Big in Japan: The Illustrator 30 (Part One)

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 (we will feature more in future articles), see their art, and learn how they work. 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.


Kazuki Takakura is an illustrator and game developer known for his love of pixels and pop culture. Constantly branching out into various creative fields, he has recently worked on music videos for Pharrell Williams and Puffy, and he just finished directing his first play.

Takakura says, “For my embellished image, I used rasterized and vectorized expressions with Photoshop and Illustrator Draw on a photo of me in Shinjuku’s backstreets. Shinjuku is such a complex city that’s made up of different cultures and businesses—you can’t describe it in a word. I like how there are forces that coexist but can’t be merged together, just like raster and vector.”

Creative Station: What do you keep in mind during the creative process?

Takakura: When I work on projects, I always keep in mind the fact that I’m using digital tools and that I’m creating either a raster image or a vector image. The raster and vector formats are like different painting materials in the traditional sense. I started thinking this way because of the illustrator Jun Tsuzuki and the contemporary artist Hideki Nakazawa.

Photoshop creates images from clusters of pixels, so it’s great for making pixel art. When you want to print out images using ink, however, Illustrator is much better at converting resolution into actual, physical dimensions. To me, Illustrator is a tool to summon the things in your screen out into the real world.

Going back and forth between the vector and raster mediums allows me to create unexpected things. I really think these tools are worth researching, just like other traditional tools. Last year I put on an exhibition called Pixel Out and showed pieces that use pixels as the main mode of expression. Now I want to do an exhibition on vectors.

Theatrical poster and stage lighting projection (crafted in Illustrator) by Takakura (photo by Shohei Saito).

Creative Station: Recently you’ve been involved in art direction and production for theater. Do you use Illustrator for stage visuals?

Takakura: For Hanchu-Yuei productions, I’ve been projecting images onto the stage that serve as background and lighting. For the play Umarete nai kara, mada shinenai (I can’t die without being born), I created images of waves and buildings using Illustrator. Simple images made with Illustrator paths do a great job of lighting up the stage.

Kimono by Kazuki Takakura and DJ Moshimoshi.

Creative Station: What do you think young creators need nowadays?

Takakura: To have fun. Also, to not feel so bothered by what other people think. I just feel like our society is all about being polite and worrying about other people. When you feel like you’re bothering people or doing something wrong, you end up slowing down the creative process. If you keep thinking about what other people think, you won’t be able to create breakthrough pieces. It’s alright to be selfish sometimes if it means you can produce great work.


In her pastel fantasy world full of cute girls, Jenny Kaori mixes pink with punk. The products she designs in collaboration with Japanese fashion brands like galaxxxy and WEGO are sought after by style-conscious women around Japan.

Kaori says, “I used Photoshop, Photoshop Sketch, and Illustrator Draw to make my portrait in my usual style. Shibuya is a hangout spot for a lot of girls in Tokyo—a place to come shop and talk with your best friends. Today these girls go about their everyday life in Shibuya, but someday they’re going to be stars of the city. That’s what I was thinking as I worked on this.”

Creative Station: How do you explain your work’s popularity among young women?

Kaori: It seems like a lot of young girls find my work through Twitter and Instagram. Typically I only draw things that I like, but I do try to keep in mind what girls like in general. When I get client work, I think about what sells, so I tend to use pink a lot. In private, I like to come up with ways to make colors other than pink look cute. I use analog tools like pencils and markers, Photoshop, and Illustrator to produce my art. When making images and designs for clothing, I always convert my Photoshop images into paths in Illustrator. If you print out Photoshop images onto fabric, they can get blurry and look cheap. It’s crucial that I use Illustrator for my designs.

Illustrations by Kaori: Doll Cult Channel key visual for 2.5D; Should we keep on acting “Magical Girls”?; Wayne’s World Inspires Girls.

Creative Station: Where do you get inspiration for your art?

Kaori: I really like niche subcultures and underground scenes, but I also like bubbly, girly things. I like the group CyberJapan Dancers but I also like the movie Eraserhead. There’s a part of me that looks up to cute, girly things, knowing that I can’t be like them, but I’m also fascinated by dark, gloomy worlds. Maybe my artistic style is a hybrid of these polar opposites. I love sneaking obscure references into my work that only I would understand and getting absolutely no reaction from people!

Illustration by Kaori: First Snow Day in 2017.

Creative Station: What is one of the most memorable pieces you have made?

