Spotlight on Illustrator Esther Kim

“Drink water, meditate, be nice, but take no shit, and always remember that practice makes practice!”

These are the great words of talented artist Esther Y. Kim. I will start this by saying I have a definite bias towards Kim. She’s also from Chicago and attended the same art school I did(Columbia College Chicago) so obviously, I’m a fan of hers! My appreciation for her grew as I read her responses to my question. In one of her responses, she mentions that someone once said to her, “to compare is to despair.” I wish that someone would have said this to me many years ago because it is an alarmingly true statement that I completely agree with Kim also agrees with this and it has assisted with her growth as an artist.

Keep scrolling to read this wonderful interview…

What sparked your interest in art and illustration?

I always found comfort in images, whether it was a drawing my mother made for me or an illustration in a book. I loved reading stories through pictures, and eventually, I began to want to tell my own stories.

Are you a full-time artist? If so, how did you make the decision?

I’ve been a freelance artist for a little under five years now. Before this, I worked as a product designer for a giftware company but then had to make a hard choice between doing an artist residency in Japan, or staying at my job. I chose the first option, much to everyone’s shock, and my life since then has been a series of odd jobs and gigs. It has been a tumultuous and sometimes soul-crushing journey, but I’m happy to be here.

Who or what inspires you?

It’s the little things. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s true. Fun wallpaper. The person who smiled at me on the bus. A cute cat. Chipped nail polish. Mismatched socks. There has been many a time where I saw someone with a cool sweater, then went home to draw it.

What is your artistic process?

Though I start each piece with a general idea, they are almost always improvised in terms of colors, patterns, and details. I never really know how something will turn out until it’s done, and even then, it might not be completely finished. I tend to change my mind a lot...or maybe second-guessing myself. I might, in the spur of the moment, change the color scheme halfway through, which then changes the whole feel. It’s a fun process with a lot of experimentation!

Is there a theme to your work?

I mostly depict everyday, slice-of-life moments using bold colors and patterns. Sometimes I throw in a bit of 90s teen nostalgia, but most of the time, you’ll see a room with a person, a plant, and lots of clutter. I don’t try to convey any sort of message, really. My illustrations are just a fun way for me to explore different patterns, shapes, and colors, and find a way to make them all work. That doesn’t mean my emotions don’t find their way into the art, they certainly do, but I’m not trying to push them on anyone. 

Has your style evolved over time? 

I used to be predominantly a character illustrator. I was always afraid that background would distract from the character, and maybe a part of me was intimidated by them. Once I began experimenting with settings, I realized they were pretty important, too. I feel like my backgrounds are simply another character in the piece, and they often have just as much if not more personality than their human (or cat) counterparts.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an illustrator?

For me, the biggest challenge has been trying to figure out what I can offer. Even in art school, I struggled with this idea that I needed to put literal blood, sweat, and tears into my work, and do something deeply profound and conceptual. Maybe it’s because a lot of the artists I admired had a consistent theme or message they gave to their viewers. I felt like I needed one, too. But, someone once told me, “to compare is to despair.” I’m beginning to accept that I just like to draw, and that’s it, and that’s totally okay. And hey, that might change later. But, for now, I’m just drawing things that I like, and hope others like them, too (insert shrug and sheepish smile).

How do you stay motivated when you experience a creative rut?

When I’m not feeling it, I’m not feeling it. I’ve learned that sometimes we hit a wall for a reason, and instead of trying to fight it, we should listen to our bodies and our minds and chill out. Nothing is linear, things come in cycles, and I just trust that I will get my groove back once the funk is over.

What has been your favorite project or creation so far?

As a side hobby, I make jewelry, sometimes using up-cycled, used plastic, like the kind that food packaging is made of. It’s fun, but it has a different look than my illustration work. I’m currently experimenting with ways to turn my actual illustrations into wearable art. Stay tuned!

What is your ultimate goal with your artwork?

My ultimate goal would probably be to just keep doing what I’m doing. I understand that it is a blessing and a privilege to be able to choose art as a career, and all I really want is to continue on this path.

Any last words?

Drink water, meditate, be nice, but take no shit, and always remember that practice makes practice!