Artist Dan-ah Kim on Picture Books and Graphic Designs for The Gilded Age

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S1: This Ad Free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. But. I love working on movies, but at the end of the day, it’s still someone else’s story. And I really wanted to make my own. And kids are basically the best audience, and I had some ideas for books, and then I just became obsessed with the idea of doing picture books from then on.

S2: Welcome back to Working. I’m your host, Isaac Butler.

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S3: And I’m your other host, Karen Hahn.

S2: Karen, whose voice was that we heard right up top?

S3: That was Donna Kim. She is an artist, author, illustrator and graphic designer. She currently has a children’s book out called The Grandmasters Daughter, and she also works on the HBO show The Gilded Age as a graphic designer, designing the stuff that you see kind of on the set in the backdrops. So you can really see her work in a lot of places right now.

S2: You know, I’m very excited about this because we’ve been wanting to get more visual artists on the show. So this is a really nice treat. And speaking of treats, did you like that Segway? I really got good. I think we have a little something extra for our slate plus listeners, right?

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S3: Yeah. So Donna has also worked a little bit in the fashion world. She’s collaborated with Jason Wu and Jason Kidd soon. So we talk a little bit about how those opportunities came about and how she approaches them. And we also talk about the experience of working from home as a graphic designer.

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S2: Oh, cool. Well, I do not know why you’d want to miss any of that. And listeners, you don’t have to. You also don’t have to miss out on bonus episodes of Slow Burn or Big Mood. Little Mood. You don’t have to keep running into that pesky paywall on Slate’s site. You could avoid all the tiny heartbreaks by joining Slate. Plus, go to Slate.com, slash working plus to sign up today. And hey, you’ll also be supporting everything we do right here on working. Now. Let’s listen in on Karen’s conversation with Donna Kim.

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S3: Hi, Donna. Thank you so much for coming on to the show.

S1: Hi, Karen. Thank you so much for having me. I’m honored and a little surprised to be here.

S3: I am such a long time admirer of all of your work you’ve worked in also so many mediums. You’ve done fine art. You’ve done illustration, you’ve done graphic design. And you’ve also authored a book, which is incredible. And I wanted to start kind of, I guess, at the genesis of it all. I’m curious, when you first became interested in art and when you decided that that was what you wanted to do as a career or even when it seemed possible that that could be a career for you?

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S1: I actually thought early on that I wanted to work in movies. I think in high school I saw Amelie and I realized it was someone’s job or several people’s jobs to make that movie so beautiful. But I when I end up going to art school and studying communications design, which included graphic design, illustration and art direction, so you choose one as a focus, but you take classes in all three. Mm hmm. Art direction was my major, but I didn’t like it so much, so I took more graphic design and illustration classes, and I never thought I would do illustration as a career. But I saw I started working and on low budget non-union movies. Pretty early on, interning in art, paying on stuff where it’s five people in the art department, everyone is doing everything. And then eventually I started doing a little bit of graphic design for them because I already knew how, and I’d studied it in school. In the beginning, I spent about half the year working on movies and TV shows and the other half doing art in my own stuff. But eventually, New York film production got so busy that it got hard to say no to paying gigs that provided benefits. And so the art took a little bit of a backseat. But I still make art, and I still am. And but at some point, I also became obsessed with making picture books. Mm hmm. I kind of realized late in life how awesome picture books are. So I just kind of. For ten years. I think it took me to get it to actually get published because I ten years ago I sent out queries to agents and it took me a really long time because I was also focusing on other stuff.

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S3: But yeah, was there a particular thing that kind of sparked your interest in picture books?

S1: I think at some point I realised I love working on movies, but at the end of the day it’s still someone else’s story. And I really wanted to make my own and I think I just saw some books that were so great and I realised, you know, my artwork, my, even, my fine artwork was always kind of illustrative and narrative. It usually featured a character in some setting and I wanted to expand on those and I realised picture books would be such a great medium and kids are basically the best audience. And I had some ideas for books and then I just really kind of wanted like became obsessed with the idea of doing picture books from then on. Mm hmm.

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S3: So you do have a book out now called The Grandmasters Diary, which will circle back to you. But you mentioned that your first sending out all these queries ten years ago, what exactly do you have to send in order to try to get people’s attention? Like, did you have a fully formed idea at that time or was it mostly trying to express interest?

