In her first English interview the South Korean talent talks about her love for Aardman, Awkwafina and Hong Kong cinema.
Seoul, South Korea - a city becoming known as a hotbed of illustrative talent, so much so that it’s currently the only place outside of the UK where the AOI tours their World Illustration Awards exhibition.
The metropolis itself is a city that chugs with industry and hurried commuters, but one can find spots where life slows to a crawl and cafés are filled out with young minds looking for peace and quiet to work in. These tranquil zones are always spotted with cute establishments hidden within alleyways where stray cats creep and loll.
It’s from this scurry and sprawl where Dasom Yun hails, a vector illustrator who in just over a year of freelancing professionally has managed to develop a distinctive style, one heavy with colours and rather cheeky feline creations.
The Seoulite's portfolio to date includes children’s literature based around her signature creation Crimson Cat, while personal projects include stickers, phone cases and wonderful homages to disparate loves like Wallace and Gromit and Hong Kong cult cinema.
The artist signs all her work as ‘Dazum’, a better representation of the z-like sound of the ㅊ character in her name. Her online handle meanwhile is dasombug, although I’m surprised it isn’t ‘dasomcat’ considering.
“It’s just my nickname,” she explains over email. “I went to see Monsters vs. Aliens with my friends, and one of the characters, Insectosaurus, looked just like me. So friends called me Insectosaurus and later they just called me ‘Dasom-Berlae’ (Dasombug; berlae means bug in Korean).”
As I haven’t seen her face, I can’t vouch for Dasom’s similarity to a cartoon insect, but can definitely vouch for the quality of work seen so far, a portfolio that conjures a world of the artist’s own, made up of faces and characters that are hard to find an equivalent for in the illustration world.
“It’s hard to pick one biggest influence,” Dasom says when I inquire what inspired her uniquely childlike style. “I used to read fairy tales often when I was young. I also loved Maisy and Peter Rabbit. I think these things have influenced my taste and art a lot.
"In Peter Rabbit I loved to see animals wearing clothes and using small things that humans threw away as furniture. I want to express that same feeling in my work.”
With her love of animation, Dasom attended the Korea Animation High School, before getting her Communication Design degree from Samsung’s Art & Design Institute.
Her early work illustrating with vectors was influenced by the childhood play of Lego and Playmobile, something you can see in her blocky style in a way that never comes off as naive or cloying.
“Lego and PlayMobile are detailed, simple, colourful, and give great variety from basic elements,” she explains. “So when I first started making images I drew them thinking that I was designing toys that I could put together and then take apart face, arms, and legs in my own way.”
While Dasom’s style comes from a Western starting point, in more recent years she’s found herself drawn to the visuals of her home country, visitors to which will know just how much traditional architecture and decoration is based around geometrical flowers and vines.
“I recently visited a Goryeo Buddhist painting exhibition and went to Gyeongbokgung National Palace with my friend. The subtle yet bright and harmonious colours, the animals hiding around the paintings and their hidden meanings were so interesting. I’m thinking how to express these things in my own way at my solo exhibition, which is happening this August in Korea.”
It’s not a surprise Dasom mentions the impact of colours and animals when you consider her oeuvre. The figure of the tiger is also a commonplace one in ancient Korean art, and that might be a reason why we see so many cats in her work. There are other explanations though on why Dasom is so taken with her lively friend of Crimson Cat.
“Crimson Cat is actually a character from an illustration group," she looks back. "This illustration group was a weekly meeting with friends to draw a picture on the same topic, and one week the theme was ‘a crimson-coloured cat’. Crimson Cat was born just like that.
“At first, I thoughtlessly put her all over my illustrations. When I think about why I like her so much, she and I have a lot of similarities. She has a mischievous side, and she’s hot-blooded. Sometimes she feels awkward, sometimes she can’t control her emotions. She is also curious and likes to try this and that. Putting Crimson Cat in my works, I’m delivering what I like, what I want to do, and what I like to say to the world.”
Her first book to feature the red feline is Crimson Cat - Little Book, out now in Korea in a limited and self-published run.
“I made Little Book (below) because I wanted to look back on what I’ve done with my illustrations, to see how much I’ve grown up and changed.”
Dasom’s next projects will be similarly feline, with an upcoming webtoon based around a lioness jungle queen soon to hit comic platforms, and an adult graphic novel by the name of CATS.
“The plot of CATS is that three cats happen to meet by chance and then work together to solve criminal cases.
