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Big in Japan: The Illustrator 30 (Part Three)

By Alisa Yamasaki

As Adobe Illustrator turns 30, the interview series Illustrator 30_30, by Adobe Creative Station Japan, is celebrating by profiling 30 inspiring young creatives from Japan—all of whom use Illustrator in diverse fields and innovative ways. As Illustrator moves into “middle age,” it’s artists like these who will keep it young.

Read on to meet four of these young creatives, see their art, and learn how they work. (You can read the first article in this series here; the second, here.) Each interviewee was also asked to use Illustrator to embellish his or her photo portrait with original artwork and designs.

For the full-length Japanese-language interviews with these artists, visit Adobe Creative Station Japan.

KAMENTOTSU

Kamentotsu is a manga artist who writes about his lived experiences, whether it be a trip to a hypnotherapist or a chat with a legendary manga artist. His sense of humor and original illustration style have gained him many devoted fans in Japan.

For his portrait, Kamentotsu posed in front of his neighborhood landmark Nakano Broadway and illustrated his signature alter ego character holding his most used tool, a black ink pen. “I printed out a sketch I did on my iPad Pro and drew over it with ink, scanned it, and touched it up in Photoshop,” he says. “Then I brought it back into my iPad and colored it. Switching between digital and analog mediums isn’t as hard as it seems.”

How did you get your break as a manga artist?

I think it was when I wrote about how I got hypnotherapy. I was still young then and didn’t know what to write, but my editor told me to write a funny report of something through manga, so I went to a hypnotherapy session out of desperation. When people reacted really well to my piece, I thought, “This is what I should keep doing.” The more you put yourself on the line, the funnier the manga becomes. I think that being a manga artist has so much to do with your experiences and personality. It’s difficult to create something just by sitting at your desk.

You said you used to be a designer—has your design experience affected what you do now?

Manga and design are both communication processes, but they’re so different from each other. If manga were wrestling, design would be figure skating—they’re that different. Manga has a higher entertainment value and can be a little gory. That said, my experiences as a designer do come through in the way I approach and think about manga. If I had no digital design experience, I probably never would have established my current style.

Left: Kamentotsu no Rupo Manga Jigoku (Shogakukan) and Kamentotsu no Manga narazu Michi (Shogakukan). Right: the artist at work.

Today, you mainly work with analog tools. How does your design experience inspire you?

I usually make my manga with a black and white water-based markers. I use a whole black pen for each page of my work. Once I finish the draft, I bring it into Photoshop or Clip Studio to convert the image to black and white, and then I add text.

I’ve always liked making art with digital tools. I designed the mask I’m wearing now with Illustrator. I’m really good at Bézier curves, but when I started making manga there were too many artists who used digital tools, so I wanted to do something original. That’s when I thought of using paper like a digital canvas, where you can redo or erase things. I start with black lines and erase certain parts with white ink. Drawing things with the assumption that you’ll erase them later is a very digital way of thinking.

MIDORI HIROTA

Midori Hirota is a graphic designer and signboard designer based in Osaka. Using signs not just as a tool for advertising but also for art and design, she is busy balancing commissioned work by stores and brands with personal art projects.

About her portrait, Hirota says, “For this portrait, I used Adobe Capture CC to vectorize different lettering from projects I’ve worked on in the past, and then I laid out the data in Illustrator. If more graphic designers could place their work around the city in the form of signs, our cities would become so much livelier.”

You work at your father’s signboard store and also have a career as a graphic designer. How did it all start?

My father’s workplace was my playground as a kid. I would always play next to my father as he made signboards. That’s how I became interested in drawing and decided to study graphic design at university. I joined a design company after I graduated and then I became independent.

Left: Sento event Get Yu! Vol. 3 flyer (illustration by Shingo Minamida). Right: Chuka-soba Sonoda (Fukuyama City, Hiroshima) ©Yudai Okamoto.

What about signs interests you?

At my design company, I would only be in charge of design, but at a signboard store, you have to do everything: design, production, and installation. Because I was used to seeing that type of work, a typical design job where you just submit data didn’t really work for me. If you’re working with signs, you work with all sorts of mediums, from digital signage to inkjet printing and cutting stickers. I think it’s more fun and freeing when you can work with different materials and see the job through from start to finish. Whenever I design a signboard, I try to install it myself.

Your work blurs the lines between art, design, and advertising.