S1: No, in the beginning I think I was doing it completely wrong. I was just sending out my portfolio in a manuscript and being like, I would love to do picture books, but you really do need to have a polished sketch dummy with full colour illustrations and you really need to kind of pitch it to. So it took me a long time to realise that and too I joined PWI and read a lot more books and did a lot more research and then started putting together a proper book proposals and book dummies to send out. And every few years I’d send out a book dummy and then just have it rejected. Getting an agent took me forever. It took me years and years to get an agent.

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S3: So when you were trying to get an agent, were you sending your book proposal specifically or was it more like, here is the art, here’s my portfolio, here’s what I’m capable of in case you’re interested in representing me.

S1: It was a bit of both. I had a sketch dummy for the Grandmasters daughter with two or three finished illustrations, so I sent that as well as my portfolio, and I did have another idea for a book, so I sent her that as well, just to be like, This is something I want to do long term.

S3: It’s also so much effort to do kind of on your own without knowing whether it’ll ever pay off. Like you are essentially kind of developing something for free, even if it is your own work. It’s it’s a burden in some way, right?

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S1: I take time off between film and TV jobs to work on these ideas.

S3: Oh, wow.

S1: You’ll see about it. Oh, no. You know, because it’s like it. This could go nowhere, but. Right. It’s something I really wanted to do.

S3: Yeah. And I want to talk about the Grandmasters diary as well. The book is I guess I should have you explain it a little bit. It’s obviously a little bit autobiographical, but if you could tell us about kind of the story and how you just kind of landed on that as something that you wanted to build a book around?

S1: Yes. The Grandmasters daughter is published by Green Willow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. It came out in November of last year. It’s about a young girl named Sunny who is already a black belt, and she helps take care of the two young and leads her friends when they need to defend the young and each other against some magical creatures. It’s loosely inspired by my childhood. My dad is a taekwondo grandmaster. So. So martial arts and martial arts were always a big part of my life. I grew up in Toy Jang’s watched a lot of martial arts movies and UFC with my dad. I’ve loved martial arts my whole life, so it just always felt like I had to make this book. I carry the title in my head for years, but it took me a long time to actually develop a story.

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S3: So for a quick little bit of context, Trojan is the Korean term for a place where martial arts are practiced and taught typically taekwondo. But moving on from that, I’m curious how you figured out the format of this book. How do you figure out how the pictures and text flow together for this?

S1: I think a lot of the images I actually had first before I even had some of the story or the words for it, and I kind of just type. It’s basically a compilation of all the things I love to paint in this book. So then I just kind of tied it in with the words. And beyond any physical skills, martial arts teaches so many great life lessons that have always helped me, so I wanted to share that with kids in a fun way instead of rather than being didactic. Hence the Tigers and the Dragons in the book, which are the most fun things to paint. So I really kind of just put it together with things that I just kind of things that I loved and things that I wanted to include. And then the story kind of came together from there.

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S3: I really love your artwork, partially because you work with multiple mediums kind of in the same piece, like embroidery or including like or integrating like flower petals into your work. How did you kind of come to this as your art style?

S1: I work. Traditionally. So it’s pencil and then gouache, paper, collage, and then also on top of the paper. So it’s a bit labor intensive, but it’s really so much fun to do. I think it started because in art school I made a mistake on something and cover it up. I use some paper, some texture. Wow. Yeah. And I just always loved paper. I loved going to New York Central, which is sadly now closed. But they had all sorts of beautiful papers. And I have a whole collection here now and I just loved working with it and with sewing. I think I just really enjoy, you know, using my hands in that way and just doing something different with the process and like, I get so precious when it comes to the painting, but when I’m poking the holes in to so it feels, you know, it’s kind of like the last step and it’s a little therapeutic for me to just sit and so on the paper. At the end of the day, the flower petals, my dad actually always pressed flowers and books and I have a whole collection of them and I just started using them in the work. I think it’s just a way for me to start not get bored with my process and then just keep doing something different every, you know, every few hours. And now it’s just like a process that I enjoy and that works for me.

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S3: How do you decide when something’s done?

S1: Oh, I. I mean, there are some things that you could just edit forever or just keep adding things or. But I just. I feel like I kind of know, you know, when, when it’s done, it’s done. And then if I’m painting or sewing, at the end of the day, I think by the time I get to the sewing, I’m done with the painting and I’m ready to just so at the end of the day. So, you know, after that, then I can put it down.

S3: Do you have like a sort of order in that sense where it’s like painting comes first and then like the it’s it seems like the final step is sewing or kind of more multimedia.

