Tomi Um

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The Feast, Vol. 2, a foldout comic book, screen-printed on kozo paper, 2009.

Title: Illustrator

From: Seoul, South Korea

Lives in: Westfield, NJ


Tomi Um’s personal illustration projects have a decidedly Buddhist flavor. In the lusciously screen-printed foldout comic The Feast, images of the Buddha and other members of the sangha appear in a joyful riot of color, line, and ink. For an upcoming project, Um is illustrating a narrative called The Noodle Monk. “I’ve really liked the shape of those curly noodles my whole life, and they’re fun to draw,” she explains.

In fact, Um’s universe is awash in wavy noodle lines, pagoda temples, smiling monks, animal characters, and elaborately detailed monastery scenes, all playfully jostling with the visual structure of comics.

Um studied fine arts at Parsons The New School for Design and worked for a brief stint in South Korea as an art teacher. She found her calling when she discovered the work of illustrator Yuko Shimizu in The New York Times. After reading interviews on Shimizu’s website, Um quit her job, returned to New York, and enrolled in a silk-screen class.

To create her evocatively tactile images, Um primarily uses silk-screen, linocut, and scratchboard, a process that allows her lines to be bold yet fluid. Her ink gives even her silhouettes an unexpected fullness. The images are particularly striking because she has, until now, only used a limited palette of two or three colors. “I’m really terrible with working with color,” Um confesses.

Her current inspiration derives in part from her work as a textile designer at the firm Tom Cody Design. As part of an initial apprenticeship, Um painstakingly recolored existing fabric designs. She describes the work as “coloring-book camp,” and observes, “My next projects will have some color introduced to them.”

The Feast, Vol. 4, 2009.

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