#Garden of Choices
2023.04.25
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Project #4 <Lee So-young>

 
What is the chance of a seed separated from a tree grows into a tree again? A journey of a seed to reach the unreached always begins with a bold decision. A blade of grass, a flower and a tree all embody an attitude for life that helps us to look into ourselves. There is one person who carefully listened to these stories of plants to achieve his own dreams. In 1960, a massive violet lavender field the late founder of AMOREPACIFIC Suh Sung-whan experienced during an inspection trip to Europe further reinforced his belief in the power of plants. He began his business with flowers and plants and dreamed of introducing the most Korean cosmetic products, serving tea that represents Korea, and even more, opening a botanic garden to offer a place to rest. These dreams are still ongoing within us. After all, plants have been the source of a forest called AMOREPACIFIC.
The <Garden of Choices> project believes in the infinite value and power of plants and aims to look back on the path Amorepacific has walked and capture the bold choices and journeys it has taken. We hope that all of us who are struggling every day in our own place to make difficult decisions, whether big or small, can find the courage to move forward.

 

Learning the Values of Courage and Consistency from Plants_ Botanical Illustrator Lee So young

Seeds know how to wait. They silently endure draughts and the cold weather, fly around in the wind and get eaten up by animals, wondering around aimlessly. But just at the right moment, seeds pour out all their energy to sprout, as if they were waiting for the moment all along. The infinite power of plants probably starts growing steadily from the moment the seeds sprout.
 

Lee So young painting a botanical illustration in her private workshop

We met with Botanical Illustrator Lee So young who is forging her own path with such belief in the power of plants. She boldly chose horticulture as her major solely because of her love for plants and is now continuing with various activities to enhance the public’s understanding of plants and embarking on a completely new path as a Korean Botanical Illustrator. It makes us wonder what kind of a belief in nature is making the artist observe and record plants through drawings for more than 15 years. Through the story of the artist, let’s understand the world of botanical illustration and its value, which is still quite unfamiliar to many.
 

Lee So young painting a botanical illustration in her private workshop

 
Artist Lee So young, who participated as a plant docent for Amorepacific’s Osan Botanical Garden in the <Garden of Choices> project, teaches us the power of plants. As you walk around Osan Botanical Garden with her voice, you begin to naturally understand the value of the garden and the sincerity of Amorepacific towards raw materials, recognizing that plants around us that we regarded as “pretty” are not merely for the eyes, but companions living in the same era as us. And by applying the boldness that we observe in the lives of plants to our daily lives, we gain the courage to move forward energetically to achieve what we want.
 
비디오영역
 

I think many people have learned about the job ‘Botanical Illustrator’ through you. And I think it’s fair to say that you’ve been able to work as a Botanical Illustrator and promote the value of plants through various activities for the last 15 years because of the love you have for plants.

I’ve been close to plants from a very young age. My parents often took me to parks, botanical gardens or mountains filled with plants where I could be with nature, although I was raised in the city. So I had a lot of opportunities to observe plants up close. There was a Korean cherry tree in the yard of my childhood home, and I remember how pink flowers would fully bloom on the tree branches around this time of year. My dad would tell me to bring a basket when the fruits grew on the Korean cherry tree and pick a bunch for me, and eating the fruits made me think that I should be grateful for plants as they give me so much. I naturally developed a deep interest in plants since I was so close to them, which made me major in horticulture.
 

The flowers of Bridal Wreath(left) and Peach tree(right) that bloomed in Osan Botanical Garden in April

 

But I heard that many people tried to dissuade you when you decided to major in horticulture because you liked plants. It’s easy to be influenced by the words of your teachers and other adults around the age when you decide on your career path, so where did you find the strength to stick to your decision?

At that time there wasn’t much public awareness around plants compared to now, and the career paths I could pursue with a horticulture degree was limited. There wasn’t much else to do than becoming a farmer that harvests food resources, which was why adults around me were concerned. But my father was supportive of my decision, saying that ‘it must be an incredibly happy life to look at plants for a lifetime’. I also believed that the day would come when plants are loved more. Even when we look at the history of design, minimalism which highlights simple beauty gains popularity after an era of fancy and glamorous designs. I believed that with the development of science and technology, the time would come when people become interested in nature once again, which is the most basic factor in our life. And I think that time has come.
 

Photos of Lee So young’s workshop

 

What career path have you taken after graduating with a horticulture degree?

