This week we feature a wonderful artist whom, after studying at Syracuse University and California Institute of the Arts, worked in LA feature animation and wandered some in music videos. Kenard has worked for a good while as a visual development artist at Dreamworks, Walt Disney Feature Animation, and PDI Dreamworks. His picture books, another great side project, features simple illustrations that rely heavily on bold shapes and layers of texture to create a wonderful children’s book that the whole family can enjoy. Read below for the full Q&A…
Growing up on the East Coast, were you a bit intimidated to begin working on the West Coast, LA especially?
The West Coast was so foreign that I had no gauge whatsoever. I literally thought all of LA was along the Pacific with swaying palm trees and to its east was a vast empty desert with cactus. Now that I think about it, I guess I wasn’t that far off — I just didn’t know about the endless sprawl of strip malls in the middle. My naivete, however, wasn’t particular to California. There was very little I understood about the East. I may have simply taken my hometown for granted. I wasn’t intimidated, but more blindly driven. It could’ve easily been Seoul, Iceland, Idaho, or the next town over. I just knew I had to get out there. How fortunate and odd that I actually did it.
Could you walk us through the creative process of your new picture book Flowers Are Calling”?
I have trouble talking about my creative process, because I really don’t have one. At least not a method that repeats itself. “Flowers Are Calling” is my third picture book, and the process I had found myself in is very different from the things I did for my first and second books. For Flowers, I started with very loose sketches that in the end, to my surprise, I used deliberately. What I mean by this is if you look at my first notes and drawings, they are remarkably similar to the end results in the final spreads. As I added details, a sort of idea stacking commenced, and daily work added one thing to another. Less like a house of cards, more like a rubber band ball. I used lots of watercolor paintings that varied in scope: simple field washes, textured marks, and more finished backgrounds. Everything goes into Photoshop, but I put a lot of effort into making the art look traditional (emphasis on “look”). I had a great editor and art director that I’d bounce ideas off, and I woke up one morning with finished art work.
The nursery rhymes will reel the kids in, but your work is very a sophisticated blend. Do you think kids can appreciate the intricate details in your work?
I don’t think so, but who really cares? One thing I’ve learned from kids is that they’re brutal critics (and I really do appreciate this), and even if they don’t like a picture book that they’re looking at, the kids may make it their own and have fun regardless. I do have to admit that my dense textures and details are not necessarily for kids, but I’m not sure if they’re for adults either!
Jumping topics, to The Dinner that cooked itself, Ancient China..food….are these big topics of interest for you wherein you can share culture with a young audience?
Yes! The author J.C. Hsyu and I had decided from day one that the focal point of “The Dinner That Cooked Itself” would be food. We structured the story so that food is the most occuring image. Food is a strange space where cultural differences can be very distinct, yet we all need to eat to stay alive. It’s not coincidental that in the book the cooked meals are accompanied by different kinds of animals and plants. I think learning about food is an excellent way for kids to learn about different countries and cultures.
As a creative, do you work better having a restrictive list of rules and directions, or do you like to just go crazy in the studio with an unpredictable result?
I guess I usually like to go crazy, but as I described above a list of rules is helpful. Only in this case, a list of rules emerged, so it’s not like I planned it.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
I don’t really watch movies these days. I did like the films of Koreeda Hirokazu, but I haven’t watched one in a while. I may sit down and watch a section from an Ozu movie — I love his quiet, empty spaces. Mushi-shi is interesting for the same qualities.
Unfortunately news about PDI, and as a former animator there yourself do you agree with Dreamworks statement that, “The No. 1 priority for core film business is to deliver consistent creative and financial success.” Is creative success only successful if it generates a profit? Do you see a big error with the way things were handled?
No, I don’t see a big error with the way things were handled. Every journeyman to veteran understands what they’re in for when they work at a big Hollywood company. My ultimate concern is for the workers to somehow keep their jobs, find some semblance of stability, and maintain their rights with the executives. That balance of “consistent creative and financial success” is a practical method, and if someone can think of a specific better way, everyone from the board members to summer interns is ready to hear you out. What does go awry is that connection with the audience,. Some companies coat tail ride trends, others use a tried and trusty system or cruise with a franchise, and a couple others may just get lucky. Once in a blue moon, someone strikes gold, or, even more rare, make something truly transcending. It all really does seem like a crap shoot to me, but that’s the free market. Nevertheless, a lot of hard work goes into these movies.
You stated your first book has a 2016 release date. Since we are a ways off, could you tell us what you have in the pipeline? Plot, art direction, surprises, etc.?
I have a whole series with Henry Holt that I’m writing about seasonal changes! The first one is about summer to autumn, and the images are based on my memories of Maryland: breezy fields, tall forests, and small, old colonial towns. The style is simpler and has more of a traditional watercolor painting feel. The writing is very simple. Looking at it now, it’s an homage to Richard Scarry, Adrienne Adams, and Andrew Wyeth. I’m just starting on the autumn to winter book. I’m also doing another book with Rita Gray about dreaming animals, and also a bird story with Kyo Maclear. There’s also a cat book in the future too.
Aside from that, do you have any plans to go back to music videos or animation/film?
Yeah, I don’t think I’m finished with animation and music videos just yet. I am finished with film — does that make any sense?
Sure. Lastly, any advice for any budding creative?
My best advice: please be honest with yourself. Work with what you truly like. Unfortunately for some, things will take a while to figure out, but for those of you who know themselves that well, good for you — and I really do mean that.
Want to follow Kenard’s work? Follow his cookie crumb trail below:
As we near the #400th episode of the Creative Spotlight it’s important that we feature really bright individuals who are driven. Jessica HJ. Lee is an illustrator/designer living and working in San Francisco, California. She holds a BFA in Communication Design from Parsons the New School for Design and a MFA from School of Visual Arts, Illustration as Visual Essay program. She has wn multiple awards and has had some really big clients. I sit down and talk to her about her formal education to her creative process. Read below for the full Q&A…
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I loved drawing as a little kid, and I think I always knew I wanted to do be an artist or do something creative/art related.