S1: Yeah, I start with the drawing, which is the hardest part for me, actually sketching and drawing is the hardest. And then painting. I paint the backgrounds and then the characters and then the paper on top. And then the sewing is last.

S3: Is sketching hardest, just because like that’s the thing you feel you has to be kind of the most perfect or.

S1: I don’t know, it’s just always been the hardest part for me. There are some artists and illustrators for whom it just drawing just seems to flow out of them, and it’s just never been like that for me. For me, it’s really work. It can be really hard and sometimes I can’t read my own sketches the next day. I have no idea what I was thinking, but. And painting is more fun and more loose and that, you know, I can like make it more of a mess and that sort of thing. But yeah, sketching, just getting the composition and the characters faces down is just the hardest part.

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S3: Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit more about, I guess, the sewing that you do in your work, I guess the more kind of 3D aspect of your work? Because it’s so it’s so incredible to look at in person. But I mean, it does even come across in 2D. Like when I’m looking on Instagram, for example, it’s so beautiful. But like that, I guess what it, what it’s like kind of working that into what is traditionally a 2D medium.

S1: So I, after I paint and after I layer the paper I use and all to poke holes into the painting, which kind of, you know, after being so precious with it, it’s kind of fun to just do something more tactile like that. And then I use different colors of thread and I just just sit there and so on the paper and you know, it’s sometimes therapeutic, although it can also be frustrating because the thread always gets tangled and it always gets caught. And then I just like having that. Yeah. That 3D touch it like something, another texture added on to it. You know, sometimes I keep the mistakes and I keep the knots that happened in the final, you know, after I scan it and everything. But it’s just something that I enjoy doing and it’s just become part of my process now.

S3: And obviously I want to talk about your work as a graphic designer for film and TV as well. Can you explain a little bit for our listeners what the role of a graphic designer on a film or TV show entails?

S1: Yes. So as a graphic designer in a production, I work with the production designer, art director, set decorator and prop master providing any graphic needs. Some of it will be scripted like hero props or science, but a lot of it is stuff that makes the world realistic or stylized and gives the set that final layer. For example, if the set is a restaurant, we might design the signs outside the neons and vinyls in the windows, the posters and flyers on the walls, the menus, the liquor labels, a book or a magazine that a character is reading. If it’s a more stylized set, maybe we’ll design a custom wallpaper or mural or even flooring. So it’s a lot of stuff that viewers might not notice or think about unless it’s wrong. And if it’s wrong, you’ll have someone on the Internet pointing out that the cat food label was period incorrect or something.

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S3: Oh, wow.

S1: And parasite when Kaesong makes the fake resume in the. And the business card. I remember watching that and thinking, Oh, she could do my job. Or like if I was working on this movie, you know, that would be my job.

S3: As a graphic designer. Do you have, like a favorite kind of piece or prop to work on?

S1: I don’t know if I have a favorite. I do have least favorites. I hate screens. Also, on any contemporary job, there are so many screens like iPhones and computers that I really.

S3: Yeah.

S1: I don’t like to do. So this is why period jobs are the most fun for me because there are no screens.

S3: Is that stuff that gets kind of put in in green screen later? So you just kind of have the digital mock up or is it something that still goes kind of on in the desert?

S1: Both. Yeah, they do, because sometimes it’s live and then sometimes I’ll do green screen or blue screen or something.

S3: You mentioned loving to work on period pieces, so I wanted to talk about your work on the Gilded Age as well, currently on HBO, which is a period piece. I’m curious how much research goes into a project like that. Like, do are there people who do like a certain amount of research prior to the graphic designers coming on so that you kind of have a document to work with? Or is it up to you to kind of go out and look for everything yourself?

S1: Yes, the Gilded Age was really fun. And because of all the research and yes, we did have an amazing researcher, Nada Muro, who did a lot of work before we started. And, you know, we had everything was organized. And when you go in, the research is there, but we also do our own sometimes if there’s something specific that we’re looking for. Mm hmm. But, yeah, it’s a lot of you want to be as period appropriate and period accurate as you can. So there is tons of research that goes into a show like that.

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S3: Kind of akin to how you’re saying like sketching is the hardest part of making like illustrations for you? Is there a part of the process of graphic design that also kind of catches on you like?

S1: Well, no. I mean, there’s so much of graphics is every single job is so different and there’s a different challenge on every single job. So stuff like hospital paperwork and police paperwork, we have not so much fun because it’s just, you know, it’s just paperwork. And you’ve done it a million times already. Yeah. But, you know, so there’s stuff like that that you don’t want to do. But there’s also so many different great things about each job. Mm hmm.

