Published February 9, 2022

Aijung Kim, illustrator of the official 2022 Festival artwork, is a Virginia artist, living and working in Richmond. We were thrilled for the chance to work with her to create this year’s squirrel- and blossom-filled design, which you can view around town (coming soon!) and throughout the Festival newsletter and other communications. Aijung’s artwork is available to explore on her Etsy shop as well as her artist website and at Sprout_Head on Instagram. Keep reading to learn more about Aijung and her work…

Where did you find inspiration for the 2022 Festival artwork? 
I created the art for the poster using brush and ink, watercolor, and paper cut with digitally-colored hand-lettering. I wanted the poster to have a feeling of hopefulness, which coincides with the Festival’s early spring date. I love the soft yet vibrant colors of cherry blossoms. They are so iconic of spring and they cheerfully emerge out of the more muted colors of winter. I love drawing animals and the natural world. I included some bees and an inchworm in the poster to show the emergence of our insect friends as well, which are an important part of our ecosystem. This joyful coexistence parallels the bounty provided by literature of all kinds. Books pollinate minds and hearts. And really, I thought it would be so fun to have squirrels reading books. I often see squirrels at my bird feeder and they have such agile hands! But what kinds of books would squirrels love to read? Would they prefer pictures over words, or both? Maybe they’d like food-scented pages or books made of actual leaves? I’ll leave that to the viewer to ponder.

How does your artwork influence or shape the way you see the world? 
I am always on the lookout for something that catches my eye: a leaf with a pleasing shape, the intricate pattern of a red cabbage cut in half. It could be a phrase someone said, a memory that was triggered, or a color combination. I always think of everyday life as fodder for creation. Maybe it only gets photographed or jotted down as a doodle in my sketchbook. Or maybe a year or two later I turn that sketch into a linocut print, or those story ideas into a zine (a self-published pamphlet). 

Making art is a spiritual practice for me. My connection to art is an evolving relationship of deep trust and wisdom. It is a way to navigate the pathways between my inner and outer worlds, between spirit and matter. It is a magical feeling to turn a thought, vision, or story into something tangible that can exist in the world. While I do create purely for self-expression, choosing what I share with others carries greater responsibility and intention for me these days. I find myself asking and listening to what needs to be expressed in the world through my art. I tune into what kinds of feelings, energy, or messages will be most beneficial to those around me. Sometimes this can be sharing a tiny moment or sometimes I try to illustrate something grander. When someone makes a piece of art, they create something both visible and invisible. The visible is what others can physically see. The invisible is the energy and intentions that the artist puts into the work, and what the viewer feels, remembers, or becomes inspired to do as a result. The invisible affects the visible, and vice versa. To create is an infinitely hopeful and powerful act. 

What current projects are you working on?
I have been working on a children’s book for the past several years that I plan to self-publish. Writing and illustrating a children’s book is a lot more work than most people realize, but it has always been my biggest dream to do so, and I’m eager to finish it this year! I am also working on an illustrated chapbook of poetry and an illustrated zine about my garden. Gardening brings me joy and teaches me so much about life, especially in the past year. For these projects, I am looking for ways to be more experimental with how I combine words, images, materials, and styles than I have been in the past. We’ll see, because every project demands its own unique expression. I have also been writing down my dreams each morning and would eventually like to do something with them involving words and art. 

As an ongoing practice, I have been developing my writing and trying to enjoy the process rather than being only fixated on the results. With visual art, I learned how to observe, sketch, research, and refine. I also learned to accept the frustrations, discomfort, and wandering that are involved in the process. I would like to apply those lessons to my writing. I always have a million things I want to do, but producing anything takes me at least three times longer than I anticipate—usually longer! Nature is one of my greatest inspirations, and I would love to foster a greater understanding, empathy, and relationship between humans and our natural world. I’m still asking and listening to what ways I can best do that. 

How do you find these connections in your everyday life?
I have always loved words and visual art, both separately and together. Each art form provokes an emotional response specific to that form, but there is something really exciting to me about the combination of words and imagery. This combination can be found in things like posters, maps, murals, album cover design, handmade signs, and poetry broadsides. Personally, my love of words and art points overwhelmingly to books! Reading them, dreaming about them, and making them—sketchbooks, artist books, journals, zines. I am constantly seeking out inspiration for the amazing interplay between words and pictures through reading comic books, children’s books, zines, and other more experimental books. 

There’s also a physicality and aesthetic to the writing process that we sometimes forget about. I often write notes or ideas on scrap paper and then paste them into my journals later. These notes become unintentional collages. I recently leafed through The Gorgeous Nothings which shows drafts of poetry that Emily Dickinson wrote on envelopes. These became visual artifacts of how Dickinson chose a particular envelope, wrote by hand, and arranged the phrases. Seeing the process is really fascinating. 

I think of words as being like pictures, and actually many ancient writing systems derived from pictograms and symbols. I love hand-lettering. Since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed altering and playing around with how I write. If I’m sending out a letter to a friend, it’s fun to hand-letter and doodle on the envelope. When I get a letter from someone with any kind of personal touch, it warms my heart. It takes time to make things by hand, and so often people don’t incorporate these handmade touches in order to save time and convenience. I love seeing things that do not save time! The things we care about deserve our efforts and love. It’s all a part of putting that invisible energy into what we do.

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