Big in Japan: The Illustrator 30 (Part Two)

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 (and read the first article in this series 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.


Inspired by fashion, jazz and architecture, Taro Uryu illustrates stylish women clad in futuristic clothing. His work has appeared in Shiseido’s Hanatsubaki magazine, as well as department store windows, and continues to inspire the Japanese fashion world.

About his portrait image, Uryu says, “In the future, I want to make a huge piece—the size of a 20-meter tall Daibutsu. I’ve liked Daibutsu for a long time, and it actually inspires my style when drawing women. I’d love to do a huge advertisement that wraps around buildings, too…. I made my dream of making large artwork come true. In this piece, the figure looks about 4 meters tall, but I want to blow up my artwork even larger, around 10 to 20 meters. I made this piece in my usual, uncomplicated style—circles, straight lines, and curves.”

How do you create your work?

I sketch out my ideas with a pencil first, and as soon as I lock down the composition, I start drawing with my mouse. Sometimes I scan my sketches into my computer, but I try not to. I want to create with a hand-drawn feeling. I want to do something cool like an improvised performance, because I really like jazz. Even with digital drawing, I want to keep elements of my hands and soul in my pieces. For me, Bézier curves have to be made with a mouse. When I set anchor points and stretch out handles, it feels like I’m using my hands. It’s almost like the mouse becomes my hand and I’m carving a sculpture.  

Left image: Quiet Carnival exhibition (2015). Right image: Omotesando Hills window display (2015)

Shiseido Hanatsubaki magazine illustration.

What are the main themes in your work?

My primary theme has always been women and fashion. That’s because you have to learn how to draw by drawing what you love. I’ve always loved women’s fashion, and I used to collect Japanese fashion magazines like Soen and Hana-tsubaki. I still look at magazines and watch fashion show videos, but these days I’m more inspired by things like furniture and construction sites—things that communicate beauty and functionality. I’d love to have my illustrations be used in real fashion design.

What do you keep in mind when completing a piece?

I always think about whether my work is able to deliver the same emotional effects as jazz, fashion, and film. I wonder if artists I admire may look at my work and think, “Is that it?” On my monitor, I compare my illustrations to fashion show videos, to see if my work stands up well.


Interaction designer Takuma Nakata bridges technology and humans with his film and digital installation work. Takuma has worked across the globe, placing second in the LPM Rome VJ Tournament and joining the Dutch media art collective Born Digital.

About his portrait, Nakata says, “Vectors are usually used in a 2D context, but I wanted to combine them with 3D elements, so I exported it as a SVG file and placed it within a 3D space using vvvv. I wanted to add something that looked like moss, so I created particles on the floor. I actually stretched out the Illustrator 30_30 logo on the floor as well, and the particles come out of the logo.”

You’re based in Kyoto, but you have a very international perspective. How did that come to be?

My father had a job that forced us to relocate a lot, so after I was born in Japan, we immediately moved to Brazil, then Senegal, and then Indonesia. We had local helpers living with us, so our home was always full of different languages. I started using my father’s Mac when I was in elementary school. No matter where we were in the world, I always had a computer, so that acted as a communication hub for me. I guess computers and video games were having a big moment at the time, so I could find one anywhere I went. Now that I think about it, that was a huge influence for me.

Music video for Inner Science, “Fleeting Echo” (PV Short Edit), by Mövius, a collaboration unit between Takuma Nakata and Lucie. (Click to watch.)

Can you tell us about your piece Humanelectro + Σ (SIGMA)?

Human beatboxers perform with their voice while they play electronics on machines. When I was watching a beatboxing performance once, I thought it was such a waste that someone who uses their body to perform has to look down at machines all the time. In order to allow these people to perform with their entire body, I created a device that transforms muscle and hand movements, as well as heartbeat, into audio and visuals. For example, a sensor detects your heartbeat and converts in into a wave-like visual, or the movements of your fingers are converted into sound. All the audio and visuals presented during the performance are created in real time.

Humanelectro + “∑(SIGMA)”: Ryo Fujimoto | Humanelectro (musician / performer); Eddie Lee | Funktronic Labs (interactive visual system designer / programmer); Takuma Nakata and Tsubasa Nakata | TN2 (concept designer / director / hardware design and development). (Click to watch.)

What do you want to make in the future?

