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Western fairy tales reborn into the East by a Korean illustrator

  • Published : Mar 26, 2017 - 21:56
  • Updated : Mar 26, 2017 - 21:56

“What if ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was a Korean folktale?” Disney Korea asks in a Facebook post describing a special promotional image for its latest live-action film.

The image, which gives the Western fairytale a whimsical Eastern makeover, is a work of South Korean illustrator Wooh Nayoung, better known by her nickname “Obsidian.”

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Beauty and the Beast (Wooh Nayoung)
Wooh is popular for her “Fairy Tale Series” in which she depicts characters from popular Western fairy tales as ethnic Asians wearing Hanbok -- Korean traditional clothes -- or other Asian traditional clothes.

“At first, I was going to draw an illustration for the folktale ‘The Fairy and the Woodsman.’ Then I thought it is too cliche for folktale characters to wear Hanbok,” Wooh said in a phone interview with the Korea Herald. “So I thought, ‘How about Western fairy tales then?’”

Though Wooh believes she arrived at success by chance, she is a unique illustrator with a background in two starkly different fields -- oriental art and Western-style digital illustration.

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Illustrator Woo Nayoung (Woo Nayoung)
Wooh majored in oriental painting in Ewha Womans University. Yet she started her work at Nexon, a South Korean video game company, in 2002 and worked in the video game industry for almost a decade.

“When I was at Nexon, I thought, ‘if I was going to draw something that has nothing to do with oriental paintings, why did I even go to college?’” she said.

“Yet as I think back now, I could draw them only because I learned the elements of oriental paintings in college and skills of digital paintings in a game company. They both are important parts of my identity as an illustrator.”

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"Elsa" from "Frozen", wearing Hanbok (Wooh Nayoung)
She gained public recognition not only at home but also overseas after her works, including her Eastern depiction of Elsa from Disney’s 2013 animation “Frozen,” were featured on some foreign websites and media outlets such as reddit, Huffington Post Espana and Wired Italy.

She has since exhibited her works in museums and galleries in other countries, including the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts and the Vaclav Havel Library in Paris, France.

“I don’t have a grand aim such as enhancing Korea’s national prestige,” she said. “I like Hanbok and I think they are beautiful. I just want people from other countries to appreciate them too.”

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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Wooh Nayoung)
Wooh is currently working on an illustrated guide for Hanbok which aims to provide illustrators and designers with a more practical understanding of the traditional clothes so that they can draw Hanbok more easily on their own.

The idea of an “easier attempt to draw Hanbok” came as Wooh found it difficult to find references and apply them to her work, since most of them were rather academic analyses of the traditional clothes.

The Korean illustrator said she wants to keep working on the fairy tale series, though she is currently too busy with commissioned projects to fully devote her time to her personal artwork. The new work will also include characters dressed in the traditional clothes of other Asian countries such as China and Japan.

“Working for clients is meaningful of course, but my personal works are my source of energy,” she said.

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Snow White (Wooh Nayoung)
By Kim So-yeon (syk19372@heraldcorp.com)