ART & CULTURE

Nature Portrayed by Warmgrey Tail
At Warmgrey Tail, animals and plants are portrayed per the interpretation of the illustrator and finally transformed into objects that can be placed at home.
A rabbit poster for a kid’s room, a framed bear drawing in the living room, and a crocodile mug on the table. They all share the same origin. Warmgrey Tail is a design brand creating various merchandise based on their nature-inspired illustrations. Husband and wife team, illustrator Kim Han-geol and art director Lee Hyun-a, launched the brand in 2015 in a small studio in Seoul.
Seoul

Black Bear fabric poster © Warmgrey Tail

머그컵

Fruit mug © Warmgrey Tail

유리컵

Trees & Bear gold cup © Warmgrey Tail

Warmgrey Tail's logo, showing the tail of an animal hiding behind a tree

"We choose items that can feature our illustrations well."

Kim Han-geol, illustrator at Warmgrey Tail
Kim, who worked as a freelance illustrator after graduating from college, says he persuaded Lee, who was an art director at an ad agency, to start the design brand, Warmgrey Tail. “Can we start a brand using only illustrations by one artist? Will we be able to sell our products? We thought it would be great if we could get public attention with our illustrations that we have created just the way we want, and that, if not, there’s nothing we can do about it.” With uncertainties, they began the new career and five years later are continuing on their path one step at a time.
Last year, they opened a showroom in Mangwon-dong, western Seoul, where people can actually see the products of Warmgrey Tail. The showroom is filled with adorable woodland creatures illustrated on posters, fabric, glasses, socks and postcards. Warmgrey Tail’s arts have a power to disarm people as they are reminiscent of a scene from a fairy tale. Whether at home or in the office, their illustrations create a calming effect regardless of the environment. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon when the showroom is believed to be the brightest thanks to sunlight, we met illustrator Kim Han-geol. He was wearing a jacket that has the same green color as the one he frequently uses for his artworks.
Q. What does Warmgrey Tail mean?
A. My wife and I are living with two cats, a Russian Blue and a Siamese. They both have a tail that’s warm grey. We mulled over the brand name for over a year and finally took the hint from our lovely cohabitants.

Q. What’s the process like when you work on illustrations?
A. First I use watercolors or a pencil for the basic sketch, and then use the computer for the latter part of illustration. In order to maintain the image quality in various applications using fabric, chinaware, or glass, with varying sizes, computer work is crucial.

Warmgrey Tail's showroom in Mangwon-dong doubles as Kim Han-geol's studio.

Q. Your drawings do not show sketch lines, but just faces. They seem easy to draw but the process is complicated. How do you decide what to paint and what to discard?
A. Compared to the drawings with borders, the ones without them require more complicated calculations. You need to be able to distinguish the shape of your object without the help of lines. Before I paint, I think about whether I can portray whatever’s in my mind using the method I want. After the first draft, I take time to decide what to keep and what to discard. So even though first drafts do not take much time, it still requires much thinking to conclude the work is complete.

Q. Is there a reason that you use nature, animals and plants, for your illustrations?
A. I think they are not boring. As of yet. (laugh)

Q. How do you capture or choose the expression and pose of the animals in your work?
A. Once I make up my mind about what to draw, I search for photos or videos of that animal. That naturally narrows down how I should produce it. For example, it could be a black panther stealthily approaching its prey, or a polar bear making an awkward pose between standing and sitting.

Warmgrey Tail's drawing done in fabric

Warmgrey Tail's poster

Q. You must find animal documentaries helpful.
A. Yes. I like TV programs airing animal documentaries and also watch YouTube clips or check Instagram feeds regarding animals and plants, on a daily basis. My cats help with my inspiration too since I just need to turn my head to see them.

Q. Are there any new perspectives or knowledge you’ve gained while drawing animals and plants?
A. If I had a vague idea that all birds looked similar, now I find each species special. For example, there are birds capable of flying long distance and those that are not. A bar-tailed godwit can fly 10,000 kilometers from Alaska to New Zealand without stopping for a break. A magpie on the other hand cannot fly far. Decades ago, there was no magpie in Jeju Island. They couldn’t fly across the sea to get to the island. The magpie currently found in Jeju are the descendants of those that were relocated through human intervention.

Warmgrey Tail's postcard

Q. How do you decide on which line of goods to produce? Your products bring about a feeling that by having them, you are owning a piece of art.
A. We choose items that can feature our illustrations well. We select the ones that are manufacturable among diverse merchandise candidates, and check if the illustration can be shown as we intended it to be. We do not own a patent or a special manufacturing knowhow. Our illustrations are what creates added value, so we want to keep this perspective.

Q. Is that why you print posters yourself instead of going to a print shop, and sell frames and wooden sticks with some of your merchandise?
A. We did not insist on the inhouse printing system from the beginning. We were going to hire a print shop once we had a large volume of order. Then we realized it is difficult to get colors accurately if we were to get help from outside. That’s why we are printing posters on our own. In fact, there are more chores to handle with this kind of printing process, but at this point it feels we were destined to do it this way. (laugh) It does serve our goal to reduce our inventory and to speed up the overall process, from planning to the product release. Making frames ourselves is also for similar reasons.

Warmgrey Tail's frame

Warmgrey Tail's painted mug, thin and light

Q. Warmgrey Tail is being sold in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the UK. How did you market your brand overseas?
A. We did thought of expanding the business overseas, but had not contacted overseas markets ourselves. Luckily we got inquiries from several overseas shops, and the transaction volume is slowly increasing. We currently have about 76,000 followers on our Instagram account (as of May 2019), and 26 percent of them, or some 20,000 followers, reside in foreign countries. There might have been some interested shop owners among them.

Q. Tell us about this Mangwon-dong showroom.
A. We opened this showroom in fall 2018. The place was our studio for three years prior to that. We had to scale down the studio when we opened the showroom. There’s now a wall dividing the two spaces. The showroom is very important to us as it’s where we meet our customers and talk about various subjects with them. The space is designed to feel calm and not too distracting so as to highlight the illustrations. We also placed the display counter lower to let more sunlight in. Thanks to abundant natural lighting, on a clear day, the showroom tempts you to sit idly in the afternoon.

Q. What is your future goal?
A. We started Warmgrey Tail with illustrations, but running online and offline shops, it sometimes feels like we are in the distribution or manufacturing industry. Although my main job is an illustrator, I don’t have enough time to focus on drawing, having to take care of urgent yet minor chores. I would like to reset priorities by running the brand more systematically and getting rid of unnecessary hurdles. That’s the task at hand. I’d rather avoid setting a goal for a distant future.

Warmgrey Tail's Mangwon-dong showroom

Warmgrey Tail
Address 2F, 94 Poeun-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone +82-2-337-3719
Homepage warmgreytail.com
July 2019 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Photographer:Ahn Garam

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  • Editor: Kim Hyewon
  • Photographer: Ahn Garam
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