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Meet Grace J. Kim

A Q&A with the artist behind the illustrations for the final season of This Movie Changed Me.

For each episode of the final season of This Movie Changed Me, Grace J. Kim created a piece of art that honored both the movie and guests. Grace is a digital illustrator whose art shows the present and the everyday through a therapeutic lens – serene and utopic. She has worked with The New Yorker, The New York Times, NBC News, and Buzzfeed, and currently lives in New York.

What draws you to illustration?

While illustration has always been my passion, after graduating I first took a full-time graphic design-focused job that I ended up staying in for seven years. In 2018 I decided to leap back into illustration practices and applied for an MFA program at the School of Visual Arts, where I met many talented friends from around the world who helped me to grow and stay inspired as an illustrator.

Illustration essentially is an art form that archives the history visually, sharing the stories that need to be told and I really enjoy being part of that process.

I love illustration’s accessibility — it is commercial art that is very approachable to anyone, yet it provides the chance to move people’s hearts and emotions. The role of delivering people’s stories is a big part of illustration that is important to me. I am also drawn to illustration’s problem-solving process and the simple joy in the act of drawing.

Walk us through your creative process. Where do you begin? How do you know when you’re done?

After learning deeply about the brief, I start to draw using pencil on pieces of loose paper to make as many thumbnails as I can. After that, I pick a few concepts and refine them to share with the client, sensitively considering the nuance, ambience, tone, and light in the image. Throughout the process I often double-check the brief to make sure that I’m going in the right direction. After a sketch is picked, I just sit at my desk in front of my Cintiq tablet to draw until I feel that I have nothing more to offer to the piece.

Essentials only: Muji sketchbook and a pencil to make quick thumbnail sketches; Wacom Cintiq remote controller and stylus; an iPhone and a cup of coffee. Image by Minho Kim, © All Rights Reserved.

In working on season 3 of This Movie Changed Me, what themes or guiding ideas helped shape the work as a whole? What did you keep in the back of your mind as you were working?

Instead of creating illustrations as a simple homage to the movie, I focused on creating pieces to spark conversations for this series. I tried to capture the main sentiments that were discussed in the episodes – how guests and the host, Lily Percy, used films as lenses to tell their own stories.

Which piece was your favorite to work on and why?

To be honest, I can’t just choose one; every piece feels unique and is a delight of its own. I would say on a personal level, working on The Color Purple was especially enjoyable. During quarantine, I imagined myself in the field of purple flowers and felt the sunshine.

If you were to choose a movie that changed you, what would it be? 

I was born in Japan so I grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. I’ve watched them over and over again since I was a baby. The strong female leads fighting for what they believed in deeply inspired me and helped me realize that it is okay for a woman to stand up for herself and be ambitious, even in the times when things don’t go as planned. Growing up, the portrayal of women was distinctly different in the mainstream media than it is now. Thinking about what Nausicaä or Princess Mononoke would do helped me stay strong. The beautiful mise-en-scènes in Studio Ghibli movies also inspired me to start dreaming about becoming an artist.

Some of the art books that inspire Grace at her studio: a Korean translation of The Colors of Our Memories by Michel Pastoureau; The Art Of Studio Ghibli book series by Hayao Miyazaki; and Games, a comic book by Woshibai. Image by Minho Kim, © All Rights Reserved.

What did you learn about yourself or your work through this project?

The films from This Movie Changed Me all come from different generations and cultures, yet beyond that, similar conflicts caused by differences in ethics and values have always existed. Listening to other people’s reflections on these issues really resonated with me, and made me think a lot about how it can apply and relate to anyone, and how we can all grow from it.

What or who has currently been inspiring you? Why and how have they shaped your own work?

Currently I am super into David Tindle’s paintings. I’m always fascinated by his paintings. His use of subtle-yet-unexpected colors and ability to show depth within tight value range (lightness to darkness) is incredible.

The snowy landscape paintings by Gustaf Adolf Christensen Fjaestad have also gotten me through this long winter. This kind of beautiful art really inspires me to work harder, hoping someday I can make anyone who sees my work feel similarly.

I also saw a documentary of Hayao Miyazaki (Japanese animator and co-founder of Studio Ghibli) recently. Seeing his passion and dedication to his craft — and watching him suffer through the creative process — has deeply inspired me. Even the master animator of his time goes through it, and that reminded me that the journey of an artist is a marathon, not a sprint.

Grace’s favorite time of the day in her office is when sunlight floods through the windows during sunset. She made the painting of a dog named Duri when she dog-sat a couple of years ago. Image by Minho Kim, © All Rights Reserved.

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