Recently, I printed out digital data on a B1 panel for an exhibition. I used to think that there was no point in converting a piece made with digital tools into a physical piece, but I was surprised to see that the piece looked even better. I make a lot of clothes and collectible goods, but those things really feel like they get consumed. I want to challenge myself by making new, bigger pieces to communicate the messages and artistic value behind my work.


While juggling the titles of graphic designer and university art instructor, Rintaro Shimohama still manages to find the time to work on his popular project Noramoji Hakken Project (Stray Letter Discovery Project).  For Noramoj, Shimohama captures old store signs in Tokyo neighborhoods and converts those unique logo designs into downloadable fonts.

Shimohama says, “In local Japanese shopping streets, more and more stores have their shutters down, but Tsuruya is still holding out. For this piece, I had the owner close the shutters, and I superimposed different Noramoji in a graffiti style using Adobe Sketch. I thought it would be fun to have storefront graffiti that uses the store’s logotype.”

Creative Station: How do you use Illustrator in the design process for your fonts?

Shimohama: The best part about Illustrator is the vector data. You can create such smooth lines. I like Illustrator’s vectors more than Photoshop’s pixels. Originally, graphic designers were people who had their job because they were able to produce straight lines. That’s how they were different from artists. It’s important for artists to leave their mark with their own hands. Even if the lines look like a computer drew them, artists will go out of their way to paint them on canvas themselves. When Jasper Johns painted the American flag on a canvas, the act of painting the flag was more important than anything, and I think that’s a Photoshop way of thinking. But when it comes to graphic designers, it’s more important to draw straight, accurate lines, so I think that’s a very Illustrator way of thinking.

Logotype expansion by Shimohama for the exhibition Design Anatomy: A method for seeing the world through familiar objects at 21_21 Design Sight (2016-2017).

Creative Station: Can you tell us about your Noramoji Hakken Project?

Shimohama: Noramoji Hakken Project is a project I’m involved in with two friends who are graphic designers, Shinya Wakaoka and Nariteru Nishimura. Shinya was running a blog with photos of cool old signs he’d find. I asked him and Nariteru if they wanted to make a project out of this, and that’s how we started. Shinya and I find signs around town and create fonts based on them, while Nariteru is in charge of the website programming. When Shinya and I are making fonts, we get help from a lot of people. Noramoji is all about slightly unrefined, silly designs, so it’s really important to get the characteristics of the type just right. It shouldn’t be too sleek, but it can’t be too sloppy either. I use a lot of energy in the design process getting this balance spot on.

Noramoji Hakken Project by Shimohama, Nishimura, and Wakaoka.


Using vibrant colors and curious shapes, Keeenue illustrates chaotic worlds in the form of paintings, murals and original products. When she’s not spending time working on large-scale pieces for solo and group exhibitions, Keeenue works with clients to design products.

Keeenue says, “My inspiration for this piece is something I dream about a lot. Someday I want to live in a place that’s warm all year round! I used Adobe Sketch to transform my local park into a beach.”

Creative Station: As an artist who utilizes both analog and digital tools, when do you find Illustrator most useful?

Keeenue: Last year I made a piece composed of multiple pictures, and for that project I used Illustrator to break up my original digital illustration and decide on the overall composition. I scanned hand-drawn sketches into my Mac and used Photoshop to add color to the drawing. Then I brought it into Illustrator to complete the digital piece. The squiggly, random lines are lines that I added with Illustrator.

After breaking up the digital illustration into pieces, I moved the pieces around on my screen to come up with the composition. You can move objects easily in Illustrator, so I like using it to draft compositions. When I decided on the composition, I printed it out and traced it on a canvas; then I painted over that.

Illustration by Keeenue: Dawn Town.

Creative Station: Where did you come up with the idea of dividing a painting into pieces?

Keeenue: The theme for my show was “a dream-like time that’s neither night nor day.” I wanted to convey the idea that things that seem otherworldly, things that you can’t quite make out in the dark and the people that choose not to see them, all of these things are connected. The small worlds we see are actually a part of a bigger whole. That’s why I thought of breaking up an image and presenting it as one piece.

Creative Station: What’s something you keep in mind during your creative process?

Keeenue: I constantly feel the need to do new, different things in my work. Exciting things that only I can do, things that make your heart skip a beat. It’s boring to do things that other people have done already. Once I get bored with a project, I really can’t get myself to work on it anymore!

To see the work of the rest of the Illustrator 30_30 interviewees, check out the project’s Behance page. Create will be running more profiles throughout the summer and fall.

June 28, 2017

Original photos of artists: Taio Konishi Photography

Original interview and Japanese article: Akiko Saito, Yu Miyakoshi