Young Guns 19: Heejae Kim

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie on Oct 27, 2021

Featuring the creative stars of Young Guns 19

A year and a half of uncertainty across the creative industry and beyond has finally given way to a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel — a spotlight with a great big "YG19" standing in the middle of it. After more than 70 acclaimed creatives from around the world and across a multitude of disciplines reviewed hundreds of submissions, whittling them down to a formidable finalist list, we can finally reveal the phenomenal winners of Young Guns 19!

This year, we welcome a diverse class of 32 inductees into the exclusive Young Guns family, a collection of young creative talent that is already near the top of their game — and will only get better. These are the designers, the art directors, the illustrators, the filmmakers, the animators, the multidisciplinary artists whose names you'll want to know — if you aren't already following their every move, that is.

Ahead of the Young Guns 19 Ceremony + Party taking place on Wednesday, November 17 — our first in-person event since the pandemic began — we are featuring the future legends who will be stepping into the spotlight that evening.



Los Angeles, California


Tenafly, New Jersey


When did you first learn about Young Guns?

I learned about Young Guns while working at Sagmeister & Walsh as a designer. I remember feeling the buzz around this time at the studio. I avoid competitions, but Young Guns feels like a fun and unconventional one to enter. Everyone is so talented!

What made you enter this year?

This is my second time. I entered once in 2019. I remember feeling bummed that I didn’t make it as a finalist. I missed the 2020 deadline. I almost skipped this one — but thought, "why not?" I spent more time writing project details and I had a bigger pool of projects to choose from.

How do you feel you've grown as an artist in between attempts?

This second time, I had more professional projects that felt like me. I spent more time on the process. It was more of a challenge selecting six projects, which made me feel confident with my submission. As an artist, I think I've improved technically and gained more experience. I have a better idea of what my voice is and what I want to do with it.

"As an artist, I think I've improved technically and gained more experience. I have a better idea of what my voice is and what I want to do with it."

Since you are only allowed to submit six projects, how did you decide which pieces were best to enter and truly reflected you and your work?

The goal was to best show my voice and how it can adapt to different mediums and projects. I didn’t want to overthink, so I was decisive with my submissions. It was around a month later when I questioned whether I should have swapped in a project or not — but it worked out!

How did you celebrate when you found out you won Young Guns?

I took a break from work and absentmindedly scrolled through emails on my phone. My thumb clicked the subject line before my brain registered what it was. I didn’t believe it. I felt happy. I texted my sisters.

If you had to pick one of the six projects that you entered as your favorite, which one would it be and why?

My favorite project is Vans We Will Be Louder. It features Asian Americans from multi-faceted backgrounds who share poems for AAPI month. It was cathartic to hear their voices and experiences uplifted. Especially within the context of the Stop Asian Hate movement. It was meaningful contributing artwork, and it also fueled reflection on my own identities. (Thank you Bruno Luglio for having me on this).

If you had to describe your creative style, the part of your work that’s most distinctively “you,” what would it be?

As someone who is interested in branding, there is an amount of creative flexibility that is required. But I would say the work that truly feels like me is maximalist and a bit chaotic– something that stems from anxiety and overstimulation that I think finds its way on paper.

With personal projects, I've been thinking a lot about what makes a piece finished. There is a level of compositional complexity, familiar elements, experimentation, and self-imposed expectations that feel right to me.

In terms of work style, I’d say I’m a stubborn creative. I won’t stop until it feels right. I’m self-critical. I like challenges, but I also like being comfortable. So I make an effort to try new things and get better at things I’m not good at.

Who are some of the biggest influences on your work and career– people who may have had a hand in mentoring and supporting you?

There are a bunch of people that I’ve either learned from or had a hand in motivating or inspiring me in different ways — some may not remember but I swear.

From school at RISD: Rebecca Leffell Koren, Richard Lipton, Randy Willier, Bill Drew, Richard Gann, Alex Khomyakov, Caroline Bagley, Hector Alvarez, Daren Jannace, and Jonathon Shin.

At the Brooklyn Museum: Jae-Eun Chung, Adam O'Reilly and Klever Alvarado.

At Anti/Anti: Ros Knopov and Grayson Kolk.

At Kudos: John Kudos

At Sagmeister & Walsh: Jessica Walsh, Stefan Sagmeister, Felipe Rocha, Shy Inbar, Gabriela Namie, Ange Iannarelli, Ryan Haskins, Matteo Guissepani, Emily Simms, Rachel Denti, Erica Grubman, Julià Roig, James Lunn, Fumi Omori, Chen Yu, Yaya Xu, Yotam Hadar, Arielle Casale, and Gosbinda Vizarretea.

At Apple: Alex Grossman, Davo Moretti, Yego Moravia, Kristin Eddington, Ben Bours, and Michael Pangilinen.

Also shout out to Clemente Balavaine, Tsuyoshi Nakajima, and more that I can't remember right now!

Now that you’re in the Young Guns family, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

I love Braulio Amado's work– it's electrifying. I admire how he juggles a lot of ingredients. I'm drawn to how descriptive and immersive Ilya Milstein's illustrations are too. Leo Porto's work feels very considered and there's an atmospheric quality or vibe that I like a lot.

The freedom and experimentation in Nejc Prah's work is inspiring. I'm also inspired by Leta Sobierajski's colorful set designs and compositions, Lebassis's playful type, Alva Skog's figural illustrations, Eric Hu's typographic work, and many more.

The pandemic of 2020 is slowly starting to taper a bit, so do you have any big goals moving forward into 2022?

I'd like to focus on my freelance practice and finish a couple of personal projects I’ve started during quarantine. A graphic series, a photo collage series, and a series of poems. They've started to overlap, so I'm excited where it's all heading.

I’ve also wanted to write a book of fiction for as long as I can remember. Learning 3D might be a goal. I’ve been experimenting with making music on GarageBand on the side, which has been therapeutic and exciting. I call them my GarageBand healing sessions. I’ve traumatized the few who have listened, so I might rethink making an album.

Name a professional dream that you have yet to fulfill — hey, maybe Young Guns can help propel you in that direction!

My current dreams include, a magazine cover, a restaurant branding, a gallery exhibition of my personal work, and having a book published.

Any thoughts on how you are feeling about winning YG19?

Honored. I’m ready for a new chapter (I say this every month). Best advice I’ve been given and my life motto — be mindful!




Go check out all the Young Guns 19 Winners in the archive!

Young Guns 19 Archive



Fire + Fragility: Zuzanna Rogatty's YG21 Cube Design
Young Guns 21: Max Amato
Young Guns 21: Justin Au
Young Guns 21: Tess Ayano







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