An interview with William Dunn, the creator of the Korean Restaurants mural (as seen on November 2012 magazine)


– I heard you hadn’t tried much of Korean food, yet you did this artwork in the theme of Korean restaurants.  What was the creative process like? 

I’ve had “Korean BBQ” maybe three times in my life.  The first time I was a bit overwhelmed by all the side dishes. I didn’t know what went with what, or if there any kind of order to what was supposed to be eaten first, then second, etc. .  If there was a common approach to how to eat everything I didn’t know it. I decided it may not matter, so I just tried everything and made up my own mind about what appealed to me or not. It seemed the only way to approach it.  I didn’t expect to get a lesson from the wait person. By and large, I found the food really good and of course, different from my American fare.
The process of doing the art for the article was more complicated than it probably appears. I was so nervous about getting the Korean writing correct –  I wanted to make sure I had very good research material. I drove around for maybe the afternoon and early evening on two different days, photographing the exteriors of the names of restaurants you gave me at the onset of the project.  I wanted to see, in detail, the formation of the Korean characters so I could accurately reproduce them when I had to paint them. It would have been embarrassing to me, and to the magazine, if any of the Korean names in the illustration were not easily readable.
The basic procedure is to draw the various elements (dishes, names, and building) and move them around to achieve a good composition, being careful to avoid having anything important being located on the magazine “gutter”, where the pages meet in the middle. I also have a digital projector, which I sometimes use to expedite the process. Once I get a composition I like, I draw the elements onto the paper in pencil. Then I lay in large watercolor washes first to unify the overall feel with color, gradually working in smaller areas to show details.  Mistakes are difficult to correct in watercolor, so I try to be careful and also avoid getting a “stiff” overworked look to the finished piece. Of course I wanted the piece to “tell the story”, be accurate, add stimulus and excitement, and draw the viewer into the article.
You provided me with some excellent photos of what I figured must be “standard Korean dishes”. I also went online and got several more photos of Korean foods.  I had a “vision” in my mind from the moment we all met in the cafe to discuss the project, that I wanted a “montage” of food dishes, restaurant names with their individual logos (symbols) where appropriate, and maybe a restaurant front or two.  There is only so much space on the two pages, so I knew I had to not try to put too much into the illustration. I wanted an “overall feeling” of Korean food as it were. Not being Korean – I had to make some assumptions about what might be considered more typical foods, starting with the Korean food images you provided.  Also, the “Korea BBQ House” has a very distinctive building, looking “culturally correct” as far as I knew. I haven’t been to Korea, but the blue tiled roof and general decor looked authentic to me, and that is why I used it as the “building” in the montage.  As for the foods and such, I tried to be as visually accurate as possible with my painting technique so the foods would look “right” and hopefully appetizing, to a Korean.  Throughout the illustration I made design changes, moving little bits here and there, just to make the composition better.
– What inspires your art?
The inspiration for the art comes from the satisfaction of seeing the image in my mind transform into an actual piece of art, and the challenge of trying to get the “feel” of Korean food and dining experience in a painting, expecially when I don’t have the Korean culture embedded in me. Though it is hard work, seeing the final piece come to life and be a support to the magazine article is very creatively satisfying.  In the future I want to “go inside” some Korean restaurants and quietly sit and both enjoy the food, maybe a nice libation or two, and do some watercolor sketches of what is going on….. trying to capture the atmosphere,  the comraderie people are feeling, the sense of community and pleasure with the experience people are having, and for lack of a better word, the general ambience of the place. It’s great fun to do this, and a nice benefit is that often people come up to me and introduce themselves to me while I am drawing and laying in color washes.  They often just want to sit and watch me as I draw.  It seems normal to me to do this, but I know it’s something they don’t get to see very often. Yes, it’s a bit of a distraction, but I’ve learned it is just part of the experience.  I’ve met some very nice people this way.
– We read that you’ve had art training in various institutions– what are some of the most valuable lessons / learning you’ve received that makes you the artist that you are now? 
I’m fortunate to have had some good training in a variety of ways,  art schools for starters, and then my own personal endeavors to learn more and draw better along the way. I’ve been a graphic designer for the most part, and now do more drawing, painting, and am in the “Fine Art” world more.
Drawing well I think is the best asset an artist can have, and it comes quicker with formal training. The design and compostion of a piece must be there as well to be successful. No amount of “pushing paint around” can make up for a bad underlying drawing.
– What can one expect to see at your gallery currently being held in Vista?
My paintings in the Artbeat on Main Street gallery in Vista, CA, will be assorted scenes I’ve done, primarily in the general San Diego area, though right at the moment there are some paintings displayed done from the Northern California area. I may also do other non-cityscape or landscape type paintings. I like a variety of subject matters, foods, sports, music scenes (I’ve done sketches of the San Diego Symphony from my seat in the audience – a bit surprising to the people sitting next to me!), and others.  The struggle is to get the time to paint them all.
For more information visit William Dunn’s website:

Author: Jini

So Cal 1.5 Generation Korean-American / Teacher-In-Training / Freelance MC and Kor-Eng Interpreter

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