradition and creativity,” that inspire her. Having grown up in different places and travelled in her adult life as well, Subin has always found food to be a representation of place. “Some foods are a reminder of the relationships I fostered with people from specific places which is my definition of home currently,” she explains.
No matter what the subject matter, it’s the cheerful themes of belonging and understanding that tie Subin’s illustrations together. “My favourite part of illustration,” she adds, “is that when done right, it can really feel like a window into a small universe straight out of the artist’s mind. Although it may look familiar at the first glance, after some observation, viewers can sense the details that the artist has chosen to emphasise.”
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