You got your degrees at pretty much the right institutes to achieve a great career. What brought you to the west coast after getting formal education in NY and living in Brooklyn?
I went to college and graduate school in NY, and ended up staying there for 10 years. I was a freelance illustrator for a while in New York, and a great job opportunity to do full time design and illustration at a company in SF came up so I decided to move and try something new. So I actually have a day job now and the rest of the time I work on freelance illustration assignments.
Why did you pursue a masters? Was it a degree program that gave designers and illustrators more relevance as entrepreneurs? So you could hustle harder as a freelancer?
I studied design in undergrad and wanted to shift my career towards illustration more, so I got my MFA at SVA, studying Illustration as Visual Essay. The program really encouraged people to be their own authors and gave exposure to illustrators and art directors in the working field to prep the students for the real world. Also the average age of students in the graduate program are older than undergrad, so people tend to be more focused and know what they are doing.
I love how you can communicate through color theory. For instance Plant lover has a green overall aesthetic while meat lover is red. It seems obvious but it works on a subconscious level. What is your creative process for choosing a color palette for each piece?
I think color is always the hardest and the most fun part of my work because it’s the last part of the process. I draw everything on paper with pencil and do the coloring on the computer so It’s fun to see it come to life with colors at the end. Sometimes I plan out the colors in the initial sketch stage, but I usually play around a lot in photoshop until I get it just right. I usually just go with the gut feeling.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
I grew up with manga and anime, and some of my favorites were Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and all the Studio Ghibli movies. I also like movies by Japanese director Shunji Iwai, and my favorites are Hana & Alice and All about Lily Chou-Chou. Recent favorite asian movie is Kung-Fu Hustle.
Does your skills as a graphic designer ever bleed into your illustrations? Or perhaps it gives you an advantage over regular artists?
My graphic design skills helped me more than I think it would in my illustration practices. I think once you acquire a skill/knowledge in depth, you always find a way to intergrade it into what you do. For me, my knowledge of typography was extremely useful because I like to incorporate hand lettering into my illustrations. Also other technical skills like Photoshop, editing and layout skills in InDesign, as well as knowing a bit of HTML was useful because at the end of the day you need to showcase your work on the web.
How do you distinguish yourself between being just an artist and being a visual Storyteller? It can be difficult to convey a message or story to an audience without being there to tell them directly.
I use the term visual storyteller because I like to make up characters and create background stories about them in my work. Depending on how detailed the narrative is, I think the interpretation is still up to the viewer but I would like to think that my work is more narrative than just image based or abstract.
Whats ahead for you in 2015?
I’m working on some exciting projects at my day job that includes a lot of drawing and designing. Besides my job, I plan on doing more freelance illustration and personal work.
Lastly, any advice for any first year student looking to get the most out of the illustration and/or design classes?
The advice I would give is to think about what it is that you really want to pursue. It’s really hard to know what you want to do exactly at an early age/stage as a freshmen in college, but I would recommend looking at the type of work that intrigues you, and deep dive into making lots of work, go through trial and error, and do lots of research on who made those works and how they did it. You can email those professionals to get advice, get internship, etc. Be proactive, be eager to learn, read lots of great books and work hard!
Want to follow more of Jessica’s art? Follow her cookie crumb trail below:
Puzzleman Leung was born in Macao and now is a Taipei based photographer. He not only takes only portraiture photographs, but even some editorial and fashion portraiture photographs. His work made me very curious and after studying his broad range of work I decided to sit down and pick his brain. Read below for the full Q&A…
How does the conscience decision to publish a book come into play. Do you just realize ‘I have a lot of nature photos’ and compile them all into a publication? Or do you set out with a theme and shoot with the intention of including them in a book?
In both cases you mentioned exist. But usually I just shoot first then examine what I have done. If there is something can go further, I will focus on that theme and then make a book of it. For example, the book “XL” was based on this. Firstly I just took photos of him, one day I realized that this theme could be come into a book. So I keep taking lots of photos of him. One day I think it’s time to make this book into reality. That’s how it happened. For the book “In the Forest and Wilderness”, as you said, I had lots of photos, and I had a feeling to make them into a book, so I compile them into a book form. I love photo book and magazines with beautiful photos. I think that’s the best way to express photography today. (Though there must have a better way express photography, today book form is the best.) When open a photo book, it just like sitting in the cinema and waiting for a movie to be started. But book is the form you can touch by your skin, it’s a bit more real than a movie.
Can you tell us about your process when editing photo books?
First of all, I would figure out the book design, what kind of binding to be use this time? What emotion I want to express? Once I get the answers, I would print the major part of the photos first and then put them on the floor to examine what secret lies in between them. After make decision of the basic sequence, I would add more photos to complete the sequence. The next thing is to design the text, cover and other things. I love the whole process of making a book, it is one of the amazing thing of the world.
Do you think it is important for audiences to understand the photographer’s work and motives?
Not really. Every audience has the right to interpret the works. How they interpret reflect what story behind the audiences. I think it is not the most important for the audiences to understand the work and motives. I don’t see the differences between understand and don’t understand the motives. To me what’s important is if the work affect the one’s emotion. It usually cannot be reach for the moment but in the future.
Your work with Chih Han Yang is really cool. As I explore your book I notice you predominantly shoot women. Is this a preference, or do you get better results out of female models?
Chih Han Yang is a cool girl, and she is also a photographer in Taiwan, it’s an interesting experience to work with her. I think it always get better results out of female models probably because I hope the character in my photos is gentle and soft, it is more fit my emotion which I want to express, but sometimes I need someone strong for sure. I have been trying to shoot man but I still not meet a apposite man character, I will keep trying. By the way, I have made a book which subject is a friend of mine, male, called “XL”, and I quite like those photos, so I think male can be my character but just takes time to find one.
