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Coloring back into Joseon era

Folk painting coloring book attracts interest as new hobby fit amid virus threat

 
"Sogwado” refers to a painting of fruits and vegetables; excerpt from “The Korean Traditional Art Minhwa Coloring Book” by Kim Jung-ah (Courtesy of Kim Jung-ah)

While coloring books have recently come into the limelight as a great stress reliever for adults, coloring minhwa with colored pencils has recently been attracting more interest amid the prolonged COVID-19 threat.

Minhwa, which refers to Korea’s folk painting style, prospered during the Joseon era (1392-1910). The art form, though it originated among commoners, was widely enjoyed among people regardless of their social classes.

Minhwa reflects people’s wishes, as each drawn object carries its own meaning -- for instance, “Hwajeopdo,” a painting of flowers and butterflies means hope for love and unity between married couples; and “Sogwado,” a painting of vegetables and fruits, implies the importance of continuing the lineage of a family.

Minhwa can be easily seen in daily life now in hanbok, traditional Korean costume, pillow covers, storage closets and byeongpung, the traditional folding screen used for decoration or religious ceremonies. 

“Yeongmodo” refers to a painting of furry animals; excerpt from “The Beautiful Folk Drawing Coloring Book” by Oh Soon-kyung (Iconbooks)
“Yeongmodo” refers to a painting of furry animals; excerpt from “The Beautiful Folk Drawing Coloring Book” by Oh Soon-kyung (Iconbooks)

While authentic minhwa is created through a complicated process -- from making pigments to coloring traditional Korean paper hanji -- nowadays the art of minhwa can be easily practiced at home with coloring books and colored pencils.

“I happened to have a new hobby of coloring minhwa while I am stuck at home,” a blogger on Naver wrote in one review. “Time goes really fast when I work on the minhwa coloring book. I love the unique atmosphere of minhwa.”

Kim Jung-ah, who teaches drawing minhwa both at home and abroad, recently published a series of minhwa coloring books, titled “The Korean Traditional Art Minhwa Coloring,” which can be colored with colored pencils instead of brushes on hanji.

“I wanted more people to enjoy coloring minhwa in an easier way,” Kim told The Korea Herald. “That is how I came up with publishing minhwa coloring books.”

Kim Jung-ah, the writer of “The Korean Traditional Art Minhwa Coloring Book,” teaches coloring minwha with color pencils (Courtesy of Kim Jung-ah)
Kim Jung-ah, the writer of “The Korean Traditional Art Minhwa Coloring Book,” teaches coloring minwha with color pencils (Courtesy of Kim Jung-ah)

Because minhwa is traditionally colored with pigments from natural ingredients, many original paintings have delicate features that can rarely be found in artificial colors, which requires the use of many different colored pencils for minhwa coloring books, she said.

Oh Soon-kyung, a professional minhwa artist who has published multiple minhwa coloring books, says minhwa is not simply an act of drawing itself, rather it is like drawing a letter that reflects one’s hope or wish.

“Traditionally people drew minhwa to deliver messages and express their desires instead of writing a letter or poetry, because all subject matters in the paintings have their own meanings,” Oh said. “Minhwa is a happiness painting, you can give it to someone as a present or keep it for oneself to bring luck.”

Cover image of “The Beautiful Folk Drawing Coloring Book” by Oh Soon-kyung (Iconbooks)
Cover image of “The Beautiful Folk Drawing Coloring Book” by Oh Soon-kyung (Iconbooks)

Oh said coloring minhwa can particularly be a good hobby for those experiencing depression amid the coronavirus threat because it has an effect akin to mind control.

“Many people are attracted by the beauty of minhwa at first, but they also get a chance to train themselves for mind control while coloring,” Oh said. “This kind of drawing practice is Korea’s own culture, which is very unique.

“Drawing minhwa has a meaning of wishing a good thing to happen in your lives, so please do not get stressed out about using the exact same color as the original painting. It is important to enjoy the experience of coloring itself, irrelevant from how many colored pencils you have.”

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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