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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with Nanae Kawahara: Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion featured artist.

Meet Nanae Kawahara, she's a Japanese illustrator who creates fantastical scenes influenced by a love of Kawaii and the Gothic.

Written by Amelia Gregory

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Nanae Kawahara is yet another talented Camberwell College of Arts graduate who has produced art for my colouring book. Her imaginative underwater scene features mermaids and all the creatures of the sea… Find her art in Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion, funding on Kickstarter now!

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Why is Japanese culture so full of images and tales of the sea?
I never thought about how Japanese culture is full of images and tales of the sea… maybe because I am Japanese? I guess Japan is full of nature and technology and it has never been dominated by other countries, so Japanese people have a very different character… it’s hard to answer this!

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What is happening in your fantastical colouring book artwork?
Firstly I started just drawing like brightness on the surface, and then… I could see this is in the ocean with star lights of water. Then I started seeing mermaids like ‘The Little Mermaid’. I imagined a girl… a mermaid who is shy. The ocean is so colourful, with lots of creatures living in there. There is a festival in the ocean, they enjoy dancing, eating, singing… it is a very peaceful world. A shy mermaid is so quiet, but her friends try to make her join in… the mermaid diva calls her and then they enjoy all day… I just had a dream that everyone welcomes everyone, and it makes happiness. I coloured it in like a watercolour painting to illustrate ‘in the ocean’, and the drawing is tidy to show sensitive creatures.

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How would you describe the style of your work?
At first, I can say it is vividly colourful and sweet cutie characters. Recently I recognised my works are loved by each different type of people, according to attend to art events. Adults, young, kids, men and women… some of my fans gave me the comment which mentions first impression of my works is cute, and then other aspects permeates like pleasure, fear, anger etc. I gather my feelings and memories then express them on my works, so there are full of my mind to communicate with people.

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In what way do your feelings and memories manifest in your illustrations?
Be positive whenever I feel fear.
Keep going whenever I am sad.
Remember everyone around me.
Remember everyone around me died.
Keep my feelings when I am impressed.
Do not forget what I feel.

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It sounds as though you like the cute and the Kawaii but also the dark and the gothic – in what way do you try to combine both these inspirations in your artwork? 
I quite like fashion illustration (but I am now on Fashion Illustration FILE here), and am often inspired by artworks in fashion magazines or on cosmetic products. I was very shocked when I saw art by Rene Gruau, Hiroshi Tanabe and Antonio Lopez a long long time ago (maybe I was 12 or 13) because they were so refreshing to look at. On the other hand, I was attracted to cute works by Rodney Alan Greenblat and Dick Bruna. They give me lots of fun and happiness to live. My dream is that my illustration could be loved by many people and categories – I know it is difficult, but I try to show something special in my illustration. I am also influenced by my feelings and memories. As you can see by my favourite artists and my work, I love colourful stuff, shiny stars and some kawaii imagery like animals and girls. On the other hand, I also like the dark side of gothic, horror, suspense and monsters. I recently noticed they are related to death as I have experienced deaths of my relatives and pets (also animation characters – e.g. the final story of Sailor Moon) from my childhood. I often felt weird someone suddenly died as he or she was alive just a short time ago. I don’t want to think about the deep meaning of death, I believe that everyone is always alive and glowing.

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What work featured in your recent exhibition Colourful Colourful and where was it held?
Yes I have just had my exhibition in Tokyo, the title was ‘Colourful Colourful’ and the theme was colourful elements in a negative scene. Lots of feelings compared with monsters and scenes. The artworks were darker than my previous work, but I want you to enjoy my new world. And also… I have just taken part in a group show called ‘Imo Hori’ with Hiromi Kado and Natsuko Oshima. (Imo=Potato / Hori=digging – so it means ‘Find good arts!’) If someone is in Tokyo, please visit us!

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Is the big white poodle yours? Is she/he a muse? What is their name, can you tell us more?!
Yes! I sometimes post photos of my dog Nana, she is a Standard Poodle, coloured white with a little brown, female, age 7. Actually this dog is the third in my family, the previous dog was also called Nana and she came from a divorced couple. She was mixed breed and had black hair so we call her Black Nana as opposed to White Nana. We gave the same name because Black Nana was so kind and beautiful but suddenly dead by cancer, and I hoped the next one would also be a good dog. Muse..! I do not think Nana is a muse. But thanks for that. She is just normal and my best friend! Her power is so strong and she always punches me.

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Why did you head to the UK for your MA in illustration and what was the best part of studying at Camberwell?
After my BA I still wanted to research illustration with an MA, so I thought I should go to another country to study and chose the UK for its mixed culture. Art and design in London are similar to Tokyo (but Japan is more chaotic and closer). I also think there is a quite friendly and mysterious atmosphere which Japan does not have. I chose Camberwell College of Arts because it gives great freedom for creative works and it has an illustration course. I felt I had enough of graphic design as I studied it for my BA at Tama Art University, Tokyo. Camberwell gave me the freedom to re-think how to create my illustration.

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Why do you feel it is important to raise your profile abroad and how do you set about doing so?
I longed to go overseas to see the reaction to my illustrations in another country. I think there are no borders in the creative world, but it is not possible to feel another place by just communicating on the internet. I needed to be in there.

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What do you hope for in the coming year?
I hope I can do more new things; challenges and find new opportunities for work. This year I have done illustrations for books and magazines, fashion and greeting cards. I wish I could do covers for magazines, books, and also illustration for advertisements. I think there is no limit for the possibility of illustration. I want to try anything, so my work can keep developing.

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Nanae Kawahara is featured in Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion alongside 40 other artists, make sure you grab your early bird copy for just £12 on Kickstarter now!

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