I really want to make an arcade game for children. I like kids, and the reason I wanted to make video is because I was influenced by kid’s shows on NHK (Japan’s national public broadcasting organization). When I look at kids these days, it seems like a lot of them play games on their smartphones every day. I think it’s really important to interact with a lot of different things. Kids need to touch more than just glass surfaces on smartphones—they need to gather all sorts of tactile information. I want to use modern technology to create a game that allows kids to do that. I’d like to make a physical space for the kids as well.


Mariya Suzuki is a popular illustrator known for her vivid color palette and rough sketches. Originally from the Japanese city of Nara, educated in California, and now based in Tokyo, Suzuki has been working on projects in Japan and abroad.

Suzuki says, “I always use pen and paper to draw scenes in front of me, so I approached this project the same way. I used Adobe Capture CC to vectorize my illustrations and photos, and then used Adobe Illustrator Draw to add more lines and color to adjust the overall composition. It was really fun to move images around in different layers like a collage. The buildings around me look like they’re from one scene, but I actually combined separate sketches into one piece.”

How did you become an artist?

I’ve always liked to draw and make things with my hands, since I was young, so becoming an artist has been my dream for as long as I can remember. When I was at university, I was good at realistic drawings, but I actually wanted to make more casual illustrations. That’s when I found an artist online who was good at soft line drawings that I really liked. We followed each other on Tumblr, and I got to meet them one day. They told me that they practiced drawing really fast to establish their current style. When I started practicing like they told me, I was able to narrow down the most important details of my subject and draw with looser lines.

Artists Caravan (2015).

What’s the theme of your work?

To me, it’s important to document the objects and scenery around me. That’s why I would say that everyday life is my theme. I have a really bad memory, so when I come back from a trip and friends ask me, “Where did you go? What did you do?” I’m just like, “Hmm, what did I do?...” But if I open my sketchbook, I have all the people and scenes of the places I visited in front of me, and I can explain everything I did. Drawings are like footprints to me. Drawing is a part of my life.

Expedia office mural.

Sketch done at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography.

What work do you want to do in the future?

I want to do more projects where I visit different places, record what I see, and send my drawings out into the world. This April I went to the South of France to work with a fashion brand called Petit Bateau, and I drew what I saw at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography and posted to Instagram. It was so fun to do hand-drawn sketches on the spot, because I think you can make the best work when the environment you’re in has a direct influence on your drawings. Even when I draw from photographs, I try to express the impression I got when I saw the real thing.


Emerging media artist Akinori Goto is making a name for himself with his toki- installation series that aims to create a physical manifestation of time. He exhibited at SXSW this year; since then, his work has been receiving international attention.

Goto says, “I put together random sketches of ideas from my notebook that even I don’t understand. I also added in some sketches I did with Illustrator Draw on my iPad Pro.”

Your most well-known work is the toki- series, sculptures that express time and movement. How did you start making these pieces?

This might relate to our animal instincts, but things that move are so fascinating to me. I think that movement and change are strongly tied to time. If you think about time, you’re able to see what’s at the core of movement and also better understand how time works. Starting with that idea, I developed the toki- series to figure out the relationship between time and movement, as well as the beauty of time that comes out of that relationship. For the first piece of the series, I expressed movement and time in 2D, and then I brought the time axis into 3D, which made the whole piece look like a zoetrope. When I make the data for pieces like this, I use Illustrator.

toki- BALLET #01_ym, music by Takuya Takahashi. (Click to watch.)

You created your largest installation to date, toki- series_#02, for this year’s SXSW. It was a 3D printed sculpture in a 2.5 meter cubic space, with light cast onto it.

toki– series_#02 is an expression of beautiful ballet dancers through movement and light. These dancers move in such a refined, elegant way. By breaking their movements down and morphing it in CG, I visualized an invisible concept, a mass of time. When you shine lines of light onto it, the sculpture embodies human movements and the time that surrounds those movements. The installation was displayed throughout the festival. When light isn’t hitting the piece, it becomes a sculpture that traps time; in light, viewers are able to see the movements of the ballet dancers.

What prompted you to become an artist?

When I graduated from elementary school, my family moved to the U.S. because of my parents’ work. I couldn’t speak any English, so I tried to draw a lot in order to communicate with people. If you draw well, people will look at your work and want to talk to you. I think that’s how I learned non-verbal expression. When I returned to Japan, I studied visual communication design at Musashino Art University. I started off with graphic design, but I was so bad at it that I surprised myself! When I was wondering what to do instead, I learned about media art and started studying for it.

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.