Your work also has an underlay with a certain sense of humor. Some series hide the subjects face or their eyes are covered. Does this convey your own vulnerability or am I reading too much into it?
I am happy you see my sense of humor, that’s what I really want to show people. You are not reading too much, I think my photos present my vulnerability. I am shy and vulnerable so photography helps me to become more mature. Besides, I want to show people more than just a pretty photo but with some interesting emotion. It always makes me excited when I take a “strange” photo.
I heard in Taipei that there is a danger in photography being too subjective because you can become too stylish. What are your thoughts on that?
People like to classify photographers in Taiwan. Few people would like your photos if you are very stylish while lots of people prefer to see common things. It is not easy to be too stylish and earn lots of money at the same time because the market just need some common thing in the end. I see many talent and stylish photographers in Taiwan but usually they cannot live well here because the mainstream market doesn’t accept them. Ironically, most of them are getting success when they leave Taiwan.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
I love the Hong Kong movies in 90’s. Among that my favourites must be the movies directed by Wong Kar-Wai. Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, etc. Almost all of his movie is treasure. I love the elegances, beauty, philosophy and romances in his movies. I also love “Made in Hong Kong”, directed by Fruit Chan, “He’s a woman, she’s man”, directed by Chan Ho-sun. There is a imperfection in the 90’s Hong Kong movies but this imperfection makes them a perfect movie to me. Besides, Stephen Chow is another favourite, I love all of his movie and can be repeated endlessly, his movies affect people’s sense of humor in Chinese regions.
What equipment do you use?
I use medium format and 135 format film camera, and a Canon 5D mark3 DSLR.
What is ahead for you in 2015?
I hope I can get my master degree and I am still working on it, that is my important mission in 2015.
Lastly, any advice for a budding photographer just starting out?
I think I am also a photographer just starting out, I can just share my thoughts about being a photographer. I think it is important to tell people your style rather than follow the trend, you must find what you really like and you don’t like, which is very important because it makes everyone different and if you find a way just go for it and don’t be afraid of loneliness and failure. You just keep trying before the success comes someday.
Want to stay up to date on his work? Follow his cookie crumb trail below:
In this episode we sit down with bassist Irita Pai, part of a trio that seems to be making some noise in the L.A underground. L.A. Witch are an all-girl outfit consisting of her bandmates Ellie and Sade but after the news broke that they will perform at Psych Fest and their new 7″ vinyl deal fell through (for the time being), I had to jump at the chance to feature Irita. After a quick text message, she immediately pinged my phone back to let me know she was down. Read below for the full interview…
I have to say, I’m a big fan of you personally because Japan Cinema began for me similar to how you created your online e-mail magazine that you curated content for. What was it like venturing out indepentedly making money and supporting yourself during the internet age?
I started that online magazine when I was in middle school. There wasn’t really any money to be made, it was just a fun thing to do and a creative outlet for my ideas and words and images. I did get some cool sponsors like this 90’s fragrance brand called Fetish (it was really big at the time), Manic Panic, and a company that made super rad, super 90’s nail polish that would (supposedly) change color depending on your mood.
With numerous degrees, years of corporate experience, and knowledge of social media and business…now that you are a touring musician do you feel that you spent your time wasted and should have focused more on music or do you see it as something solid to fall back on if music doesn’t work out?
It’s weird because I got a pretty serious job straight out of college, with a salary and benefits. If it weren’t for that job, I would never have met anyone in the band because we were all employed by the same company . I couldn’t tour because I couldn’t get time off of work, my boss was the Creative Director and having any sort of passions or even extracurricular activities outside of work was really frowned upon. Being in a band now, I’m probably a lot more responsible than I would have been at 21 so maybe that’s a good thing. I would have gotten into a lot of trouble.
Over the year working it shifted your view on what it takes to be successful in business. Are those realizations something that translated to your success as a musician as well?
I’ve found that no matter what you do in life, work ethic is really important. Successful bands HUSTLE. They’re really driven, they work really hard at what they do, and on top of that are super talented musicians.
It seems like L.A. Witch actually went out of their way to be an all-girl group. Was this to break down the stigma that girls can’t rock as hard as boys?
We didn’t mean to become an all-girl group. I was just jamming with my best girlfriends, we were having fun hanging out with each other and making music. There really was never any pressure to be anything, so everything developed prety organically. Sade and I started the band together and we were with our original drummer for a really long time. When she left, Sade mentioned another drummer she had been in a two-piece band with in high school, and that’s how Ellie joined. Gender roles in the band were never something we consciously thought about.
Which leads into my next question, regarding what is the dynamic like with the band traveling, and before and after shows? Do you spend a lot of time hanging out with the girls or are you guys off doing your own thing?
Touring is definitely fun, we all like to travel and see new places. We get to share clothes and makeup. And beyond that we hang out with each other all the time. We go to shows together, watch movies, make pins. A girl from another all-girl band saw us all out one time, and she said in sort of disbelief, “You guys actually hang out together?!” and we were like, “You don’t?“
Did the EP you guys released last year set out what you wanted it to accomplish?
That EP was actually recorded back in 2013, with our original drummer. We got a lot of great feedback from fans and some rad press write ups, and were able to get our music out there. We’ve met some really amazing people because of it who have really helped us out in the past year or so, like our booking agent Phil, Arabella Anderson and Kelsey Talton who directed our first two music videos, and numerous other bands and artists and photographers we’ve worked with since.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
I watched a lot of Doraemon as a kid! One of my favorite movies of all time is this 80’s Hong Kong horror movie called ‘A Chinese Ghost Story’ about this scholar who falls in love with a woman who turns out to be a ghost. More recently I saw a rad Korean movie called ‘The Good, The Bad and the Weird‘ which is a take on Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ (which is one of my favorite movies of all time). The fight scenes were so good. So gnarly.
