In Winter 2018, when the LoL Park was initially revealed to the public, the first thing that captivated the fans was the gigantic drawing that was installed on the wall. The drawing depicted champions from LoL, gamers, and most notably, the LCK logo. Although I did not know a lot about art, one of my fellow reporters who studied design stated that the drawing was drawn without a preliminary sketch, and added that the artist definitely has exceptional talent.
According to an art major friend, live drawing is a field that not only demands effort but also requires individual flair as well. That’s why I was so curious about who drew this marvelous masterpiece. It turned out that the artist of the drawing was Kim Jung-gi, who is currently recognized as the best in the field of ‘live drawing’.
Artist Kim Jung-gi once held a feature exhibition in the Cheongwadae, the official residence and workplace of the president of the Republic of Korea. He has drawn the album cover for a famous Korean Hip-hop artist, Drunken Tiger. When this Asian artist was barely known by the public, he made approximately 26 million 7 thousand US dollars in his very first exhibition held in France. After gaining worldwide recognition, Kim Jung-gi is currently collaborating with numerous individuals; now he is gradually broadening his field to gaming as well. We met up with this prominent artist to learn more about live drawing and how he makes his pieces.
Although you’re quite famous in this scene, gaming fans might not know you as well. Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is Kim Jung-gi, and I love to draw. I actually first started as a cartoonist in Korea. I consider myself as part of the 1.5 generation of webtoons (webcomics). I’ve been doing so many things related to drawings. Starting from drawing and comics, I also tried things such as film storyboards.
I’m actually spending more time overseas than working in Korea these days. I usually visit the US, France, Japan, and Canada. Since I have separate managers for each country, I do get a lot of work requests.
I was shocked after I first saw the mural drawing in the LoL Park. One of your pieces was displayed in the Riot Games US headquarters as well. When did your relationship with Riot start?
As I stated, I have separate managers for each country I visit. My US manager established a network with Riot while helping with my PR and the books that come out every 2 years. I also received requests not only from Riot Games but from some other renowned places such as Pixar and Disney.
In your drawing, I can see related stories for each champion; they seem so vivid. Can you briefly elaborate on what live drawing is?
First off, I think I should explain how I started live drawing. Well, it’s been quite a while… I had to fill in 3 walls for a booth in the Bucheon International Comics Festival. Usually, other artists hang a framed drawing or post a printing on it. However, artist Kim Hyun-jin did not have any frames to hang so he insisted to instead draw on the wall on paper.
As I started drawing, I filmed the process and posted it on YouTube for fun. However, people loved it. Mostly, people tend to focus more on the results than the drawing process [so it was shocking]. Live drawing is a field that has more emphasis on the process itself. It is really interesting and fun to see how a piece reaches its final form. Also, my drawing style isn’t that difficult either.
When you have to draw about games such as LoL, you need some background information on the title. You must have studied it a lot.
Yeah. Personally, the drawing requests from game companies are difficult. To be frank, I don’t play games at all. (laughs) During my university days, Starcraft 1 was a thing. While everyone tried out that title, I didn’t play it. So, it was difficult. That’s why there was lots of preparation beforehand. I tried my best to focus on details such as character clothes, weapons, and expressions.
When I first received the LoL Park mural drawing request, I was dumbfounded after realizing that I had to draw on a 9-meter-wide wall. While I was communicating with Riot about the storyboard, they told me about each characters’ background, relationships with one another, etc. - and that’s how I got to know more about LoL.
When I finish on the storyboard, I visualize the final result and think about how I’ll complete it. Then, I go straight into the drawing. With the 2 mural drawings in the LoL Park, it took me a total of 2 weeks; 5 days each. The material wasn’t for drawing so sometimes I had difficulties since the marker didn’t dry. I usually have a goal for how much I’ll complete in a single day. Although I do have it in my head, that promise is barely kept. (laughs)
Which LoL champion was the most interesting?
Annie and Jinx; those 2 characters are fascinating in general. I still remember the big teddy that I saw in the lobby when I first visited the Riot Games headquarters. Also, the moment I saw Jinx, I knew she was something special.
What are some difficulties you face when drawing?
Although the final form isn’t that different from what I first planned, it was never 100% the same. Also, since it’s ‘live’, I do make mistakes. That’s why you need to use your head to cover up that mistake. Well, I cover it up well enough for the people who watch the process to not think of it as a ‘mistake’. It’s important to make it look fine and okay.
After having repeated this, now I’m better at dealing with mistakes. It is drawing, but it also has some similarities to Go. You have to constantly be a step ahead. Usually, a random concept is given and I have to improvise.
For example, if the subject is ‘sewing machine’, I first draw a sewing machine and I fill it in with related objects to finish my story inside my drawing. It’s really similar to Go and it’s quite close to freestyle rapping. There’s a lot of rap styles and live drawing can be thought of as freestyle rap. Since I have to improvise, experiencing a lot and saving it in my head is very important.
