EK Interview: Ian Kim

Ian Kim is an accomplished illustrator/motion graphics designer (who, btw is retiring from the field of motion graphics to work exclusively in comics)  -While his past clients have included big names like HP, Mountain Dew, Gatorade, etc., -it is the fact that his name appears at the top of a google search which to me, indicates his greatness.  (As if our official seal of approval wasn’t good enough already) -BM

Introduce yourself, where you’re from.
I am Ian Kim. I was born in Redondo Beach, California, and have lived in various parts of the US, Canada, Korea, Japan, and Australia. I went to university at NYU and have lived in LA ever since.

Describe your History in Art.
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Comics were my gateway into art. I started drawing comic strips when I was in 7th grade in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I drew a strip called Horny and Bowwow with this other kid, about a gang-influenced cat and dog. There were a lot of gangs there at the time, and gang culture was prevalent throughout the school and neighborhood. I continued drawing comics steadily throughout my teenage years. When we arrived in Toronto, Canada, my mom searched out an art school called Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts. You had to pass an audition to get in and the waiting list was several years long, but she spoke to the vice principal there, a kind, fatherly man named Richard LaChappelle, and showed him my comics and explained that we had just arrived in Canada, and he let me bypass the entire list. I look back at Cardinal Carter as my first exposure to the larger world of art. One of my great regrets is that I never thanked Mr. LaChapelle, and I haven’t been able to get in touch with him since.

What are some of the art blogs you follow?
Drawn, Motionographer, and Empty Kingdom, baby!

What are you focused on now?
Comics and comic strips. Basically telling stories and creating worlds through drawings.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’d like to have my own, original, ongoing comic book. I’d like to see Skribl as an successful comic strip and established brand, and made into an animated tv show. In short, I want to be able to make a living creating worlds and turning them into brands.

You have designed commercials for some big clients, talk about your approach to your commercial work and what aspects you consider before you begin.
With commercials, clients generally come with an idea in mind, often through an ad agency. So, to bring that idea to life, a commercial designer has to be able to adapt to the necessary style. So I gather reference images and material to get an idea of how I have to be flexible in order to realize the client’s vision in the best way possible.

Do you do research on client’s past work or just take direction for each specific project when considering?
When you’re working for a client, in the end, it’s about making something that satisfies them. Even before you get the job, you have to win the pitch by showing clients something that they feel elevates their brand while staying within it. So yes, I usually consider previous examples of their branding and work within that visual world.

What are some of your favorite projects you have worked on.
I like the Gatorade commercial with the Monty Python knights because it aired during nationally televised basketball games. I’d be watching a game on a weekend afternoon, and suddenly my drawings would pop onto the screen. That was exhilarating to see. It was supposed to air during the Superbowl, but it got pulled at the last minute. It still got a lot of air time.

What is your advice to an aspiring illustrator or designer on getting started?
Developing one’s style involves practice more than anything. Know that you are evolving one day at a time, and that defining your style is a lifelong process, not a single moment you reach at some point. The more you create, the more your style will evolve. Don’t over-think things. Just keep your artistic flow going and know that some things you create will not be good, and some things will be great, and it will always be like that so don’t get too frustrated when things aren’t going as you’d like.

How would you recommend getting their foot in the door?
It’s a numbers game. Think that for every 10 people you get in touch, one will respond, and of those, one out of 5 will lead to an opportunity of some sort. Don’t take non-responses personally. Just keep being persistent, while remaining polite and respectful.

What trends do you see in illustration/commercial design these days?
I see a trend towards ‘surface’ visual stylization. What I mean is that the focus seems to be on the decorative aspects of composition, rather than on mastering the human figure and sound technical knowledge of perspective. As a result, styles tend to lack a sense of depth, both visually and emotionally.

What did you learn through your history of working for large clients that you didn’t know in art school?
Well, I never took any specialized college level art courses. What I have learned from working with large clients is that in the commercial world, you are confined by the wants of your clients. Nothing you create for big clients will be 100% your unique vision. And after a while, I’ve found that to be very creatively unsatisfying. That’s why it is important to always cultivate your own projects that are inspired from your artistic core.

What is the difference in your commercial and personal work?
I’ve had the good fortune to be able to work in world of commercial graphics, and it’s been a great learning experience. My commercial work has pushed me in directions that I would not have gone left to my own devices. Still, I look at my commercial work more like exercises. My personal work is what I consider my true life’s work. That’s what I wish to be known for.

What are some personal projects you are working on?
I’m working on a short graphic novel about boxing, titled Ghostfighter. I also do a comic strip called Skribl and the Skwod. You can check it out at skriblandtheskwod.com.

Talk about Skribl and the Skwod, where did the idea orignate from?
I drew the first Skribl strip in college to try to get it published in the NYU school newspaper, Washington Square News, but they never did. I forgot about it until about a year ago, when I hit upon the comic strip as the perfect medium to express some of my daily thoughts on a quicker basis.

What is your main purpose, theme, or message from that comic strip?
Skribl is a very ambitious little kid who has big dreams, and struggles with his desire to be someone important. I think this is something that anyone who is pursuing their dream can relate to. And I want to encourage that little voice inside all of us.

If you were going to be a criminal, what kind would you be? (Burglar, bank robber, mafia, etc.)
A ninja. Actually, if it doesn’t involve art, then I’d rather be more of a leader type. So a ninja master with his own school of ninjas that he sends out on missions.

If you had 24 hours to live, what would you do?
Spend it with my family, and internally, accept my death.

After you die, what do you hope people will say about your career?
That I was more than a comic book creator, or an illustrator, or even an artist. I hope people remember me as someone who used his creative abilities to help humanity evolve into a more enlightened chapter in its history.