In this blog series we're putting the spotlight on some of our favourite creatives. This time we speak with Seoul based freelance illustrator Ahra Kwon.
Ahra Kwon is a freelance illustrator based in Seoul, South Korea, and has worked with a variety of high-profile clients including Facebook, Samsung and Hyundai. She specialises in producing editorial illustrations for magazines, children’s books and book cover design. We spoke to her about her education in art, her career so far and the challenges she faces as a freelancer.
Firstly, how have things been for you during this difficult global pandemic?
Compared to others, I’ve been fortunate enough to not be too affected by the pandemic, I have been working at home ever since I started working as a full-time freelancer, so my day-to-day isn’t too different. Nevertheless, it is a difficult and challenging situation. I especially love travelling, so it is a shame to miss so many opportunities to visit new places. I’ve been using my spare time to do more work around the home.
What first inspired you to get into illustration?
I wanted to become an artist since I was very young. I studied Fine Art in University, and learnt mainly about contemporary art. I was interested in the visual image itself more than conceptual fine art. I was pretty lost at that time, did lots of other activities such as photography, making short documentaries and so on. Then after realising that I like image-making, I changed tracks to become an illustrator. After graduating, I juggled my time as a freelance illustrator with a part-time job, then as more commissions started to come in, little by little, I became a full-time illustrator around 7 years ago.
You have always worked as a freelancer, was that always your intention?
There wasn’t too much choice for me. At the time, there weren’t so many in-house jobs for artists in Korea and there were few agencies specifically for illustrators too. So, I started to work as a part-time art teacher, and also as an illustrator. In order to work as a full-time freelance illustrator, I pushed my self-promotion through Behance, applied for many illustration awards, sent out many emails to various agencies, and so on. It has been a long journey to be a full-time freelance illustrator after graduating university.
You’ve picked up some amazing clients with the likes of Apple, Hyundai, Samsung and Facebook to name just a few, is there a particular project that you are most proud of in your career?
I really loved working with all of my clients, but I think the project I’m most proud of is the Apple Today Tab. I have done several pieces of artwork for them. In each project, I was commissioned to deliver particular messages and it was challenging for me to show the message intuitively rather than explaining it. It was close to editorial illustration, but different in a way, because I had to show very clear messages in the size of a small iPhone format. I also learnt how working with an art director is important. Each designer I worked with gave me very clear feedback, which led to better results.
Like Ana Jaks who we have previously featured as a Creative Spotlight, you are represented by Closer&Closer, how has being represented by an agency changed your career?
Being represented by C&C has changed so many things. When I worked alone, I had to deal with many things other than creating the artwork, such as invoicing and scheduling with clients. With the support of C&C, I can focus more on my artwork. They also promote me through various channels and connect me to various clients. They also check my status every quarter which is great for self-reflection.
What advice would you give for aspiring creatives and artists, and those who are graduating later this year?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until I graduated. Even though it’s a time of great instability, I think it’s the time when you get to know more about yourself. I hope students can trust themselves, believe in themselves, and build up to whatever they are doing. It is really important not to take criticism too personally and to use it to continuously develop. It is important to know that there are many talented people around us, but talent isn’t everything. I think doing something steadily is the most important thing. It takes a lot of time and effort, but try to enjoy it.
All creatives have different approaches to receiving a brief or starting on a piece of artwork, do you have a typical process for when creating your illustrations?
At first, I look at the brief very closely, I analyse it and figure out exactly what the client wants. Then I collect some references online, I like to use Pinterest to clarify my ideas. I usually think, what composition would show this theme clearly. Then I draw the artwork by hand roughly and move onto Photoshop. After refining the sketch, I make a colour palette, and progress into colouring and adding the details.
What are you currently working on? Any projects in the pipeline?
I’m working on a long wall display illustration for Hyundai. I’m making a total of 6 illustrations for them in 2021. Each of these has different themes. I’m also working on an editorial illustration for a magazine and I’m awaiting some information about a project for a client in Finland, which is exciting!
This series is all about putting the spotlight on different creatives. Are there any creatives who you have recently come across that you would recommend?
There are so many artists that I am a big fan of. I especially recommend Igor Bastidas, Elliot Lim and Eugenia Mello.
It’s been great to get a perspective of the challenges that freelance illustrators have to overcome, we look forward to seeing the new projects that Ahra gets up to in the year ahead.
We’ll be back soon with our next creative spotlight, so keep an eye out for that one.
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