I was talented at storing visuals in my head since I was young. I drew 3D drawings in kindergarten and did a lot of observations. If I had a shoe that I wanted to buy, I constantly drew it and went to the store to see it. As I become good at drawing that shoe, I also mastered drawing shoes that look alike. If I master drawing cats, I naturally become better on drawing Felidae animals. This is how I drew.
I’m bad at memorizing words. However, I’m really confident about storing visual memories. If I remembered words well, I might have done something other than drawing. (laughs)
What type of drawing do you struggle the most on?
Nothing specific. I just have difficulties drawing things that I don’t know much about. Like I’ve said before, my method of drawing is tracing the drawing on my head on to the paper. Therefore, if I’m not too knowledgeable about the subject of what I’m working on, it really gives me a hard time. So I make sure to study beforehand and note the most important features of what I need to draw. It’s because people don’t need to look at a picture as a whole to understand what it is; they can tell what the drawing is by spotting the most important features of it.
For example, when you think of BMW’s or Benz, of course, the car design is important. However, wouldn’t you think of the car’s unique grills or their brand emblems first? It kind of works that way.
Kim Jung Gi’s performance as a live drawer is definitely impressive. However, you were also a comic artist at one point. Recently, Riot Games released their own comic series with Marvel. Is there perhaps a chance that your relationship with Riot will grow in that direction?
Drawing comics is something that I’m always confident in doing. In actuality, I’ve done a lot of work with Marvel and DC. But then again, I don’t really like the ‘Hero’ theme - although I often visit Europe and the US to draw them. (Laughs) Before I started drawing these Heroes, the only ones I knew were Superman, the Hulk, Spiderman, and Batman. But my first offer was on a hero called Deadpool. I was very unfamiliar with who he is. I prefer drawing things from reality. This reflects on my favorite movie, too. It’s Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s thriller movie, Seven.
Do you have an artist that you look up to?
I was born in an era of Japanese animation and cartoons. I really liked ‘Akira’. I think it was 1988? Akira was an animation that made the ‘Cyberpunk’ genre famous at the time. I really like Terada Katsuya as well. He’s an artist that greatly affected the drawing scene with the painter program. I also really like Shirow Masamune’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and ‘Appleseed’. Back then, it wasn’t easy for Japanese culture to make its way to Korea, so of the many things that did, they were all roughly translated to Korean. Akira was translated to ‘Storm Boy’ at the time.
I spent my childhood in ‘Pohang, Korea’. However, whenever there was a break from school, I went to Seoul to stay at a relative’s. I went to ‘Myeongdong’ once in Seoul, and I found a bookstore that sold foreign work. There were a lot of Japanese books, and at the time, the entire thing was a big cultural shock to me. From that day on, whenever I was given an allowance, I spent all of it in that store. When school break was over, I went to a bookstore in Busan - it was the closest place to my home in Pohang. That bookstore is still standing today.
With your drawing at the LoL Park, you’ve become even more famous within the gaming industry. Is there something that you personally want to do within this industry?
I’ve received offers for character design and concept art. However, I haven’t played a lot of games - even when I was a child - and I don’t really enjoy playing them, so I struggled to accept those offers. But I do believe that there are things that I can do well in this industry. If I receive the right offer, I’ll take it.
You’ve done a variety of work in many different fields. Which piece of work was the most memorable? Perhaps a drawing that you had difficulties with?
Of course, I have one. I did a drawing on ‘comfort women’ in France once, and it was very difficult. I was no more knowledgeable about the subject than the average person. I refused the offer at first, as it’s a very sensitive subject to work on. It wasn’t easy for me to accept the offer.
But with that in mind, every relative and friend told me that it was something that I needed to work on. In the end, I accepted the offer and started working on it. While working on it, the Japanese NHK came to cover my work; the whole experience was really awkward. The same thing can be said for games. When I’m working on something that I’m not too knowledgeable about, I struggle. I become stressed. On top of that, the drawing was on a historically sensitive subject!
There are many upcoming holidays, and I accept almost all offers if my schedule allows for it, so I’m extremely busy nowadays.
Is there something that you personally restrict yourself on?
The number one priority when I’m drawing is ‘my own entertainment’. I do consider the value of my work and the thoughts of those who see it, but whether or not I’m having fun or not is the most important. Also, I need to have fun to create a good piece. I’m sure everyone, as a child, has had the experience of laying down on the floor of his or her room just scribbling away without a worry. I want to maintain that feeling when I draw. I’m still having fun with what I’m doing, and I’d like for that feeling to stay.
Lastly, do you have anything you’d like to say to your many gamer fans?
I really should enjoy gaming… (Laughs) I don’t know much about games, but I’m always looking up information regarding them. It’s because I greatly benefit from them. I don’t enjoy video games, but everyone around me - including my family - do. So I’m always affected by games in my life. Recently, I even purchased Resident Evil 2! I don’t play games myself, but I enjoy watching my family members play them. The way games express different textures, the visuals, the characters’ emotions; I use them as a source of inspiration for my work.
Although I don’t play games, the video game culture is something that I always keep my eyes on. I’ll continue to work within the industry and produce content for my gamer fans.
A managing editor who can do more things than you think.