What’s your approach to writing bass parts?
I like to sit back and listen, and I can sort of hear or feel where things should go and what would add to the overall mood or style of a song. I’ve played piano since I was six (obviously), music to me is like a language in which you’re fluent, you don’t ever really consciously think about it. You just instinctively know what sounds right.
How did you originally hear about Austin Psych Fest and decide it was a a place you wanted to perform at?
I saw a flyer for the 2011 Austin Psych Fest, and I remember being absolutely blown away by how many great bands were on the bill. And they were all together at one festival! Every year since, the lineup has been getting better and better, and literally every year we tell each other “This is the year we’re going to Austin Psych Fest!” Not even thinking of it as as a performer, but just to go, to experience it as a spectator. But we’ve always been too broke, so it’s really a dream come true for us to be a part of Levitation this year.
You’ve been playing bass now for only a few years. Any advice you could offer up to someone learning to play an instrument for the first time?
Don’t think about it too much. Just play what you feel! Don’t worry about playing a wrong note and never be afraid to experiment!
Make sure to catch L.A. Witch playing in our hometown of Austin, TX in May at Psych Fest! For more info, follow the bands cookie crumb trail below:
Abigail L. Dela Cruz aka “hyamei” is a Philippines-based illustrator currently working as a 3D game artist. Looking at her work, her illustrations have a wonderful narrative quality to them. I had a chance to sit down with her and pick her brain in the 390th episode of the Creative Spotlight. Read below for the full Q&A…
Can you run us through a bit about present-day Filipino artists’ overall working conditions? The country reflects a society with diverse cultural influences and traditions so how does that inspire, specifically, as an artist working there?
Can’t say much about it in detail, the only thing I feel is our working conditions could be better. We got tons of amazing artists here who do amazing work and wants to push more original content, but not much support from local TV industry/government.
Despite that, I’ve been noticing a good trend in illustration/comics/storybooks here! it’s been wonderful to be introduced to a lot of local artists, hoping it goes on the pace that keeps on growing (also, I feel the need to add this, to my fellow Filipinos, I hope you won’t be discouraged about becoming an artist: Share your work online, the internet gives the means to share our work out and find ways to connect with both local and international artists/audiences). I have learned that our culture is absolutely rich and complex due to the diversity of people that have migrated and lived here (sharing http://pinoy-culture.com/tags as a wonderful starting resource for those who’s interested). Learning about it has really made a positive impact on my perspective both as a Filipino and as an artist living here. Unfortunately, It’s sad to know our culture really doesn’t get as much spotlight outside the country, and I always believed in the idea that representation in media is so important. So although I’m still learning more about our culture, as an artist, I feel encouraged to share and incorporate more Filipino-centric elements in future projects, and hopefully help contribute something that represents the Philippine culture.
I’ve noticed you sent out alot of cards around the holidays and have been getting cards in response even into the new year. Is this a new thing you began with your fellow artists and loved ones? The response is pretty cool!
It was a new thing for me to try sending out cards! I remember in 2010 I received a lovely holiday card from one of my favorite artists I look up to, and it was one of the memorable experiences. After that, I’ve made it one of my goals to do something similar!
You are quite well versed in taking existing characters and giving them your own twist but what is the creative process like when you create an original character(s)?
Thank you! I think it’s always fun to add bits of your own interpretation when creating fanart. As for original character designing, I always think that I still have long way to go in learning. But whenever I do think about making characters: I like making the overall design as simple as a I can, just the right amount of details so it doesn’t look too busy. I also look up at various inspiration: photos, colors, fashion, themes and such. But all I can say is, though you take inspiration from other sources, I have learned you need to be really mindful not to draw too close other people’s work/design and knowing when to draw the line.
Earlier this year your work brought in charitable funds toward Dog rescues. In part you work explored childlike wonder. Does your work stem from attributes you have? Or qualities you wish you had as a person and want to explore as you create?
I guess the idea of “childlike wonder” resonated to me. I always associated that feeling whenever you discovering a part of the world you’ve never seen before, and I have to admit I’m the type of person who rarely goes out and travel, so going out to scenic places for the first time is something I always love and appreciate, which for me, there’s something magical about it sometimes. It’s the similar feeling that I try to convey when I draw, I try that by adding small bits of whimsical elements when I draw a scene in my work if I can (I hope that makes sense in some way).
Did you contribute to the ‘Spirit of the Wind’ show? If so, can you give us a few sneak peeks or details on what you plan to show?
Yes! I’ll be contributing to the Studio Ghibli Tribute show! the curators (3T’arts) were very kind enough to invite me again after the “Moon Crisis” show. No sneak peeks yet though, since I haven’t had much time to start on it yet, but hopefully soon!
As a 3-D game artist, did you enjoy playing a game you worked on?
Oh, not really! I just realized I haven’t actually played any of the games that I have been part of working. I think the fact I’ll eventually do maybe in the future?
Obviously your talent as a traditional 2-D artist and your work professional in 3-D are opposite sides of the spectrum. How do you balance the two and being proficient in both field give you an advantage in each?
There’s actually a contrast between my work and personal art. There’s not much connection I can make between it right now but the closest thing I could think of is, I was able to learn a lot of basics and technical things in 3D that I have used to create my low poly work. Regarding balancing the two, I do personal work during the weekends. At times, I do doodles during lunch break. I’ve always used personal art to counter the work stress for the week, but there are times balancing the two becomes difficult because of big workloads and consecutive deadlines.
Needless to say, we love your Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon art. What other anime resonate with you that you would love to tackle in the future?
The first thing I had in mind is definitely Card Captor Sakura! that anime never fails to give me happy feelings when I need it. Other shows I could think of at the top of my head would be Digimon and One Piece! of course, Studio Ghibli films is a given!
What’s ahead for you in 2015?
