faculty feature

Faculty Feature: John Ferry, 3x3 and beyond

Happy 2018 everyone! We're into the third week of the semester and although we're gearing up for a busy semester, we thought we'd take a look back on some of the projects that happened within the Illustration department last fall. Our second faculty feature is on Associate Professor and KCAI Illustration alum ('92) John Ferry. Seniors Jack Mied and Cam Kunke caught up with John recently to talk to him about one of the classes that he teaches in the fall, Color and Space, and what he loves about being an illustrator and educator. 

Livestock Exchange, Kansas City #1  oil on panel, 11.25 x 13.25 inches, framed

Livestock Exchange, Kansas City #1
oil on panel, 11.25 x 13.25 inches, framed

What inspired you to pursue art? There is no “One” inspiration – it’s a series of - too may to name. I will say, growing up in Decatur, IL, I had a Frank Lloyd Wright home behind my house. My dad loved architecture and Wright, that was probably my first major influence. And my 1st grade teacher wrote on my report card “John draws the best cars in class.”

What is the most rewarding thing you experience as a teacher? Every time a student has a self discovery.

How has teaching influenced your practice? I learn from the students – all of them – that is a blessing.

sophomores Lauren Koluch (left) and Maddie Knaus (right) working on their 3x3s

sophomores Lauren Koluch (left) and Maddie Knaus (right) working on their 3x3s

3x3s and 4x4s in progress, Fall 2017

3x3s and 4x4s in progress, Fall 2017

What is one of the most fulfilling things, for you, about being an artist? Being able to sit in my studio and paint, having the time to practice it on a regular basis, learning about myself through my work.

What is one of your favorite anecdotes about KCAI? Well, when I was a junior I was in a painting class in the illustration department. One day my professor was showing me “The Bay Area Figurative Art” book. He pointed out the scissor paintings by Richard Diebenkorn. I saw GOD in those scissors that day. I painted numerous bad paintings of scissors the rest of the day. That was the first book I purchased with a purpose. Not sure this is the anecdote you are looking for – but there it is.

Richard Diebenkorn

Richard Diebenkorn

What is the purpose of the 3x3/4x4 project? To learn to really see & mix color, to overcome challenging obstacles, to build confidence, to surprise yourself.

sophomore Marco Defilio with his finished 3x3

sophomore Marco Defilio with his finished 3x3

sophomore Anh Le with his finished 4x4

sophomore Anh Le with his finished 4x4

What the focus behind pushing the sophomore to use oil rather than acrylic? I like oil better – I think it’s a medium that students are more afraid of than acrylic. It can be very messy and difficult to use. Once we de-stigmatize the medium, our confidence builds.

Which class do you feel most challenges your students? All, possibly figure drawing – the students would say the 4 X 4.

Did you expect to be a professor at your Alma matter? Yes.

Has being a father changed your goals as an artist? No. It’s added to the depth of my painting.

Since graduation how have you seen your work change? Learning and gaining confidence is a blessing. I enjoy so many more other artists’ works’ now. I appreciate more artists as I search. I see and feel growth in all areas. I like feeling like I’m learning.

How has has it stayed similar to what it used to be? Good question – I’m not sure.

What inspirations, outside the illustration community, influence your work? Reading – reading about artists’ work habits, work ethic. Reading to learn about myself. This is a gift I’ve given myself later in life.

New York x2 #3  oil on panel, 11 x 13 inches, framed

New York x2 #3
oil on panel, 11 x 13 inches, framed

What has been one of the best things about being a professional illustrator? I’m a professional artist – and a student. Someday I’ll reach “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” and become self actualized . . . until then, I still enjoy seeing my work in print. Back in 1996 I got my first review in the “Kansas City Star.” That same morning a man showed up at the gallery before it opening and purchased my first work as a professional. He pointed the the picture in the paper and said “I want that painting.” That was a special day and was very infectious – for good or bad. My father used to say to me – “success breeds success.”

What has been one of the worst things about being a professional illustrator? I hate the feeling of seeing work that had to be turned in (deadline), that doesn’t meet my expectations . . . not every work can be a masterpiece, but you sure feel more pressure when it’s for a client and going to be in print. To feel ashamed of your work is a bad enough feeling – when it’s printed it makes a bad sensation worse.

Can you bench press a bear? When I was a kid I bought a cub - I picked up that cub everyday until one day I was picking up a bear - I couldn't bench press it though.

What's your favorite sports team? I suspect you already know the answer - The 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs - I never thought I'd be able to say that! I did think I would teach at KCAI though.

Thank you, John, for taking the time to talk to us about your class and career! John is currently represented at Blue Gallery in Kansas City.

Faculty Feature: Il Sung Na!

This year the KCAI Illustration Web Team is launching a few new features one of which will focus on our faculty, all of whom are working illustrators/artists. Our first feature is on the newest member of our faculty team, Assistant Professor Il Sung Na. This summer, Il Sung and his wife relocated from New Jersey to Kansas City. We were able to catch up with him recently and ask him a few questions about this new position, his first impressions of the Midwest and what he loves about being an illustrator and educator. 

When did you first realize that you wanted to be an illustrator?

