Hannah Jeong: A Profile

After becoming the Doodle 4 Google state finalist in seventh grade, Hannah didn’t spend too much time celebrating. Even after she spent months working on her submission, using fabric, paints, and sequins, Hannah was stuck. Like most artists, she was going through a phase where the work she was producing didn’t feel genuine. Hannah was trying to find her own style in the world of art. 

Hannah Jeong (‘21) was the state finalist in 2016, and was honored at ORMS school-wide assembly. After creating art her entire life, Jeong was finally seeing her art being recognized by the community around her. Jeong was submitting her art to competitions and winning, but while most people saw this as a reward, Jeong felt lost in her art. Jeong would have to re-evaluate what art meant to her in order to become a better artist. Taking risks and even failing at times were learning curves that would set her on track to creating real and relevant pieces to her, and not just judges. Now, almost five years later, Jeong creates art that allows people to see what she’s feeling in the moment and how she interprets her experiences in life through her work.

Looking at Jeong’s current work, it’s clear that she’s come a long way with her art. “My parents always say that I’ve just always been drawing, even though that sounds super cliche,” Jeong joked. “I’ve just always had a pencil in my hand. I would trace characters on book covers. I would always rather just stay inside and draw, and I filled up a bunch of sketch books.”

Photo taken in 2008 when Jeong was 5. This was a painting from school.

Jeong and her sister, Mary (‘23), are both very artistic, and have been making art together ever since they were little. “I grew up most of my childhood drawing with Hannah and learning from her. She was my art teacher in some ways, and we spent a lot of time making art together,” recalled Mary. “Even though they were mostly good times, I must admit that I was always so jealous of her because she was so talented,” Mary joked. “Today I can say that I’m really proud of the artist she has become.”

Both Jeong and her sister have a strong passion for art. It’s always been something they chose to explore on their own time since they were little. Before living in Durham, Jeong and her family lived in Boston, where she first took art lessons. “My mom took me to art lessons in second or third grade, to a woman in our neighborhood,” Jeong said. “I guess I learned more of the technical aspects with art. At the time it was just super fun for me, and I loved doing it.” Because Boston had more resources, Jeong mostly stopped taking lessons when she moved to Durham. Jeong still went on creating art, even submitting her work into competitions. 

Jeong first heard about Doodle 4 Google from her aunt, who suggested she and her sister submit. Doodle 4 Google is an annual contest where artists from elementary to high school submit their own design for the Google logo, with the chance to have it displayed on Google.com. The 2016 theme was ‘what makes me…me’, and allowed artists to work with any mediums they chose. 

Artwork from 2011, when Jeong was 8. During this time, Jeong was interested in drawing people and trying to copy pictures.

Jeong reflected her creativity and love for fashion in her piece. “I said that I wanted to be a fashion designer at the time,” Jeong said. Jeong took advantage of the resources around her, and used different mediums and layers to her piece. “I tried to include fabric on the paper. I put glitter and sequins, as well as painting and drawing. I was just trying to make it really big and fun.” 

When the state winner was first announced, Google wanted to surprise Jeong with the news. “I didn’t even know that I had won originally. They were going to surprise me in school, but then there was a snow day, so my parents were like, “Hey, check the website”, and then I won,” recalled Jeong.

“Around that time actually, after I won, I was kind of in a slump,” Jeong said. “I felt like I was just making art for competitions, and making it objectively good for other people. I think I felt like it was more for other people than for me.” 

Jeong next to her submission for the 2016 Doodle for Google competition.

With this celebration came the “slump” that Jeong mentioned. It was hard for Jeong to separate herself from the work she was doing before, because she was used to creating art for competitions like this one. With a prompt and directions that told her exactly what the judges were looking for, Jeong didn’t always have to search deep within for a winning piece. Even while she was winning competitions, Jeong wasn’t happy with what she was producing. “I kept improving and getting better, but it didn’t feel the same for me. Art didn’t bring that same childhood joy that it used to, which is really sad because it was obviously a huge part of my life,” Jeong said. 

Jeong’s sister has seen her journey as an artist since the beginning, and is able to tell when Jeong is in a rut through her work. “There were a few times in her life where she found no motivation to create art, discouraged from lack of inspiration or a big obstacle. But she always came out of it and in the process became a better artist,” Mary said. “In the past year, she has worked on multiple self portraits, and it seems like she has found her voice through self expression through them.”

When it comes to creating art that fully reflects herself, Jeong says she’s not quite there yet. From talking to Jeong and ORHS art teacher, Timothy Lawrence, self representation in art is difficult to master, as people are always changing. While Jeong struggled with this earlier on with her art, she said, “I am definitely on the way there.” Since recognizing in seventh grade that she needed to re-evaluate where her art was coming from, Jeong was able to work over the last few years to find her voice.

After working without lessons for the last few years, Jeong made the decision to focus more on her art and find direction in what she was making. “Starting last summer, I took an online pre-college program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. That really helped me learn how to make whatever I wanted. It also helped me learn how to fail, and to not be afraid of failing,” said Jeong. “I learned to just take a bunch of risks, and that it won’t always work, but that’s okay.”

As summer came to a close and Jeong entered her senior year of high school, she started an AP drawing portfolio, which she took as an ELO. Because this course isn’t offered at ORHS, Jeong worked with Lawrence, checking in with him about her progress with her portfolio.

