Natsuki Otani is from Tokyo, and studied at Norwich University College of the Arts and is currently working in England as a freelance illustrator. Clients include Devilfish, Computer Arts Magazine, Times newspaper, Cutty Sark Whisky and the Japanese jazz band, Antrio. We talk about a variety of topics, from the freelance lifestyle, to fashion, to watercoloring all in the newest epiosde of the Creative Spotlight!
You said the basis of working in color is that it seeks to unite dreams and reality. If you went a whole week illustrating in greyscale, what do you think you would discover?
Natsuki: I do like working in black and white too, so I don’t think it’d be a problem! I would probably focus more on the details and textures of the motifs I’d work on and give them very good shading if I could. I would love to learn how to use shadow to good effect, and discover nice ways of capturing positive and negative spaces like Frank Miller!
What are the pros and cons with working with watercolors?
Natsuki: The biggest pro is the unexpected result after drying, it’s always amuses and never betrays me. You can have pretty similar effects with digital painting but using watercolour is something uncontrollable yet you are responsible for it. I guess its a little bit like when you test random layers on photoshop, and it’s fun right? The cons are the same as the pros in a way, you can’t redo it and you need to wait till it’s dry, otherwise your scanner gets messy obviously.
You openly take commissions as well. How do you deal with a client who is uncooperative?
Natsuki: Be patient and persistent, sadly people who are uncooperative often get lost in the amount of work I do. I think they aren’t sure what they want exactly themselves, so you just sometimes have to wait. I run an illustration blog and get large amounts of emails, replying to them usually kills nearly half my day so I think I’m more sympathetic to lazy emailers.
Growing up in Japan, how did you find yourself going to a University in the UK?
Natsuki: Getting into Japanese universities can be a nightmare, not so common recently, but many students spend years just for entering universities. For say, Tokyo Art University, you need to take three different tests and you train for these in something like a cram school, but if you fail the first exam, that’s it, you can’t do anything for the second and third test although you spend two thirds of a year preparing for them. So basically I had enough of it. I took my portfolio to the English university fair and got some conditional offers straight away.
What was the most important thing you learned while attending school in England?
Natsuki: Independence. While in university, there are no consequences for being lazy apart from your mark. You have all the freedom you want, but at the same time you could be easily influenced by even lazier friends and not take advantage of the facilities or the other opportunities of university and not live up to your potential. Although networking is as important, because it’s not easy to make friends with people once you are an adult, without benefits! I’m kidding! Just take a good balance between independence and socializing.
Aside from moving away for school, is it necessary in your opinion, to move to a more fashion conscious city to further your career’s success?
Natsuki: Possibly, but I live in Cambridge which is only one hour away from London, and I have no problems attending events or jobs myself. I’m naturally a shut-in type so I’m not sure if I’ll be more active than I am now. A good thing about being a freelancer is that where you live doesn’t matter.
You said you want your illustration to make people feel happy. Obviously, people can’t be happy all the time, so do you draw only when you’re in a good mood? How does it translate on paper?
Natsuki: No, not at all. I’m very negative, it’s not like I’m singing while I draw, though some of my drawings do look like as if I’m consistently high, but believe me I’m not. I don’t even drink. I’m a pessimistic person so I need my work to make other people happy to feel better about myself. If I’m really in a bad mood, I can’t draw, I’ll sit on my sofa looking even more pathetic.
Who are some contemporary fashion illustrators that you admire?
Natsuki: David Downtown and Aquirax Uno. These two are legendary and just admirable. Not an illustrator but Nick Knight is also amazing.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your illustrations? For instance, is there something you’d like to improve? What are you most proud of?
Natsuki: In technical terms, compositions I construct tend to be flat. I’m intentionally removing depth but it sometimes makes me feel like I can’t draw or don’t know perspective! It’s a style so I shouldn’t be too worried about it, but I do anyway, I said I’m negative. My strength is colours, I fear no colour, I love them. I think the colour combinations I make are often fresh for some people.
Lastly, any advice for any struggling artists out there?
Natsuki: If I’m allowed to say, I am always struggling too. Maybe it’s not so encouraging but not many artists live in a castle. So struggling is normal so don’t worry about it. Honestly, so be confident, sorry I don’t sound confident in this interview but please be confident if you can. Networking really helps so try chatting to fellow artists on facebook or twitter, they are friendlier than you think, but be polite. Have common sense, be objective, my tutor told me to be patient for at least 3 years after graduating, I’ve got 9 months left.
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