Interview: Dadu Shin
It's not just about appearance for Brooklyn based illustrator Dadu Shin. His thoughtful editorial work has been featured in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Nautilus, to name a few.
We caught up with him to chat about his work, future plans, and recent move to a new studio space. When we first met, you mentioned how important the NYC illustration community has been to your career. Could you elaborate on that, what about it and/or who specifically has meant so much to you?
One aspect of school that I really loved was being surrounded by other creative people and peers that were striving to achieve similar goals. So after graduation, I missed the camaraderie that I experienced in school and in the shared studio. As I started to get more involved and meet more people in the illustration community here in NYC, I began to find that camaraderie again. I don’t think it was one specific person that allowed for that, but more meeting a bunch of people who were working in illustration, and all had their own narratives. However, I will say that meeting other recent grads and people my age was particularly important because it was comforting knowing there were others who were in a similar stage in their lives and also going the struggle that is making a name for yourself in illustration.
One’s style is dictated, not only by the surface look, but how they think about things, and the tone of their ideas and concepts. There’s so much more to a person’s work than what it looks like.
In the past, you’ve mentioned struggling a bit with style and process; do you feel like you have a method nailed down now? Or do you think changing things up is kind of part of your process?
For a long time I struggled with having a “look” and always felt my work was really inconsistent stylistically. I loved working with a variety of materials, which all have their own inherent looks, which lead to my body of work feeling somewhat disjointed. The idea that one’s work has to be consistent and have a singular voice was reiterated to me over and over when I was just starting out so I felt frustrated that my work seemed to jump around a lot. However I gradually started to realize that most of what I was worrying about was mostly just surface material. I came to the conclusion that one’s style is dictated, not only by the surface look (materials, drawing etc), but how they thought about things, and the tone of their ideas and concepts. There’s so much more to a person’s work than what it looks like. So once I started to really believe that, I embraced the fact that I am flexible stylistically and that my voice lies more in my ideas than my look.
Has the quick turn-around in editorial affected your style at all?
It does here and there. It did more when I was just starting out and still really hadn’t figured out how I wanted to work (which by the way I currently am still trying to do, but feel less insecure about it). The convenience of the computer allowed me to do things quicker and my stuff became more graphic and digital looking and I that’s the look I had for a while. I think if I had long deadlines, I would have been more inclined to do paintings and work more traditionally. Now I’m bringing back some of that more traditional look into my work, which I think has also changed my style.
What has been your favorite project so far this year? And why?
Hmm, that’s a difficult question to answer, just because you try and invest yourself to every project (which doesn’t always happen), but I think the two pieces I did for Nautilus earlier this year stood out to me. Working with great content always makes a project more interesting and fun, and both times I worked with Nautilus the articles were really good reads. However, one of the assignments was extra memorable because the content I was working with was not only interesting, but actually related to my own life and things I was thinking about at the time. When that happens, the assignment truly turns into a personal piece that you just happen to get paid for.
When I was a kid I would often have dreams in which I would shrink and the world around me would warp and suddenly look and feel so big and overwhelming.
In past interviews, you mention that looking into your past is inspiring to you; could you describe 1-3 memories that have influenced specific pieces?
I think looking back and seeing where you’re coming from can allow you to see why you are the way you are. Actually in a lot of cases when looking at my work, I’ll only saw how a piece relates to my past after I had finished it. When I was a kid I would often have dreams in which I would shrink and the world around me would warp and suddenly look and feel so big and overwhelming. I would be spec of dust on the pillow that laid on the couch in our living room. So after doing a bunch of work in which I would have a tiny figure in a grand setting (see below), and playing with that type of scale, I started to realize “Oh my, this is totally like my dreams from when I was young”.
On another occasion, I was doing a series of images that heavily incorporated forests, trees and walking through the woods. I didn’t really understand why I felt so attached to the idea of being in the woods, until a friend of mine who had been to my home back in MA, said “You grew up in the woods, surrounded by trees, that’s why you like drawing these sorts of things, DUH.” After that it became pretty obvious. (see below)
I’ve noticed a handful of mythical creatures and mystical scenarios in your work, do you believe in magic? Or is it more of a tool to visually express something that’s hard to explain?
Oh how I wish magic was real. I’ve always liked fantasy and adventure stories and have always appreciated stories and images that displayed those sorts of things. In my work, I think I do use it as a tool to express something that’s hard to explain. It’s usually a metaphor for something or a vehicle to express a concept through narrative means. Also they’re just fun to draw.
What do you have hanging around your desk right now?
Drawings, prints, and postcards that people have given me over the years. I just moved into a studio so my desk is still somewhat bare, but I’m sure it’ll be covered in paper, pencils, and paints in no time.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges you face working from home?
Fighting all the distractions around you and the temptation to procrastinate. No one is around to hold you accountable for being lazy so it can be dangerous if you tend to have trouble with self control, which I do sometimes. Also I had difficulty separating my work life and my home life because they took place in the same area. I felt like I was never a fully invested in either socializing or work. One or the other was always hovering in the back of my head, making it hard to focus on what I was doing, whether it was having a good time or sitting down and working.
Do you ever see yourself doing anything else (career or life)?
Not really sure, I realized at a young age that drawing was one of the few things I was OK at so I pursued it. My mother is an artist as well as my grandfather, so they supported and nurtured that pursuit. However, now I see that there are so many other things to do and try out there in the world. I would like to take some time to travel and explore other cultures at some point. I recently started taking ceramics classes and have really enjoyed it, so it would cool if I could somehow incorporate more ceramics into my work and life.
What are you listening to while you work right now?
Currently listening to Serial, the new weekly podcast from This American Life. Rather than have a topic and have multiple stories told based of that topic, Serial is episodic and follows one story. It’s really quite good. Right now the story follows Sarah Koenig as she moves and researches her way through a murder case. Someone linked it to the TV show True Detective, and I’d have to agree.
What’s next for you? Any new exciting directions or upcoming projects you can share?
Right now, other than editorial work, I’m in the process of writing a picture book. I signed with a picture book agent a while back, and now am finally taking the time to put something together. I’ve never had the chance to do something like this so I’m excited about the opportunity to write and illustrate my own story.