First, I worked as a Botanical Illustrator for 4 years in Korea National Arboretum, which is the only place that officially recruits a Botanical Illustrator in Korea. Korea National Arboretum is an organization that comprehensively researches plants to preserve plant species in Korea. I was a part of the investigation team, which meant that I was in charge of investigating what kinds of plant species there are in Korea as well as categorizing, recording and storing them in the sample unit. After experiencing the overall work of a Botanical Illustrator at Korea National Arboretum which laid the foundation for what I should do as a Botanical Illustrator in the future, I decided to leave the organization to study abroad. I wanted to study abroad in countries that were ahead of Korea in botanical illustration research such as Britain and Japan to learn how to further advance Korea's botanical illustration research. I’m a freelancer for now because I get a lot of work requests from diverse fields that need botanical illustrations, but I haven’t given up on my dream of experiencing the broader world of botanical illustration.
 

Botanical illustration of a Tea plant that artist Lee So young drew after observation in Osan Botanical Garden

To the general public, botanical illustrations seem like a realm of art at first glance. Your work alone draws people’s attention to the details. But is it true that botanical illustrations have another purpose than just being visually appealing?

The official term for it in English is botanical illustration, which is a form of scientific illustration that observes plant species and accurately draws their shape and characteristics for record purposes. It’s like human anatomy for medical science. You can see these illustrations most commonly in the plant encyclopedia. People pick up the plant encyclopedia when they want to know more about a plant’s name or detailed characteristics, so it’s important to replicate the overall characteristics of plant species, from their roots to stems, branches, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. It’ basically a painting drawn to leave a record after observing the entire plant life from beginning to end, with no room for artistic interpretation.
 

Botanical illustration of a Tea plant that artist Lee So young drew after observation in Osan Botanical Garden

 

What is the entire process of creating one botanical illustration?

When I decide on the species to draw, I study about the plant and the family of the plant through related literature. After figuring out which parts to focus on, I go to the plant’s natural habitat myself. I measure the plant and sketch the plant as much as possible right there and then, observing its characteristics. If possible, I collect the plant and use a microscope or loupe (a magnification device with a convex lens) to take a closer look and draw. I repeat the process every time a flower blooms, a new leaf sprouts, a flower falls off or a fruit grows to capture the details succinctly and complete the drawing.
 

What is your mindset like during the process?

 
When I collect plants, I remind myself that a Botanical Illustrator has the responsibility to preserve plant species. I realized during plant research that a person that loves plants could actually be the one that hurts plants. It’s like how people’s interests in plants are sometimes expressed in the wrong way, such as entering a restricted zone in nature or trying to personally own a rare species. I always try to collect the least amount of plants, even though I can leave a better record of a plant the more I observe it in diverse ways. I don’t even touch a plant colony if a flower or fruit is growing from it. Also, I always question the looks of the plant when observing it in my workshop, thinking ‘why does this part look like this?’. The appearance of plants contains the history of plants on earth, as plants that are short or hairy have evolved to reduce resistance to the wind, and plants with colorful flowers have evolved to attract animals.
 

Lee So young observing a plant through a loupe

Lee So young observing a plant through a loupe

 

You are leading the effort in spreading plant culture by publishing the essay book <The Book of Plants>, hosting ‘Lee So young’s Plant Radio’ on Naver Audio Clip and writing the column ‘Lee So young’s Urban Plant Exploration’ in <The Seoul Newspaper Daily>. In such aspects, I feel like you are widening the possibilities for botanical illustration.

 

Lee So young working on various activities to promote plant culture

They all stem from thoughts that come to my mind when observing plants, so they’re all actually an extension of botanical illustration. I want to create more opportunities to talk with the public about plants. The first book I published was with the independent bookstore ‘Your Mind’ in 2013, and we published 20 limited copies of . At that time, blueberries were popular amongst the younger generation as the ‘hipster fruit’. It was just what we needed to break people’s stereotypes on plant culture, which had been rather limited to the middle-aged and elderly. I continue with these activities because I believe that I can play a role in helping young people become interested in plants and students grow their dreams of becoming farmers or botanists.
 

Lee So young working on various activities to promote plant culture

 

We’re in your workshop right now, and this seems like a small space that harbors infinite stories. There’s a lot of objects related to plants here.

I collect objects and books related to plants from all over the world. When I travel, I make sure to visit local botanical gardens and secondhand bookstores. And I ask where the plant section is as soon as I enter a secondhand bookstore. I also check the auction site whenever I take a rest in my workshop. It’s my hobby, basically. So there’s a lot of valuable materials among the books I’ve collected, such as the record of Korean native plants left by Japanese botanists that were dispatched to Korea during the Japanese colonial era, and the plant research record of first generation botanists in Korea and botanist of Government-General of Korea in Dokdo. I also have a scrapbook full of stamps from North Korea. This shows us what kind of plants there are in North Korea.
 