I got personal projects I’ve been thinking for quite a while, and hoping I could at least finish one this year going to try and maybe enter more gallery shows this year as well. also maybe I can finally start making my portfolio work as well! Definitely a lot to finish!
Lastly, any advice you can offer up to a struggling artist?
Don’t worry about “style”, alot of people ask me regarding that and it’s something I always found difficult to answer since I think my work is never truly consistent. I consciously stopped worrying about it every time I do work and it made learning alot more enjoyable. Never hold back on trying new things in your art just because you need to be consistent, the first important thing is that you learn what works and what doesn’t for you and grow! and always do the best of your ability every time you do work, don’t hold back just because of “style”. The more you enjoy your process and work, the more inspiring it is to keep drawing and the faster it is to find your voice in art.
Keiko Matsui is a Japanese producer, contemporary Jazz Pianist and composer who has released 20+ albums to international acclaim in her three decade career. Matsui has worked alongside the best including Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masakela and Bob James. Keiko tours relentlessly and seeks to make a genuine connection with her audience. You can currently see her now on a massive tour across the U.S. Keiko Matsui’s new recording Soul Quest, is a riveting new collection of songs that unfold like an epic journey. She explores themes of love, loss, spirituality and environmental consciousness. Read below for the full Q&A…
What was your moment when you decided to become a musician?
I never thought about becoming a musician. But, gradually, I became a professional musician and started recording, composing for movies & my own album and touring. By learning how my music connected and had influenced other people’s life deeply, I was awakened to feel that delivering my melodies and dedicating concerts is my mission in this life.
And did that initial optimism ever get deflated?
I was not thinking to have a career in the U.S. so, I did not aim for anything. But, gradually my music had started to reach out to people in different parts of the world, and I traveled to many places. From those experiences, more and more my connection with the piano became stronger and I started thinking about my role. I believe that music has a mystic power and Music is the gift from the Universe. So. I am gaining more excitement and I am grateful to have this opportunity. That’s why I started my charity work for children last year. I went to Lima Peru to do workshops for children who are suffering to live in poor areas. I feel that Music could help to bring more hope and courage to their lives.
I’m sure your fans are aware that going on tour can affect yourself both personally and musically (such as “A Night With Cha Cha” and “Black Lion”). As you embark on your U.S. tour through the coming months, what can fans expect?
From our experiences of travel and shows, each songs & our performances have grown. We will dedicate ‘Best of Keiko‘ shows including some hits from previous albums and latest album “Soul Quest“.
It’s been over 10 years since you released a ‘Best Of…’ collection. What has been your secret for a career with such longevity?
I feel gratitude to my fans who love my music and come back to my concerts again and again.
Their support and love towards my music is the sauce of my energy. Also, I feel gratitude to my team’s support for my tour and my family’s support and understanding. I am thankful to be able to feel; this is my mission. That makes my road so special. It is not just business.It is not just concert. Not just playing music. There is deep meaning why I live and doing this. So, I am so grateful to be able to continue this.
For Japanese jazz musicians these days, going to the United States to further mastery of the genre is a much-pursued rite of passage. What was your experience like when you first started out?
I see many musicians come to U.S. to learn music. I think that is a good thing; to experience more and see different parts of the world. Well, my case, I started my professional career in Japan. And I was not thinking to start my career in U.S. But when I moved here, I made my solo album and that album was played on the radio a lot and I was recommended to start my concert after release. I discovered musician’s openness at recording. Maybe the language of English helps too. No matter you are new to music indusry or younger, I was able to communicate frankly and they respect that; what you want to hear from him for this music. Of course, music is universal language so, even I can not speck English fluently, music itself helped. It was a wonderful experience and could learn from those experience a lot.
Actually, even before that, I had opportunity to do recording in Los Angeles for Yamaha sample album (I was still student in Japan). Rhythm section was Nathan East on Bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on Drums, Alex Acuna on Percussion. That was my first recording in U.S. Very lucky! So, later, I invited Nathan and Vinnie for recording of my U.S. debut album in 1987. Since then, I had great opportunities to record and tour with many wonderful musicians in U.S.
There are all these amazing types of jazz out there, and many entry points for people who say they don’t like jazz or find it hard to get into. Your realm would be considered contemporary. Would this be a good entry point for a new jazz listener?
Maybe so. Every person has different preference and taste. But, it might be easier to start with. The important thing is you are enjoying…
After your tour wraps up do you have plans to record another album in 2015?
Yes, actually, we are making new live album & DVD at this point. So, it will be out in this spring. It has gorgeous contents including special road movie and an extra video of behind the scenes. On my web site, at front page, there’s already a count down started for Japan. For US, it will start soon. Information will be added gradually so, please keep checking..Then later half of this year, I am planning to create new studio album. But, I will be on the road between those creative progresses.
What is the creative process like when deciding who to collaborate with on an album or performance?
I follow my instinct from my composition. For me, melody is very important. So, I take lots of time for that. I sit in front of a piano without touching key. Then I start receiving melodies. And depending on that, I select instruments and musicians by considering which kind of sound I need for this. Sometimes, I set the team first. Like latest album “Soul Quest”, I decided to work with Narada Michael Walden, Chuck Loeb and Derek Nakamoto. I hear recommendation from Producers and we discuss.
For performances, to be on the road (tour) is very hard with travel schedules and sometimes conditions of the weather are hard. So, of course, musically great at same time, I select nice people to travel with. We are doing concerts but, for me, it is like dedicating music. Music is like a prayer. So, I have great band who is understanding of my music musically and spiritually with sincerity. For special projects, sometimes when we have special opportunities, I invite special guests. Latest live in Tokyo, I invited Kirk Whalum on Sax, Chuck Loeb on Guitar who was on the original album of “Soul Quest”. Also, I had Cello player for the concert at Hollywood Bowl last summer. Another thing, my favorite project is Orchestra show. United Air force band (orchestra) invited me in 80’s. Since then I developed my repertoire for Orchestra shows and did many Orchestra shows in the U.S. and Ukraine. I am open to those opportunities.
