About the Project
“I Am the Subway” is my first independent picture book that I both wrote and illustrated. When I first decided to become an illustrator I practiced drawing on a regular basis. One of of the most frequent exercises I would do would be to sit in a subway car and do quick character drawings of the passengers along the trip. The more I drew these random characters, the more I wondered who these people were and I would imagine what their lives were like. These seemingly inconspicuous characters that we pass by everyday are people with their own special stories and dreams. I felt inspired by this notion and decided to make a picture book based on this observation.
There are so many people and things that we dismiss as we go about our busy lives. Through this picture book I wanted to spark the reader’s curiosity to venture into their own lives and look beyond the surface of their everyday surroundings.
Once I established the characters I wanted to portray in the book, I went about interviewing the people of each age and occupation. I also visited the regions of each character that I was not intimately familiar with. There were certain characters (especially the grandmother diver) that you had to just see with your own eyes to really appreciate how special and unique the people who chose this life really are! The main character and narrator, the Number 2 Line Subway, is stands out in my mind among the rest of the subway lines in that it travels in a circular path and is the one of the older more established lines in Seoul. Each station has a look and feel of its own and displays a different facet of Seoul’s city life. I have traveled this circle more than I can even recall.
I was determined to use mediums that may be found in an average Korean pencil case: a 4B Tombow graphite pencil, a blue, black and a red Monami ball-point pens. I also used water-based inks (yellow, umber, orange, pink and reddish brown). By combining these colors I was able to express the diverse hues of the skin tones that I came across while riding the subway. Finally, I used the mediums that I was the most accustomed to conte pencils, water color and tradition Korean ink (meok).
After the research I established the general sequence in a rough thumbnail format then I created the layout, to scale, in a rough pencil sketch. Once I was satisfied with the layout of each scene, I would create the final image on fresh paper with no underlying sketch with my intended mediums to keep the work from getting rigid or fixed to an underlying image.
The biggest challenge with this project was to keep the resolve to actually finish the book. During the process I often found myself asking, “Is this a book that really needs to be made? Does this story need to be told.” I found that riding the subway, sketching new characters and interviewing everyday people helped tremendously. The shoe repairman that I had asked to interview told me that his life as a shoe repair smith was so mundane he didn’t have exciting anecdotes to share. This convinced me this is the reason this story needed to be told.
The project was a confirmation that there is truly a unique and compelling facet to every individual that we pass by.
The biggest distraction as a fledgling illustrator was the inherent need to make a living from the profession. As this was my first independent picture book I often found myself supplementing my income with various small side projects.
I took 3 Years to write complete this work. There are 377 unique characters in this book (including the 7 storied characters).
I might have given the last character more depth to his story. As he is the last character, I initially felt I needed to keep his story brief as I thought it would be best for the rhythm of the book.
Always be observant of the real world around you.
There are two things that I am currently working on: Finishing my second book and seeing the world through my one year-old’s eyes.
Making a picture book that my daughter can truly enjoy.
Favourite Thing to Draw
At this juncture of my life, my work space is not really a place (although I do have a studio) but rather any time my daughter is asleep.
I would like to thank my publishers (Munhak Dongne and Scribble) for seeing the potential of my work and sharing it with their readers. And my parents, who encouraged me to see the beauty in the world. (And my husband for helping me write this all in English.)