Yoojin Ahn crafts cute and sentimental illustrations inspired by daily life in Seoul
Featuring a mix of hazy comics and candles dripping with colour, Yoojin’s portfolio abounds with dreamlike references.
- Ayla Angelos
- 22 March 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Yoojin Ahn, an illustrator based in Seoul, grew up infatuated with computer games. So much so that she initially planned to become a game character designer, influenced by animations created by Japanese anime studio Gainax and from various fashion magazines. A few years down the line, Yoojin was exposed to an abundance of creative media and environments meaning that – alongside learning more about cartoons and animation – her taste developed and grew. “Naturally, I wanted to continue my work based on images and stories,” she tells It’s Nice That, “and now I am focusing on illustrations and cartoons.”
There’s something effortlessly calming about Yoojin’s illustrative works, most likely due to the fact that she draws and works in a hazy mix of watercolours. But besides this dreamy detail, Yoojin pulls much of her inspiration from that which is sentimental and nostalgic. This means that her work is riddled with personal experiences of walking, travelling and going about her daily life. “In my work, there’s the personality and cuteness of a scene from the street, the purity of nature, various stories of people and unexpected adventures,” she continues. “It gives me a lot of things, so I take a lot of pictures and videos with my phone when I go outside. I feel good when I discover a scene with it.” Working in this manner also equates to a bundle of archival references, which includes taking inspiration from old movies like Nouvelle Vague, as well as artists such as Eric Rohmer, Edward Yang and Jacques Rivette, Mark Rothko and Milton Avery. Not to mention the work of Studio Ghibli, Gainax’s animations, cartoonist Takano Fumiko and novelist Raymond Carver.
When in her Yongsan-based studio – where she’s resided for the past few months – her influences come readily available. There’s much to observe around her, especially because it’s an “attractive area” replete with large buildings, electronic shopping complexes, small alleys and many cute shops. So when in need of sparking some creativity, Yoojin will head out on a walk and simply just take it all in. This works in her favour tremendously, and you can see the reference points throughout her portfolio.
Yoojin’s pieces are analogue and often created using markers and watercolours. During which, she smudges the textures to convey a softer, lighter and tonal aesthetic, working predominantly in A5 and A4 sizes. “It’s not too big so it doesn’t take long to draw. Rather, it takes more time to devise and edit.” As such, she devotes plenty of time to the ideation phase, developing keywords and short sentences to get the narrative flowing. This may include contrasting words – things that “don’t fit together like collages” – or more holistic sentences and stories. Either way, a lot of her illustrations are borne from this intuitive, data-collecting process. “I value realistic details, more than people think,” she adds. “Even if it’s later omitted from the painting. In the case of continuous works, I consider themed images and music to express the overall mood.”
Most recently, she released a new picture book titled The goldfish disappeared. Executed in marker pen, the book follows an adventure as the characters try to locate a missing goldfish. “The journey is a little strange,” says Yoojin. Sweet and dainty, the visuals for this piece are inspired by Yoojin’s childhood and the surreal dreams that she used to have. This gives the project a blurry feel, reminiscent of an unidentifiable dream, the ones that you annoyingly forget moments after waking. This work has also been transferred into candles – did we mention that she also makes candles? – and has been cast for a group exhibition called The Things That Disappear. Both mediums work in utmost harmony with each other, the pastel tones, soft colours and melting lines merging into one.
Yoojin has also been working on a short comic book named To a Lost Friend, a piece that turns its focus towards a street in Seoul after a period of heavy rainfall. Divided into panels, the project follows a character as they leave a cinema and enter into the wet and open air. She runs onto a bus to take cover, shielding her head in response to the downpour. “When Takano Fumiko’s comic book Friend was published in Korea, it was a cartoon that I drew a small appendix for, which means a lot to me.”
This, alongside The goldfish disappeared, shows just how prevalent narrative is amongst her illustrative creations. Soon, she plans to launch a series of cartoons where her characters will be walking the alleys of Seoul, as well as a series of children’s novels and potentially a drawing book looking at fashion and film. Whatever her next endeavour, rest assured it will depict sweet moments from her everyday life. “Things like daily curiosity and adventures,” she concludes, “a little commotion comedy, the sparkling moments of childhood, complex and ambiguous emotions, soft shapes and colour, sad but beautiful dreams… it’s my main concern and what I want to convey to the audience.”
Yoojin Ahn: The Goldfish Disappeared (Copyright © Yoojin Ahn, 2021)
About the Author
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.