Lastly, any advice for any budding musician looking for a break?
I think keep originality is important and finding meaning of why you are doing it. Also, I would like to maintain spirituality into music. Music is like a mirror so, it will show your personality as well. Hope that you enjoy to put your soul on every notes you make and hope that we all work for creating more harmony on this earth through music.
For latest news, tour dates, and music, please visit her official website below:
This edition of the Creative Spotlight features Brasil based talented Zakuro Aoyama. This sampling of his pieces contains both pencil drawings and notebook sketches. The Brazilian commercial and fine art illustrator shows that he can be appreciated for its adept photorealism. Aoyama’s drawings incorporate elements of nature and animals, as well as humans’ interactions with these subjects. His subjects are mysterious and haunting but never threatening, allowing the viewer to revel in their state of romantic decay. I sat down and talked to him a bit about being an artist in South America, his creative process, films and more! Read the full Q&A below…
You’re very talented in the medium of graphite but I hear it doesn’t translate well onto screenprinting. Have you had any frustrations trying to merge the two?
Good. I am aware that a work graphite do not look so good when printed in screen printing, often even on paper the result of a play is not very satisfactory. I often lose many small subtleties that are contained only in the original, but I do not feel frustrated about it. I take as an advantage, as the original becomes an irreplaceable and unmatched as any reproduction. For a piece that have screen printing as an end, i take another turn to a piece that will be finalized only in pencil.
Speaking of which, you are in the beginning stages of doing a Holy Mountain screen print. How are the sketches coming along and does this particular movie mean anything to you?
Yes it’s true. I’m producing a movie poster to the holy mountain. This film tells me a lot, all that symbolic construction is sublime! Alejandro Jodorowsky is one. I love his work as a comics writer, as a filmmaker. The first time I saw this movie, I was thrilled with the idea of deconstruction of being that was molded by external influences political, social. Deconstructing himself to recreate yourself from your self free of these external influences. Incredible as Alejandro Jodorowsky works that record of mystical and existential route.
What tools would you recommend for someone who wants to experiment with scratchboard?
Cardboard paper, inks and very, very hard work.
Brasilia doesn’t have the wild reputation of Rio, but I’m sure has its own cultural attractions. How do you stay inspired in your current town? Is it an inspirational place for an artist such as yourself?
Yes. Brasilia still germinates in this direction, as well as throughout Brazil has yet to open more space for culture in general. Here in Brasilia there is a very good cultural scene, but still growing. The town itself is not enough to be a source of inspiration for me. My sources of inspiration are more internal than external, spent much time I answer me the idea that my art was based on the place in which he lived, but after a few times out of Brasilia realized that my work was much richer with experienced sensations out of my city.
Your piece ‘Spread’ reminds me of Shogun Assassin. Am I right in assuming that? Do you have a favorite Asian film?
[Laughs hard] This is right to interpret it and then on the reference you want, my friend, but references I took to it were Lone Wolf and Wolverine. This illustration was specific to compose a cover variant “SPREAD” Justin Jordan, Kyle Strann and my friend Felipe Sobreiro.
Your work contains a great level of morbidity but it strays more towards being honest with your audience rather than depresses them. Is there a subtle balance you go for with your work to invoke a certain reaction or emotion from the viewer?
I think the idea of taking my art as morbid a small idea, as would only see the surface and the deeper message would be hidden by this initial feeling of sickness. I take some topics such as suicide, bodies collapses, falling as sublime moments of deconstruction of being. As a large transformer phenomenon. Not as begs to weigh or as something depressing.
There is alot of mythos surrounding the character of MNEMOSYNE as she represents language and words. Why did you decide to build a character study out of her? What initially draws you to a character?
The initial idea was to outsource the muse idea of collapse keepsake. Building a dissolute model of gender designation. A hybrid. This deconstruction of gender collapses slowly every piece. So much so that in the second part we can see a vagina on a penis, and the two sexes becoming one in the end of the series.
What do Hayao Miyazaki and Katsuhiro Otomo mean to you and how has the medium of anime inspired you?
Katsuhiro Otomo and Hayao Miyazaki are incredible geniuses. I love everything that both did. I see and I look back with some frequency all I have access to both. Satoshi Kon not already know much of his work. Few anime inspire me as much as Mushishi.
What lies ahead for you in 2015?
2015 will be and this already incredible year to make my art happen. I envisage several personal projects and with some friends that will make my art grow more and more.
Lastly, any advice for any struggling artists?
The only one that I have is what I follow. Hard work, persistence and draw a lot.
Want to stay up to date on all of Zakuro’s work? Follow his cookie crumb trail below:
There’s an innate relationship between children and the animal kingdom. Capturing this unique connection is Indonesian artist Elicia Edijanto, who depicts small, vulnerable children alongside creatures of the wild like elephants, wolves and bears. Created in stark black and white imagery, and using only watercolors, Edijanto creates dreamlike-scenes that are both tranquil and contemplative. I sat down with her to discuss her creative process, her sources of inspiration, and more. Read the full Q&A below…
When was the last time you seriously dropped everything to soak in a sunset?
Actually, I do it quite often. I love sunset. I always try to spend some times to enjoy the sunset and have a pensive moment myself (not necessarily negative). Lots of people thought it’s some kind of self-isolation but that’s not the case. It’s actually a good thing. I spend my time soaked in a sunset to absorb the good vibes it gives out, free gift from the nature. It’s like saving a positive energy to be used later, like a camel stores water in its hump. After all, in a hectic and routinity of urban life, a little dose of nature is a sine qua non.
Addressing your recent watercolor concept, intimate relationships between children and animals. Is this stemming from real life, or does it just explore the duality between something innocent and something dangerous?
