Today we're bringing you an interview with Sena Kwon, a New York City illustrator whose work I learned about at the famed Comics Arts Brooklyn festival last fall. If you've been to the multi-day comics and art book fair you know the place is a visual overload. Imagine hundreds of ridiculously skilled artists sharing everything in every style from spare and subtle to eye-popping and absurd. My eyes were going in cross-eyed circles after a few hours of walking up and down the rows in the huge gymnasium, and then I came across Kwon's work.
Her slim zine Flip Flop Tick Tock caught my eye because Kwon made it in pencil, and the quiet, mostly wordless spreads had an intimacy that you only get with graphite. She managed to layer so much texture and feeling into each page. Experiencing her work was like getting a visual breather.
Sena was generous enough to answer our questions about her work, her inspirations, and how she overcomes the tough parts of the creative process. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where do you live? How long have you been making art?
I am a Korean illustrator and comic artist currently living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Being an illustrator has been my only dream since I was able to read and that has not changed through the years.
I grew up moving from country to country, and sometimes not being able to speak the local language. Because of this, I’ve always loved picture books and movies that narrate in visual languages as a way to circumvent more verbal forms of communication.
Can you tell me about the inspiration for this zine? It's mostly wordless and feels like it celebrates friendship and food and togetherness, and New York!
That’s right! This zine is like a wordless diary of mine. Each page captures 24 hours a day, and each spread represents 12 months of activities I used to do. By the time you read all of my zine, you have a glimpse of my whole year.
I sometimes enjoy moments of silence, feeling like there is no time existing in my space. I am sure it’s not just my own experience, and it's one everyone has had before. I wanted to capture sudden silence in this zine.
I was fortunate to have good friends to share a lot of interests with, such as food, drinks and culture. By the way, it is not only about New York, I included my unforgettable two years in Baltimore. I was in the Illustration Practice MFA Program from Maryland Institute College of Art before moving to New York. I love both of these cities with sweet bitterness, they are wild towns with sweet spots in corners.
You work in a variety of mediums. What do you like about working in pencil?
I always prefer starting drawing with pencil. Although I feel comfortable working in digital as much as traditional mediums, I sometimes lose a concept of proportion when I start sketching in digital. I enjoy the ritual of sharpening pencils and adding darkness in multiple layers using graphite before moving into the digital process.
Can we talk tools? What pencils do you use? Which hardnesses and brands?
I am not picky about brands. I can see Faber-Castell, Tombow, Mono J, The Zone (a Korean brand), all 4B from my pencil tray. I use Muji’s pencil shaped erasers.
How did you add the spot color? Did you do it digitally or on the page?
It depends on the scenes. If the images need pencil texture in spot color, I draw on tracing paper on top of the main drawings. But if I want thick, rich color, digital works better for me.
How do you get over the painful and stressful and frustrating parts of the artistic process?
I take a walk or start cooking when I hit mild-level walls during the process. But my true frustration is that I am narcoleptic. I wake up dropping my pencils or other tools no matter how much I was fully focused on my work before. I used to hate myself for a while for falling asleep in school or while I work, now I am getting better at shortening my naps and getting back to work.
Thank you so much Sena. Are you an artist who works in pencil or do you know someone we should profile? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!