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
So you where looking for a chance to study overseas?
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.
What about your parents, your family? Did they understand
this decision and supported the dream of their son?
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
Have you fulfilled your dream? Was it the right decision?
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
No doubt about that. What happened after you landed
in New York?
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.
School of Visual Arts sounds interesting. What exactly
was it you studied there?
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.
And after you graduated? Have you worked as a freelance
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.
OK, one question we simply can't resist to ask: Have
you ever seen an Alien?
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.
With such an interest in creating visions and creatures
it is not that far away to think about working for
the movie industry?
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
Hmm, there is a way to bring them to life.
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!
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?
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.
So no special training or some workshops at all?
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
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.
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
What kind of commissions do you get?
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
How do you promote yourself? Do you have a representative
or are you doing it by yourself?
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.
Any bigger projects in the near future?
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.
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?
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
Naoto, thank you very much for this interview and
all the best for the future. Naoto? Heck, where are