Illustrator Trevor Shin on making mistakes intuitively and practicing improvised and instinctive
Happy accidents on the page inspire LA artist Trevor Shin, whose ink lines become art pieces inspired by his sketchbook-heavy practice.
Artists speak of the importance of carving out enough room for a little magic to arrive in their creative flow, to be fluid enough should a different path or new perspective arise. LA-based illustrator and artist Trevor Shin reflects on his intuitive and improvised free-flowing state. That's where anything that needs to be on the page can slowly and spontaneously appear.
But he wasn't always so instinctive about his work or his approach.
In fact, it took meeting a local jazz musician from Dallas, Texas, who also painted to help him overcome his previously perfectionist tendencies.
"As a child, I struggled with confidence in my art, constantly erasing and often crumpling up the paper in frustration," says Shin. "One day, my mom took me to an art fair, and I became in awe of these paintings from this market stall jazz musician/painter. After a little nudging, she convinced me to approach him. So, I told him about my need for perfection in my art, and he taught me about jazz improvisational thinking."
Through this prism, Shin's work makes sense. His detailed images distort reality, presenting patterned and coloured depictions of emotions and situations. Featuring the ordinary within the extraordinary, his work transcends medium and weaves ink, pen and watercolour to create distinguishable pieces that are both eye-catching and reflective.
"The market musician/painter suggested I ditch the pencil and only use a pen," says Shin of his inspired technique. "He urged me to make mistakes I couldn't erase and to roll with them, to make them a part of my process. In time, watercolour became a natural pairing for me. Like ink, watercolour lends itself to quick improvisational decisions. [Edwardian artist] John Singer Sargent said painting with watercolour is to 'make the best of an emergency', and I'd have to agree. Sometimes it feels like going downhill fast without any brakes – or erasers."
Happy accidents have always been welcome across artistic formats, and Shin now invites this approach and outcome, realising that this process can result in something that's uniquely visually arresting.
He relies on a sketchbook-heavy practice which is how he birthed his signature style, through experiments and just getting strokes and splashes on the page.
Shin has great line work throughout his art – something he cites as "a consequence of trying to capture life in a world that doesn't stand still. It's the quickest way to hold onto the feeling of that particular moment."
Working in defined ink lines allows him to tap into the fragility of a fragmented moment, to master how final but fleeting it can be – while also creating a structure to build on. He's had to learn to trust his initial markings.
"It became an intuitive process of layering these fragments to eventually form a narrative," he says. "The push and pull of colours can also highlight certain elements contributing to the nonlinear style of storytelling that I find very enjoyable. Everyone sees something different and personal depending on their perspective."
Though his artwork may seem abstract in form, it's a method that allows Shin to process his feelings and subconsciously explore things he doesn't always initially understand.
Most of his works begin as doodles, made while perched in LA's coffee shops, observing its occupants, between lingering in the warm light and marvelling at the city's saturated colours. With his creative toolkit, he's happy blending into the background, observing, documenting and distorting life, musing.