S3: Do you have, like, a favorite piece that you’ve designed that we can, like, go back into your.

S1: Head to.

S3: Go look for it?

S1: Oh, man. So the Gilded Age was really special just because we got to do all this stuff that I’ve never done before. There was, like, stained glass and etched glass. Oh, yeah. There was one day when the graphics team, the graphics team was led by Holly Watson. And we also had Jeremy Wang and Kathleen Angle. And the four of us went upstate to visit the big exterior set one day. And that was really fun. Yeah, because we because usually you’re just sitting at your desk in front of a computer screen, seeing everything really small. And then when you go, we went upstate to visit the set and to see everything printed. And that show, everything was on such a big scale and everyone did such amazing work. So seeing all of our stuff printed and painted and the cynics worked their magic on stuff and then, you know, the set is beautifully lit and the actors are in their costumes interacting with the props. That was pretty cool. Like I always tell people, our jobs are actually so unglamorous and the hours are pretty long, but the few times you can visit set, you’re like, Oh, right, this is fun.

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S3: Do you ever find any, like, difficulties in watching stuff that you’ve worked on when you see like stuff that you made specifically like in the background or anything like that?

S1: Oh, when I watch stuff that I’ve worked on, I’m I can barely pay attention to the actual show because I’m only looking at the art department stuff. I have no idea. It’s something I’ve worked on is good or not because I’m not paying attention to anything. Maybe if I watch it two or three times then I can. But right the first time I’m just looking for all of our work.

S2: We’ll be back with more of Karen’s conversation with Donna Kim after this. Hey, listeners, we want to hear from you, whether it’s a question, a comment, a complaint, a suggestion problem you’re having with your own creative process. Drop us a line at working at Slate.com or give us a call at 3049339675. That’s 304933 work. And don’t forget to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. Now let’s rejoin Karen and Donna Kim in conversation.

S3: So one subject that comes up a lot on working is the idea of writer’s block. I’m curious how that kind of block tends to manifest for you, whether it’s not knowing what to work on or what to do next, and how you tend to overcome that as an artist.

S1: I think because I have two different jobs and because they’re so different from each other, the film and TV work, the hours are pretty long and it’s also very collaborative. So when I’m at home working on my own stuff, it’s kind of I have like pent up ideas and stuff that I really want to do, and I’m usually limited in time because I’m taking, you know, just a month or two off between film and TV work to work on my own stuff. But yeah, there are times when I really, I want to sit and paint, but nothing comes out either, so, you know.

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S3: Yeah. You mentioned. But the graphic design tends to be a collaborative process. Do you mean in terms of working with other artists on a single thing or in terms of having the work that you do, like approved by a higher up in the department?

S1: All of that because you working so closely with the designer, the art directors, the prop masters, the decorators and the assistant art directors. So if you’re making a sign, for example, you would get a drawing from the assistant art directors or set designers with the dimensions and this, you know, all of the sizes that you’re fitting your signs to and you do it because you are also working with the designer and kind of, you know, fulfilling their vision. So it is always very collaborative and hopefully it’s very collaborative.

S3: How much, I guess, freedom do you feel that you have kind of in that role? Because, as you say, it ultimately is kind of fulfilling somebody else’s vision, but you still kind of want to be able to have your own, I guess, artistic thumbprint on it.

S1: It depends on a period show because you’re matching to research as much as possible. It’s less so. So you’re really just trying to make everything look as realistic to that time. And then on contemporary stuff, I think it’s less your own creative input because you’re always trying to make things look realistic. Mm hmm. And it is usually, you know, the designer or the director’s vision that you’re working with. Yeah, but you can kind of put in your own, you know, you do want to make things creative and bring your own ideas to stuff to present. But at the end of the day, it will be someone else’s, you know, idea.

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S3: I wanted to circle back a little bit as well, which you were mentioning. Like sometimes you do take a couple of months off and one or two months off in order to work on your own things. That’s something we talk a lot about on the podcast, too, just because I think a lot of us do have to do like a quote unquote day job in order to be able to support the stuff that we really do want to work on. And often the idea of taking time off is something that’s really tough to grapple with because I think you mentioned this, it’s like you feel guilty or it’s like, Oh, like, I’m not making money actively right now. Like, I have to worry about health insurance, my rent. Does it make sense for me to do this when it’s so precarious? How do you decide, like when you’re in a good position to be able to kind of work on your own stuff? Or how do you overcome that sense of inherent guilt, even though we shouldn’t be feeling guilty about it?

