Hyewon Yum was in my class at SVA many years ago. She had just moved to NY from Korea and did not speak very much English. She was quiet but very hard working and very talented. She went on to earn her MFA at SVA, and soon after graduating, published her first book, LAST NIGHT, in 2008 to great acclaim. She has been very busy writing and illustrating ever since: her newest book, PUDDLE, has just been published. This week she returned to SVA, to talk to my current students. Everyone was awe-struck by her beautiful work and inspired by her experimentation and creativity. Thank you Hyewon for sharing your story with us!
Where did the idea for PUDDLE come from?
It came from my little boy. Just like in the book, I don't really like going out when it rains, but with little kids, being stuck in a little city apartment isn't very interesting. So I tried to have fun with my little boy who asked me draw. First I started to draw him, he was pretty interested. And when I drew mad mom, he laughed so hard. (people do enjoy other people's pain!) But the thing that struck me most is whenever I drew different face expressions, his facial expression changed. It was such a precious moment to see emotions and sympathy on your child's face.
Where do you live and what is your studio like?
I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It's a really great place. So many artists live here, and there are the best bookstores and coffee places. But my place is small, my work tables are in the basement, so when it's spring I usually do sketches on the kitchen table which has a window.
Can you tell us about your art materials? You have used many different art materials and techniques in your various books - printmaking, collage, painting, computer - but every book looks like it is clearly made by you! Experimenting with materials and techniques is part of your style.
I love to try new materials. It's like a new box of crayons that never fails to inspire you to draw when you were a kid.
Going back to your first book - because it is so exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about LAST NIGHT? How did it get started? What were some the stages?
LAST NIGHT was my MFA thesis book. In 2006, I started working on this book. Originally it was story about a house wife having an affair with a black bear. It was done by etching. But I needed to make it into a children's book for my portfolio since I wanted to make picture books. So I started with different medium (Linocut) and different color palette.
First I made thumbnail sketches to see how the story would be (because I didn't have much of an idea what the story was just yet.)
I met my first editor, Frances Foster, while I was in my first year in SVA. I emailed her. Of course I didn't expect she would actually meet me. But she did. And then I invited her to my thesis show and she liked the book I made and published it as it was, without any changes! There: LAST NIGHT!
What were you like as a child? Did you always draw and paint since you were very young? Yes, I always drew. I used to bite my fingers all the time and as a therapy my mom sent me to art class. Then no more biting fingers, believe it or not.
How did you decide you wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books?
After art school in Korea, I had a chance to do illustrations for children's books. I had no idea about picture books, and the publisher taught me alot and introduced me to amazing books from Europe, Japan and America. Then I knew that's what I wanted to do.
Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?
I still remember you read us WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak and COME AWAY FROM WATER SHIRLEY by John Burningham. (unfortunately I didn't grow up with those books!) It made me think about books from a totally different point of view. We open the book and walk through this world: when Max's room becomes the forest, it is magic that happens every time you turn the page. I am still thinking about those books whenever I start a new book and I am still learning from them.
Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
I did it, so can you!
To find out more about Hyewon and her books, visit her website here