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Subin Yang

Subin Yang

Meet South Korean illustrator, Subin Yang.


Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello, my name is Subin Yang and I’m an illustrator currently based in South Korea. I was born and raised mostly in South Korea and have also grew up partly in New Delhi, India, and then in Portland, Oregon for art school. I graduated with a BFA in illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) and have since been working as a freelance illustrator.


Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

In the last 5 years, I’ve moved from Portland, OR to Seoul, South Korea, then to New York, then back to Seoul, and finally Hwaseong. So I’d like to talk a little bit about each!


1. Portland is where I first go to be a part of a community of creatives by going to an art school. Coming from Seoul after highschool, Portland left a huge impression of a slower-paced and eco-friendly environment that encouraged experimentation. It was inspiring for me to be surrounded by the local art scene, cheap art supplies (Scraps!), lots of vintage and second-hand goods, and nature (farmers market).


2. New York is where I headed at the last leg of my student visa because I thought this could be my last chance to live in New York. I think the three months I spent there were the most productive time I’d spent; I spent everyday meeting new people, going to shows, volunteering at events, and promoting my work. I loved seeing and meeting so many interesting and talented people who were also kind enough to welcome me to the city.


3. Seoul is where I grew up during my high school years, and probably where I stayed around the longest (around 9 years). Seoul is very much like New York in that there’s always something going on. and it’s a city full of history as well as the newest trends in Korea. One thing that is different is that the public transportation is amazingly maintained in Seoul and I can easily go from one neighborhood to another using the subway or the bus. To be honest, I only started exploring Seoul when I came back after graduating and there are so many sweet cafes, galleries, museums, and stores that I have yet to visit.


4. Hwaseong is where I live now with my family. The neighborhood has recently been renovated so it’s super clean and unpopulated. Whenever I have the chance, I take the train to Seoul to do things like exploring new cafes, going to shows, and meeting friends and clients.


In the last 5 years, I’ve moved from Portland, OR to Seoul, South Korea, then to New York, then back to Seoul, and finally Hwaseong.


What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

Good: The people I met and the friends I made along the way. Nature and eco-friendly and sustainable movement that is more prevalent in the city than other cities I’ve lived in.
Bad: Not enough international community (based on my experience)


New York
Good: Big creative industry and community!
Bad: Expensive


Good: Big creative industry and community!
Bad: Expensive


Good: My parents live here.
Bad: There’re only babies and cherry blossom trees in spring which can be good to calm your nerves but there’s isn’t much I can do art-related here.


Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.

Since I lived in Seoul the longest, here are my 3 words for Seoul art scene!


Contemporary – I think art in Korea is always so fresh and trendy. I feel like artists in Korea are not afraid of evolving and making work that is always relevant by keeping up with contemporary issues and cultural shifts – which is easier said than done!


Competitive – Talking about Korea as a whole, it feels like a super competitive market with lots of talented creatives and not enough diverse platforms for diverse art styles to thrive in (compared to the US) BUT that is changing very fast and independent brands are starting to thrive through social media. Nonetheless, it’s a small country that is jam-packed with extremely hard-working and unique artists.


Flexible / Adaptive – I think due to the trendy and competitive nature, creatives in Korea are also very adapt at changing to fit the trends and also learn new skills and ways to get their work out there.


How did you start your career in art?

After I graduated with Illustration BFA at PNCA, I decided to stay in the states longer and signed myself up for OPT, which is a visa that allows recent grad international students to live and work in the US for around a year (up to 3 if you are in a specific field).

By the time I graduated, I had my Instagram as well as my online portfolio (website) ready and began sending emails to art directors and places I really wanted to work with. Of course, for the whole first year, I had maybe a handful of jobs (that I was super thankful to have since those clients really took a chance on a new illustrator). Whatever free time I had, I spent it posting my artwork online, retouching my portfolio, doing personal projects, and constantly emailing people, I finally started getting a few freelance jobs from clients I’d never even dreamed of.

This was possible because I had full support from my professors, friends, family, and other professional creatives who were kind to share my work and give me sound advice from their experiences. Without the help from the art community in Portland and in New York, it would have been a really difficult and lonely journey to build up my career.


By the time I graduated, I had my Instagram as well as my online portfolio (website) ready and began sending emails to art directors and places I really wanted to work with.


Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

My parents have been very supportive of my decision to work as a creative ever since I could remember. My mother was especially so dedicated to developing my talents and would allow me to take extra art lessons or go to competitions if I wanted to. My parents also decided to fully support me and through college but I don’t think they were expecting much from me. I still remember the reaction from my dad when my family visited Portland for my graduation show and even now my he is often amazed and confused as to how I’m getting by making art for a living.

And the friends and teachers I met at art school have been my biggest support for art as well. Before going to art school, I had no one person around me who could be a role model as a creative other than my art teachers and tutors. That changed dramatically when I got to PNCA and met so many professionals from such specified fields (I had no idea there were so many) who were also my teachers and even fellow students. When I first graduated from PNCA, the thing I missed the most about it was the community of people whom I could always bounce ideas with and get honest and earnest feedback from.


What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

I’m at a bit of a creative rut! I want to make small projects for myself to make fun merchandise and zines again. I’m also working on a visa to work and live in the states! I have so many things I want to do if the visa works out – I want to participate in MOCA and other art fairs, go to drawing sessions, go to all the museums, meet with my favorite local illustrators and designers, and just be a part of the creative community there.


I’m at a bit of a creative rut!


If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

This is a very difficult question…I haven’t worked in a team in a long time and have never even thought of the idea! Though ideally, I would have loved to work with Louise Bourgeois.


How would you describe the women around you?

They’re the reason I want to be a better person. There are just so many cool female members in my family and also amongst my friends. It’s always so humbling and interesting to learn about how they navigate their world and life and how hardworking they are.


They’re the reason I want to be a better person.


Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

Growing up, I don’t think I had any specific female creative that I looked up to. Although I enjoyed a lot of illustrated works by female artists like manga, anime, children’s illustrated books, and more, it was a time period when individual illustrators were not that well known. One creative’s work that I delved deeply into was Sailor Moon’s creator, Naoko Takeuchi. As a kid, I would look through all the original illustrations by Takeuchi and analyze all the symbolism and influences which helped develop my interest in astrology, mythology, fashion (lots of 90s high fashion), and also Art Nouveau (Alphonse Mucha).


Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?

I’m not sure if I’ve personally experienced any challenges in work for my gender but since my work is usually very feminine, there were a couple of times when I’d get feedback from my client to make the work more gender-neutral. I think that is more of an issue of unfit pairing of my style of work and the target audience that the client is trying to get.

Sometimes, I do imagine what it would have meant for illustrators with very feminine and cute art style when women had really low financial independence and were not a major market consumers. It probably would have limited the artists to very specific jobs only – like children’s illustrated books and educational book illustrations it has been in the past in Korea.


Reach out to others for help and also help those around you!


Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

Reach out to others for help and also help those around you! Always remember that it’s important to share your work even if you don’t think it’s 100% perfect – you might never get there. Don’t be afraid to promote your own work and reach out to the clients yourself, you are your biggest supporter and if you can’t speak up for yourself, no one else can do it for you!



Photos courtesy of Subin Yang.