S1: I know. I think in the past it was just if I had enough money saved up and I really had an idea that I wanted to work on, then I would just do it just for my own, you know, for myself. Because I also I do love to make art and I do love to draw and paint. So working just full time, you know, on graphics for a film on TV, you get a little bit burned out too. So I would have to take a month or two just to like make my own stuff. With the books. It’s much easier because I had like an actual, you know, once I got the book deal than it was like I had a deadline and a project to work towards. And it wasn’t just me sitting at my desk making paintings for fun, which I still like to do. But yeah, a book deal is a is a more concrete, you know, project.

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S3: You mentioned that there are kind of long hours associated with working on TV projects. How do you kind of deal with having to devote so much of your time to it? Like how you mentioned also that you kind of will get burnt out after working on after doing like a lot of work in the graphic design field. Like how do you kind of manage that in your day to day life or do you not find it something that’s difficult to deal with at all?

S1: It’s definitely hard because of the long hours to do any kind of artwork while I’m working on a film or TV show, just so I do need to take time off between jobs to really focus on art. But I do like how fast paced the film and TV work is because graphic design for film and TV is very different from, you know, graphic design for the real world. On if you’re working at a company or a design firm You might spend weeks or months on one logo or a campaign, but on a film or TV show, you might have days if you’re lucky. You know, it’s not unheard of for them to suddenly need something the very next day. So you have to design some local options, buy lunch, and then have them revised and approved. No by the end of the day and then send out a file, prep a file, and then send it out to a vendor to have them rush it and then deliver it to set by shooting call in the morning. And so it does get very stressful sometimes, but I personally prefer that kind of fast paced work as opposed to working, you know, on the same job for a very long time. And because of the nature of the work, you’re only on a TV show or a movie for a couple of months, maybe a year at the most. And so it’s nice to know that it does have an end, you know, like it’s going to be over eventually. So. Yeah.

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S3: And to circle, I guess, way, way back to the beginning of our conversation, I was surprised to hear you say that it was movies that first kind of really got you interested in art, because when I think about your art, I always think about kind of your fine art in illustration first, rather than the graphic design that you’ve done, which is incredible as you have kind of moved forward in both worlds. Is there one that you kind of think of as your ideal? I guess, like, do you have an ideal job as an artist?

S1: I think I would love to keep making art and books, and I do sometimes talk about my film and TV work as a day job because of the hours are very much like a day job and I go to an office, but I think it would be nice to just continue to do both. Now, in the past, I used to worry about, you know, maybe I could progress for like get published sooner if I just focus on one thing or something. But now I think I’m just grateful to have two jobs that I enjoy and to have that balance because it is it is nice to work on things that are such a big skill with such a big team, and then also take time off to work on my own stuff where I can just hermit and just like a few days and not talk to anybody about my cat or something. It’s nice to have that balance, so I feel like I would love to just continue doing both like this.

S3: It seems like a lot of the graphic design work does take place kind of as digital art, whereas a lot of the art that you do in your fine art is physical artwork like it exists in a physical space. Have you? And it seems like you want to continue your illustrations and fine art like in a 3D dimension. Was there ever a point where you kind of considering transitioning into digital art for your personal work as well?

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S1: Oh, yes, Karen, I have been trying to learn Procreate and I kind of get the hang of it. I would love to start working digitally because it looks so much faster and there are all these cool brushes and stuff, but I just have not really just gotten the hang of it just yet. I am practicing, but I think because of the process that I have and that I enjoy with the paper and the sewing, I’ll still always do that, but I feel like it would be so much faster to sketch and procreate or digitally.

S3: Oh yeah.

S1: Yeah, that I just I guess I need, I need to.

S3: Do stuff to. Yes. Yeah. In a digital medium.

S1: Yeah. I’m trying.

S3: This is circling back a little bit as well. Do you remember your very first art job?

S1: I mean, I think because I started working in a film and TV so early on, I was still in school when I was interning. Mm hmm. Yeah. I do remember telling my parents I’m going to go to art school and I can get a day job, so don’t worry, I can get an office job, so don’t worry. But I did start working in film and TV pretty early on, so just kind of always this is just like the path that I’ve always been on. Yeah, yeah. But the film and TV stuff, I, I did want to do it in high school, but I did always draw and then it was being an art school. I started studying illustration that kind of got me in into that world. But I think it all kind of started with just like a love for stories, whether it was movies or books. And, you know, even my fine art work was always very narrative, so it all kind of just started from there.

