Recently, at the third annual Richmond Zine Fest I had the opportunity to see the work from, and meet many amazing, inspiring artists and creative individuals, including Richmond, Virginia resident Aijung Kim, whose 'zines, and work in general simply blew me away. When she agreed to do an interview here at Go Flying Turtle!, I couldn't have been happier. I hope you enjoy this fine but brief sample of Aijung's work, and after the interview, be sure to drop on by her website, where you'll find a whole lot more visual goodness.
1. Q: How did you decide you wanted to do art for a living?
A: I’ve wanted to be an artist since I was a child. Looking at art and creating things has always come naturally, and makes me feel most like myself. When I make art, I feel I’m doing something important – finding the truth in things and communicating it visually.
Among various other endeavors, I want to illustrate children’s books. I remember being very influenced by what I saw and felt as a child. Everything is new, and the world is magical and frightening. Words and images have a certain power that some adults dismiss when they get older. That’s why I think it’s important to make beautiful books for children that teach truths that some adults have forgotten.
2. Q: A good deal of your work looks to be influenced by the natural world, yet it seems to have somewhat of a soft, dreamlike quality to it. How did you develop your current style?
A: I never consciously developed a style. I suppose my own nature is rather soft and dream-like, so it comes through no matter what I do. Much of my work is about the interconnectedness of all things – plants, animals, humans, and the energy that runs through life. I want to convey what is inside of things, so that contributes to the dream-like quality.
3. Q: In addition to nature, are there any artists, alive or dead who have inspired you a lot lately?
A: I’ve been looking at a lot of children’s books and trying to be more conscious of what makes an illustration “good.” I adore Edward Gorey – his drawing style and droll humor. Arnold Lobel (best known for the “Frog and Toad” series) has been one of my favorites since I was a child. His drawings make me feel peaceful and comforted. I’ve been into fables lately, so I checked out a book called “The Woman in the Moon,” illustrated in intricate black and white line drawings by Angela Barrett. “The Arrival,” by Shaun Tan is also beautifully illustrated. It’s a wordless book drawn in pencil in a series of sequential panels, almost like a comic book.
4. Q: Recently I heard someone call Richmond the Austin (Texas) of Virginia. How's your experience going so far, living in Richmond? Any places or happenings we should know about?
A: I just moved here about 6 months ago, but I’ve been surprised at how many art opportunities I have found already. There are a lot of art students who go to VCU, so it’s nice to have that arty vibe. The Visual Arts Center of Richmond (www.visarts.org) offers art workshops and classes and has great facilities. There is the Bizarre Market, a craft show that takes place at various venues and times of the year, which I’ll be participating in again at Chop Suey Books. And lots of great galleries, including Gallery 5 (www.gallery5arts.org) which just hosted the Richmond Zine Fest. Every First Friday of the month, there is a huge turn-out of people to attend the art openings. There is also a program I’d like to be involved in the future, called Art 180 (www.art180.org) that organizes artists to teach classes to at-risk youth in Richmond. I’m sure there’s more but I have yet to explore it!
5. Q: You are very prolific and yet your style is very consistent. What medium have you been enjoying working with most these days?
A: There are a few mediums that I’m really enjoying now. Pen and ink is a staple, and I love using Rapidograph technical pens. I’ve also been making gel transfers, where I use gel medium and photocopies of my drawings to make transparent “skins,” which I then hand-paint with acrylics and mount to wood panels. I like that I’m able to make multiples of the same drawing, but each varies slightly because I hand-paint them. And it’s interesting to take a previously black and white image and color it in. I also started making linocuts again (I was a Printmaking major at college.) I love the way it’s like a drawing, but sculptural since you have to carve the lines. I paint the linoleum with black ink and then scrape away with my tools, so it is very satisfying to see the light lines emerging from the black. Lots of exciting techniques!
6. Q: Your 'zines are extraordinary - there's obviously a lot of care put into those tiny books of yours. What got you involved in the 'zine scene?
A: Thank you! I love comic books, and I started a Comix Club when I was living at home in Rochester, New York a couple years ago. Our members met every week, and passed around comic books and made drawings. We did a few art challenges, and I started making zines of illustrated poetry. Since then, I’ve made more poetry zines and other books with drawings and observations about my life, nature, and little things. When I lived in Portland, Oregon, there was a big comic/zine/self-publishing scene that I was exposed to as well. I love zinesters’ openness, experimentation, and generosity. I also think of zines as good practice for making larger books, which I’d like to tackle soon.
7. Q: What do love most about creating art?
A: Creating art makes me feel alive and connected to the wider universe. I actually sleep better when I work on art during the day, I think because it satisfies a deeper part of me. I love creating fantastical worlds and creatures, and using art to observe the world around me. Art is so important because it reminds people of their dreams and makes them remember that there are many ways of seeing the world.
8. Q: What would you consider the most difficult part about being an artist?
A: Making a living from art is hard. Many artists are not particularly business-minded and don’t know how to channel their creativity into a successful career. I’ve felt lost about it for a long time, but I think everyone has to figure out their own path and meander along the way. For the first time in my life I’m trying to sell art as my sole income (and getting a lot of help from others as I attempt this), but it was always hard for me to work on art when I had another job. Day jobs are draining, and require a different sort of energy. I didn’t always feel like doing more work in my spare time. Art is a labor of love, but it IS work. I would constantly think about making art, but constantly avoided it. It was very hard to be disciplined because I was so out of practice.
9. Q: Are there any upcoming shows or art-related events you would like to share with us?
A: This is the busiest year for me as an artist, ever! All of the following events are in Richmond, Virginia:
Ongoing through the end of November, I have drawings, paintings, and prints on the walls of Harrison Street Coffee Shop (www.harrisonstcoffeeshop.com), my favorite place to eat in town. Starting in the last week of November and through December, I’ll be displaying art and crafts for sale at Ecologic (www.ecologicthestore.com) and Chop Suey Books (www.chopsueybooks.com). Both of these locations will be selling a variety of artists’ goods, so they will be great for holiday shopping. Opening on December 4th, I have a solo exhibition called “Root” at Gallowlily’s in Gallery 5 (www.gallery5arts.org), where I will be unveiling my new linocut prints, as well as paintings and crafts. On December 11th and 12th, I will be a vendor at Richmond Handmade Holiday (www.richmondhandmadeholiday.com), which is taking place at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond (www.visarts.org). And as always, you can find zines, art, and crafts at my online shop, www.sprouthead.etsy.com. I will be listing the new gel transfer paintings and linocut prints in my shop at the very end of November, so keep an eye out!
10. Q: From your experience, what's the best advice, if any, you could give to anyone, young or old, who might consider selling and exhibiting their work?
A: It’s a tough life. There is a lot I could say, but here’s the main one: if you are serious about selling and exhibiting your art, be persistent. You will try and fail hundreds of times. You will want to give up constantly. And once you do reach a certain level of “success” (whatever your definition of success may be), you will strive for more and probably fail at first. Some people get lucky, but I think the mistakes teach you the most, because they force you to solve a problem creatively when your expectations are not fulfilled. Also, don’t become too complacent with success. Always strive to create and explore, not just settle for what you know other people will like. Be true to yourself, be humble, and just keep working.
I’ve been reading a book called “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, and he writes about how artists experience resistance in many forms, all self-created. I’d recommend it to all of those who want to make art but are afraid to.