When did you first know you were meant to be an artist? Was it a particular moment? A habit? An inspiration?
I have to say, I still hesitate to call myself an “artist”. Because, to me, “art” is about expression, and everyone has his/her own way to express themselves. I’ve been very, very lucky that I’ve made a career in what I love to do. I never considered that I would be in the art field when I was studying business at college, or working in marketing for a big corporation back in Tokyo. Back in those days, I felt something was missing in my life. I didn’t know what it was, but I remember that my grandmother used to tell me that when I was five, I never stopped drawing. Her words stayed with me for years. Several years ago, when I was feeling lost, I quit everything and started to paint. I was hoping to find new prospects in my life and nurture my inner child, and it opened me up to a new world of possibilities. Since then, I’ve been painting.
What are your creative influences – in books, or film, or art, or nature, or anywhere else?
I grew up mostly in Tokyo. I was a typical city kid, busy with studies and school activities—I didn’t spend much time outside. After college, I lived in Vancouver B.C. Canada for about a year, and it was the first time in my life that I was exposed to nature on such a large scale: huge mountains, endless rain forests, magnificent glaciers and lots of wild animals. Canada’s natural beauty amazed and inspired me. I felt so spiritual by just being in nature, it gave me a sense of security and stability which I never felt in Tokyo. My time in Canada has been a strong influence on my current artwork, considering that I didn’t yet know how to paint when I was there. Life is interesting; I would’ve been very happy living in Vancouver had I stayed there, but I’m not sure if I would’ve become an artist. It was living in Brooklyn that gave me creative inspiration—Brooklyn definitely has an artistic atmosphere, with a lot of support for young artists. People accept individual creativity and don’t negatively judge your work. When I was painting on used brown paper grocery bags, a gallery owner discovered me, and she gave me my first gallery show opportunity.
And who are your creative heroes?
Is there a book from your childhood that has stuck inside your soul?
It’s not a book, but an early Miyazaki movie, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It had a strong influence in my developing my own stories. I also love Totoro by Miyazaki. Totoro is my spiritual home :)
Which comes first – the story in words, or the story in pictures?
Definitely story in pictures first. I develop the stories in my head with sketches, visualizing the storyline. Later, I write a simple text to accompany the illustrations.
Tell us a bit about your physical process of creating art? I see wood, paper, paint, and pencil? Your pictures are so tactile and lovely – the spread with the waves (where their eyes are squeezed closed tight!) grabbed me and plopped me right into that sailboat with them! What a rush!
First, I find a piece of wood which has the right grain for the scene, then I start with background. This is the most intriguing part of my painting process because wood grain gives me a spontaneous pattern, and I can never predict the exact result before I paint on it. (Sometimes, I get very a different painting idea by looking at the flow on the grain!) When the background is dry, I start drawing the outlines of the scene with inks, then color them with acrylic paint, gouache, pencil and pastels… whatever would suit best to give the appropriate texture for the scene. I try to use found materials as much as possible, since I believe that art is a form of expression and separated from materialism.
What parts of Naoko are in Red Knit Cap Girl?
I created Red Knit Cap Girl as my inner child. I drew her playing in nature with forest animals, which I never had in my real childhood. I came to realize that I wasn’t the only one—people started telling me that Red Knit Cap Girl reminded them of their childhoods. I guess Red Knit Cap Girl could be lots of people’s childhoods! When I realized she wasn’t me anymore, I think I grew up a little bit :)