Tomi Um: The Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Monday June 2, 2014

Q: What are some of your favorite things about living and working in Brooklyn?

A: My favorite thing about living in New York City is people watching on the street. 

Q: How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

A: I always liked to draw. I got into printmaking in the summer of 2008 and saw that my work would be a good fit for editorial illustration.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus In the computer?

A: I don't keep a sketchbook. I start to finish on computer when working on editorial assignment with short deadlines.

When working on an assignment with more time, making illustrated books or prints, I make pencil sketches on loose sheets of paper. 

New York Times Sunday Review, AD Aviva Michaelov

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: Computer, seltzer, and windows by my desk.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: An Encyclopedia.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: Seven Mozart Librettos, a verse translation by J.D. McClatchy; CCCP Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, by Frédéric Chaubin.

Q: Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

A: New York cityscape, architectural reference books, operas, Korean folktales, Buddhist art, German expressionist prints, Utagawa Kuniyoshi prints.

Q: What was your first professional assignment and how did you get it?

A: I went to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square magazine section to browse the magazines that could potentially use my illustrations. I had just made a series of prints about monks' lives in a temple and saw that Buddhist's magazines would be a good fit. I sent a print to the art director at Shambhala Sun magazine and got my first assignment.

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: I love watching people on the street and how in different ways people move about, look, and sound. Hours can go by as I imagine where they are going, what's in their luggage, and what their homes look like.

Bloomberg View, AD Phil Lubliner

Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

A: Moving on from sketches to the final illustration.

Q: How do you go about finding great clients?

A: I think published work in newspapers and magazines also work as promotion.

Q: What is/would be your karaoke song—and why?

A: I'm afraid my place is strictly in the audience. I appreciate good singing and don't have the desire to perform myself.

Q: What is your hobby?

A: Going to see an opera, listening to good recordings.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Pretzel, croissant and good coffee.

Ten Steps in the City, Teiera, Bologna, Italy

Tomi Um
is an illustrator based in New York City. Her illustration appeared in the New York Times, Time Magazine, Monocle Magazine, Bloomberg Viewand theWall Street Journal. Publications include Issue 14B of Un Sedicesimo by Corraini, Little Opera and Che Farò Senza by Strane Dizioni. Her work has been selected for American Illustration 32 and 33; Art Directors Club Annual Award; Young Guns, and Print Magazine New Visual Artists. 


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