Joung Un Kim grew up in California, went away to study at the Rhode Island School of Design, worked in New York, and is again living in Southern California.
Joung Un works in a mix-and-match collage style. She likes to find or make interesting textures and shapes, and bring them together in quirky, fun ways. Her work often features animals and plants, two things she loves and is inspired by. Buddy, the family dog, likes to pop up in her picture books, and so far has appeared in three.
What was your path to becoming a children’s book illustrator?
I don’t know which came first—drawing or the love of stories. I think it all started with these two things as early as I can remember. But, I didn’t think about being an illustrator until high school. During junior and senior years, I started concentrating on a portfolio, hoping to enter art school. And, it was a dream for me to be able to pursue this goal. Right out of college, I was lucky enough to get my first picture book, and a design position at a children's publishing house in New York. That's how it all started for me.
In what ways has your cultural identity influenced your work?
Being Korean is a part of me. I’m sure it affects everything I do, but I can't say specifically how it influences my work. Having grown up in California, most of what I know about my Korean identity is through my parents. With all my projects, it’s a time of learning and discovery and experimentation. Some lead to more self-reflection, I suppose, such as when I illustrated a book about a Korean girl’s first day of school [Sumi's First Day of School Ever].
You have illustrated both stories and poetry. Do you approach projects differently according to the genre of the writing? Do you have a preference?
I approach all projects in a similar way—by trying to understand the essence of the story or poem, and then attempting to convey it in an interesting and not-so-obvious way. I hope to make pictures that go beyond just the translation of words. I like both genres. Poems are more open to interpretation, I think, and may allow for more freedom, but the same openness can also make it more difficult.
Where do you tend to work?
I work in the living room where I have my desk, computer, and the more immediate tools that I need, like pencils and scissors. I make trips to the garage where I store other art materials—paints, brushes, papers, and all sorts of odds and ends. As I work, I have a view of trees and greenery, which I appreciate every day.
Can you tell us about a typical day?
I get up in the morning, and start my day with tea and breakfast. I work an eight-hour day as a designer, which means my computer is more often on than off. Any time I have left after that is my illustration time. So, weekends are when I can focus most on my projects.
What are you working on at the moment?
I don’t know what’s next for me. I finished a big project recently, and I'm enjoying the break.
Posted August 2012
More on the Web:
See more of Joung's illustrations here.
illustrated by Joung Un Kim:
Neighbors: The Yard Critters Book Too
poems by George Held
(Filsinger & Company, forthcoming)
Neighbors: The Yard Critters Book 1
poems by George Held
(Filsinger & Company, 2011)
The Grasshopper Hopped!
written by Elizabeth Alexander
(Golden Books, 2010)
Hen Hears Gossip
written by Megan McDonald
(Greenwillow Books, 2008)
What Do You Dream?
written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Sumi's First Day of School Ever
written by Soyung Pak
(Viking Juvenile, 2003)
Wings Across the Moon
written by Linda Hargrove
(Harper Growing Tree, HarperFestival, 2001)
written by Candace Carter
(Green Light Readers, Harcourt Children's Books, 2001/2005)
Why the Frog Has Big Eyes
written by Betsy Franco
(Green Light Readers, Harcourt Children's Books, 2001)
written by Kenneth Grahame
A Year for Kiko
written by Ferida Wolff
(Houghton Mifflin, 1997)
Could We Be Friends? Poems for Pals
written by Bobbi Katz
(Mondo Publishing, 1997)
The Gift of Driscoll Lipscomb
written by Sara Yamaka
(Simon & Schuster, 1995)