“To Thine Own Self Be True” – Take a Look at Dougan Khim’s Painting & Graphic Design

Dougan Khim doesn’t identify himself as an artist. As he puts it, he’s “still a young padawan slowly growing out of old master styles.” The 21-year-old chicago native has done work for various clients, including clothing brands and music groups, most notably painting the cover for the Phony Ppl album “Phonyland.” He attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts for high school and received a full scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but put it off for two years because of work and eventually just decided not to attend at all. He’s been keeping busy since then with freelance work and personal projects, working in a variety of formats. Keep reading to hear more about his story in our conversation below.

How did you get started in each of your respective creative mediums – painting, composite, graphic and web design.

Painting: I started to learn under a mentor in Chicago about two years ago, been painting on my own since I stopped taking lessons. We’re friends now and chill occasionally. I actually painted in high school a little bit, but I was definitely the worst painter in class because my background was primarily based in graphics/design.

Composite: I started in high school in my photography class. I wasn’t the greatest photographer, but I created composite images using photos I took in an old studio space. Rather than capturing photos, I was interested in telling stories through this medium. Even though I was exploring what I now consider juvenile themes, it was the genesis of my artist self, though I still don’t see myself as one.

Web + Graphic Design: I started teaching myself Photoshop in the 5th grade. I downloaded Photoshop 6 on Kazaa, spent my afterschool time/weekends making websites on yahoo and creating designs. I used a lot of tutorials to teach myself how to use the tools. Over the years, it went from playing on Adobe programs to becoming a designer.

Once I graduated highschool, I worked at Sir & Madame as a design intern for the summer in Chicago and the following fall I was employed at a design firm in Rochester, New York. When my boss told me I was picked over 100 graduate art students, I started to rethink college. When I was 18, I moved to New York by myself and worked full-time for about half a year, then moved back to Chicago at the end of the winter. At 19, I began working as a freelance designer, and made close ties to people in the start-up game. Because of the amount of work I’ve done with start-up companies, especially with people who are part of the Excelerate program in Chicago, my name gets bounced around enough in that world for me to have consistent work every month. Recently, the Creative Circle agency employed me as a designer – it’s my backup job in case I can’t find my own work.

Your paintings have a lot of details and emotion, what is your general process and goals when you are making a painting? What do you try to convey and get across? 

All of my paintings are oil paintings. My mentor taught me how to paint like the old masters, following the rules of the classics (Vermeer, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, etc.). I’m not sure if I have any goals with my paintings besides painting what I want to paint — I have no desire to sell my personal pieces yet. Normally, I create paintings to overcome an issue/problem in my life — it helps me move on. I don’t create art for walls in nice homes.

I have my own interpretations of my work, and don’t expect others to understand the meaning — everybody sees, hears and feels art differently. My opinion might change in the future, though. My mind struggles with this idea of creating art for yourself, or creating art for the people. Friends tell me I think too black and white about it, but if I’m creating art for myself, it’ll be isolating and come out as something sad. Who wants to see or deal with that? If I focus my mind on creating more commercial and aesthetic art, thinking about the masses, it could be more positive and progressive, even if it means creating something that doesn’t interest me. I gotta figure it out. Maybe I could do both someday, I don’t know.

Tell me a little about the composites. I know there are only a few on your site, but the ones that are up are interesting. Is this a medium you want to pursue further in the future?

The composites were made in high school when I took photography.  “Silver Tongue Rings” was the piece that convinced me to take art more seriously — it was the first time I saw myself becoming an artist. Composite imaging was the first time I created an artistic piece rather than making something functional like design. My goal with most of them at the time was to create something you would see in a film. I have a few composite ideas for the future, involving multiple mediums (photography, paint, collage, etc) but I am saving them for future shows & exhibitions. With all the ideas I’ve planned out, composite imagery is the medium I think I could use to create something aesthetic, profound and progressive for the masses, but I want to mature more as an artist before I put myself out there as one.

What are your future goals?

I’m teaching myself html/css so I can double my work rate, and I plan on going to art school for about a year or two so I can pick up a few skills and learn about art, then drop out. My goal is to never stop working. Everyday I build a road towards art & design and go wherever it takes me. As the saying goes, I don’t want to be one of those people waking up in 20 years and thinking “what if?” Obviously I have dreams of becoming a recognized artist/designer like everybody else, but having great expectations of fame and money limits the creative mind so I don’t really day dream in that sense. If we create art like there’s no future, then it will be 100% organic and human.