When I first got into an art college, I only knew that I like drawings but nothing more than that. Then I met a friend who loved children’s picture books and we spent a lot of time together in bookstores. I was fascinated by how picture books can tell stories with illustrations. Text and illustration are telling the same story but different ways. In a picture book, illustrations extend, clarify, complement, or take a place of words. And as a visual person and also a non-English speaker, this was a perfect way to tell my stories without saying/writing too many words. Since then, I wanted to make picture books with my stories and that’s exactly what happened. 


What has been the most challenging aspect to your craft and profession?

Keeping a creative routine. Although I love creative processes, sometimes it gives a hard time to go through. I enjoy the process of thumbnail sketches, character drawings and colors, however I always have a hard time to come up with ideas and write stories. So I spend more or less half potion of times from a whole creative process to find good ideas/stories. There are also lots of thumbnails and crossed out lines (there are lots of revisions involved), but I have to keep drawing/making/creating until I get it right. It’s a kind of routine we (as creative people) cannot get away. Productivity comes at a price. 


Who has been your mentor? What makes you different from them and the same?

I had a professor at my foundation who discovered my talent of drawings and lead me to the right direction. He emphasized students to draw from life. Observation drawing was the key with his assignments.  

And there are more! Although I haven’t met them, I learned a lot of things from their works. I know this may not what you meant, but this is how I learned and found my ways of working.

I made my first dummy book when I was a sophomore level, but I did not know anything about a picture book. So I used picture books as my mentors. The Rabbit by John Marsden (author) & Shaun Tan (illustrator) and Slow Loris by Alexis Deacon. I read the books over and over, exam layouts, compositions and flows in the books. I really enjoyed the ways they tell a story. Simple text but just enough, and illustration does the rest of the job. Shaun Tan and Alexis Deacon are still among my favorites, and I was influenced by their works very heavily from the beginning. Maybe that’s why all of my picture books have simple texts, only one or two sentences on each spread. Maybe because I still believe that illustration can tell more stories than texts.

There are many artists/illustrator who I got inspirations from, such as Kveta Pacovska, Quentin Blake, Brian Wildsmith and John Birningham. And of course, there are a lot more because I keep adding artists to my lists.

My recent discovery of Javier Zabala, Spanish illustrator, made me to try watercolor after being away from it for many years because I did not enjoy using it. At first I tried to make a drawing like his, then I modified the ways of working with my tastes, adding color pencils and marker pens. 


What are you most excited about with this position?

Well, what’s the most rewarding is when I know that students make some progress in their works in any way. I am no difference, but I want to see students prove me wrong in a way, too. I try to be honest but all feedback and critique are from my perspective and we all have different experiences and different opinions. Sometimes we agree but sometimes we disagree. I think that’s the moment that students really jump in and dig deeper, and show what they can do. I wait for that moment to happen. And once it happens, I appreciate and enjoy the moment.

What are your first impressions of the Midwest?

Green, hot summer, kind people and Antiques! 


What part of your career best prepared you for educating?

This is a tricky question indeed. Because I am still learning things from others and I guess this is on going process which never ends.

When I was in college, I had good professors and great studio mates throughout years. But I did not get specific feedback for picture books as there were no one who had experiences in the children’s picture book industry. I learned many things while I worked with publishers and year after year I gained more experiences that I want to share with students who want to be an illustrator (or storyteller). When I looked back my student years I sometimes wondered if I had some experienced people around, I would have learned more efficiently? Maybe or maybe not. But that made me consider sharing my experiences.  

Also working with clay is one of my strength. Nowadays it’s not strange at all that illustrators work with different media like ceramics. I have started working with clay knowing nothing and wanted to get away from my daily creative routine. I just wanted to have some fun, make a lot of junks. However, it certainly added to my artistic repertoire and enriched my range as a visual creator and a storyteller. It was a kind of ‘AHA’ moment. And I want students to try some different materials because we never know what we are capable with until we try. 


7. What career did you think you would have when you were a child?

Architect! My dad was an architect and I lived in a house that he built when I was a kid. Although I had a different path to study industrial engineering when I was in Korea, I was fortunate to pursue my parent that I had a passion for drawing. 

I still dream about design or draw my future house in the future though. Maybe one day I will do. 


What keeps you inspired? Do you have a mantra or philosophy to your work?

A lot of things really. It can be from conversations with people, in exhibitions, watching documentary films or anything touches my curiosity. Sometimes it starts from a word or an image. I keep my eyes and ears wide open you can observe so many things. Always ask to myself how and why. I also keep recording ideas on my sketchbooks otherwise I will forget them after seconds.

"Keep It simple" has been my motto. Sometimes less is better. I understand that we want to show so many things at once but showing one at a time makes it easier to understand.

"If there is something to steal, I steal."  -Pablo Picasso

This is the quote that I have been following since I was a student. I don’t mean to steal physical things or other artists’ ideas. What I mean by that is learning from others.

There is always something to learn. I learned good compositions from photograph, movie scene or painting and use it my works. I learned how to write a story by reading other people’s story. It’s not copying other people’s work. You need to digest it in you well and make it yours. We are creative people but it’s really hard to create something from nothing.  

BIG thanks to Il Sung for taking the time to answer our questions. Welcome to KCAI, Il Sung! To see more of Il Sung's work be sure to visit his website.