Plant related books and materials that she collected herself

 

In this interview, you showed us how you observe and draw plants on paper at your workshop desk, but before doing this, you must go out into nature like forests or gardens to explore and find plants.

 
People think that drawing botanical illustrations would be a very still process, but I actually become an explorer every morning. I go to places where I can observe plants closely, trying to see what’s different about the plants compared to yesterday, taking close pictures of fully grown plants from various angles, jotting down characteristics and measuring them with a ruler. For instance, you should close pay attention to the direction of a thorn. If it’s pointing upwards, it’s to avoid flying predators like birds or insects, and if it’s pointing downwards, it’s to defend against insects that crawl up. I try to experience all of the four seasons at least in one area. Nature doesn’t show repetitive scenery. I worked in the Korea National Arboretum for 4 years and have been exploring nature for more than 10 years, but I see new things every day.
 

Lee So young visiting Osan Botanical Garden

Lee So young visiting Osan Botanical Garden

 

Juniper tree at the entrance of Osan Botanical Garden





You also often visit Amorepacific’s Osan Botanical Garden to work on botanical illustrations. Do you remember your first impression of Osan Botanical Garden?

I was really surprised when I first visited Osan Botanical Garden because I’d never seen a botanical garden with so many plant species for its size although I’d been to various botanical gardens all over the world. The concept of a raw ingredient botanical garden itself is very advanced. This place has a very specific theme, which is to research and raise cosmetics raw ingredients. These days, there’s a lot of botanical gardens and arboretums with themes that attract the public’s interest, which I was kind of disappointed about. . I feel like the big Juniper tree at the entrance shows Jangwon’s sincerity towards plants and the identity of Amorepacific. The fact that the tree has grown so big is a symbol of how plants have been looked after for a very long time.
 

Juniper tree at the entrance of Osan Botanical Garden

 

Jangwon was interested in plants and raised them from times when people’s interest in flowering plants wasn’t that high. It seems like the similarity between you and Jangwon is that you both try to find ways to show the possibilities of plant culture to the public. Is there anything you wanted to learn from Jangwon's life?

 
His ability to take action. There’s a lot of companies that say trees are precious, but not many of them actually plant trees right now. As I mentioned, the fact that there’s a big Juniper tree at the entrance of the botanical garden shows that Jangwon had passion and took action. Also, I think Jangwon had respect for living organisms. He even researched Ginseng and turned it into a product after remembering the Ginseng he saw in his hometown during childhood. . I also want to work on naming every single plant around us, even those that we consider weeds. In Korea National Arboretum, it was a priority for me to leave records of endangered or rare plants, so plants that had special meaning for the nation. But personally, I want to show much love for the plants around us living in the current times. Native plants of Korea such as White forsythia and Korean winter hazel are lesser known compared to even cactus. I introduced tulips native to Korea in a recent column I wrote for <The Seoul Newspaper Daily>.
 

 Lee So Young stays for quite some time everytime she visits Osan Botanical Garden

 

Rose of sharon that has bloomed in Osan Botanical Garden

It’s the only native tulip to Korea, and it’s called ‘Sanjago’. If you can only think of red and yellow tulips from Netherland when you think tulips, you can’t say you know a lot about tulips. And I also want to create an opportunity to talk about Rose of sharon. Rose of sharon isn’t actually native to Korea. It came from China, and it became our national flower because the flower blooms for quite a long time, 3 months, and this resembles the perseverance of Korean people. Some botanists argue that we should change our national flower because the Rose of sharon isn’t a native Korean plant, and some people don’t like Rose of sharon because they think it’s not pretty. The Korean government cultivated diverse varieties of Rose of sharon to promote the flower among the public and there’s currently around 200 varieties, but even this is not well known. Going forward, I want to work on botanical illustrations that show all the different sides of Rose of sharon to change people’s perception of the flower, which is getting unnecessary hatred because of human greed.
 

Rose of sharon that has bloomed in Osan Botanical Garden

 

. In the <Garden of Choices> project, you also participated as the project’s plant docent. What was it like, recording comments to introduce spaces for people to hear?

 
In the beginning, I felt a lot of pressure since people would experience Osan Botanical Garden with my comments as the guide. I worried that people wouldn’t look closely at things I happen to miss. Right now flowers are blooming but we’ll see fruits grow not long after, and insects that I don’t even know will fly to the fruits. As time passes even more, the fruits will ripen, become wrinkly and blackish, then fall to the ground. Which of the numerous sights of nature people meet will depend on the people that visit, so I hope they think of our stroll together as an ‘introduction’ to the time they’ll spend in the botanical garden.
 

