Eunbi Kang, a recent illustration graduate, studied illustration but had her sights set on animation. Her artwork bursts with energy and playfulness, brought to life by her skillful use of light and colour, creating a vibrant and atmospheric world.
In our interview with Kang, she discussed overcoming challenges, leaning into your strengths and pursuing your dreams.
Illustrators’ Lounge: Tell us about yourself. How did you get into illustration?
When I was young, my mother bought me collections of children’s books to raise a child who read a lot. And I did. From her point of view, I might have been a good kid who loved to read, but I actually read the books over and over to see all the wonderful illustrations that filled the pages. Paintings that told stories were a huge attraction to me as a child and even now. When I was in high school, I found out about jobs in animation and grew and had an interest in visual development after seeing the paintings of Celine Kim, one of the graduates of the ArtCenter. I ended up majoring in the same Illustration Department at ArtCenter just as she did.
IL: What are your favourite projects you have worked on and what has been the most challenging project?
My graduation project based on the 1950s black and white film Roman Holiday, was the most difficult project I’ve done, but also one of my favourites. When I watched this movie for the first time, I shouted “Eureka” out loud. I thought it would be nice to remake this wonderful movie into an animation style. And, since this was a black and white film, it gave me the freedom to emphasise my strength, colour. However, at the same time, it created a lot of obstacles for me because there was no reference colour that could be obtained from the film itself. Adding onto the task, I also needed to create all the parts of character designs, props, sketches, and composition for this project. However, after all of the obstacles, I think I overcame my limitations, I realised I can paint better than I expected and design my project more than I could. I heard that the growth of art skill does not have a diagonal shape, it has a stair shape. When artists break through their limitations, they grow their skills. To me, Roman Holiday became a way for me to step over my limitations.
IL: How has your style evolved since working professionally?
I think my style has evolved and been tailored to the animation industry, especially 3D animation. My job is a visual development artist, who creates the pre-production ideation of the animation, such as props, backgrounds, and characters. And since I found my strength in colour, I did a lot of design work focusing on colour. Because of that, since working professionally my portfolio has been built to focus on an animation style and different scenes.
IL: Your illustrations have a warmth to them, because of your charming character and good use of lighting. What are your biggest considerations when composing a scene?
Thank you very much for the compliment. I think the most important thing in painting is harmony. This concept is not just utilised by painting, but also by sculpture, photography, and many other art fields. So, when creating an illustration, it is good to think about the point of view of the people who will see it. The first thing I think about is how to naturally draw the viewer’s eyes to the focal point. Directing the shape or location of buildings or objects to the focal point. An illustration fundamental that I first learned at the Art Center.
Utilising this, I think about which composition works best for the story. Illustrations are not animations. It can be the basis of animation, but since the character does not move, it cannot contain a vast story like animation in one scene. For example, in my Roman Holiday redesign project, there is a scene where Ann is getting her haircut And Joe, the male protagonist, is surprised to see her new hairstyle. There’s a variety of compositions that could suit this moment. You can capture Ann’s haircut and Joe’s surprise in the reflection in the large mirror at the salon. Or you can create a full shot of the salon while others adore Ann’s new look, Joe is surprised at the back. You just have to think about the different compositions and choose which best describes the scene.
IL: Do you have any painting tips?
Oh, that’s a very difficult question. While I have learned a lot from many people, the most life-changing words I’ve ever heard were spoken by Drew Hartel. “Don’t paint things, paint light.” These words completely turned my life upside down. Painting can be divided into light, objects that light hits, and shadows that objects create. I think painting expresses how light reflects off objects. Ultimately, it is the work of expressing light. After hearing this, my painting became easier and more fun. After all, painting is about how local colours react to light.
So when I start painting, I first imagine the colour of the light and the colour of the shadow. And think about what happens when the local colour is exposed to light and shadow. For example, imagine an apple under a blue sky bathed in yellow sunlight. First of all, I will think about the colour of light and shadow. Then, I will colour the apple, imagining what colour the red of the apple will be when it is in a yellow light versus what colour it will be when it is in a blue shadow. The part that receives the light is a warm colour, so it will be more saturated red, and the red colour in the shadow part will be low-saturated or blue. So rather than colouring the apple in what it would be known for, I’m imagining how the colour reacts to the light it is under. I don’t think it’s important to copy the exact colour from reality. The most important thing is that the viewer doesn’t have to question the light and colour of this painting.
IL: How do you keep yourself motivated and avoid burnout?
It’s a question my friends always ask, “how can I always draw and paint?” Well, I don’t think of painting as a job, it is always fun, and more of a game.
Everything around me becomes my inspiration. While looking at the buildings, trees, and passing cars that change with the time of day, I am constantly thinking, “Oh, this will be a really good reference.” The world is my playground, reference, and teacher. Paintings and this wonderful world never leave me bored.
But when anxiety and worries about the future come, I remind myself to focus on the present, which can be changed, rather than the future, which cannot be changed. Carpe Diem!
IL: Are you working on any personal projects?
Yes, I always do personal work! Most recently, I worked on an Able Sisters’ clothing store in Animal Crossing using Blender, a 3D modeling tool. I started learning Blender after seeing how helpful it is for other artists and decided to combine it with painting in Photoshop to enhance my illustrations.
IL: What advice would you give to other artists?
Everyone has their own pace and path. It’s going to be very difficult, but I hope you don’t compare yourself with others. I think the moment artists stop comparing themselves to others, they can grow on their own. When I compared myself to my classmates, I felt pessimistic. But I soon stopped. I’m happy when I paint, but not when I compare myself to other artists. I decided to only compare myself to my past self. I only need to take one step ahead of yesterday’s me. I promised myself I would paint happily every day because it is my dream job and dreams come true when I paint.
IL: Finally, one of our goals here is to widen people’s pool of inspiration – who are the artists/illustrators that inspire you?
Thanks to social media, it has been easy to find the work of many great artists and learn about their processes and thoughts. The artists I like are as many as the stars in the sky, but the ones that come to mind right now are Celine Kim, Aliya Chen, and Rebecca Shieh. Their work has been my biggest inspiration. I always work hard because I sincerely hope that one day I will be able to work with these wonderful artists.
You can find more of Eunbi Kang’s work on Instagram and Twitter. You can also check out her portfolio at eunbikang.com.