Shelly Kim finds creative freedom in hand-lettering

Image of Shelly Kim.

In her previous life, Shelly Kim would stare at the four walls of her office cubicle and feel anxious. While Kim excelled at her job, the hours, pressure, and work itself felt at odds with the creative force inside her that needed to be set free.

Kim’s first steps into art were tentative. Looking to decorate her cubicle with colorful artwork and affirmations to liven her mood, she began to experiment with hand-lettering, eventually setting herself the goal of practicing every day.

The more Kim developed her skills, the more she fell in love with the artform and the artist’s life. What began as a hobby soon turned into an entirely new career as a hand-letterer. And a successful one at that. From large companies like Apple and Chase Bank, to arts and crafts icons like Michaels and MOO, Kim’s work is everywhere today.

But for Kim, it was her partnership with Adobe that affirmed her as a credible artist. A devoted user since 2015, she has since joined forces with Adobe to share educational videos with fellow hand-letterers who want to develop their skills with Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Express, and Adobe Firefly, Adobe’s family of creative generative AI models. In that spirit of sharing, the new Community tab in Firefly allows Kim and other users to share and get inspired by each other’s work, stay up to date on the latest features, and raise their profiles.

“Deciding to pursue art full-time was eye-opening, not just for my career but for my education and sense of self,” says Kim. “The fact that I can pay my knowledge forward to the creative community with Adobe only makes me happier with the decision.”

Exploring new palettes with Firefly

Kim got into hand-lettering years before educational platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube became ubiquitous. She taught herself how to create and vectorize her designs in Adobe Illustrator for printing and licensing. She also uses Adobe Fresco to create her designs and Adobe Express to develop graphics for her social handles and email newsletter.

Today, Kim applies those skills to create everything from greeting cards to jigsaw puzzle designs to sticker books. She is now pushing her creative boundaries even further with Adobe Firefly. Features like Generative Recolor in Illustrator have inspired Kim to adopt new styles and color palettes in her client work and personal projects.

“I used to stick to colors I liked because it felt safe, but Generative Recolor makes it easy to try new possibilities with minimal effort,” says Kim. “It’s been especially valuable in my brand partnership projects, where clients have specific needs and guidelines, but I’ve also started injecting brighter tones into my personal designs.”

The Text to Vector Graphic capabilities in Illustrator have transformed the way Kim brainstorms and visualizes her ideas. Instead of spending hours on Google and Pinterest searching for graphics to include in her conceptual designs, she can create them in minutes using simple prompts. “Using Text to Vector Graphic is like having a moodboard integrated directly in my workflow. It saves me loads of time and makes me more focused and intentional with the design at hand,” says Kim.

Kim also loves being able to save the graphics and designs she creates with Firefly directly to Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries. From there, she can easily upload them into Adobe Express for use in her social media animations. On the one-year anniversary of Firefly’s release, Kim celebrates its impact on her career with a special birthday message below.

Dreaming bigger with AI

Like many artists, Kim was unsure about generative AI before trying it. But the more she used Adobe Firefly, the more she appreciated how features like Generative Recolor and Text to Vector Graphic helped her to work faster and gave her bandwidth to flex her creative muscle.

Kim and her peers see enormous potential in generative AI, but they are careful to stress an important point for first-time users: the technology is at its best when used to add to one’s work, not replace it. That’s why Kim still begins every project by sketching out her initial concepts by hand. Only then does she use Generative Recolor to try different color palettes, or Text to Vector Graphic to view her graphics from different angles and see if she missed anything.

Take the following video, which shows how Kim created a whimsical virtual bedroom for Adobe’s Dream World campaign. Using the Generative Fill feature in Adobe Photoshop she used text prompts to conjure and add novelty sized art supplies to every corner of the room, but not before conceptualizing and drawing each of the graphics herself.

“It’s important for me to come up with ideas on my own, before looking online for inspiration or diving right into digital illustration. It helps me to trust my creative instincts and stay original instead of second-guessing myself before I even get started,” says Kim.

Self-love and trust are core beliefs for Kim, both in her work and in her message to other creators. As she so poignantly says on her website, “The more we support, share, and show each other compassion, we all win!... As you start your art journey, trust the process, never give up, and dream big.” We couldn’t agree more.

Learn more about Shelly, her mission, and her work on Instagram.

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