Airbrush Art + Action
No. 49 June 2003 issue (P.46 - P.60)
"Truth is out there"
by AAA

AAA: With only 27 years it seems that you have gone through quite a lot things. You were born in Yokohama, Japan. What was the reason to go to America, was it the unlimited possibilities and the Great American Dream people often dream about?

N.H.: I was always interested in art, so it was quite obvious that I would try to make my living with it. I used to make little drawings in all my schoolbooks and tagged graffiti under the bridge. But I wanted to study art seriously so I started going to art school when I was 17. Well, it was OK but back then the Japanese art society set a greater value on the academic career of an individual rather than on the artist's real ability. I just got tired to always see the same type of artworks in Japan, I wanted to learn more, and freely.

AAA: So you where looking for a chance to study overseas?

N.H.: Right, I was looking for a good art college in the UK or the United States. I heard many things about art and artists in New York and I think this was the reason I was looking for something in the States. At that time I studied Graphic Design at an art college in Tokyo and learned the basic skill of design, layout and printing. Unfortunately I had no-one who was involved in painting, someone I could learn from and who could show me different techniques and so I bought a lot of books about painting techniques, anatomy, visual basics and color theories and taught myself how to paint. But that was simply not enough, I wanted to learn more and the art college in New York seemed to be a great chance.

AAA: What about your parents, your family? Did they understand this decision and supported the dream of their son?

N.H.: It was one of the most important decisions in my life and I haven't seen my family and friends for almost 6 years now. People often ask me if I will ever go back to Japan, but I am still coming to terms with the art scene in the US. With some luck I hope to visit my family this year. So yes, they understood and encouraged me to go abroad to expand my creative horizon.

AAA: Have you fulfilled your dream? Was it the right decision?

N.H.: It definitely was the right decision and was and still is important and successful for my career in art. There are of course lots of things I still would like to achieve, and good so, we all need something to go for. We will always have our dreams, it is the sense of life. Imagine a life without dreams, without a function.

AAA: No doubt about that. What happened after you landed in New York?

N.H.: I arrived just in time to start at the School of Visual Arts but was also looking for some other ways to push my art right away. So I came across the Subculture Gallery which unfortunately is closed now. This Gallery was committed to the investment and increased awareness of visionary and lowbrow artists. All in all we had 25 artists from New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey and did exhibitions every two months. It was quite successful and so people started noticing my art while I was still in school. The former owner of the Subculture Gallery is now running the Fuse Gallery in New York City and I did my solo show there last year.

AAA: School of Visual Arts sounds interesting. What exactly was it you studied there?

N.H.: My major subject at the School of Visual Arts was illustration. They have a variety of classes but I took mostly realistic painting and drawing classes. Not to forget anatomy and I think that this helped my drawing skills a lot. They even might have had airbrush classes there but as mentioned I studied it myself. SVA encourages students to have a lot of opportunities in the field of art such as exhibitions and art competitions. I won the Society of Illustrators annual scholarship competition and joined a lot of exhibitions while in school. Once everything is settled I would really like to give some classes at the School of Visual Arts.

AAA: And after you graduated? Have you worked as a freelance illustrator?

N.H.: Due to my exhibitions I already got smaller commissions while I was still in school. After I graduated three years ago things became very busy. I have been doing more shows, more freelance jobs and I also try to find the time to paint for myself.

AAA: OK, one question we simply can't resist to ask: Have you ever seen an Alien?

N.H.: Ha ha, that's something everyone asks me. I have never seen an alien and it is not aliens I try to paint but I've been seeing and creating my own world in my head ever since I was a little kid. Now I got skill to express what I see in my visions and I have started painting those images for the past 5 years. My own art is still a continue education from my kindergarten drawing class, just paint whatever I want. It might look weird to some people but who knows what is going around in their heads? Maybe if some of them would bring it to paper we would be really shocked? For me it is fun, I can use my full-imagination to create my very own creatures. Also I like to paint the things we can't see. Feelings, emotions, atmosphere. So I really don't use any references for my work. I simply sketch a lot until I find the one I want to take the time to study and paint.

AAA: With such an interest in creating visions and creatures it is not that far away to think about working for the movie industry?

N.H.: That's true and I like all kind of movies. I always check the making of movies and behind the scenes stuff on DVD. I like the way all artists collaborate their talent and make a big project. That would be cool if I can be a part of it in the future and there is still one movie I am waiting for, which is the one with all my creatures in it! Hey, that would be the dopest.

AAA: Hmm, there is a way to bring them to life.