“I started making a bunch of pieces for my AP art portfolio,” Jeong said. “With those, I learned how to experiment and just make things that were a reflection of what I was feeling and what I was thinking, instead of being like, “oh, I think people would like this,” or “I think this would win something.””

For Jeong, finding the ability to create without worry of what others think was the biggest challenge in her journey with art. She had to learn to make mistakes, but more importantly, be comfortable in knowing that she could learn from those mistakes and move on. Separating her genuine art from art she makes for the purpose of others is something Jeong has begun grasping over the last year or so, with the help of her classes and teachers. 

“Hannah was in my drawing and painting 1 class. It was her sophomore year, and she was one of the youngest students I had in that class. She didn’t seem the youngest, only her age made her the youngest, but her work was already pretty sophisticated at that point,” Lawrence recalled. Jeong and Lawrence have been working together for the majority of Jeong’s high school years, especially over the last few months as Jeong begins to put together her portfolios. 

With Jeong making significant growth with her art since last summer, she has been producing work that Lawrence describes as different from her work last year. “Often, we don’t see students grow too much over high school, but every once in a while we see a student who is in need of growth. What they did last week doesn’t serve them anymore. With Hannah she was observing and observing, and everything was going well, but after a while when everything is going spectacular it gets a little boring, and you have to start to reinvent yourself,” Lawrence explained. Lawrence noticed that that is what Jeong did this year, as she had to let go of her old achievements in order to grow closer to herself as an artist. 

Last year, Jeong won two gold keys for the art she submitted to the Scholastic Art Awards, which means her awarded pieces automatically jump to national judging. “She could have taken those two gold keys and put them into a portfolio this year, but she reinvented the whole portfolio… because that was last year’s work,” said Lawrence. “She produced a whole new body of work when she didn’t have to.” 

Jeong’s sister agrees with Lawrence, and is proud of how far she’s come with her art. “I have definitely seen a higher engagement with her and her artwork in the past years, especially the recent months leading up to college applications. She would dedicate hours in her room and in the basement creating and working on new pieces to complete her art portfolio,” Mary said. 

Lawrence also stressed that Jeong has worked hard to find her voice in the art she produces, even if that means producing art that others may not understand. Jeong uses tracing and shading that may be confusing for others, and leaves her work up for the viewer’s interpretation.

“She’s starting to say more in her work,” Lawrence acknowledged. “Her work spoke of a sense of belonging, and the fact that she didn’t feel she had a place here or a place in Korea. I thought, ‘that was a really powerful thing for her to be speaking about’.”

The theme Lawrence talked about above was part of Jeong’s greater collection on ‘belonging.’ “I was looking for places in my life where I could show my process of struggling with or finding belonging,” Jeong explained. “I think the idea of having two distinct cultural identities was a way for me to show that. It’s definitely not the theme of all my work, but it’s one part of what makes me who I am, and I wanted to show that theme through different parts of my life.”

While Jeong is beginning to focus on art that comes from her, she still enjoys painting others, even if they have no connection to herself as an artist. Jeong found the time to create an Etsy account where she takes custom orders, mostly for family portraits. 

“I was inspired by my sister, who does pet portraits,” Jeong explained. “I think it’s so fun to draw people. Everyone has their own unique little things, and I thought it would be fun to capture that, and hopefully make some money on the side.” Jeong’s favorite type of art is portraiture, so painting others for her Etsy was something she could really enjoy.

“I just put up my listings, and I think because my prices were pretty reasonable as I was just starting out, I got most of my orders from people looking at custom family portraits,” said Jeong. She noticed that a lot of people were placing orders around the holidays, making this a full time job for Jeong from Thanksgiving to New Years. 

Sadie Garland (‘20) has been friends with Jeong for a couple years now, and placed an order from Jeong’s Etsy for a family portrait as a gift to her mother. “I purchased a digital portrait of my family from Hannah’s Etsy shop. It was really incredible; I just sent her a couple pictures of my family together and she took it all from there to create an amazing drawing of us all. We actually have it hanging up in our living room,” said Garland. 

Garland finds a lot of Jeong’s work on her Instagram account where she posts other portraits she’s done. Garland and her family were extremely happy with Jeong’s work. “Hannah was able to capture the details of my family in a really amazing way. The facial expressions and the way we are all interacting with each other in the picture is very true to life. It truly shows her talent and attention to detail,” Garland said. “Whether it is a portrait like she did for my family, or any of her other art, Hannah is an incredible artist and each piece exemplifies that talent.”

As Jeong finishes her senior year of high school, the decision of what to do next rapidly approaches. She knows art is where she belongs, but finding the field that best suits her work is still in the works. “Honestly, I pretty recently cemented that I wanted to do art in college. I’m not a hundred percent sure at all what path in art I want to pursue. I’m partially interested in a lot of things, but it’s hard to imagine myself going into a job. I’m interested in graphic design, illustration, product design, and fashion design could be cool. I’m pretty unsure about what I want to do, but hopefully going to art school will help me figure that out.”

Lawrence is excited to watch Jeong bring her art into the world. After first meeting her, Lawrence joked that he would find it hard to keep up with Jeong her senior year. “She has what I’d call a gift, but she works damn hard at this gift,” said Lawrence. “All I know is that this is one young lady who should not do anything but art.”

All Artwork taken from the collection of Hannah Jeong