“I think I have some duality in my nature,” Dasom says, contemplating on her work. “I want to create educational stories with visually beautiful effects for children. On the other hand, I have some desire to create a dark story that’s more realistic, in a way more brutal, with messages that adults can understand. That’s where the concept for CATS (below) came from.
“When you create content for children and for adults, I think one of the things you should be aware of is that it should be a story that can be understood and sympathised with by each age group,” she continues. “For example, when you see a crime film as an adult, you are already aware crime is bad and forbidden and so just focus on its fluency of plot or the quality of its direction. But children can absorb the whole story without any critical thinking. That’s why, I think, I have to take responsibility for my work as a creator.”
Dasom’s talk of crime cinema reminds me of her works based around some pretty obscure cinema: fan art for action comedy Eagle Shooting Heroes (below), for example, or inspired stickers based around key objects and foods from the Wong Kar-Wai classic Chungking Express.
“Eagle Shooting Heroes is one of my favourite Hong Kong movies,” she enthuses. “It’s a light and funny movie made by a group of really famous actors such as Carina Lau, Leslie Cheung, and Leung Chiu Wai.
“When you watch Hong Kong movies, you always see similar actors again and again, and in this movie you enjoy watching the famous stars and their comic acting. Personally, I recommend everyone should watch this movie after watching more famous Hong Kong films such as Days Of Being Wild and Chungking Express.”
“Chungking Express is one of my favourite movies,” Dasom says when talking about her inspired sticker project. “I love the unique atmosphere, the actors’ chemistry, and the general mise-en-scène of the movie. I wanted to make an illustration about it from the moment I first saw it and fell in love.
“I picked important objects in the movie and made graphics, choosing meaningful and symbolic objects from the films. It was a challenge to put across the unique colours of the movie in my own way but I’m satisfied with the result.”
Like most of her work, the stickers were designed using Adobe Illustrator on a Macbook.
“In the early days when I began to draw illustrations, I was not used to tools such as tablets, so I drew pictures with my hands and scanned them, then I filled them with shapes from Illustrator,” she reveals.
“It is attractive to work like that, but there was some disadvantage in that it wasn’t easy to bring to life the feelings and dynamic lines when being painted by hand. So I’ve started to work on a tablet these days.”
Dasom’s current plans are to work on her lioness webtoon and prepare for her solo show; future projects she’d like to try would be anything in the music realm. Those looking at her portfolio will be struck by her awesome vinyl mockups for bands such as Karkosa and rap star Awkwafina.
“I love music so much. Apart from Karkosa and Awkwafina, I love The Amazons, Panic! At The Disco, COIN, Alessia Cara, and Oasis,” she tells me.
“I get a lot of comfort and inspiration from music when I work or need a break. I get the theme of my work while listening to music, and when I draw strong impressions, I get inspired by listening to ‘hard’ music.
"I can definitely say that music is a big part of my life," Dasom continues. "That’s why I want to work with my favourite bands someday. Maybe designing an album, or designing vinyl covers, even making a music video.”
Dasom’s upcoming show will also feature physical works in ode to certain childhood favourites.
"I want to do a lot of 3D works that can be actually touched, such as puppets.”
“When I was very young I enjoyed a lot of clay animations like Wallace and Gromit, Pat & Mat and Pingu, and I think they have had a lot of influence on my taste. In the animations, the main characters are animals and the colours are vivid and harmonious. Maybe Crimson Cat was created under their influence.”
Dasom also plans to continue enjoying the benefits of being an AOI member, having joined the London-based institution last year.
“I joined the AOI team after I met them at their seminar in Seoul,” she says.
“I’ve entered in the World Illustration Awards before so I knew about the AOI, but I delayed joining because I could not find any definite reason to join.
“However,” Dasom continues, “when I took the lecture, I became aware that the AOI can help me to some extent about the troubles I had as a freelance illustrator - about contracts, clients, and so on. So I joined the AOI.
“Now, I’m satisfied with it because I can get one-to-one counselling, and information about licenses, price issues and good illustration competitions. Also, I’m learning about having an attitude to be professional, treating my art like a real business.
“The only thing I feel sorry about is that I’m not in the UK,” she concludes. “It’s difficult for me to participate in many great AOI events. But except for that, I’m satisfied with joining.”
Perhaps Dasom can attend should she ever be invited to something like ELCAF in London, which would be a perfect fit for Dasom’s art and goods. Until then, visit her website, Instagram account, Behance profile and Naver. If you find yourself in Seoul then you can find her Crimson Cat - Little Book on sale in bookstore Your Mana.