The journey of an artist
For an artist, sometimes the creative process is inspired by curiosity, wonderment, awe of their subjects or surroundings. Other times it is fueled by reactions to love, life, pleasure, pain, culture or society.
This month, Groove Korea examines the journeys of two expat visual artists with very different approaches: one an optimist who finds inspiration in observing and embracing the world around him, the other a critic of society who practices no restraint in confronting the issues relevant to himself and his peers.
Wherever the artists find their muse, two characteristics propel both of their creative quests — questioning and perseverance.
For Wilfred Lee, his journey into the art world began during his childhood. Though unaware that his destiny would be that of an artist, he would spend hours happily exploring his artistic abilities by drawing. His passion for creating drawings simply provided him with an outlet for internal expression. As the years passed, his intensified desire for art led him to enroll into an animation program at university. It was shortly after completing his studies, the yearning to learn more about his father’s culture led this young Canadian artist to Korea. Now, four years later, his original pursuit has steered him onto an incredible journey as a foreign artist in Korea.
Anyone who is an artist, knows the that path of the artist is tough and challenging. However, what happens when an artist ventures into a world, where communication is difficult and opportunities are hidden? How is it possible to overcome such obstacles? Being a foreigner in Korea, with the quest of becoming an artist, is a story that could undeniably be told by Wilfred.
In 2008, Wilfred came to Korea and like many foreigners, began teaching English. However, despite enjoying his teaching jobs, he felt the need to bring out the artist within himself. But the daunting question remained; how would he transition from teaching English into the art world? Ambitiously he created art portfolios with the goal of securing a job as a concept designer. Unfortunately time and time again, he was rejected. He felt disheartened, confused, and frustrated. Wilfred explains, “My first year in Itaewon I just wanted to be an artist. I made this really huge book and it was really personal stuff. I remember going to different places and they were just rejecting me. I had no idea about the art world (in Korea). And later on, I would still do art, but I was feeling really down of course.”
Nevertheless, Wilfred’s determination to grow as an artist prevailed. He eventually enrolled in classes to study the art of caricature. With diligent practice, he learned to apply his previous skills and techniques to the art of caricature. Wilfred claims, “My techniques, whatever I did as an artist, were being translated through the art of caricature.” Soon, during his spare time, Wilfred was drawing caricatures at Seoul’s prime locations like: Lotte World, Namsan Tower, and Insadong. Creating caricatures as fine art pieces became a gateway for Wilfred into the art world of Korea.
By his second year in Korea, another art opportunity had surfaced for Wilfred at his workplace. As a kindergarten teacher, he had exposed his incredible talent for drawing. Having recognized Wilfred’s art skills, his director proposed a project of creating illustrations for English textbooks. Wilfred gratefully seized the opportunity and spent the next year assiduously completing the artistic work for the textbooks as well as teaching art classes to students. However, despite these opportunities, he still felt the inclination to do more as an artist.
A remarkable high point in Wilfred’s journey as a struggling artist in Korea was when he discovered the International Artist Community (IAC). This community consisted of many talented artists, both Koreans and foreigners, who were living in Korea and sharing their creative ideas and styles. Wilfred emphasizes, “Art is a very personal thing. It’s very common to be by yourself and it is a very isolating process, but to go out and meet people, do life-drawings together, do caricature with people…you see their styles. It doesn’t matter where they vary but you get influences.”
Feeling motivated, Wilfred had signed up for “life drawing” classes. Every Saturday he would head to Myeongdong to be inspired by other artists. He was able to experiment with different tools and materials, while learning about new drawing styles. Eventually, having exhibited extraordinary artistic talent yet again, he was offered a chance to teach art classes. Accepting the opportunity, he began to teach caricature, nude drawings, life drawings, concept designs, and animal designs. Wilfred also taught the importance of observation to his art students.
“To be an artist is to observe life,” he states confidently. It is observation, he insists, that elevates him to a whole new sense of awareness of his surroundings and people. Wilfred explains, “I just believe art is such a mental activity, like 98% mental, 1% the hand, the other 1% is people. You don’t need a lot to draw, you just need to see things. And then when you do that, you appreciate everything around you so much more. You look at people differently and it’s like a 4th or 5th dimension.”
After a year of teaching art classes however, Wilfred simply did not feel satisfied. He still longed to fulfill his original desire of becoming a concept designer. Fortunately, his strength to overcome his past struggles and succeed in his given opportunities, landed him a job with the Nexon Mobile gaming company. He became the first foreigner ever to be hired as concept designer in a company of 500-600 employees.
Having worked with this gaming company for a year, Wilfred is now working with Centum Interactive. He is always exerting himself to achieve more, and currently he is involved with creating children’s education applications for games. When not working as a concept designer, he is creating art exhibitions, attending events to do caricatures, making art tutorials, and teaching art classes.
