Gwangju Blog

Simon Sweetman’s Culinary Creatures

A couple of weeks ago, I was out having a drinks at Tequilaz. After a few rounds of beers and a shot or two, I found myself throwing darts and chatting up Simon Sweetman. At some point, we were talking about something art related and he casually mentioned that he’s an illustrator, so I asked if he had anything I could check out. He took out his phone and showed me this:
“Holy shit.” I sobered up a bit, and we agreed to do an interview the following week. This time we spoke over coffee during a sunny afternoon. I had viewed more of his art online since our last conversation, and I was eager to learn how he wound up teaching in Gwangju.
Sweetman grew up in Toronto. “I knew from a very young age that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an artist.” This passion for art quickly evolved into the dream of one day becoming a concept artist for video games. “I was always into drawing monsters, which (in the industry) would be a considered a creature designer.” He began to investigate the creators of some of his favorite monsters, such as Star Wars’ Terryl Whitlatch, and completely fell into the pool of creature design.
After graduating from high school, he attended Concordia University in Montreal where he mainly studied painting. While the education was valuable, he found himself in an environment that lacked the sort of training he needed to follow his true interests.”I realized the fine art world doesn’t think much of illustration. It’s not designed for people who want to get an education in the technical aspect.” In this sense, Sweetman was getting a lot of practice as an artist, just not with the types of computer programs that would open doors after university. “So, I bought a cheap tablet, and taught myself in my free time.”
As he chipped away at digital illustration in his free time, he stumbled upon the website,, where he was able to really cut his teeth. “Many of these online communities are full of people who want to be fantasy illustrators for Magic the Gathering or something along those lines. I became heavily involved in the ‘Creature of the Week’ contest. It’s was a mix of everyone from professionals to complete amateurs, such as myself. You could post your work in progress there, and get feedback from people within the community.” Sweetman continued to pour his efforts into these contests regularly, and after 9 months of activity, was handed the reins to run the competition with fellow creature designer, Clark Miller. He continued to run the contest for the next three years as he finished his studies at university.
The next few years would be a series of ups and downs for Sweetman. He landed an internship at a company in Toronto which created games for phones. “It was amazing to be at work, and realize, ‘Wow! Someone is paying me to sit and draw every day.'” However, mixed results with the success of these games caused the company to cut budgets and consequently lay him off twice during his two and half year stint there. The proverbial rain continued to pour, as he was evicted from his house after the landlord sold it, resulting in a move back home and a plunge into the world of freelancing. After freelancing for a while, his experiences began to have a residual effect. “I realized I wasn’t interested in the professional art world anymore. I didn’t want to work at another video game studio or freelance. It’s not artistically fulfilling. After working, I would come home with no energy to create the things I really love and care about.” It was time for serious change.
He quickly began work on two projects purely for his own enjoyment. The first, The Beasts of the Other Wilds, truly showcases Sweetman’s ingenuity as not only an illustrator, but as a true creator. Imagine a David Attenborough style nature narrative focused on otherworldly ecosystems, featuring creatures that are simultaneously prehistoric and celestial. These podcasts are accompanied with illustrations to stimulate the imagination, as Sweetman leads his audience through vivid examinations of the seasonal processes these beasts cycle through to survive.
The second project, Noodles!, is a series of illustrations based upon Sweetman’s fascination with scrumptious Japanese and Korean cuisine. “Part of this was inspired by the food you see in Studio Ghibli films. Hayao Miyazaki does such an amazing job of making the food in those movies look so tasty. I wanted to see if I was capable of making that same delicious animated food.” It doesn’t hurt that Sweetman is well versed in Japanese and Korean cooking himself, a hobby he picked up back when he was living in Toronto. He has used his time as an English teacher here in Gwangju to explore and learn more about both Korea and Japan, in a sense that is just as much enjoyment as it is fascinating research for him. Whether itSimon is the culinary process being displayed or the details of the architecture, Sweetman takes the time to properly reflect the roots and intentions of his influences here.
His future plans consist of finishing a Korean/Japanese fusion cookbook entitled, Fantasty. It will not only serve as a creative means for him to chart new territory on a similar theme, but also raise awareness of certain socioeconomic issues, for example, the problematic over-fishing that comes with the territory of enjoying certain seafood dishes like Tuna. Sweetman will be able to address such issues with well-researched guidance for his cookbook in a way that perfectly compliments the scenarios found in his previous artwork.
Eventually, he says he would enjoy pursuing a management position back in the video game industry to help offer support for illustrators. His keen sense of technique and passion for his craft would undoubtedly make him an excellent person for the job, but until then, he plans to continue learning and creating simply for his own appetite.
View more of his work and keep up with his future projects on his two current websites:
(All artwork courtesy of Simon Sweetman. Photograph of Sweetman courtesy of Alex Brooks.)