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S3: I thought that was a very funny detail of you having to sort of convince your parents being like, It’s okay, I can I can support myself in other ways. I’m guessing that.

S1: I will make money.

S3: Right? Kids, it seems like that may have been a point of tension and saying that I’m going to pursue a creative field.

S1: Right. I mean, they were very supportive, you know, but they were definitely a little bit worried. But I think they were they trusted me a little bit and they were very supportive at the same time. So, you know, it was okay.

S3: Was there a point where they stopped worrying about it?

S1: Yes, I think when I started working consistently enough and when I got the book deal, they were very happy and it became like a whole family project. My dad was consulting on it all the time, so yeah.

S3: Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s such a delight to talk with you about your process and all the incredible work that you’ve done.

S1: Thank you so much for having me. Karen, it’s so good to talk to you.

S2: Karen, what a lovely interview. Donna wears a lot of hats, but she does so with such aplomb. And before we get to that, I want to start on a total side note, because she talked about martial arts. I did martial arts for like seven years as a kid, and I was interested in her saying that she took a lot of life lessons from martial arts. It definitely came at a time in my life when I needed to become more self-reliant, a little bit tougher, you know, which comes in really handy when you’re, you know, pitching things left and right and maybe getting turned down a lot. Are there any of your extracurriculars as a kid that you think taught you important habits of being that you use today?

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S3: Well, first of all, I want to ask, what martial arts did you study?

S2: It was a Okinawa martial art called Shereen Ryu. It’s actually this is not why I did it, but it is a cousin of the one that’s in the Karate Kid movies.

S3: Oh, wow. That’s really.

S2: Cool. They’re both from Okinawa. They have related forms and codas, but they’re not the same.

S3: Mm hmm. Well, for my answer to your question, I almost feel like it’s sort of like what people say about socializing puppies when they’re young, where it’s like you just have to do, like, a lot of activities when they’re young so that they grow up kind of more well-adjusted. And I think that’s also true like for human children as well.

S2: That’s why I throw a ball and have Iris fetch it in her mouth and bring it back to me.

S3: Well, I mean, it’s why I think a lot about stuff like recess, like when I was a kid and I almost feel like that kind of had the biggest impact on how I approach creative work as an adult. Because running around and like playing pretend with your friends, it’s number one, learning how to get along with all these people that potentially you don’t know straight off the bat that aren’t like your bosom buddies at that time, learning how to cooperate and learning how to build like a story together and just letting your imagination kind of run wild, which I think we’re afraid of doing more and more as we get older. But it’s also like why we still can play stuff like Daddy when we’re adults and why that those kinds of hobbies carry over. Because you are we think of them as like kind of silly hobbies, but it is a creative endeavor that you’re doing with a lot of other people.

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S2: Yeah, totally. Are you still doing Daddy?

S3: Well, I had a campaign going when I was in New York, but we have not done any sessions since I moved to California, and I’m not certain whether or not that storyline has died or not.

S2: Yeah, we should do a we haven’t done an RPG episode of working. We should we should get a.

S1: Oh, yeah. Mm hmm.

S2: You know, her description of her graphic design work is a reminder that the movies and TV we see employ a veritable army of people whose job it is to make sure that everything the viewer sees or hears, even if it’s for only a second or two, is intentionally constructed. Like I rarely think about what’s on the computer screen that some dude in the background of a shot is looking at. But someone like Donna had to go and design that whole thing so it felt integrated with the show, but not so artistic that it’s distracting. You know, it’s kind of overwhelming to think about how many considerations even go into your most normal basic shot in the TV show.

S3: Yeah, I totally agree. And I do feel like it’s something you can really only appreciate more and more as you learn more about that process. Like in a certain respect, it’s almost kind of a thankless job because so many people aren’t going to consider that while they’re watching the thing. And they’ll it’ll only get pointed out if you did something wrong and it really sticks out in that way. So, yeah, I don’t know. It’s a, it’s a kind of work that really fascinates me. Just again, because those people don’t really get a lot of credit. I almost think that’s even like one of the controversies about the Oscars where they’re like, these categories don’t get enough consideration. And also like, we just don’t think enough about them, even though they’re pretty integral to the stuff that they’re part of.