Artist Lee So young, taking in the scent of Lilac

Artist Lee So young, taking in the scent of Lilac

 

After the stroll with you at Osan Botanical Garden, what kind of efforts can people make to live their daily lives interacting with plants around them? Can you give some tips of your own on where to start?

 

She says that interacting with plants is not hard, recommends people to begin with observing them at their height.

A lot of people tell me that the pictures I post on social media are pretty, but I hope you try to interact with plants rather than just thinking of them as pretty beings when you meet them in person. It’s nothing difficult to do. The first step is to observe the plants at their height. For instance, when you’re looking at a Pansy that’s bloomed on the ground, don’t take a photo just standing up, looking down at the ground. Rather, kneel beside it or hunch down. I think you start understanding plants from showing some sincerity at least. And the more you understand plants, the more your love for them grows.
 

She says that interacting with plants is not hard, recommends people to begin with observing them at their height.

 

Do you ever find yourself changing little by little the more you work or the more you are influenced by plants?

 
I’m actually someone that rushes a lot. But as I’ve lived close to plants for a long time, I feel like I’m learning more about life as if I’m talking to my grandparents. In fact, plants have been around longer than our grandparents. So of course I’ve realized things and changed as I’ve observed their lives. The last time I went to Korea National Arboretum, I saw flower buds on a King Cherry tree, and when I went back a few days later, the flowers had fully bloomed. I found myself looking back on what I did during that time. And plants repeat this process every year. They don’t grow flowers to show anyone, and just continue to steadily do the thing they need to do. I sometimes wonder whether we’re too focused on how others perceive us due to the influence of social media and such. I gain even more respect for the choices of plants that are contrary to the lives of modern people.
 

A Daffodil that has fully blossomed in April

 

What is the power of plants, in your opinion? What should the younger generation visiting <Garden of Choices> project keep in mind to not wander about aimlessly and make bold decisions in the face of multiple paths, just like you and Jangwon?

Sometimes seeds need some sort of stimulation to sprout and take root. When you water a plant suddenly after leaving it dry for a long time, this can be the stimulus that makes flowers bloom. So I want you to believe that all the hardships you are facing right now is a stepping stone for you to reap better results and not be too afraid. If you go with the natural flow just like flowers bloom after winter when spring comes, you’ll find that the difficulties now become the driving force to propel you to the next step.
 

A flower that’s blossomed on an Apple tree at the entrance of Osan Botanical Garden

And when the temperature suddenly rises in winter, there are times when a flower suddenly blooms on a branch when it should bloom in early spring. Some people might think that this is strange, but this isn’t really that harmful for a plant’s reproduction when you consider the long life cycle of a plant. It’s just a mistake! Even plants that live the same life every year make mistakes, so I hope that people can trust themselves and take on challenges if they want to do something, without worrying about all the things that could go wrong in advance and hesitating. If you look at the bigger picture, humans and plants are all biological species, which means that we also have the strong adaptability and instinct of plants.
 

A flower that’s blossomed on an Apple tree at the entrance of Osan Botanical Garden

 
 
People are all born with seeds of their own. If we compare the process of a seed growing into a plant to life, the stage where seeds sprout would be like our adolescent years. If you can’t get a grasp on where to head towards and have too many worries on your mind, that means that the seed within you is getting ready to sprout. Artist Lee So young whom we met through the <Garden of Choices> project is someone who is taking a path of her own with the belief in the power of plants. It seems as though her seed has already sprouted and grown into a tree with a very sturdy trunk. We believe it’s because she trusted herself when at a crossroads instead of being afraid or wavering, which is very much like the former president Jangwon Suh Sung-whan.
 

Pink flowers have bloomed on a thin Judas tree branch

“I thought that somebody must do this(tea) business. Even if there are countless people against the idea, I will not waver and make this known as the tea that represents Korea.” - Former president Jangwon Suh Sung-whan, during an interview for the economic journal <Monthly Office Worker> “Always head towards whatever you like and what you think is right.” – Lee So young
 

Pink flowers have bloomed on a thin Judas tree branch

 
Remembering the bold attitude of the two and with vivacious inspiration from plants, close your eyes and imagine for a moment. Just as the darkest moment is right before sunrise, the hardest and most anxious moment is right before a seed sprouts. But because we believe in ourselves and are doing well in this moment, we will sprout healthy shoots and grow into beautiful trees.
 
Photo and video / Provided photographer Kim Si-jin, taesily_zip Botanical illustrations in the video Works of Lee So young Editor Rawpress General Planning Amorepacific Communications Team *The entire interview, video and manuscript is copyrighted by News Square.
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