pen and watercolor illustration of woman lying down pen and watercolor illustration of woman lying down

Trevor Shin and the Art of Laundromats

By Terri Stone

"I was seven years old and very frustrated with my art, which was pencil drawings on copy paper," Trevor Shin remembers. "If I messed up a figure or smudged a drawing, I would crumple up the paper and toss it. My mother saw my frustration and took me to meet a jazz artist. He told me that when he makes a mistake in his music, he can't say, 'Let's start this over.' He has to keep going, to rectify his mistakes and build on them, and most of the time it ends up being better than it was. He said to throw away the pencil until I was older, and to start drawing in pen instead, and if I made a mistake, to keep going. That's been my path since age seven."

He still uses a pen today, sometimes adding watercolor. "I don't plan anything," Shin says. "The spontaneity and energy of the work would be lost. I start with lines and let my hands do the rest."

Shin likes to draw what he sees, however mundane. "I'll throw anything in. it can be a cat, dog, person—if they're there, they catch my interest." His most common subject matter is the human figure. "In art history class, I connected to the humanity in art. An ancient Greek sculpture is almost as alive today as it was two thousand years ago. It's the same with Renaissance paintings—I don't connect with the clothes or the surroundings, but I can connect with the human element. Drawing people is a way for me to speak to future generations."

Besides people, you may notice another, less expected, theme in Shin's art: laundromats.

"I always had a washer and dryer before, but when I moved to Los Angeles, I started going to laundromats and drawing what I saw. After a month or two, I connected the dots: I had grown up around these kinds of industrial machines! My grandparents are first-generation Americans from Korea, and they owned a drycleaners. I was always there after school and in the summers. I played in the back, my toys were there. But I was ashamed of coming from a service-industry background, and I'd pushed it to the back of my mind.

"The laundromat is not one of those places that you brag about because it's for the lower-middle class. I'm part of that, so why hide it? Why not just be proud of where I am in life and show everything? You shouldn't be ashamed of whatever your situation is."

To see more of Shin's work, check out his website and Instagram. If you're in the market for original art, visit his current online show.