The road of an artist may be a strenuous one, but for Wilfred overcoming the ordeals and trials have definitely tested his desire to be an artist in Korea. It has been his perseverance and ambition to continuously grow as an artist that has helped him become a conceptual designer today. The presence of a supportive community of talented artists along with mastering his own observation skills have also added to his present day success. Wilfred claims however, it is the opportunities in Korea that have continued to guide him on this artist’s journey. He truly believes, “it a golden age for foreigners” who have the desire to become a part of the art community. Wilfred admits, the longer he stays in Korea, the more opportunities are becoming available for him. He plans to continue traveling along this artist’s path, while challenging himself to grow to his fullest potential as an artist.
(Below is additional information that can be placed with his artwork or somewhere on the page.)
Although Wilfred modestly claims that his artwork does not represent any milestones, he has indeed created a lot of fantastic artwork throughout his life. To view Wilfred Lee’s incredible artwork, check out his website: http://www.wilfred-lee.blogspot.com/
Filled with years of dedication, self-discovery and rejection, the quest of becoming an artist is challenging enough as it is. Throw in a venture into a new world, where communication is difficult and opportunities are hidden. How is it possible to overcome such obstacles? For expat Wilfred Lee, the artistic journey is a story characterized by questioning, perseverance, humility, optimism and a bit of artistic magic.
Lee, like most anyone, first began exploring the world through the curious eyes of a child. Inspired by the wonderment of his surroundings, he picked up a pencil and began to draw. He would spend hours happily exploring his artistic abilities, unaware at the time that these creations were to shape his destiny. His interest in creating drawings simply provided him with an outlet for internal expression.
This is where his journey as an artist began. By immersing himself in comics, games, animations and movies, he started to develop his own ideas and wanted them to come to life. “I wanted to be part of that magical process of creating life from an idea,” he said.
His passion for this process led the Canada native to study animation arts at Seneca College at York University, where teachers inspired him with the life stories of master artists of yore such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso and Dali. It was there that he also got to indulge his interest in the pre-production process for creating art and understand “the collaboration of people to create a project bigger than yourself.”
Shortly after completing his formal studies, a yearning to learn more about his father’s culture led the young artist to Korea. Like many expats here, Lee’s early years in Korea were spent in a classroom. It didn’t take long, however, for Lee to hatch a plan to transition into the art world.
Soon, during his spare time, Lee was drawing caricatures at Lotte World, Namsan Tower and in Insadong. Further, creating caricatures as fine art opened up a door into the tight-knit community of local artists, he said. By his second year in Korea, an opportunity surfaced at his workplace. As a kindergarten teacher, he had exposed his incredible talent for drawing. His director, who recognized Lee’s skills, proposed a project to create illustrations for English textbooks. Lee seized the opportunity and spent the next year completing the artistic work for those textbooks as well as teaching art classes.
Amid these opportunities, Lee felt he still had more to improve upon as an artist. Another turning point in his journey as a burgeoning artist came when he discovered the International Artist Community (IAC). The community consists of talented artists, Koreans and foreigners, who live in Korea and share their creative ideas and styles. “Art is a very personal thing,” he said. “It’s very common to be by yourself and it is a very isolating process, but to go out and meet people, do life-drawings together, do caricature with people … you see their styles. It doesn’t matter where they vary but you get influences.”
Feeling motivated, Lee signed up for life-drawing classes. Every Saturday he would head to Myeong-dong in central Seoul to gain inspiration from other artists. He experimented with different tools and materials and learned new drawing styles. Eventually, having exhibited extraordinary artistic talent yet again, he was offered a chance to teach art classes. Accepting the opportunity, he began to teach caricature, figure drawing, life drawing, concept design and animal design.
Lee also teaches the importance of observation to his art students. “To be an artist is to observe life,” he states confidently. It is this observation, he insists, that elevates him to a whole new sense of awareness of his surroundings and people. “I just believe art is such a mental activity: like 98 percent mental, 1 percent the hand, the other 1 percent is people. You don’t need a lot to draw; you just need to see things. And then when you do that, you appreciate everything around you so much more. You look at people differently and it’s like a 4th or 5th dimension.”
After a year of teaching art classes, Lee still longed to fulfill his original desire of becoming a concept designer. His persistence finally paid off when he landed a job with the Nexen Mobile gaming company — becoming the first-ever foreigner in Korea to be hired as a concept designer in a company of 500 or more employees.
One year later, Lee moved on to Centum Interactive and currently continues to work as a concept designer for its new company Wisekids. “(This) is just the beginning in fulfilling a lifelong goal,” he said. “I am constantly learning something new about the field, both aesthetically and technologically … It humbles you into realizing there’s always a higher level of knowledge to achieve.” In his free time, he creates art exhibitions, attends events to do caricatures, makes art tutorials and teaches art classes.
In the near future he plans to hold more seminars and workshops, and complete and share his personal stories, which he has been working on for the past 12 years. Lee claims it is the opportunities he’s had in Korea that have continued to lead him on his journey — and the longer he stays in Korea, the more doors continue to open for him. “It’s a golden age for foreigners” who have the desire to become a part of the art community, Lee said.