I’ve loved street art ever since I was in high school. The reason I chose my university was because they offered a short exchange program at Cooper Union in New York. I really wanted to see real street art in New York, but when I arrived, I was so disappointed that there wasn’t as much art on the streets anymore. When I was in the city, I vividly remember seeing this beautiful mural of a woman covering the wall of a building. When I was admiring it, I noticed that it said “Marc Jacobs” on the bottom. I was blown away by the fact that this was an ad. That’s when I started questioning the difference between street art and advertising. It’s a theme in my work to explore what lies between the two.

©Yudai Okamoto.

RYO INOUE

Known for his whimsical animations, Ryo Inoue is an artist with many trades; he illustrates, animates, writes, composes, and sings. His animation series Bijutune! on Japan’s public broadcasting station NHK has become popular among kids and adults for introducing art history through animation and music.

Inoue describes his embellished portrait as “Inoue and birds at the rendezvous point after hearing they’re meeting at a different place now.” He says, “I used Illustrator Draw to draw on top of my photo, and then I saved the data as a PDF. I copy pasted the path data onto the original photo through Photoshop.”

How did you become an artist?

I was raised in an environment where I was encouraged to make things, since my father is a sculptor and art teacher, and my mother was a piano teacher. It was natural for me to become interested in art and music from a young age. The first time I strongly felt like making art myself was when I got hooked on anime in elementary school. Neon Genesis Evangelion was the first anime I liked.

When you’re creating animations for Bijutune!, a program that introduces famous works of art to children, at what point do you make songs?

After I come up with an idea, I immediately go into songwriting. For Bijutune! I have to send the song to an arranger, so I work on the song first. After that, I start thinking about the visuals. Because of all the recordings and shootings during the process, I only work on the animation toward the very end. When I look at an artwork, I think about the most interesting ways it can move. If a mountain is the first thing you notice in a painting, other people are probably seeing the same thing too. In that case, I’ll make the mountain the focal point of the animation.

Bijutune! merchandise.

What’s important to you in life and work?

No matter how much you dislike someone, you’ve definitely been like them at some point in your life. I’m currently active in the LGBT scene and working on projects about diversity, and I always try to think about whether my actions are self-serving. It’s important not to treat someone in a way that you would never want to be treated and to always think from other people’s perspectives. Nowadays, I think it’s so important to understand multiple perspectives. When you want to make an argument, you need to know other points of view. Otherwise, what you’re saying won’t be convincing. On the other hand, catering too much to other perspectives will make your opinion weaker, so I’m always trying to figure out the right balance.

KEI MEGURO

Kei Meguro is a Tokyo-born illustrator and graphic designer based in New York City. Ever since her photorealistic pencil drawings of women gained global attention through Instagram, she has been working with fashion brands and magazines from all around the world.  

About her image, Meguro says, “I was inspired by the Venus in the Illustrator 30_30 icon and tried to imagine what this woman would look like if she actually existed. I call the women I draw ‘babes,’ so I thought there was a common thread between a goddess or muse. I started drawing with pencil and graphite, scanned the drawing to make it look like a mural, and finished it in Illustrator.”

You’re based in New York and work on projects all around the world. How did you start drawing for a living?

From the first time I read Nylon magazine, in 7th grade, I dreamed of being involved in the magazine. I went to the School of Visual Art in New York to study oil painting, but I realized there were people who were much more talented than myself. I changed my major to graphic design and studied hard. That’s when I started using Adobe Illustrator. I joined a big company in New York after graduating, and I started spending all my days at my desk confined by walls. That style of working just didn’t work for me. I felt this urge to draw again, so I started uploading my drawings of girls on Instagram. Before I knew it, I was gaining followers, and Nylon reached out to me for a project. I was getting enough requests through Instagram and Behance, so I became independent after a year at my company.

Left: Messy. Right: Four-Eyed Cat.  

What tools do you typically use?

To draw, I mainly use 2H to 6B pencils. Other than that, a charcoal pencil, a 0.03mm mechanical pencil, graphite powder for shading, Q-tips, and Bristol paper—and of course, a scanner. I touch up my pencil drawings in Photoshop. When I do design work, I use Illustrator and InDesign, too. On my iPad, I use the Photoshop Sketch app because I like the pencil touch. At first I couldn’t get used to the smooth surface of the screen, but it’s become really easy to use ever since I bought a special film with a paper-like texture.

What do you think is important for creators nowadays?

There are so many talented people in Japan that I always wonder why more people don’t work internationally. It’s such a waste not to experience the world just because of the language barrier. Of course I understand how tough it is when you can’t communicate, but I don’t think you ever lose anything from being assertive. It’s such a blessing to have your work seen by people. Even when I’m in New York, it makes me really happy to see Japanese people take on the world.

To see the work of the rest of the Illustrator 30_30 interviewees, check out the project’s Behance page.