N.H.: The computer, you mean? Right, with 3D animation software that is possible. I'm also a graphic designer so I use the computer all the time, and design a lot. But computer work is computer work and painting is painting. Don't get me wrong, I do like computer work, and it looks great but I think it's far from my art as I define it. I never paint on the computer. I think that's illegal if you want to learn painting for real. All you need is just do some clicks. You can click the "undo" button if you made a mistake and one click to render the image, another one to calculate all light and shadow. You can change the color if you don't like it, again with some clicks. And your hands are always clean and you can even work out of a nice cafe. That's not the way I see art. Art is all about taking risks, follow your intuition and most of all getting your hands dirty with paint. Recourses, I have to be able to feel the artwork, not just see it on the screen. The computer art became very popular but I still love painting by hand. If I use the computer to do my art I would rather practice harder to bring my characters to life than without it. But, digital power has reached an unparalleled peak, and we can only dream of what will be possible within a few years from now. We more or less arrived stage that graphic software has fully matured: maybe they should start working on more intuitive interfacing. Who knows, within 10 years I might be able to plug myself into a computer. Or maybe I'll have a digital wife and kids in the future!

AAA: Up to you but then you miss the best part of it. Having said that about the computer, the airbrush seems to be the perfect tool for your illustration. It is ideal to paint the human form, right?

N.H.: Oh yes, the airbrush, combined with other techniques, can give you a hyper realistic result. I used to do graffiti back in Japan and used spray cans so I always wondered how the airbrush would work. I think I got an airbrush kit when I was 18. I really didn't know how to use it and there was nobody who could teach me so I just played with it and taught it myself. It worked pretty well.

AAA: So no special training or some workshops at all?

N.H.: No, I simply studied light and shadow, hue and texture and also anatomy. I really think anatomy is the best way to learn painting. You will know where the muscles, bones and veins are so you can tell the slight difference of changing color from inside of the figure. It's good to have knowledge of the relationship between light and shadow and then you will know where the reflection light or cast shadow goes. The real foundations of what you can achieve artistically, still depend on how well you can draw and see. You need to observe and understand the relationships of light and shadow, distinguish subtle difference in hue, texture, anatomy and so on. Mastering all these classical knowledge is still best way to improve your skills . If you can "see" and understand it, you can paint it. I can use this knowledge within my own artwork to achieve a more lifelike interpretation of my dream world.

AAA: The artworks we show here are your free works. What about commissions? Art Directors tend to be very strict with what they want, there is seldom the freedom to paint your own ideas.

N.H.: I do my art and freelance jobs separately so I have no problem with that. I paint whatever art directors want and I always try to make them happy. I'm also a graphic designer so most of my clients ask both parts, illustration and graphic design and that makes my jobs very smoothly. With my own art there is no art director so I simply paint whatever I want to and show my work at exhibitions or on my web site

AAA: What kind of commissions do you get?

N.H.: Most of the time I get CD cover designs. I really like it, because I'm into the music scene and it's nice to work with artists. They usually send me their music and I listen to it, and then we talk about the concept of the album and I start sketching and painting. It's fun. Most of these artists are from outside New York, so the Internet helps me a lot to communicate with them, sending sketches, concepts and other material. Besides CD cover design, companies ask me to license my work for their products. You can see my work on snowboards, skateboards, flyers, book articles and company ads.

AAA: How do you promote yourself? Do you have a representative or are you doing it by yourself?

N.H.: No, I don't have a representative. Right now it is still possible to do it myself and I would like to keep it this way. As I said I mostly work with artists and it is nice to have a direct communication. So, back to your question, my strongest PR tool is my web site This way I get jobs from all around the world. (Mostly from the USA, Germany, France, Japan and UK) besides that I send out my postcards and post ads on magazines when I do shows, so people who came to my show or collectors who saw my art on the magazine often commission me to paint privately.

AAA: Any bigger projects in the near future?

N.H.: I do a lot of freelance jobs right now but I try to make more time to paint for myself and do more shows. Exhibitions are very important, this way people are directly confronted with my art and I can see their reactions, their feelings. You can talk and discuss about the works or art in general with the people and you get a feedback.

AAA: With all the success you have now in the US do you ever spend a thought of going back to Japan to work as an illustrator?

N.H.: I really don't know.. I like New York and it is the perfect place to do my art. I do freelance jobs as an illustrator/graphic designer but I am also a fine artist so I want to continue doing my art in the US until more people know my work. I then will start to promote my work in Japan and other countries, and then, maybe, I will go back to Japan (or maybe not) but this is really something that is still in the stars.

AAA: Naoto, thank you very much for this interview and all the best for the future. Naoto? Heck, where are you? Naoto?