Tomi Um is a noodle obsessed illustrator/ textile designer/ printmaker based in New York City. Born in the year of monkey, Tomi Um studied fine arts and received an undergraduate degree from Parsons School of Design, held various jobs across the globe, which finally led her to realize her passion for illustration. She has been drawing like a mad woman since. We sit and chat about a variety of subjects. Read below for the full interview…
What is your secret for creating illustrations that are perfectly editorial—yet retain an artful feeling?
Tomi: If you’re referring to the style/look of my editorial illustrations, the time limit could be an answer? Editorial illustrations usually have tight deadlines. In the given time, I need to draw in the best way I can and leave out all the unnecessary elements.
I was curious to get inside your mind on a particular project. For TIME magazine you were under the guidance of an art director. How does this play out from conceptual stage to finalization? How much input do you have?
Tomi: Nai Lee Lum was the art director for the recent TIME magazine piece. Nai is an ideal art director to work with because she gave me a clear direction on the subject matter from the very beginning (office scene in China bustling with people and activity), while giving me complete freedom in everything else (layout, colors, tone of humor, etc).
What about subject matter? Is it critical to be familiar, and in this instance the China talent war where the goal is to keep the employee turnover rate low, in order for your illustrations to transcend to the audience more successfully?
Tomi: It could make the job move forward sooner if you are already familiar with the subject matter, but whether you are familiar with the subject matter or not, research for references is a must, for making an effective illustration.
In 2012, Parsons administrative faculty stated that Parsons is “blurring the lines between architecture, interior design, lighting design and product design to reflect the evolution of these fields.” How do you see the lines blurring going forth to the next wave of graduates?
Tomi: I think students could benefit from multidisciplinary training in school and then focus on a specific field as you discover your strength and grow as a designer. For example when architects, interior designers, lighting designers and product designers, while being experts in their own fields, having an understanding of other fields that would help them work toward a common goal (sustainability, design aesthetics, comfort, etc). The end product as a whole will be more harmonious and strong.
You stated that you had various jobs across the globe, which finally led you realizing your passion for illustration. Could you tell us a bit about that journey?
Tomi: A little depressing to go back to the past… Let’s just say I know that I am my happiest when I’m doing what I love to do.
Fair enough. Do you have any favorite Anime films?
Tomi: Pom Poko, a Japanese animated film written/directed by Takahata Isao.
At the time we interviewed Yuko Shimizu, we had no idea the influence she held over Asian artists in the New York area. What was it about her art that made you shift your career focus?
Tomi: Not only is Yuko Shimizu‘s work strong, her website is very informative and provides excellent guidance for aspiring illustrators. Going back to an art school to study illustration was not an option for me. However, I learned a great deal about starting out as an illustrator from her website alone.
As your career progresses, I can’t help but notice you have infused more color into your work. Is this a process you have took on to present more challenges in your work?
Tomi: Color still is a great challenge to me, but the work looks better with colors so I try, try, try.
You state you are noodle obsessed. Whats a recipe for a kick-ass bowl of noodles?
Tomi: Cold noodle with cucumber!
Ingredients: dry somen noodle, dipping sauce(from japanese grocery store), cucumber, vinegar.
- Slice cucumber very thinly, drizzle with vinegar and sesame oil.
- Boil water, cook noodles for 1-2 minutes, rinse in ice cold water, drain.
- Dip somen in the dipping sauce before eating. Eat with crunchy vinegary cucumber.
Sesame oil is a secret weapon for any bowl of noodles.
Lastly, any advice for any creative out there in art-land?
Tomi: Do what you love and have patience! Unfortunately, patience is a virtue that I have yet to acquire.
For more of Tomi’s work, please visit her official site below: