I met So Youn Lee at the 2014 NY Comic Con. She was working on a large format painting right there in the middle of the noise and hullabaloo of the expo floor. There were some other amazing artists working as well but I’d seen So Youn’s work previously through various publications and it was thrilling to see her painting in person.
Her focus and confidence were remarkable. The floor was a cacophony of sound and distractions but she worked calmly, in her own little pocket of peacefulness. I waited until she paused in her work then approached to ask if she’d be open to an interview for Tools not Rules. She agreed with no hesitation and even followed up with emails to update me on the progress of her interview. She exudes positivity and you can see that quality shining through in her work.
I’m super excited to present the TnR interview with So Youn. Enjoy!
How would you describe you what is it that you do?
I’m an image maker, and I make drawings and paintings mostly.
How much sketching or research goes into the planning of a new piece?
I draw a lot and whenever I have a image that I like, then I make it as a new painting.
You work in both small and large formats. Do you prefer one over the other? Why?
I prefer large format, since I could describe more things in a larger scale.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a painter?
Receiving feedback from the audience, and realizing that my painting makes not only my days better but others as well.
When you were five, what did you aspire to be? Why? and how has that impacted your career if at all?
I remember that I wanted to be a judge at one point, to help people in unfair situations and make them happy. But overtime I think I found a way to make people happy in a different way now.
Does your creative work pay your bills?
Yes, more than enough.
Have you always done this for a living or did you transition from something else? What triggered your decision to make a change?
I loved drawing my whole life growing up with comic books that my parents would buy for me. I became an artist right after graduating from college.
What is the most challenging thing about practicing your craft? How do you deal with that challenge?
Imagining the final result before start is always challenging. I would just close my eyes and paint the painting in my head whenever I have a hard time. Taking a breather and coming back to look at it with a fresh eye always helps.
Do you still practice? If so, what do your practice sessions look like?
I doodle all the time in a sketch book, referencing from realistic images and photos, and make studies.
Where do you find inspiration?
Cute pictures or inspiring books. Something that makes me think about life and the goodness of it.
What kind of music do you listen to while you work?
I don’t listen to music while I work, but I watch animated films most of times. When I like to listen to something, I choose Daft Punk.
Where are you when you have the most a-ha moments?
In my car, driving. It makes me think a lot by myself when I' driving.
How do you define creativity?
I believe it is something everyone has. But only some people desire to harness it and use it.
What do you do to maintain a creative flow?
Believing in myself, liking myself and enjoying the moment.
How much do you rely on feedback from others to help shape your ideas?
I don't really. I see it as just opinions, and welcome them. But what I found out is that when I’m happy and honest with my works, it always brings the best.
What is the greatest obstacle to creativity?
Not pursuing excellence.
When you complete a project, how often does it resemble your initial concept or conceived idea? How important is this for you?
80% or more. I start with a feeling of something, when I succeed to contain the feeling of it, I’m satisfied.
How do you know when you’re done?
I could just see. It just looks right, or feels right.
How do you resolve creative differences with clients or creative partners?
I follow the better idea, if I believe mine is better, I persuade them.
What keeps you motivated even if you don’t connect personally with the project?
I think of it as a chance to find my new favorite thing to do.
What do you do when you are stuck and have some sort of deadline or other pressure?
Calm myself down and remind myself that I can finish it on time, and have a good cup of coffee.
How do you achieve your creative vision with a limited budget?
Be flexible and find better ways to execute it.
What are the top 3 tools in your creative tool kit? ie. software, pencil, paper, journal etc.
Pencil, journal, and paints.
What are the top 3 creative habits that have proven to be the most useful for you in your career?
Doodle a lot so that I could always have something that I like to paint, set a nice work station, and build a habit to sit there. Once I sit at my work desk, I found myself painting or drawing something even if I’m really tired. It just became my habit.
If you could offer a single piece of advice to a budding professional, what would it be?
Be yourself and create things that you like.