Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Hwasoon Kim. I live in Daegu, South Korea. Luckily, I was born and raised in the countryside where the high mountains meet the deep blue ocean. I lived there for the first 18 years of my life and it helped form my foundation in life. Although now I live in a big city with my boyfriend, I still love to pursue the simple life and silence.
Morning Calm is one part of my dream, one part of my handmade life. I always wanted to have a skill that would allow me to make something beautiful and useful from the materials around me. Asian herbs, organic tea leaves, clays, and charcoal. These are the things with me now. I’d love to share them with you.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Yoga and meditation give me good energy in my life. I have a huge, curious heart for the relationship between the body and the mind. Recently, I have been reading more books about it.
I start the day before the sun rises. I wake up and think about the day ahead and figure out what needs to be done. Sometimes, I bake bread for my boyfriend, or go to the mountain and walk through the woods, or I make cosmetics for my friends and family. Oh, I can’t forget to mention that I take care of the little plants in our apartment. Though it is small, when I water my plants I imagine my future garden with rich soils and a beautiful, light breeze.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
Become Who You Are. One of Alan Watts‘s books is called Become What You Are. My title comes from that book. When I read the book in English, I couldn’t fully enjoy it. But it stuck with me, especially the title.
Though I’m still young, I can see my life as a journey to become who I am. I’ve changed a lot over the past ten years in searching for who I am and what I really want. I’m still figuring it out.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I love making things that I use in my everyday life. The big inspiration comes from a simple and basic need. The smaller ones, the details, come from the beautiful moments I encounter in my everyday life: an artist’s work, the sunlight shining through my window early in the morning, a quiet moment with some delicate traditional Asian tea. There are times when I feel inspired more clearly, usually after a yoga and meditation session, or a fast. Those moments give me a chance to be more honest with myself.
What does handmade mean to you?
An ability to build a self-sustainable life. It can sound a bit serious, I know, but I think it is actually a very humble attitude to have for life. I make what I need with what I have.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
My mom. She is such a strong woman. Though she didn’t introduce me to certain types of art, she showed me how to live with nature. Whenever spring comes, my mom goes to the mountains to collect all kinds of wild and medical herbs. With them, she cooks food, makes her own beverages, and some of her own medicines. She works as a social worker and grows various vegetables with my father. She wakes up before sunrise, takes care of her greens, cooks for her family and lives life with her hands. I am definitely her daughter.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I feel a bit shy saying this, but know I was born as a maker. Since I was a kid I loved doing things with my hands and body (cooking, sewing, drawing, singing, dancing, and running), but the older I got the more I was told to focus on my studies, to use words and books. It may sound strange, but it is quite common in Korea. I enjoyed it, but it never felt like “it.”
At university (I majored in philosophy and education), I felt exhausted using logic and theories to show my thoughts. When I realized that it was not suitable for me, I was confused for a long time. I dreamed of building my own handmade world often, but I did not know how to get it. So, I started to travel to refresh my life. While traveling, I started using colors and drawings to express my feelings and I started moving my body to release my trapped emotions. In my late 20s I embraced myself as an artist. Now I am happy to use my hands, using colors and scents to create something beautiful.
How would you describe your creative process?
There are dozens of dried herbs and interesting powders throughout my home. One day, when I get the feeling “Oh, I’d love to try this herb,” the process begins. Once I have the specific herb, I try to figure out which oils would fit that herb. For this part I use my left brain a lot. While creating the right formula, I analyze different kinds of fatty acids, calculate the hardness of the soap bar, and figure out what kind of lather it will make. Then I switch to the other side of my brain to get the proper scent and pattern. I sketch possible patterns here and there in my notebooks or whatever scraps of paper I can get my hands on, but I always choose a simple pattern that creates a relaxing mood. I think the pattern of the soap is secondary to the ingredients. I try to make the herb the star of the soap. The color comes naturally from the ingredients. So I don’t add any artificial colorants or synthetic fragrances, which can overpower the genuine nature of the ingredients.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
There are too many to count. But if I had to chose one, it would be Agnes Martin. I can still remember the sense of awe I felt when I first saw her work. Even though it was through a computer monitor, the beautiful harmony of colors and calming lines she drew touched my heart. When I found a photograph of her bedroom, I was incredibly thrilled. So simple and humble.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
A brown bear doll. We met five years ago, before I started traveling. Because I decided to travel alone, I was a bit nervous at that time. While preparing my travel kit, I accidently found him in a doll shop! The doll is really comforting, and has a beautiful, mild smile and a soft body. Since we met, we have traveled across several continents and through many countries together. He is still near me, watching me make soaps. It always soothes my nerves when I hold him.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I simply stay away from my work. I just try to do other things, but always remember that I am a soap maker and that I want to make beautiful, mild soap bars. If I feel trapped, or blank, I know it is a sign for a break.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I am in a home that I made with my future husband. Many trees grow around us. Not in the deep mountains, but not too far away from a city. Maybe there is a lake nearby. I grow vegetables and herbs in a small garden in the yard. I practice yoga professionally. With my spare time, I bake bread and make soap. I share what I make and grow with the people around me. While I work, my partner is reading and writing books in his own library. Sometimes our friends will come to our place. I will certainly serve some beautiful, homemade brownies for them.