Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 2, 2021

Artist Spotlight: Elizabeth Im, student painter and cartoonist

By JAE CHOI | October 3, 2019


Courtesy of Elizabeth Im

Elizabeth Im grew up in an artistic household and has been involved with the arts on campus.

For Hopkins students, creating art may be a very common pastime. However, for sophomore Elizabeth Im, art has been something that has permeated her daily life since she was young. 

Since coming to Hopkins, Im has kept up her painting skills and has been involved with The News-Letter as the Cartoons editor. Im is currently a sophomore Cognitive Science and English double-major, and hopes to one day become a writer who makes illustrations for her own books. 

She grew up in an artistic family; her mother and grandfather are artists and she practically grew up in their studios, where she would go after school. 

“There’s actually not a lot of furniture in my house — it’s almost all art,” she said.

Im explained that people may be hesitant to engage with art because they may feel that art is not very accessible. 

“A lot of people say, ‘I’m not good at art or I don’t do art,’ mostly because I think they think it’s something that they need to be educated in,” Im said. “Also... museum settings are kind of tense. There are security guards and you can’t approach the art.”

Im recounted a time when her mother tried to physically touch a piece of artwork at The Centre Pompidou, a contemporary art museum in Paris. 

Unsurprisingly, Im’s mother ended up getting in trouble with museum security. Nevertheless, Im thinks that her mother’s desire to touch the painting was nonetheless a testament to her belief that the experience of art ought to be something personal and direct. 

In high school, Im took studio art classes, where she began crafting her portfolio and creating artworks that culminated in a senior capstone project.

“For my senior graduation capstone project, I made a children’s illustration book,” she said. “I think the best part of the book is that the colors are very interesting, and the shapes are very unconventional, and it’s kind of innocent — I really like that part. I want to be a writer someday, and when I do, I want to make illustrations for my own book. I feel like illustrations are more about your ideas than your skills.”

Once Im came to Hopkins, she realized that she no longer had to meet the same expectations for producing art that her teachers in high school had for her. Im felt a lot less pressure because no one knew that she did art or had a dedicated art portfolio. 

Nonetheless, Im was interested in keeping in touch with her artistic side. In order to do so, she joined various clubs and participated in arts organizations on campus. 

However, Im felt that a lot of arts clubs and activities at Hopkins were mostly focused on achieving therapeutic results through art instead of the quality of the art itself. 

Im eventually became interested in becoming involved with the Cartoons section of The News-Letter, where she felt like she could use her artistic skills most meaningfully. She began contributing to the section in her freshman year.

“There are all these words in The News-Letter and then there’s a visual part that isn’t so serious. I thought this was interesting and something I could do,” she said.

Im primarily paints using acrylic, but she also paints with watercolor. Nowadays, due to a busy schedule, she usually opts for drawing with pen and pencil in a sketchbook. 

A notable common visual element throughout her work is water. Im explained that she is drawn to the ubiquity and scale of bodies of water and featured them in various school projects. 

“I really like using water as a theme or an element in my work. In my senior year of high school, when you did studio art, you had to have a theme, and mine was water. I’m drawn to it because of the fluidity of water and its strength. But it’s also a source of life, and it’s something that’s a really big part of all life,” Im said. “When you’re in your mom’s womb, you’re in water, and your body itself is primarily made of water. It’s a connective, common element. I often feel trapped sometimes in daily life, and when you think of water, it also has the capacity to be so vast and kind of freeing.”

Throughout her involvement with art, Im has tried to keep in mind something that her mother told her: art is meant to be enjoyable. Her mother discouraged her from choosing art as a profession because she thought that pursuing art as a profession would not make art enjoyable.

As such, Im tries not to take art too seriously. While she still aspires to be an illustrator for her books, she is primarily interested in pursuing art as a hobby and an outlet — not just for relaxation, but also for self-expression. 

“[My mom] said just keep it fun because it gets too philosophical and too tense to enjoy. And so I usually approach art as a hobby,” she said. “I really just wanted to view art as an outlet to release stress and express myself. I usually just doodle or sketch people. I like observing people and places, like the contrasts between light or people’s expressions when they are focused.”

For samples of Im’s artwork, take a look at the Cartoons Section, page B6 in this issue. 

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