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Daily Inspiration: Meet Sun-Mo Koo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sun-Mo Koo.

Hi Sun-Mo, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I have always had a hand in the arts and I also knew from a young age that I would pursue art as a career. I remember when I made my first clay creation, it was a sun glazed with a bunch of colors. When I got the piece back from the kiln, I was just captivated with the process that led me to the final piece. That was the beginning of my fascination and love for clay.

Before transferring to art school, I did three years at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. At that time, I was also an art major with a focus on ceramics and printmaking. Although I went to college as an art major, I felt that the arts at this institution was very limited; therefore, I made the ultimate decision to transfer. I transferred to ArtCenter College of Design and went in as an Illustration major. I took a variety of classes but surprisingly did not take that many printmaking or ceramic classes. It wasn’t until my last two terms at ArtCenter that I finally took a ceramics class. And when I took the class, it felt like I made a full circle back to the medium I loved working with.

I graduated from ArtCenter in 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit halfway through my graduating term and everything got canceled. During lockdown, I was able to rest from the burnout from all the work I had been doing in preparation for graduation. This time helped me to develop my craft and characters I was planning to present at the grad show. It was disappointing to not have had the traditional graduation to end my time at the school as well as starting a new chapter in my life, but it was a situation that helped push me to become the artist I am today.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It definitely has not been an easy road, more so with the pandemic. Due to the pandemic, it was difficult to consider doing in-house work when we couldn’t do things in person and everything was moved virtually. I decided that doing freelance work was better suited for me and the work I do. From the time I graduated art school to now has been a constant of ups and downs. Even though I was able to sell my work and do well for myself from time to time, there were a lot of uncertainties and concerns that crept in along the way. There were so many thoughts that ran rampant in my head such as ” Am I good enough?”, “Can I make a good living from this?”, “Is there a market for my work out there?” and so on. It began to mess with my mental health and I had become super depressed thinking that the thing I loved doing wouldn’t make it out to the world.

Last year, I was at my lowest and almost thought of quitting ceramics due to overworking and all of these negative thoughts. However, I decided to take a break for a few months and stepped away from anything art-related. The time away from my usual art hustle was healing and something that was needed. Sometimes, I work and work to the point where stuff starts becoming mundane. I have to remind myself that I am human and not a constant working machine. As tough as this period in my life was, it was necessary to experience this because I learned that it is OK to take a step back in order to move forward.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I like to make ceramic sculptures of the characters I have developed from my sketches, which I started designing when I was still at ArtCenter. I am mainly known for making my Herdling and Egglet characters. Egglets are basically eggs with wings and Herdlings are my take on cows, horses and elephants. I am very happy and proud with how far I have developed these characters into what they are today. My hope is to one day publish a children’s book that is filled with all of the characters I have come up with. There are so many wonderful ceramicists and illustrators out there, but I think what sets me apart from other artists is my unique character designs and my use of illustrations that I incorporate into my work. It makes my day to hear people liking the work I do! My work in ceramics is no where close to being over and there’s a lot more to learn. There are so many more stories I plan to tell through my ceramics and I am excited for what the future has in store.

How do you think about happiness?
Happiness can be subjective because everyone’s version of happiness is different. I find myself feeling happy when I am making coffee for my parents, having nerdy conversations with my brother, sitting by the window watching the rain fall, using a fresh bag of clay to make more Herdlings or starting a new sketchbook to fill up with more ideas. These moments in time can seem small to people, but for me, they bring me so much joy and inspiration. It is like having a never-ending archive full of fond memories and innovative ideas that help me create something new.

I am human, I do have days where I feel down and things start getting mundane; however, I get the biggest smile on my face when I get the sweetest messages of how I made someone happy from something I made. Little do those people know that when they send those messages to me, I become the happiest person in the world. And I’ve come to realize that I treasure moments like these the most because it creates a ripple effect connecting me to others with such light, love, and care. And I hope to continue this unceasing cycle of making others happy for many years to come.

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