“If I don’t pursue what I enjoy, I’ll never live a happy life,” says Yune Kim (C ‘24), a student–artist who channels playfulness with intention. Her artistic philosophy informs more than just her bunny bucket hats and frog sticker collection. A design major, she describes the discipline as “art that can have a function … other than visual enjoyment” Between her self–founded small business and various design projects, Yune’s style is youthful, but sophisticated.
Although design can question the best shape for a logo or color scheme for an Instagram post, for Yune, this “function” means exploring her identity. Being of South Korean descent, Yune says, “For me, when I create art that has a connection to my heritage … the process of making a piece like that allows me to know a little bit more about myself.”
Recently, one of Yune’s projects has landed right at that intersection. The Korean Department Chair at Penn recruited Yune to illustrate the website version of the language course’s textbook. On the cover of “You Speak Korean!,” a chalky, rosy–cheeked tiger in a hanbok is surrounded by a snowy swirl of Korean letters. As you read, the tiger greets you again, wearing glasses and holding a book or playing with colorful blocks, paws–open. You’ll also pass basic, but creative, representations of culture, such as food magazines with vibrant oranges, shrimp beside the corresponding Korean term, or a girl with a backpack visiting a Buddha statue in a field of yellow flowers.
Her friendly tiger added a newfound wonder to the volumes. Now, Yune illustrates the whole series—used not only at Penn, but also at Yale, Washington University, and American University, among others. To her, “seeing [her] art in action” is the most cherished part of it all (alongside the professor that collaborated with Yune to put them on worksheets and flashcards).
However, Yune’s artistic endeavors began long before she stepped foot on Penn’s campus. In high school, Yune began sketching some fruit: a pomegranate sliced in half here, a mango with a leaf on its stem there. With some saved birthday money, she printed them on about 100 T–shirts. Suddenly, a tote bag of orders she had packaged at home became her small business: innicco.
innicco’s products—which range from tattoo sheets to keychains—maintain the same animated (and sometimes ironic) doodles. “My business allows me to be more playful with my art, more cartoony. It is a reflection of art that I like to make for fun and allows me to experiment, especially with different mediums,” Yune says. As you scroll through the shop, there are more stickers, from raspberry–topped cakes to a foamy latte. “I draw a lot of food,” she laughs. Some are a little cynical, such as a bunny holding the word “SOCIETY” in a glittery rainbow above its head. “Pastels are my go–to palette,” she explains. “The combination of almost childish art with pastel tones ultimately creates my art style.”
However, one of the most significant aspects of Yune’s small business is that ten percent of its proceeds directly benefit various organizations. How does Yune decide which causes to donate to? They “change in response to the world,” she says. Throughout the first rise of the COVID–19 pandemic, innicco donated to Doctors Without Borders, has since been a sponsor for Stop AAPI Hate, and is currently supporting the Trevor Project and PFLAG for LGBTQ youth. “It’s my way of saying [that] art is art, but it can have an impact as well,” Yune says.
At Penn, even artistic tracks are cornered by pre–professional pressure on campus. When Yune arrived at college, she was on the STEM path, considering a career in engineering or medicine until she recognized art as the smallest, yet most fulfilling voice within her. “If you even have a small inkling of interest for anything, I'd say, just go ahead and try it,” she says. “Why not? Because if you never do, you’ll never know.”
Although not every student at Penn may have an artistic arc to their interests, risk is creative within itself. “Pursue what you’re really interested in—otherwise I don’t know what I’d be doing right now,” Yune says, “I’m glad I get to do what I love, and I hope others will do the same.”