Illustrator Profile - Jungyeon Roh: "I want to be a diverse artist who has no limits"

By Robert Newman   Thursday April 14, 2016

Jungyeon Roh is a Manhattan-based illustrator whose bold, dynamic drawings have been published in The New York Times, Eight By Eight, Newsweek and other publications. She grew up in South Korea and moved to New York City in 2006 to work and go to SVA. Roh’s energetic and graphic work is created with pencil and ink and colored in Photoshop. Her advice to young illustrators is: “be yourself and let your work speak for itself.”

I have been living and working in the Upper East Side New York nearly 10 years except the brief time I lived in Gramercy Park, Brooklyn, and Queens.

My dad, mom, my younger brother and I were born in the Year of the Dog. My younger sister is the only exception; she was born in the Year of the Snake. It’s a funny coincidence, and we have a lovely dog Coco who is six years old now. So five among six in my family are dogs!

My parents are the same age, and they got married right after graduating college, and had me. Being the eldest among three children, I had to be responsible and exemplary for my sister who is seven years younger and brother who is 12 years younger. While I was growing up, I never saw my parents being lazy. They always worked hard, were always energetic, happy and supportive. Growing up seeing that everyday, I naturally educated myself about how much I should appreciate my life.

My dad is a businessman, and my mom’s family has all kinds of artistic talents. My mom once was an art teacher, my aunt was a music teacher, and my cousins work as actress, pro skier, and pilates researcher. My sister is a motion graphics designer working at a renowned advertising company in Korea and my brother is also an art student who’s now serving in the Korean army.

I received a BFA in Fine Art from KyungHee University in South Korea (I have another BFA in illustration from SVA). I came to New York to be an illustrator in 2006, and have been working professionally since 2011 after I graduated with an MFA from the School of Visual Arts.

For me, the environment/neighborhood is more important than the size of the studio. Since I came to New York City in 2006, I’ve lived in three boroughs, and found out the best place for my work habit was Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I’ve tried to divide my time between New York and Seoul because I love my family and friends as much as my work. Also I love working out after work, so a good yoga studio or a gym is a must for me close to my studio.

I draw with pencil and ink on top. Then I do coloring with Photoshop. I sometimes do silkscreen and painting for my personal projects.

One Wednesday evening a few years ago, I was about to attend a painting class at the SVA MFA program. Then I got an email from Alexandra Zsigmond of The New York Times Op-Ed section. She asked me to create a series of four illustrations for a story by Mary H.K. Choi about being an Asian girl living in New York. It was my debut for The New York Times, which brought me a lot of assignments from various clients after I graduated. I even got to know the author Mary H.K. Choi through it, so it was the true BIG BREAK for me!

Definitely my mom, who is the best critic of all, and my family. Also, my country Korea influenced my work in many ways. If there were lots of opportunities for artists in Korea, I would never have dreamt of coming to New York to be an illustrator. It was a challenge for me to live in a foreign country without any family and away from my close friends, alone in New York. But I came across lots of unbelievable opportunities, saw infinite dreams, and met amazing people. I also believe having an Eastern culture and origin, and living in Western society, is a plus for my artistic view. Hopefully I could be one of the leading artists who can improve Korea’s illustration field for artists someday.

David Sandlin. I met him in 2008 and he is my all-time favorite artist. I can’t take my eyes off his work: powerful drawings, amazing color choices and interesting contents. I especially admire the way that he tells his stories through drawings. I’m in love with his hand-lettering as well. Everything David Sandlin creates is super HIP! I am not hesitant to call him a genius and my forever idol!!!

I like watching news every day. It gives me inspiration from daily life, from big and small true episodes. I read The New York Times, and The New Yorker to see the trends of the latest articles and illustrations. I’m interested in sports and health, so I regularly see Yoga Journal, Golf Digest and ESPN, which are also my dream magazines to work with.

I am a big fan of Ray Ban sunglasses—I’ve been wearing them all my life. Ray Ban opened their fabulous hub in Soho, and they wanted to exhibit my works there. I created an illustration for them called Justin and Erika, and when I worked on the piece, it was summer and I drew about New York’s beach scenes. It gave me great satisfaction that while I was sitting in my home studio in the middle of the busy city and drawing, I still had the fantasy of being at the beach. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more!

A theme park built from my ideas and characters, a cover for The New Yorker, and any book project. I would love to publish a book, either completely on my own or in collaboration with a great writer.

I have a lot of art directors I love, but I’d like to talk about my recent work with Bastien + Marjorie, the key creative team for the Ray Ban projects. They are a French couple based in New York, San Francisco and Paris. It was my first time to work with French art directors, and while I was working with them, by coincidence I stayed in France for a vacation. I loved having my summer studio in Montpellier, France and I felt like the environment helped me to understand their ideas better!  Also they gave kind directions and respected my opinions, so naturally I used my highest abilities for their project. For editorial illustration, I loved the time I worked with Nicholas Blechman and Chelsea Cardinal.

There are tons. I want to be a diverse artist who has no limits working in fine arts, illustration and design. I admire Kenny Scharf, Parra, Andy Rementer, Jean Jullien, and Steve Harrington for that reason. I also love cartoonists Adrian Tomine, Jillian Tamaki and Joan Cornellà, and illustrators Diego Patino, Zohar Lazar, and Rami Niemi.

Also, two of my favorite Korean female artists are Kyung Ja-Chun (who was born on the same day as me!) and Eun Nim Ro. I respect their hard time living and working in foreign countries to grow up as powerful artists. They are truly my role models.

Aram Kim is my closest friend since I came to New York, and I’m always a big fan of her warm and peaceful work. I can’t wait to see her first children’s book come out next year! Tomi Um has given me lots of inspiration since I started my career, and I respect her passion for illustration.  

Entering illustration competitions was the main promoting method for me when I was starting out. Now that I have a rep, though, I don’t enter competitions as much as I used to because we do promotions together and I’m getting regular work, which is the best promotion. Besides promoting my work through the rep, I keep posting on my blog, updating social media (even though I'm pretty terrible at it). I also send out snail mails and emails once in a while

1. Have hobbies that are not related to drawing and have friends who are not in the same field. The illustration world can be very limited if you stay only inside. You need to look outside as well.

2. Take advantages of being a “freelancer.”  A freelancer is not really “free” when it comes to the workload, but also could be “free” as a bird depending on how you think. Travel and work from different environments and time zones. We can work from anywhere as long as you have your working material and the internet!

3. Just be yourself and let your work speak for itself.

See more Jungyeon Roh illustrations, new work, and updates here: 
Jungyeon Roh Website
Instagram @jroheggplant


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