Art Abroad 2: Art Block Broken!

So my first year in Korea wasn’t very artistically productive. It was more of an art drought.

But my second year, I resolved, would be different! And generally it was, although my first few months started off not unlike my previous year. I’d recommitted to doing art, but like my first year in Korea, I was at a new school with a new homestay in a new city, and life was distracting.

Mostly, I was concerned about making a good impression on my new coworkers and students. The new city that didn’t cause me any concern though…because I was placed in BUSAN!


This was actually a dream come true. And yes, I know this is supposed to be about art, but you’ll have to bear with me while I rave about Busan first. So…

Dream. Come. True.

I’d wanted to be placed in Busan from the very beginning. Well, that’s not entirely true. At first I arrived in South Korea with no expectations, knowing that I wouldn’t get to choose my placement and it was pointless to set my heart on any particular place. That mindset didn’t last long. My peers had preferences all right, and were determined to get them. The more we talked about their preferences, the more I thought about mine, and the more appealing Busan became to me.

Why Busan?

I chose to teach English in Korea (not Japan or Malaysia or Taiwan) in part to meet my extended family. All of my mom’s family still lives in Korea, but I’d never been able to see them. And most of them lived in Busan, including my grandparents. Why wouldn’t I want to go to Busan? It was also my mom’s hometown and undoubtedly full of memories.

Plus, Busan was pretty popular. It’s the second largest city in Korea,meaning it has nearly all the conveniences of Seoul (Costco, western style restaurants), without the crowds and pollution (I’m biased – can you tell?). Busan is also a coastal city with seven beaches, multiple famous fish markets and general awesomeness.

So this year I was doing a lot of exploring and not a lot of art. But the thing about living in a beautiful place is that you can’t help but get inspired at some point. Remember when I turned down a coworker‘s suggestion to do landscape art? Well, that was before the ocean happened to me.


“I just wanna draw the ocean all day.”

Being from Colorado, I’ve always preferred mountains. This may have been influenced by the fact that I’d only been to the beach once in my life. Busan opened my eyes. Being constantly surrounded by the ocean – really though, my school was on an island – all I wanted to do was sit by the sea. My daily commute took me right along the shore, so I’d rush onto the bus everyday, hoping to get a seat on the right side of the bus, where I’d have a front row view. Sometimes I wished I didn’t have to get off and go to school.

I felt like I could just sit and watch the ocean for hours. I began to think “I just wanna draw the ocean all day.” So much for not doing landscapes.

But it was still hard to find time for art. A new school meant new students, new coworkers and new expectations, both in the office and the classroom. None of it was bad; it just took a lot of energy as I learned what worked and what didn’t. I never felt like going through the effort of pulling out paints and brushes, and then finding a spot where I wouldn’t be disturbed.

No art was created. Yet.


Ta-Da! Technology

I took the bus a lot in Busan which, unlike the subway, involves a lot of wait time. One day, during an especially long wait, I started playing around with a memo app on my phone, just as a way to practice color.

And hey, it was actually kind of fun. Even if my first effort was horrendously ugly.

Lanterns hung for Buddha’s birthday

I did another one of these mini digital paintings of the view from my office, this time not at the mercy of the bus’s arrival. It wasn’t so bad, although when I showed a coworker I made many excuses about how it was rough because I’d been using my finger to draw, but how it still wasn’t too bad right?


(Hint: Showing your artwork to a non-artist is almost always a confidence booster.)

And from that point on, I was addicted. Bam! Code cracked. Art block busted. Doing art was easy and fun again. I didn’t have to gather any supplies – all I needed was my phone, which never left my side anyway.

I feel silly that it took me this long to start making use of technology in my art.


Landscape Takeover

I know what you’re thinking now – or at least, what I was asking myself – didn’t you do any other art? Well yes, yes I did.

Keeping with my anti-landscape theme, I did physical landscape paintings as well. They were really small goodbye gifts to a few people before I left Korea.




And seeing as my family was a big highlight during my time in Korea, they got a few pages in my sketchbook.

Avid Reader, pastel, conte, and pen


Final Project

Of course I once again had to impose some big project on myself before the year ended. In my first year, I gave myself the task of drawing everyone in the Fulbright Korea program plus our directors – 117 faces in all – and finishing it in time to be published in our literary magazine. In my second year, I hoped to exhibit my final project during Fulbright Korea’s Final Dinner – but if you have no idea what this is, I won’t give it away yet! Here’s spoiler though; it involves lots of these: