We had the good fortune of connecting with Kim Ryu and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kim, how do you think about risk?
I am inherently very risk-averse, but I’ve learned to combat my anxiety by being well-prepared. I ask myself questions like: “How can I make this risk feel empowering rather than paralyzing?” and “Even if it doesn’t go the way I hope, what will I learn from this experience?” This self-introspection de-emphasized the negatives of risk-taking and shifted my mindset to be more pro-active. While I can’t control the outcome, I can still prepare to give myself the best chance and to cushion a potential set-back. Through this process, I’ve been able to take more risks throughout my life. Smaller risks like taking a college course I thought was beyond my capabilities and big risks like changing my entire career trajectory, have rewarded me with new business ventures and with invaluable experiences. It’s a privileged position to be able to take a risk, and there were times where I felt like I couldn’t afford that luxury. It’s easier to say this now being on the other side of that cliff, but my biggest risk to pursue a career in design has been my proudest achievement and it has provided a strong foundation for me to take even more risks. 

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
The characters I feature in my illustrations lack distinct facial features and are intentionally expressionless. Instead, I emphasize the details and the story going on in the world surrounding them. I think this approach was a byproduct of growing up in a Korean American household where I felt like emotions were expressed between the lines or in nuances. I like leaving hints through random objects in the background of my illustration that speaks about the subject matter more than the actual figure. There was a time I worried if my style was too “niche” and if it would limit the work I was able to receive. Over time I realized while that may be the case, I was doing myself a disservice trying to force a voice that wasn’t my own. More importantly, I came to understand that there was a subject matter that only I could uniquely express and I doubled down on exploring that. I hope people who look at my work can enjoy it for its aesthetic at face value but realize there’s something more lingering under the surface. My illustrations are about identity or the lack of one, the collision of traditional values and new paradigms, and the line between dream and dread.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would recommend eating at Manuela in the LA Arts District and check out the nearby exhibition and shop at Hauser & Wirth. I would spend an entire day gallery hopping to Matthew Marks Gallery, 1301PE, and Blum & Poe and end the day with Leo’s Taco Truck.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to shout out the amazing art director, Alexandra Zsigmond. She was exposed to my work by being on the judging panel during the year of my first American Illustration submission. She took note of my name and reached out to me for my first New York Times assignment. For an illustrator, getting your foot through the door can feel like a lottery ticket. For art directors, I can imagine it was a huge risk to work with an illustrator still in college and to trust them to finish the illustration on time. I’ll never forget the mix of anxiety and joy I felt on my first assignment and how proud I felt when I finally saw it published online. I’m grateful for all the art directors that actively seek out new, young talent with no prior experience because it can make a world of a difference to their career trajectory. Thank you again, Alexandra!

Website: kimryustudio.com
Instagram: @kim.ryu

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