Hillary Kim ’25 is an applied math major. Yet, art permeates her life at Swarthmore. After attending an arts-oriented high school in California, art became Kim’s norm, a grounding and standard part of both her experience and expression.
“When I got here [to Swarthmore], I really liked branching out and looking at all the different art classes offered. But ultimately, I chose math,” Kim shared.
While Kim focuses on math in her course load, her creative process pervades her daily life and even adds depth to her studies in applied math.
“There are patterns in math, and there are patterns in art,” Kim explained, describing an overlap between her art, especially her graphic design work, and math.
Kim focuses on digital art but also has an acrylic paint portfolio. They share common themes.
Specifically in her digital art, Kim draws inspiration from everyday observations. However, she also finds inspiration in her connection to her family, particularly her sisters.
“On campus, for instance, one time I saw a little box of caramels, and I thought that was cute, so I started drawing from that. A lot of my references are also from people around me, like my sisters,” she said.
Kim references her sisters in her artwork, whether or not the piece directly speaks to familial themes.
“[My sisters] let me take pictures of them and put them in different poses for me to draw. They’re my family, and I love my sisters a lot, so it’s easier to draw them,” Kim said. “And also they just allow themselves to pose in whatever way I want them to be posed in, so that’s really nice of them. It’s really funny, because a lot of the time in my finished pieces, you can hardly tell it’s based on my sisters.”
Especially because it is difficult to access arts materials without taking arts courses, Kim came to focus on digital art at Swarthmore. Describing this work, she said, “It’s a lot of lines and a lot of flat colors … almost graphic looking. And those are also based on a lot of people.”
In high school, Kim experimented with sculpture in 3D art, expressing her childhood fears through tangible form and physically creating representations of things she found scary. In this project, while she initially wanted to draw into the sweeter sides of childhood, she realized its seriousness necessitated a more monochromatic and muted color palette.
Kim makes posters and graphics for different clubs and organizations in addition to participating in arts groups on campus. Most notably, she designed for the Spring 2022 BOUQUET fashion show. For her portion of this show, she was responsible for everything from finding the materials to fitting the models. It was a multilevel, hands-on experience.
“I wanted to combine Eastern and Western things. So it was actually a hanbok, which is a traditional Korean dress, but I wanted to make it renaissance-y so that it juxtaposes two things. So the fabric was actually canvas. And the dress was made of tulle fabric, and a bunch of big fluffy things … It was really flowy … That isn’t traditional. So it was really fun to make my traditional culture but kind of change it up a little.”
Kim enjoyed the collaborative process of the show and designing something for a model to wear and display in motion.
“My model was so sweet. And with fitting and everything, they really just gave me a lot of creative freedom, which is really nice. I loved collaborating with them. They did it justice, even though it was probably really heavy, and was just barely put together right before the show … It was a fun time to do all the fittings and makeup and stuff like that to complete the look and have them walk.”
Beyond using art to see things from a new perspective, Kim values the creation of art for its own sake.
“I think that when I started out in art, in middle school, I really wanted some sort of deeper message and stuff. And now I think I just draw things that make me happy or things just that I want to see. And I feel that sometimes I get carried away in trying to find a deeper meaning or a deeper message, but there really isn’t one. So yeah, I just draw what I like to draw … Art doesn’t have to be a course. In fact, sometimes for me, it’s harder when it’s required,” she shared.
Kim suggests that she does not seek to create deeper meaning in her art. However, as she removes the pressure to find a profound purpose in her work, she creates something special: art and exploration that finds the essence of her daily life and its corresponding people, dreams, emotions, and memories. By existing without imposing the expectation of any correct or intended interpretation, Kim’s work emphasizes the virtue of the process and its capacity to channel her stories to reflect the beauty in experience.