Well it’s definitely not a real life experience. I might unconsciously use duality to emphasize my concept, but I don’t explore the duality per se. My concept focuses on the intimacy and connection between human and nature. In my case, I like to use children and animals, sometimes trees, as my messengers. They are honest, sincere, and unprejudiced. It will be easier to people to feel the emotions.
Could you talk a bit about the creative process behind each scene? The majority are void of color and surrounding landscape. Any reasoning behind that?
I divide each scene of my drawings into two parts; the surrounding and the subject. I want each of them serve their own purposes, but go along as one. I choose void of color, or sometimes less-detailed landscape because I only paint what’s necessary. I don’t want to overdo it. So, I will try to use this simple analogy. Let’s say each scene is like a song. The surrounding is the music. The subject is the lyric. The music gives the mood and atmosphere. The lyric gives the meaning.
Would you recommend to rather leave the painting unfinished than overdone it? Could that pertain to the unpredictability of using watercolors as a medium?
Watercolor is indeed a unpredictable and full of surprise medium. The final result can be different from the blue print on my mind. In my opinion, if that should leave someone with no choice but to leave it unfinished or to overdone it, both are fine as long as the desired concept and meaning of the painting are maintained.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
The Color of Paradise, Spirited Away, Children of Heaven, etc.
How involved were you in the printing process? Are they giclee or screenprints? What have you learned along the way about it?
In the mean time, I got help from an international online gallery to print, pack, and ship my artworks worldwide. They use museum quality paper. My artworks are printed on Canson Rag Photographique which has special layer which makes the print looks deeper and sharper. The printer has 13 different inks to all shades of grey, so the white and black will be rich. I think it’s pretty cool. In the future, of course I want to learn and get more involved in the printing process.
What are some of the animals you would love to depict in the future but have been hesitant or perhaps afraid to bring to life?
Giant narwhal and other gigantic deep sea creatures.
You quoted sense of humanity and sense of being as direct sources of inspiration. Could you elaborate a bit on that?
Sebastiao Salgado’s photographs have caught my attention in the most profound way. The way he captured humanity in human with empathy, in the most challenging times such as wars, natural disasters, environmental degradation, etc has overwhelmed me with awe. How strong and courageous humans are! How, in the roughest time, humans are able to show their most gentle side, their kindness and dignity instead of their fragility. I’m also inspired by Nick Brandt’s sense of being that’s shown in his animal photographs. He let us to not just knowing, but also to be vigilant of the existence of those animals which some day, will be destroyed by men. He inspires me to explore this sense of being, which has some spirit and soul behind it, behind every subject, not just mere existence.
How exactly does photography play into things? Are you a big advocate of photography and use it as a source of reference for some illustrations?
Definitely. Photography helps me a lot. I always use it as my reference. It’s a medium of direct mimesis that reproduces the world, which I will interpret and represent in my paintings.
Lastly, any advice for a budding artist??
Focus on doing what you love, for the sake of your own happiness, not for what you will get. Take a good care of your works, and your works will take a good care of you.
Stay up to date on all of Elicia’s work by following her cookie crumb trail below:
After more than two decades, the wheels are very much still turning for Osaka Monaurail, known as Japan’s premiere funk orchestra. The band’s latest stroke “Riptide” is Osaka Monaurail’s seventh studio album and finds the band tighter than ever. They never stop! Hitting the biggest festivals in Japan such as Fuji Rock Festival and Rising Sun Festival; appearing at overseas festivals such as Montreal Jazz Festival and Womad to name a few, and don’t forget, still working hard in studios as well. We chat with Ryo Nakata (vocals and keyboards) about the bands longevity, his thoughts on their music, and more! Read the full Q&A below..
Are the crowds reception to your music any different today then they were when you first started out playing in Osaka bars and nightclubs 20 years ago?
Well, I hope we play better and our dance routines are much more developed than twenty years ago. Also we play in costumes that are much more expensive than the old ones that we used to wear in the 90s. So, the crowd must enjoy the show better [smiles]. Now, seriously, the answer is No. As a matter of fact, we still do play in nightclubs, and they react to the music in the same way. They dance to the music. You can also say the times have changed. The golden 90s, of Rare Groove or Acid Jazz, is over. And of course Hip-hop… Today, “In The Jungle Groove” by James Brown might not be the best choice for dance floor any more. But it still works, and I really don’t care. I shouldn’t worry about the trend of the times. I still believe, if we play better, they enjoy the show more. And after these twenty years I still get many offers from festivals and clubs. I am very happy.
Today’s music listeners cater more towards modern music like electronic dance or hip-hop. Music from the James Brown era isn’t really created anew anymore…why do you think you are getting such a positive response continuing to play a niche genre of music in present society?
Sometimes people tell me we are in a niche genre. I never believed that. In the past twenty years, I always thought this is the real deal. I listen to music by James Brown, Rufus Thomas, Ray Charles, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, The Staple Singers, Donny Hathaway…. I never bothered [with] Electronic or House stuff. I don’t know [anything] about Hip-hop either. I am here to play the music which I believe is the real deal. If we WERE niche, probably it would mean that we don’t play good enough. And, I don’t mind to admit, we don’t play good enough. We wouldn’t be niche when we play in the level of the Ray Charles Orchestra or the great James Brown Orchestra or any band from the list, right? You might want to point out we are of a different [ethnicity], but that’s another issue.
Anyway, answering your question, one of the reasons I think we are getting positive responses is that we are very serious and particular about what we do. Who can be more serious about bringing back the sound of the James Brown Orchestra in 1969, maybe 1971 also, but definitely not 1973? Who would not mind to pay for 1000 dollar suits, and two or three suits for each one in the group, and play Rufus Thomas songs? Some people might think it’s funny that Japanese musicians struggling to learn to play Funky music. Some people might find us niche. That’s good. That’s my trap [laughs]. You see, I never intended to be an original artist. I am just a fellow who enjoys playing the music that I love.
