Introducing the “Passport to People Series” where I’ll take you around the globe, via inspiring, creative souls I’ve met while on my travels!
Meet Korean artist, Jeongmin Lee, who goes by the moniker ‘Min The Elephant.’ Her illustrations are constructions of pure imagination, engaging in flights of fancy with sketches of anthropomorphic animals and beastilized humans. Her work is whimsical and reverie-inducing, bringing to life scenes from a dream. I was introduced to Min by mutual friends during my time in Korea and fell in love with her animated, carefree spirit and humility in regards to her marvelous talent. In person, she evokes the same balance of lightheartedness and ambition found in her pieces. I was inspired by her dedication to her craft having boldly left a comfortable corporate job in the name of pursuing her bliss, showing the naysayers her powerful commitment to her artistry. Many of my favorite pieces of hers fuse dreamscape with the real-world, painting reality in an illusory light. Delve into her interesting world in the interview below.
Hi Min the Elephant! For our readers to understand you better, how would you describe your artistic style?
I would say I am still trying to figure out what my style is, because it’s only been two years since I started drawing again. So far, my favorite style of mine is the ones that I did with black ink pens, which are a bit creepy and weird and that is what I love about my black ink pen drawings. I would like to explore more with different medium including oil color, color pencils and etc.
What things do you like to draw while you’re traveling?
I like to draw things/people I see while traveling. When there is something/someone that captures my eyes, I would like to draw them. Since my recent travel, I also realized that it was fun drawing random things that people say; for example, I was chilling at a beer place in Hoi An, Vietnam, and my friends were pretty drunk, so they were talking about silly things. One friend said something about making fish sauce out of human body and I drew a girl shooting fish sauce out of her vagina. It was such a silly random thing but I would never thought of this if it wasn’t what my drunk friend said. After this, I’ve decided to remember random things people say when I am traveling and draw them.
As travelers, journeys are important. Can you tell us how your artistic journey began?
I was very into art and illustration when I was in high school. I wanted to go to art school to be a professional illustrator. When I told my family about my plan, they said no, saying it would be hard for me to get a good job when I graduated. Furthermore, like anywhere else, studying art in Korea costs a lot of money, and since my family was quite poor, it didn’t seem like plausible to me as well. I ended up studying business in university, which I don’t regret, but there’s always been part of me feeling that something was missing in my life. I didn’t realize what it was until January 2014 when I was going through a hard time, I found art again in my life, and since then I started feeling confidence and happiness in my life with art. I would say I was born again to a new person, which feels pretty awesome.
Even though you can record memories via sketching, do you still keep a journal?
I don’t have a journal that I keep, but I try to write something that I don’t want to forget. Every time I experience something special that I don’t want to forget, I would write it down on a paper and put it in a box to keep.
What’s one quality that you possess as an artist that sets you apart from other artists?
I believe in the power of stories. Every illustration I work on has a story behind it, and I love to hear what other people think of it. A lot of times when people see my work they ask me what I want to tell them through my drawing, asking what’s the story behind. Then I would ask them what they think. It is really interesting because each person comes up with a different story. I think this is one of my qualities that I have as an artist; make people imagine stories through my drawings.
Here are some pieces by Min the Elephant…
While traveling, has there ever been a moment or scene that has left an imprint in your soul?
There are so many moments that have left a strong impression in my mind. One of the moments I want to share with was when I traveled to Sri Lanka. I went to this temple that was well known for its beautiful architecture, and I was able to fully enjoy my experience there until I saw a man with an elephant. First second I was so happy to see an elephant because I deeply loved them, but then the next second I realized something was wrong with this whole scene. The man had a whip in his hand, sitting next to the elephant with a box that said cash only, and the elephant had giant leg cuffs that didn’t let the elephant to walk at all, and he had a lot of scars on his skin, from which I could imagine what he had to go through. This was so brutal and I felt sick right after, to see an innocent elephant being used to ride humans to make money for another human. This is probably the time when I started getting interested in animal rights.
Now just some random questions! Okay, you, unfortunately, have been condemned to die. But fortunately, you get to have any meal in the world before you go. What is your menu?
This is an easy question: FRIED CHICKEN!
What’s a song that puts you in the traveling mood?
Bob Marley songs always put me in the traveling mood, especially Three Little Birds.
Best foreign word you know and why?
It would be Namaste in Hindi. I lived in India for a few months but unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to learn Hindi. One of my co-workers taught me the word Namaste on the first week of my staying in India so this is pretty much my first Hindi word I learned. I like it a lot because it’s not just a common greeting word but it means ‘my spirit bows yours’, so it is in spiritual level.
Aside from the basics (passport, ATM card, backpack), what three items are must-bring things for you on your trip?
- A drawing book and pens: I can’t go anywhere without it.
- Chaco sandals: The most comfortable sandals in my life. My travel requires me to walk a lot so I need to have a pair of good sandals and Chaco has been my favorite.
- A book to read: I love to read before I go to bed when I travel.
What do you “know now” that you wish you “knew then”?
I think I am really good at packing bags now that I’ve done a few backpacking trips. Back in 2011, I had my first backpacking experience. I had a tiny backpack, a small purse, and a suitcase to carry, so you can’t really call me a backpacker. I had to walk a lot during the trip, trying to catch a train and bus and etc., and I wish I had a big backpack and my packing skill.
What is a good place to travel to but you would never want to live there?
I would say Seoul, Korea. It is such a big city and my sister and a lot of my friends live in Seoul so I would love to visit the city. However, I would never want to live in Seoul because there’re just so many people living and everyone seems so unhappy. Plus, there’s no beach.
Weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten.
When I traveled in Viet Nam, my friend and I were on a Mekong Delta tour. Our tour guide was very nice, maybe too nice that he felt it was mandatory for us to try his favorite drink in the world, snake wine. I’ve seen snake wine in Korea but I never tried because of its grotesque appeal. Our tour guide convinced us to try, and maybe I was day drunk from beer I had earlier that day, I said yes. It didn’t taste anything, just strong straight alcohol and no more than that. After taking a shot of snake wine, I stared at the snake in the bottle, and it seemed like it was so upset, cursing on me and swearing to me. Before I went to bed, I prayed all the Vietnamese gods to forgive me.
Well that’s it from the lovely Min! Thank you so much for letting us take a peak into that artistic mind of yours!
Be sure to check out her website & social media!
Website: Min The Elephant
Facebook \\ Min The Elephant • Instagram \\ @mintheelephant