How to Turn Your Random Interest into Art, Kakao Edition

Do you think of yourself as an artist/emoji-enthusiast?

No? Well, it was a long shot. But you probably do have random interests. And maybe you’re hoping to get some artistic value out of those interests.

This week I’ll walk you through my journey from the discovery of a new interest (or obsession, the word choice is up to you) to how I (sorta, kinda) turned that interest into art. I know you can’t wait to read more about this vaguely worded summary.


Emojis, Of Course

If you’ve seen any of my last few posts, you already know the interest I’m talking about. And that interest is emojis, specifically Kakao Friends emojis.

I’ve established that Kakao Friends emoji are cute. And that emoji art is a thing. Also Yung Jake makes awesome emoji portraits. Now I’m joining the ring with some emoji art of my own (but please don’t compare to Yung Jake).

The artistic process is weird and convoluted and different for everyone. For example, I’m usually surprised at how logically artists choose to create their next works – logical to them, but perhaps not until you hear it explained, as with Dana Schutz‘s Self-Eaters or Last Man on Earth paintings.

So here’s my process, which began with collecting.


Collecting Emojis

I collected Kakao emojis in Korea. And there were many ways to do so. These included:

  • Yes, bread.
  • Secret, limited-time only stores.
  • Makeup


Bread Prizes

For a time, convenience stores in Korea sold pastries that came with a Kakao Friends sticker. Um, yes! The bread didn’t taste that good, but for the stickers, it was worth it.

Kakao Friends Shany bread with emoji stickers Frodo and Jay-G

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was excited.

The pastries, produced by bread company SHANY, were released July 2014, right as I arrived in Korea. According to a company representative, SHANY sold an average of 200,000 Kakao Friends Bread products a day during that time. I didn’t contribute to those sales though, since I was living in isolation with 100+ other foreigners.

Unfortunately Fortunately those pastries gradually disappeared, and so I stopped buying convenience store bread. I gathered a handful of stickers, but now I’ve either given them away, stuck them on my laptop, or lost them. But if you have to get some of these stickers for yourself, it looks like someone’s selling them on eBay. Bread not included.

4 Kakao Friends Shany bread with emoji stickers Muzi, Apeach, Neo, and Tube


(I Said We) Going to the Mall

I apologize to linking to that song. For your own health, maybe don’t listen to the whole thing. But it popped into my head, and I wanted to share the pain. 

The next thing that fueled my Kakao addiction were Kakao Friends pop stores. For limited periods of time, a Kakao store would pop up at a department store or mall, a consumerist paradise of Kakao Friends merchandise. I was enamored with the characters, so everything in these stores was exciting.

Kakao notebooks and folders!

Kakao Friends emoji folder and notebook with Apeach


Kakao phone cases!

Kakao Friends phone cases at emoji pop store

Plush key chains!

Kakao Friends emoji pop store plush keychains

USB drives!

Even golf balls and air fresheners.

Kakao Friends emoji pop store air freshener

So while I bought some products, I also saved the shopping bags which seemed like they could have some artistic inspiration value.


2-in-1: Skincare and Emoji

The final step of my Kakao collecting was through skincare products and makeup.

Korean skincare is a lot of fun. It’s also relatively cheap and available almost everywhere, from shopping districts to subway stations. Most of the subway stations I used regularly in Busan included a Face Shop store underground.

Skincare and makeup chains in Korea frequently collaborate with other brands to produce limited edition products, especially with brands that involve cute cartoon characters. Skinfood did a line of products with Snoopy. Etude House released limited edition products for the release of Finding Dory. Holika Holika did a Gudetama collaboration.

Holika Holika BB cushion with Gudetama face

These promotions seem fairly effective, at least when it comes to me. I’d never set foot into a Holika Holika store before Gudetama. After Gudetama, I went so often that an employee at the Nampo location started to recognize me. To be fair, I already stood out for being a foreigner and did ask a lot of questions.

But the collaboration you’ve been expecting is The Face Shop’s collaboration with Kakao Friends. As you’ve probably guessed, I went nuts with this one.

Kakao Friends Face Shop Collaboration Skincare and Makeup haul with skinscreen, face masks, facial cleanser, lip tint, perfume, and a travel pillow in the back

My photo folder for this period of my life is titled “Too Much Skincare.”


And Then There Was Art

Fortunately, this obsession with Kakao Friends led to some art. I now had a reasonably large collection of Kakao characters as I came across them, from stickers to shopping bags to cosmetics packaging. Some I pasted in my sketchbook, and others I saved because they were cute and maybe I could use them for collage or something.

 Kakao friends pop store shopping bag in sketchbook

If you’ve ever made collages for an extended period of time, you know that collecting material is half the battle. In addition to my budding Kakao friends collection, I had started doing some other bizarre collecting. I collected coffee sleeves. You know, those cheap cardboard things that you put around your latte to keep it warm. At the encouragement of a friend I saved them up for a future art project that I hadn’t yet planned. But I could do something cool with these, right?

I didn’t figure out what that project would be until I had less than half a year left in Korea. And I wasn’t planning on filling up valuable suitcase space with coffee sleeves.

So I did turned them into an art piece titled “Pieces of a Grant Year.” On each coffee sleeve, I drew, colored, wrote things, or glued on paper. And I presented my results at the Fulbright Korea “Final Dinner,” our last gathering before the grant year ended.


pieces of a grant year coffee sleeves close up

I’d spent all this time collecting these materials, and it made sense to give them away as solo pieces. It became an interactive work, one that required people to take the pieces apart again.

pieces of a grant year coffee sleeves

The Kakao Friends made it onto some of those coffee sleeves. I paired them with a whimsical series of sleeves from Gong Cha, a bubble tea chain. These sleeves feature art from an illustrator who goes by Puuung (퍼엉).

There are four coffee sleeves in all, with both a front and back. In some I left the Puuung illustration, in others I added a sly Kakao character, while some only contain words.

Kakao Friends Emoji Gongcha collab (1) Kakao Friends Emoji Gongcha collab (2) Kakao Friends Emoji Gongcha collab (3) Kakao Friends Emoji Gongcha collab (4) Kakao Friends Emoji Gongcha collab (5) Kakao Friends Emoji Gongcha collab (6) Kakao Friends Emoji Gongcha collab (7) Kakao Friends Emoji Gongcha collab (8)

And that was how Kakao characters made their way into my art.