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S2: Yeah, I mean, in the academy it goes even further. And didn’t they move best editing too, before the show? Editing is only like like maybe the most important part of filmmaking is editing everything together at the end. And they just moved it to a part where nobody can watch it.

S3: Yep.

S2: Wild. You know, I was also struck by how she’s navigated something I think most listeners to this show have confronted at some point in and as three hosts have, to balancing the passion with the practical. Most of us have day jobs. Or if we’re freelancing like I do, maybe you have four day jobs or five of them. But but we also have the creative dream projects that we want to work on, and we don’t know whether any money is going to be made from them. We just there’s an idea we have we want to pursue it on spec. I mean, she worked on book projects for a decade before selling one. It can take a long time and maybe you’ll never sell it. Who knows? And no two ways. People of navigating that process looks the same.

S3: I think that’s kind of one of the most frustrating things about the creative field in general, where, again, there’s no like right way really any more, especially to get your project successfully pitched and greenlit, which makes it almost on one hand, it makes it easier because you don’t have to follow script, but also makes it incredibly difficult because then you’re just left floundering. You’re like, What am I supposed to do? I don’t know, like who to say. And this too. Like what kind of stuff I should put in my picture email. Like what? I should even like how politely I should even reach out. Or who is the best person to reach out to. There’s just a lot of factors in there that can feel really overwhelming and confusing, and I feel like we’ve all kind of been in that boat before.

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S2: Yeah, totally. And just that point where you’re like, okay, I started doing this thing because it’s something I care about. It’s something I want to do. It’s something I’m passionate about. And then like, how much you care about selling it or not? Or when you give up on selling it. And there’s like, this is just something I love that I want to do. It’s it’s really hard to navigate and there really are no right or wrong answers.

S3: I think we’ve talked about this in terms of how to navigate like pitching or it’s like sometimes it just isn’t about what you’ve done like at all. It just isn’t about the work. Or it’s like, Oh, maybe you wrote like an action script and someone’s like, Oh, actually, we want a comedy that has no bearing on how good your work is, but it’s also sometimes really hard not to take personally because it’s like, Well, why not?

S2: So yeah, of course. And you know, then if things are going well or well ish, you get to that point of like, when do you quit the day job? Or take significant time to focus on personal projects? Like I remember when I was working at the antidiscrimination think tank that I worked for, you know, Iris had been born and I was behind on Real Enemies, the show I was commissioned to do at Bam and I just I had to quit the job because otherwise I wouldn’t finish the piece. And, you know, it was actually the easiest quitting a job I’ve ever done. I’m still friends with all the people there. Yes, we love you. Go. Yeah, it’ll be great. But. But it’s a real risk to go fully freelance. You recently did that when you left work on a book and TV projects and being co-host of an incredible podcast about the creative process called Working, which I’m sure was your lifelong dream come true. You’re a few months in. How’s it been going? What have you learned about this change in your life that you wish you had known at the beginning?

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S3: It’s been going okay with regards to specifically the kind of work that I’ve been trying to break into in terms of like film and TV writing. I think the toughest thing is something that I sort of knew already, which is that the industry is incredibly opaque, which I kind of have already said in my previous answer. Right. And a lot of times it just feels like you’re shouting into a void with no with no sound coming back at you. But also, we’ve also talked a lot about this on the show where it’s like, how do you balance making the time to work on the stuff that you want to while also like making money.

S1: You know, totally.

S3: To actually live where it’s like I’m kind of in the final stages of working on my book right now and hitting like a crunch period. And I’m like, I need to devote time to that, but that doesn’t give me a salary. Like I’m not paid at regular intervals to work on my book. Whereas like for instance, working on this podcast, I do get paid pretty regularly because the shows come out, but it’s like this is also like a time that I can’t be working on my book. This is not a dig against working. It’s just like this is just logically how it is. You have to set aside time to work on the stuff that will help you actually survive in the world. But it’s hard to balance that with, like, bigger projects that you want to be working on.

S2: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Donna’s process for her visual art is very traditional and physical as she talked about, you know, she’s drawing with pencil, she’s cutting up collages by hand, she’s sewing actual thread into actual paper with an actual needle. And you know, this reminds me one of your New Year’s resolutions was to learn how to use your drawing tablet. So I do have a couple of questions. First of all, how’s that going? Are you doing any of that? And do you find a sort of big difference in how you think or what the art comes out being, you know, when it’s digital versus physical?

