|News & Suzy Lee's travel sketches, drawings, photographs and writings.
|#72-75, April Volume 2006, Taiwan dpi Magazine
Interview with Suzy Lee
1. Please introduce yourself to our readers in Taiwan.
I was born in Seoul, Korea. I studied Painting (BA, Seoul National University, Korea) and Book Arts (MA, Camberwell College of Arts, U.K.). I had exhibitions as a painter and a book artist. I am living in Houston, U.S.A. at the moment working as a picture book artist.
2. When and how did you start drawing?
When I was a kid, people around me said that I drew very well. (Who didn't when we were kids?) Whatever the truth was, I never doubted to be an artist. I guess ones who really believed that compliment become artists, and those who were smart enough not to believe it are doing some other useful things.
3. What kind of materials you use for drawing?
I use every material I could use. But I feel most comfortable when I grab a charcoal. I love it because it expresses a sense of volume as well as a sharp line at the same time. Charcoal lines bear the sense of time as well - I tend to draw quickly in few strokes and I found charcoals perfect for that.
4. We all have some different dreams before we become who we are now. How did you become an illustrator? Is it your first dream that you want to be?
As I said earlier, being an artist was my inevitable goal in my childhood. I think my dream became more specific. When I was studying painting in university, I became interested in books as a new medium. I started working as a freelance illustrator after I graduate university. Being an illustrator seemed to be a perfect negotiation - the idea was that I could earn my living doing what I like.
5. What challenges you have been through in your drawing life? How did you overcome them?
I knew I always wanted to do some book-related works. I loved a book as a concept and new medium for me but I did not know what I really wanted to do with it. Working as an illustrator was sometimes fun, but most of time I felt that I was draining myself.
The excuse I went to London at that time was for studying, but it was actually a vacation entirely for myself. I tried to figure out what I really wanted to do. Focusing on my works, I found out that I had already had a lot of things myself, and problems were solved by looking into myself with fresh eyes. All I needed was just to grab it, and enjoy it. Studying Book Arts expanded my view on book works and a life as an artist.
6. When you become an illustrator, what goals you will make for yourself to achieve? What goals you set have been achieved?
I prefer the term of an 'artist' to an 'llustrator'. To me, an artist is a broader term and it gives me more responsibility to my works in the long run. Even if I am doing various kinds of works, I would like to see consistency in my works as an entity. I find myself enjoying while I am working on my books. I think it is already a great achievement for me.
7. How many illustration books you have done so far? Please tell us the motivation behind your drawing.
I have 15 books published and five of them are both written and illustrated by myself. They are: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (Corraini, Italy, 2002), ‘La Revanche des Lapins’ (La Joie de Lire, Switzerland, 2003), ‘Mirror’(Corraini, Italy, 2003), ‘Zoo’(BIR, Korea, 2004), ‘Action Korean Alphabet’ (Dolkid, Korea, 2006). In addition to the published book, I am working on artists’ books under ‘Hintoki Press’, my private press. It has just been started, but I am trying to make book works that commercial publishers cannot cover.
8. When you are doing an illustration book, how did you get the drawing ideas? How do you form their characteristics? Please show us some of your process sketches.
New project I am working on at the moment is about a girl playing with the wave at the beach. Once I draw some images which occur first in my mind, I arrange them in a row to make a storyline. To get a real sense of a child’s reaction to the wave, I go out and take some pictures of children at the beach, but most of all, I do lots of drawing to make a perfect stroke. Finally, I make a simple dummy book to see if the story flows well.
9. In those illustration books you have done, which of them are your favorite ones? Why? Please show us their images.
I like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Mirror’ in my list of works for different reasons. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was my project for Master’s degree in Book Arts. It was the first book I could say ‘my book’ – I did everything from the story to bookbinding, and it contains every single thought that I had at that time. Having lots of research and preparation, it took me one whole year to complete the book.
While the Alice book was the result of the piles of complicated ideas, ‘Mirror’ was a simple and quick-made book. Starting from a casual idea to the finished book, it took only a week. Simple idea was realized straightforward. I love both of books because they share the same theme (about ‘bookness’) but made in very different attitude.
10. Can you talk something about Alice Wonderland? How was the process, and what is the motivation you use combination of black and white photo and drawing in this book.
Reading again ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll as a grown-up was a fascinating experience. All the Alice’s adventures were just in her dream; I was particularly interested in this motif of a ‘dream-within-a-dream’, which is never-ending regression as two mirrors facing each other. (I later developed this idea in the ‘Mirror’ book.) In my version of Alice book, Alice, a real girl, and the White Rabbit, the symbol of an illusionary world, chase each other in a performance. It happens in a theatre, which turns out to be illusion in a fireplace, which also turns out to be mere illusion on the page of a book.
I set up the miniature theatre and photographed it. All the props and characters in the theatre are photographic cutouts. They are gradually changed to drawings after Alice’s fall into Wonderland. Photography is used as if it is a real event while casual drawings suggest a dream situation.
11. Can you talk about your book Mirror? What do you try to express from this book?
One of my main interest is about ‘bookness’- e.g. the questions like “what is a book?” or “ what makes a book to be a book?”. Two pages in the book facing each other resemble a reflected mirror. In the ‘Mirror’ book, a lonely girl found her mirrored-self on the opposite page. They become friends but something bizarre happens after they absorb into the fold between two pages. Discord between the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’ leads to an unexpected end.
I tried to deal with the relationship between illusion and reality through ‘Mirror’, using the basic elements of a book such as the folded hinge between two pages. It can be a border between illusion and reality, and a symbol of the symmetrical world.
12. In some of your illustration books, you did not include many words, why? What will you expect your readers to get? (Reaction, deep thinking, reflection, etc.)
I think in visual—always the images come first. And narratives are built up by the series of images. Once a story line is set up by images, I feel the text seems secondary or additional. Wordless picture books function differently from the text-oriented books. Readers can pay more attention to the detail of the picture and read more from it. I once received a letter from French primary school students who wrote their own text using one of my wordless book ‘La Revanche des Lapins (The Revenge of the Rabbits)’. The most fascinate thing is that readers can fill the margin between pictures and make their own story.
13. What is your future plan? Do you plan to publish more variety kinds of illustration books? If so, what are their kinds?
I am working on a new project titled 'Wave' at the moment, which I would say a sequel to 'Mirror'. It deals with the same subject matter but the story happens in a different setting. I would like to stick to the theme I have been dealing with, but at the same time, I would like to challenge to go somewhere I have never been. For instance, I came to be interested in letterpress and typography, and it leads me to make a Korean alphabet book recently. I would like to explore more about the relationship between image and text.
14. What will you say to people who want to become illustrators?
Always keep your sketchbook near you. Everything you see, everything you feel and everything in your sketchbook becomes a book someday. I found that a new idea I am thinking now always existed in my old sketchbooks already. It seemed not to be very brilliant at that time, but as time goes by and as your interest and knowledge build up, it pops out again and suddenly makes sense. If you really have something you want to talk about and something you want to realize, it will come out someday in a new fashion, which you never have imagined.
Therefore, absorb everything, feel it and keep it in your heart and your sketchbook. Do not discard anything you wish.
Thank you very much.
All images copyright © Suzy Lee