You say you never intended to be an original artist, but after such a long career you can’t help but come into your own. While you are paying homage to James Brown and Ray Charles, do you think in the future there will be bands paying homage to you and your band?
No. Not at all. I think it’s good if someone find us more original than I think I am. But, I can’t imagine a band playing homage to my band.
Similar to the resurgence in funk music, vinyl is coming back as well! Do you have any input on how your new record will look and sound on that medium?
I think that’s wonderful people are coming back to vinyl. It’s like, people watched movies in movie houses in the old days. Then, they started watching movies on TV, then VHS cassettes, and DVDs and today iTunes. Everything is getting worse. It’s getting more and more convenient. But the quality is getting worse. The same goes to concerts. In the old days, they only had 50 or 100 people watching the show. They didn’t have amplifiers so they had to play in either a small house or a big concert hall that generates good reflections. Later, they invented guitar amp, bass amp and PA system. Today one concert is selling 50,000 tickets! Many people think the sound technology is improved, but the truth is, we have been getting accustomed to the sounds that are worse than the acoustic sounds in the old days. Vinyl is absolutely better than CD or digital download! I am crazy about collecting records, but I love vinyl. I think Unique, the label who is putting out our European issues, are pressing the new album on vinyl. It should be in stores.
What are some of your favorite Japanese films?
One of my favorite movie stars is Hitoshi Ueki of Crazy Cats. “Nihon-ichi no Hora-fuki Otoko” (Japan’s Best Braggart Man, 1964) must be his best film. There are many more “Japan’s Best… Man” films starring him: “Nihon-ichi no Goma-suri Otoko” (Japan’s Best Apple-polishing Man, 1965); “Nihon-ichi no Iro Otoko” (Japan’s Best Lady-killing Man, 1963). I like lots of films from the 1960s. The late 50s and the early 60s were the golden era in movie. Yasuzo Masumura, Ayako Wakao, Keiko Kishi. Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Kon Ichikawa, etc. In terms of movies, I am an indie movie distributor as well. Recently I am working on “STILL BILL” the documentary of the Soul singer Bill Withers. It will be released on video in 2015.
Cool! So tell us a bit about the creative process behind your 7th album, ‘Riptide’. Why only nine songs?
Most of my past albums have only nine or eight songs each. Four or five on the A-side of the record, and the other four or five on the B-side. Although the CD sales of our albums are bigger than LP, I still want to design my album as a LP album, not much longer than 45 minutes. Today, albums usually contain 15 songs or more. I think that’s too many. By the time you listen to the end of the album, you don’t remember how the album started.
Did playing in the United States for the first time live up to expectations?
Oh yes. The shows in the US were very successful. There were only three shows: Minneapolis, Richmond and Washington DC. Everybody seemed so welcoming. I was wrong and I felt very bad because I initially had thought of more critical crowds and cold promoters for America. Each promoter were very kind and helpful and the crowds were very enjoying the show. Honestly, the first trip to the US, I was very nervous. I didn’t really know what to do or what to say. You know, this is the country where everything came from. To me and many people in Japan and Europe, the United States is where Ray Charles came from; James Brown; Aretha Franklin; Gershwin; Count Basie; Miles Davis… You might think it’s funny the way I look at it. But, you see, that explains how different we are. You might think of Mt. Fuji, Geisha, Sushi, Toyota for Japan. The same thing. However, basically I think I was wrong, and I [want] to learn much more about America.
How hard is it keeping a nine-deep person band together for so long? With so much energy and personalities, is it easy to have everyone on the same page all the time?
Good question. I think, our nationality as Japanese has a lot to with it. In Japan everyone is taught from childhood the importance of cooperation. These concepts: freedom, privacy, democracy, originality… are not big words in Japan although big in the US I believe. But, the words like: cooperation, humbleness, diligence are very important in Japan. Working together, traveling together, playing together are rarely a problem for us. I hope, somehow we are carrying these concepts with our show. Because, like I think I said earlier, we want to be original although we take precautions against planning to be original.
Also, have you ever been in a sport team when you are at college or high school? I look at it like that. Each one in the team is different personality with different goal. But, in order to accomplish something, we have to work together. And, playing in college sport teams after three or four years in the team, you have to graduate it. See, I want to point out that one works even harder and enjoys the work more, when he knows he will have to leave the team someday. I think this works for bands as well. It is a very healthy concept to have for band members. In the last two decades plus, cats have come in and out. When someone has to leave the band because of his family issues or financial issues with his wife [laughs], we should “thanks and good-bye” to each other. That’s how a band should be if you are older than 30 years old.
The reality is: most of the cats in the band have been with me for more than ten years. I have four guys who have been with me for almost twelve years. And, my drummer has been in the band for five years; the 2nd trumpet player is one year. My bass player was replaced recently. Dai, who had played in Osaka Monaurail for the last eight years, just left. And, Tsuyoshi, who had played for eleven years before Dai, just came back and joined the band again.
Lastly, what advice can you offer up to a budding musician looking to take their craft to the next step?
To me, the key to open the doors for me are in myself. “You are where you are because you put yourself in it.” If my career is not taking off, that is because either I am not doing it right, or I am not doing it to the required extreme; I shouldn’t be complaining about other people nor the music industry; I should not envy other successful artists; I should understand that I am not here for money (Seriously, there are many other more convenient options to make living, so why choose music?); I must receive as much money as possible to keep my band going; Never mind much about getting charged with commissions and/or even being ripped off (Evaluate what you earn, not approximate how much they make).; Always look for good opportunities around; Share whatever we earn with the people who help me with it; Always look ahead and make the pie bigger. These are my mottos. I hope they are useful for other musicians too.
Stay up to date with all of the band, and check tour dates for their European tour in April-May, 2015: