Interview with Junghwa Park, Author-Illustrator of Wish Soup

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Mar 8, 2024

Junghwa Park [juhng-hwa bahk] is a Korean-born immigrant artist. She graduated from BFA Illustration School of Visual Arts in 2014. Her illustration is warm and whimsical. Also, it is interesting to find hidden stories. She does not only show her whimsical imagination on illustrations, but she also applies it to diverse arts with her boundless craft skill as well.

I had the opportunity to interview Junghwa, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi Geeks Out! My name is Junghwa Park, Author-Illustrator of WISH SOUP. I am a Korean-born American immigrant living in Jersey City, New Jersey. I graduated with a BFA in Illustration from SVA in 2014 and was the Grand Prize Winner of SCBWI’s Winter 2020 Portfolio Showcase. I have illustrated While Grandpa Naps by Naomi Danis and 12 Days of Kindness by Irene Latham. I wrote and illustrated Bunnybee published by Korean publisher Who’s Got My Tail’s. Wish Soup is my North American author-illustrator debut. 

What can you tell us about your latest project, Wish Soup? What was the inspiration for this project?

Wish Soup is about Korean Lunar New Year Seollal. It is based on my youth memories. I was the second oldest in the whole family. Though I was young, I knew I needed to help to prepare Seollal. I mostly help to make mandoos and jeons. Setting up table was always my and oldest cousin’s job.

Getting older by eating more tteokguk was a real joke between me and my cousins. Whenever we eat tteokguk together, we made a joke that one who eats more dishes will get old. The joke didn’t get old. We enjoyed this joke every year till we grew up.

The background is based on 1990 years of my youth. Utility pole, kid’s trikes, 1980 multi house and small details from my youth memories. It is built of red brick and a big house gate. Through the gate, there was a small outdoor space and kimchi jars and laundry hangers. Someone else lived on the first floor. We had to go up side stairs to visit grandpa’s place.

As an author/illustrator, what drew you to your medium? How would you describe your artistic background?

Practical reasons drew me to use watercolor and color pencils. Watercolor can be done fast and easy enough to submit editorial illustrations. It dries quickly and is easy to scan. 

I had very supportive parents, lots of technical practice and various experiences in my artistic background. 

I was very lucky that my parents appreciate my work ever since I created art. My dad hung my artwork at his office. My mom made journal files of my artworks since I was two. They still take care my baby works preciously.

I spent lots of time practicing technical drawing and painting as a teenager in Korea. I only slept three hours everyday to get into an art high school and art college. Art exams required specific techniques. They look for technicians instead of creative artists. Though I don’t think I learn art from this experience, those practices are definitely helpful life long.

In my 20s, I experimented all mediums I can try. Performance, toy design, leather, ceramic, fashion design, pattern design, stationery, jewelry design and etc. I wasn’t afraid to fail or make a bad work. I enjoyed the opportunities of failure which is a privilege of youth.

Growing up, were there any books/stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I spent quite a lot of time watching Ghibli animation. I was fascinated by his whimsical and hand painting works. How I love to create work by hand and whimsical details, I can’t deny that my work is inspired by him.

How would you describe your general creative process?

General creative process starts with ideas. Whenever I have a random idea, I put down on my idea note I’ve been using since I was freshman in College. Dreams are another good source. Sometimes random people’s words flash across a new imaginary world in my mind. Making a physical art is experimental and time consuming. I try tons of different ways to make the idea come true. If I can’t find the way, I leave it and glances for few years and go back again.

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest artistic and creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?

As I mentioned above, Ghibli was my very first inspiration in my youth. Edmund Dulac and Lisbeth Zwerger were my heroes when I was in college. Hilma af Klint and Florine Stettheimer influenced my the sense of color.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/illustrating? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

My favorite element of writing/illustrating is communication with others through works. The work is a place where I can meet various people. For example, someone far away and speaks different languages. Once I create works with my idea and value, people interpret with your own idea. Then it becomes a whole new world with each person. That is one of the most thrilling parts of the job.

There are definitely challenging moments. When I work on one project for a long time, I can’t see my work objectively anymore. If I have time to stay away for a while, it’s great to have a break. If not, I have to keep moving forward with uncertainty.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I am a mom and dog person. I have a two years old boy and a shiba inu (another boy). Raising two boys influences my value of life so much. They taught me endless love and the happiness of giving. My point of view on social issues changed a lot. Such as the environment, racism and animal rights. Instead I look for something I love, I tend to look for something I can do for my boys. When I don’t create art, I am a mom who cooks three meals a day, considers nutrient balanced dishes for them and makes sure they use all their energy to have a peaceful night.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

One of the general questions is how to start the book making process and where I get feedback?

When I work as an illustrator and author, words and images come together. When I write a manuscript, I can see the scenes in my head just like watching movies. I imagine which composition, angle, highlight scene I will draw. So, I draw quick thumbnails on the side when I write a manuscript. 

I am very lucky that I get wonderful feedback from my agent, art director, designer and editor. When I get feedback from them, I can’t agree more than anything. They catch my self-doubt on my work clearly. And I often get feedback from my partner in crime Q. When I first met him, one of the attractive points was his critic. He can critic what he sees and think clearly. Even for an artist, critic is tough. He sees keenly and talks objectively.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring creatives?

Believe in yourself. There is tons of amazing art in the world. But no one can be like you. When you listen to your own creative soul, that will be the most creative art.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I am always dreaming of collaborating with animation and fashion. Those are my life bucket lists. Animation was the beginning of professional creativity. And fashion has been my new passion since I was a teenager. When I was seventeen, I wanted to be a hanbok designer and share Korean culture with the world. I won first place in fashion college when I attended high school in MA. Though the mediums are different, I think WISH SOUP is another way I achieved the dream that giving hanbok publicity.

Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I highly recommend checking LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS by Dane Liu, TWO NEW YEARS by Richard Ho and TOMORROW IS NEW YEAR’S DAY by Aram Kim. These books are about Lunar New Year Day that you wouldn’t be able to find in the US market a few years ago. I am so glad that it is normal to have Asian related books at bookstores for the new generation. And I AM THE SUBWAY by Kim Hyo-eun is another good book I like to recommend. It captured current Korea’s society, people and conflict poetically.

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