The Q&A: You Byun

By Peggy Roalf   Monday August 26, 2013

You live in New York, originally from South Korea. As an artist, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Brooklyn?

Well curated shows in galleries and museum. I have a membership in MoMA and I just got a Guggenheim membership for my birthday. Seeing art in person is different from seeing it online. Online is good for research but when I find something I like I cannot wait to see it in real life. New York is perfect for that. I love the diversity of the city – you walk a little bit and the cityscape changes. Every part of the town has its own face. The creative community is also a plus. 

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

As a kid I wanted to become a magician with a super power. It looked so much fun. Soon I realized it was impossible and I thought becoming an artist could be as much fun as having a super power. It's a mystery why I thought so, but luckily, I was right – it's the most fun job I can think on earth, and it's kind of a super power because art is making something that didn't existed before you made it. 

What was your first commercial assignment?

I handed out my first set of promo cards to creative director SooJin Buzelli at a party, and few months later I got my first editorial assignment for Plansponsor magazine. I was nervous because I was still in school and SooJin was one of the creative directors I dreamed of working for; I waited too long to reply and eventually lost the job. Luckily she emailed me again a few months later and I drew “Bells and Whistles” for her magazine. It's still one of my favorite pieces. 


Dream Friends cover image. Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin USA. 

What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

When the work is finished. I look at it for a shamefully long time. To me it's amusing that something that only existed in my brain finally became something tangible and I can share it with others. 

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

Yes I do. I am not sure if I am looking for a balance between work on paper or on the computer. It really depends on how I feel at that moment. Just like food – when you eat one thing too much, you want to eat something else for a while. But sometimes you can eat pasta for 30 days. I love what computer can do but I also love what a pen and paper can do too. However I think I prefer hand rendered art, because even when I work on the computer, I think of how it will ultimately look on paper. 

What is your favorite time of day for working? How do you spend the first hour of your work day?

Weekdays, after dinner. Wait, did I just reveal that I have no social life? I don't go out or drink during weekdays because I've got to work during the week. I can concentrate better after dinner because there is no email or social distractions, and I don't have to eat anymore (I spend most of my day thinking of food). I spend my first hour of my work day on emails to get rid of distractions. After that, I go to my studio. 

Dream Friends Book Event: Tea Party at Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. Photo credit: Steph Gomez.

What are you listening to?

Belle & Sebastian's album “Write About Love.” I just went to their gig on my birthday at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Otherwise I would've been listening to a white noise app which you can download for free. It helps me to concentrate. 

Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

From when I was a child: Tomi Ungerer, Jean-Jacques Sempé, Hayao Miyazaki, Tove Jansson, Dick Bruna, the list never ends but these are few of my favorites. They are all great storytellers, great in drawing, have long careers, have warm views about life and have established their own unique worlds that everyone can recognize. Lately artist Jon Burgerman has been a big influence with his attitude towards work. He works 24/7. He always challenges himself to break through his comfort zone, even though he is already successful. Lastly he 'plays' with art; it seems that making art is not a stress to him at all. I think these are the attitudes that my childhood heroes would have had too. 

What was the last art exhibition you saw and what did you take away from it?

I went to Yoshitomo Nara's solo show at Pace Gallery in Chelsea. I love how Nara draws consistently what he likes to draw. It's amazing that it's just a giant head painting but I can have so many conversations with it while looking at it. It's healing. Also in the show were his new giant head sculptures and in the same way, I could hear so many stories coming from them. 

What are some of your favorite blogs/websites for inspiration?

It's Nice That

Where did your idea for Dream Friends originate? What was the most difficult part about getting from idea to finished art?

It came from my own experience. I have lived in a foreign country as a foreigner, now for more than half of my life, so I am used to playing with my imagination. I always longed for friends too. Dream Friends is a book about friendship and sharing dreams. My “dream world” in the book might be the foreign country I live in. Maybe the ending of the book reflects my idea about art – I make art to visualize what's inside me and hopefully I can share it with others. When it's shared, it's more meaningful. 

What advice would you give to a young illustrator who is just getting noticed?

Draw as much as possible and it has to be what you like to draw, not what others (clients/fans) like you to draw. This is sometimes a great challenge for me as well! 

Mural installation for Bar Sauce, Creative Director Bobby Luo 

Originally from South Korea, artist and author You Byun graduated from School of Visual Arts and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Byun likes to draw imaginative landscapes that capture the magic around her with lush environments and a variety of memorable characters. 

Her work has been recognized by various magazines, awards and competitions, including Communication Arts Magazine, Pick Me Up London Graphic Design Festival 2013, AI-AP, Society of Illustrators, and SCBWI (with winning both Grand Prize in Portfolio Award, and Tomie DePaola Award in 2010). Her clients include Penguin Books, Nobrow, Fisher Price, Plan Sponsor magazine, NPR, Rodale, JWT, Gestalten, SCBWI and more. 

Byun is currently working on her second picture book with Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin). Her first picture book Dream Friends (Penguin 2013) was highly praised by the New York Times and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. 


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