Art Director Aram Kim will be joining our SCBWI chapter at the Pocono Remix 2023 retreat this April at the Highlights Foundation. Aram will run a workshop titled Who’s This?: Creating Characters Your Readers will Fall in Love With, and will provide feedback for illustrators who have signed up to participate in the art director assignment to, “create a character and show them in a setting that tells a story about the character.” In preparation for this event, Berrie Torgan-Randall had a virtual chat with Aram for EasternPennPoints. Here’s what they had to say.
A Café Chat with Art Director Aram Kim, by Berrie Torgan-Randall
Berrie: Annyeonghaseyo (hello) Aram. It’s so good to be with you again. Aram and I sat together at a book festival and she was our guest Art Director for one of our Picture Book Masterclasses. Aram will be joining us at our upcoming Pocono Retreat. Would you like something to drink from our virtual cafe?
Aram: Annyeonghaseyo, Berrie! So good to talk with you again! I will have an Iced Cappuccino, please. (I normally order a black iced coffee, but I want to be fancy.)
Berrie: It looks like Korean New Years was celebrated on January 22nd this year. Are there special traditions that you follow and are featured in your books?
Aram: I am usually not big on cooking holiday food, but I always cook tteokguk, a special rice cake soup for Seollal (Korean Lunar New Year’s Day). It’s simple but very delicious. If I skip eating tteokguk on Seollal, I will feel off for the entire year! Especially this year, I got to eat tteokguk three times and it was great! I cooked the first one, my friend cooked the second, and the third one was from a restaurant. All very delicious. I of course had to include cooking tteokguk in my Lunar New Year book as well.
Berrie: You are an Art Director for Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and also an author and illustrator. How do you strike a balanced work environment?
Aram: It was always my quest and struggle to create a balanced work environment, which somewhat ironically I only succeeded during the pandemic. Because we’re still allowed to work from home, the time and energy I save from not commuting in a crowded subway give me a lot of leeway. I’m not tired after I sign off from work at the end of the day and I can jump into my illustration work after a few hours of rest. When I was still commuting to work, I struggled to find time and energy to work on my own books because I got so tired once I returned home from work. I bought an iPad mini before the pandemic so that I could draw in the subway during the long commute. Although I haven’t commuted for the past three years, I still use the iPad mini to work on illustrations.
Berrie: What is a must-have on an illustrators website/portfolio?
Aram: Children who are deep in their emotions! The viewers need to be able to feel what the kids in the illustrations are feeling whether it’s joy, anger, excitement, or annoyance. Also, do include varied emotions for sure! Including the environments/settings is also very important. I often get a portfolio with characters only – I need to see if the illustrators can create the entire environments where the story is happening.
Berrie: How do you choose your illustrators for projects with Macmillan? Do you follow illustrators on Instagram or Twitter?
Aram: I do! I drifted away from Twitter but I am on Instagram. I couldn’t handle multiple social media platforms so I chose Instagram as it’s much more image centered. Finding illustrators on social media is one way. I also save artists’ samples coming from either the agents or directly from artists. Agency newsletters are very handy because they periodically send out new illustrator samples. I have a list of artists saved that I go through when there are available projects. The designers in Macmillan share the artists they find during our team meetings, and we also have meetings with editors where we introduce the illustrators we would like to work with.
Berrie: How did you find your agent, or did she find you?
Aram: My agent Erica Rand Silverman organized Queens Museum Book Festival in 2016, which was the very first book event I ever participated in as a published author/illustrator. We met through the event and we continued to talk. She was an agent of Mika Song, whose art I saw in the SCBWI Bulletin magazine and I really loved it, so I wanted to work with her. Neither of us was in a hurry though so we talked throughout the next year or so and I signed with her about a year later.
Berrie: Can you share some of your illustration techniques for our illustrators? Do you use a certain program to illustrate your bright, colorful, characters?
Aram: I used to create my line works and textures on paper, scan them in, and work with Photoshop, but as I said earlier, I was struggling to find time to work. I started using an iPad mini so that I could work in the subway. iPad mini is the size of a moleskin sketchbook so it’s very portable, although the small size can also be a downside. I tried using Procreate because so many artists were using it, but Procreate had a lot of limitations in terms of the number of layers and the file size, especially for iPad mini. Adobe Fresco didn’t have a limit, so I started using it. Once I finish most of the work on the iPad mini, I finish it up with Photoshop on my computer. During the process, I print the art out several times. I notice things more easily on paper than on screen. I think it’s important to see them printed on paper as the final product we’re creating will eventually be on paper.
Berrie: Can you give our members a glimpse into the Art Director Assignment for the upcoming Pocono Retreat?
Aram: Yes! Since we’re going to talk about CHARACTERS, the assignment will also be about creating characters. I often feel that creating characters is not taken seriously enough. Creating a character is not about coming up with a cute character – it’s about building the entire world for the character. The assignment would be creating/bringing a character in a setting which can tell the readers about who the character is.
Berrie: Do you have a cat? Does it ride a bus? (This question is in reference to your book Cat on the Bus)
Aram: Hahaha, I used to have a cat who hated riding anything! I don’t have a cat at the moment but I often do cat sitting for friends so that I can be around them.
Berrie: What’s your favorite place to get Korean food in New York?
Aram: In Koreatown in mid-Manhattan, I like BCD Tofu House’s very down-to-earth tofu stew and their nice banchan (side dishes) selection. They serve no frill food while everything else in Koreatown feels like it’s getting fancier and fancier. My favorite restaurant used to be Cho Dang Gol in the same area where they made their own tofu. I still love them, but I haven’t been there for quite some time because they are so popular and I hate waiting in lines! Their food is very homey and comforting.
Berrie: I’m the year of the rabbit – how about you?
Aram: Oh this is your year!! I’m the year of the dog.
Berrie: Thank you for meeting me in our virtual cafe and I’ll see you at the Eastern PA SCBWI Retreat at the Highlights Foundation.
Aram: I can’t wait!! Let’s have a real coffee together then.
Aram Kim is a writer, illustrator, and designer of children’s picture books. She was born in Ohio, raised in South Korea, and now lives in Queens, NY, happily surrounded by diverse food and culture. By day, she is an Art Director at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group where she designed and oversaw many award-winning picture books including 2021 Caldecott Medal Winner We Are Water Protectors and 2021 Caldecott Honor Winner A Place Inside of Me. She has worked with both debut illustrators and established illustrators on a wide range of children’s books. As an author/illustrator herself of acclaimed picture books, she is closely connected with illustrators and enjoys learning from them and working with them.
When she is not working as an art director, Aram writes and illustrates her own stories. Her published books include Cat on the Bus (Children’s Choice Reading List 2017, New York Public Library Summer Reading List 2018), No Kimchi for Me! (JLG Gold Selection 2017, Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Book of the Year 2018, A Baker’s Dozen Award 2018), Let’s Go to Taekwondo! ( JLG Gold Selection 2020), and Sunday Funday in Koreatown ( JLG Gold Selection 2021). Her most recent book is Tomorrow Is New Year’s Day (JLG Gold Selection 2022), which is about Seollal, a Korean celebration of Lunar New Year.
To find out more about Aram’s work:
Follow Aram on Instagram: @aramkimart
Pocono Remix 2023 Retreat Info
Our annual retreat is back and in-person! It will be a weekend of amazing faculty, craft talks, industry insights, and the chance to meet with fellow creators all set at the beautiful Highlights Foundation in Boyd’s Mills, PA.