Korean illustrator Younsik Woo’s passion for storytelling led her to specialising in animation at university, while also working on cartoons on the side. “I didn’t put too much in illustration at first. But there was a time when I couldn’t move forward with a story I was supposed to publish,” she tells CR. “I drew illustrations to relieve stress. Ironically the drawings started to have a common motif while my story didn’t progress. I also realised that I was enjoying drawing way more after I gave up the publication.”
It was during this time that Woo also realised she enjoyed alluding to a story, rather then telling an all-out drama. “From then on, I gained recognition as an illustrator as I made more images, did printing work, and gained commissions,” she says. “In that sense, I enjoy illustration because of the simplicity. Having to convey something without having to describe has a pure joy on its own.”
This simplicity can be seen most clearly in the strict colour palette Woo uses in all of her works. “I’m simply attracted to the four colours of yellow, red, green and blue and can’t find more reasons to use other colours yet,” she says.
“I think this is because my work is more symbolic rather than a visual representation. For me, these colours seem to capture some primitive aspect of contemporary scenes, as if they were taken with infrared cameras.”
Another reason is Woo’s love of early cartoon and silkscreen printing methods, and as a result she often mimics the textures found in Risograph prints, which traditionally limit the amount of colours that can be used. A lot of Woo’s illustrations are composed of figures with blank expressions, combined with objects and geometric shapes.
Often starting with photos of things that inspire her, Woo wants to capture a sense of “nothingness” in her work, which offers her a sense of freedom and comfort. “I want to focus on the relationship that the individuals have and the events that have happened between them instead of expressing each individual’s character.”
Though Woo captures scenes in an abstract way, she enjoys drawing moments she encounters on the street. “I especially love an image of complicated but beautifully overlapped buildings. Those images seem flat without depth perception, and I want to capture the moment that seems to make the space flat,” she explains. “That kind of scenery feels like it goes against what we perceive, and I like that. I want to do more of those works.”
The early stages of an illustration for Woo tends to take the form of a loose rather than concrete drawing and she often reads a book or takes a walk when an idea first emerges. “I do most of my rough sketches on paper and do my line work by drawing with a pen or scan it to work digitally,” says Woo. “I simply use a liner pen for hand drawing. For digital work, I work with Photoshop, ClipStudio, and sometimes Illustrator. For a texture like printmaking, I use a brush and layer effect. I sometimes buy the texture from the maker, or use ones I’ve personally scanned or shot.”
When Woo first started out she felt there was a disconnect between her client work and the images she created in her own time, though it’s been something she’s working on. “I had to earn money as an illustrator but I was worried that drawings wouldn’t sell. So in the beginning there was a big gap between my work and commissions,” reflects Woo. “Thankfully, I met more and more clients who wanted distinct parts of my drawings, so I’m lessening the gap.”
As the illustrator doesn’t always put direct meaning into her drawings she’s happy if people simply like the aesthetic she’s created. But equally she finds the blank faces of her characters offer some comfort to viewers. “Sometimes I get comments from people who see my work and they say they can’t tell the thoughts and feelings because of the blank face, so they feel they aren’t being judged, or they can’t feel a hierarchy between people,” notes Woo. “I’m always surprised by other people’s sensitivity in recognising feelings in my indifferent drawings, while also recognising the aspects of myself that I haven’t noticed before. Then I realise that drawings can truly become a means of communication. It’s the best way of conveying what I want the most.”