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S3: Well, I’m glad to be publicly shamed on the podcast and say that I haven’t been working on my tablet at all like it’s done some sketching on my iPad, but that is a different tool. That was not part of my New Year’s resolution. That’s it. I don’t know. The differences are so kind of difficult to articulate. Like, I don’t really know why my handwriting looks different when I’m writing on an iPad versus when I’m writing with a ballpoint pen versus when I’m writing with a pencil. Like, why does it change like that? I don’t know. And then there’s also kind of this is the biggest, I think, turn off for me when I was a child, at least thinking about like tablets versus pen and paper because for a long time you couldn’t draw on a monitor, so you’d be drawing on a touch pad and then you’d be seeing it happen somewhere else, which is very, very hard, at least for me to keep track of. And even now, like, it’s gotten a lot better with tablets especially, but there is always like a slight remove between what you’re doing and it appearing on the screen, which is not the case for physical media. So it’s all about learning to use these tools and getting used to them, which again, I have not been using my tablet, so I’ve really fallen.

S2: Down on it. Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to shame you.

S1: You know.

S2: It does strike me that, you know, one thing that I’ve talked about in the past here is, you know, that I do think there’s a difference in. The quality. I don’t mean how good or bad it is, but literally what it is like when I write by hand versus when I type. And so often whenever I’m stuck, I’ll just close the computer and pull out a notebook and just start writing by hand because like there’s just something. It’s just a physically different process. And I can’t explain why that does something different, but it does something different, like it’s literally using different muscles, and so maybe it’s firing different synapses or something to move them. I really don’t know what it is, but it has a real effect. I think when you handwrite for a bit and then go back to typing and stuff like that.

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S1: Mm hmm.

S2: Well, that’s all the time that we have for this week. Listeners, if you’ve enjoyed the show, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And please remember to sign up for Slate Plus at Slate.com. Working plus you’ll get bonus episodes and segments, access to everything behind the paywall on Slate, and you’ll get the constant reminder that you are a good person who supports everything we do. Right here on.

S3: Working. Thank you to Donna Kim for being our guest this week and to our wonderful producer, Cameron Drewes. Tune in next week when our guest will be artist and writer Lauren REDNISS. Until then, get back to work. Hi Slate Plus listeners. Here’s our extra segment for you today from my conversation with Donna Kim. Aside from like the picture books and your illustrations and fine art, you’ve also worked a little bit in fashion. You’ve collaborated with Maison Kitsune and Jason Wu. I’m curious, number one, how those collaborations come about. And number two, if you approach those projects differently from, I guess, the art that you would do kind of more for yourself.

S1: Jason Wu was through a good friend of mine who worked there at the time, and Maison could soon be. They found my work through Instagram, which is how those collaborations happened. I don’t think I approached it differently. I think I just treated it like I would any of my other artwork. And the Jason Wu was more collaborative, but I could see any I think they just they pretty much let me just draw. And yeah, it was really kind of easy. It was nice.

S3: This is a sort of pedantic question, but something I thought of when you mentioned that you’re I think you’re now also back in the office for your graphic design work. What was that like, I guess, during the pandemic? Or how much were was that a concern? Because I imagine that for a while you would have had to do that work remotely.

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S1: Yes, we did do remote work for a little bit for a few months. I was working from home because I do graphics. It’s not so hard, you know, to work from home. I just since I’m just on the computer all the time. But the film and TV productions have been very COVID safe. We all get tested twice, at least twice a week. We wear masks in the office. So now I think it’s we’ve hit a pretty good groove, you know, for a few months now. It’s been pretty. It feels very safe, at least.

S3: Yeah. Do you find that you this is a this is a home versus office question. Do you find that it’s easier to kind of to do work at home or in an office setting? Because I know when the pandemic started, like I was talking to some friends where I was like, I get I feel like I’m more productive in the office, maybe just because you feel more pressure to focus, but at the same time, like because you feel a little more relaxed at home, that’s another kind of point for it because it’s like, I get better work done when I’m at home.

S1: Yeah, I mean, it is nice to be in an office because you do work closely with people, so it’s nice to just walk over and talk to someone about a drawing or about something that you’re working on. Working from home was also very nice, though. It was just more comfortable and especially during the pandemic, I think in the beginning especially, it just felt much safer to work from home. Yeah, but now I. Now I do like being back in the office too.

S3: And that’s all we have for Slate Plus this week. Thank you so much as always for your support and tune in again next week.

S2: So.