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Interview with Heisuke Kitazawa

Illustrator Heisuke Kitazawa, who is currently holding a solo exhibition at Chignitta, gave a gallery talk on May 28, 2012. Heisuke Kitazawa talks about his childhood when he was living in Los Angeles, how he decided to become a professional illustrator, his encounter with digmeout, his current work style, and much more. Please enjoy it along with the video.


Heisuke Kitazawa

After living in the U.S. for 16 years, he returned to Japan and began his career as an illustrator. He has provided illustrations for a wide range of fields, including numerous book illustrations, products and packages for Francais, Caramel Ghost House, Afternoon Tea, and others, and a series of greeting cards with Sanrio. Recent publications include "The Current/ Works of Heisuke Kitazawa" (Genkosha), "Yurayura" (Kodansha), and "Boku to Neko no Saretsugai Nikki" (Home-sha/Shueisha).


Heisuke Kitazawa, nice to meet you.

Kitazawa: I have been showing with Taniguchi-san at digmeout CAFE, DMOARTS, and Chignitta in Osaka. This place is spacious and very comfortable.

The "Oshigoto Exhibition" started yesterday. There were people waiting for it even before it opened.

Moreover, it is very crowded with fans from all over the world, including Yokohama-Saitama-Tokyo.

Kitazawa: I am very happy, thank you very much. How did I get acquainted with Taniguchi-san? I found a book that Taniguchi-san was working on at a bookstore in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. It was a very interesting book that introduced young artists. At the end of the book, there was an e-mail address, so I e-mailed Taniguchi-san and got a reply saying, "Come to Japan.

At the time, the book I saw in the U.S. was the first issue of "digmeout," and three years later, it was featured in the fifth issue of "digmoeut. At the time, I was still drawing digitally, using only Photoshop, which is a different image from today, but it was the first time I had my work published in a print publication, and this connection led to work and a solo exhibition in Osaka, .I am very happy to be asked to do this, even 20 years later.

Twenty years is a long time, isn't it? Why were you in Los Angeles in the first place?

Why did you start painting?

Kitazawa: Originally, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 10 years old because of my parents' work. My parents liked it there so much that they moved there permanently. My younger brother and sister also moved there permanently.

My brother was 6 years old and my sister was 7 years old, and they were speaking normal English right away, but it took me about 3 years to get there. I thought, "Communication is difficult," and I think now that I was thinking about it, it may have been because I didn't need words if I was painting.

I started drawing when I was in high school, and we had an art class in the curriculum, My art teacher was very kind to me and asked me if I wanted to submit my work for a contest. That was the beginning.

I went to California State University, Fullerton, which is just a stone's throw from Disney Studios, so they had a good art department, and my illustration teacher was a good person. Then I discovered digmeout at a local bookstore.

I loved Tim Burton's movies. Maybe that's why the pictures I was drawing at the time were black-and-white or dark. Music is probably the one thing that still influences me. If I am influenced by painting, I end up imitating others.

As for music, I liked Grandaddy, which is a DIY style. I liked home-recorded music. The home recording culture is connected to skater culture and the LA art scene, and I was always with friends like that

Among Japanese bands, I like QURULI

When I met Taniguchi-san, I said, "I want to do a QURULI's  jacket someday.

digmeout 05 Heisuke Kitazawa's feature page

At the time, "digmeout" was distributed worldwide through a bookstore in Amsterdam called IDEABOOKS.

This led to more international connections.

The bookstore "Giant Robot" in Los Angeles was also through such a connection.

It is wonderful that you met "digmoeut" there.

I was surprised and thought it was amazing that you got on a plane and came to see me right after he saw the e-mail I sent.

You say simply, "He came to see me," but he had other plans, didn't you?

Kitazawa: No, I didn't. That's all.

Really? Laughs, that's amazing.

Kitazawa: Before I met Taniguchi-san, I went back to Japan for a temporary visit, and at that time, a friend of mine suggested that I hold a solo exhibition at "Design Festa Gallery" in Harajuku. I enjoyed that experience very much.

At the time, the U.S. was in the dark because of the Iraq War, Japan seemed to be sparkling, and I had finished graduate school and was ready for a break, so I decided to return to Japan. I still had my green card, so I was feeling light-headed.

After returning to Japan, I worked part-time at "Design Festa Gallery" for a while, met my current wife, and got married. I thought I would not be able to make it as a professional illustrator while working part-time, so I made business cards and submitted my work to publishers about three times, but they gave me such a bad rap that I thought, "I will never submit my work again.

(left) carotn box jacket (right) KENZO Perfume package

Kitazawa: Around that time, I helped my friend's band (cartonbox) with their jackets and uploaded the images to MySpace, etc., and I received offers of work not from Japan but from the U.S. As I was doing that, a Japanese publisher who saw my work asked me to do illustrations.

The band's jacket led to a job for KENZO perfume in France, and I did about six different packages. Suddenly, I received an e-mail saying, "The president of KENZO is visiting Japan, so can we have a meeting at a hotel in Shinjuku? I thought it was a joke, but it was true. Laughs.

The KENZO business was big, but there was not much of a reaction in Japan. After I got married and had a child, I realized I had to get serious about it. I thought I had to do domestic work.

Also, I thought the Japanese "meeting culture" was great. I was able to get a good idea of what to do next after meeting and talking with them, and they would often ask me, "Are you eating well? Are you okay? Overseas work, even if the pay is good, is often a one-shot deal, so the warmth of Japan has often led me to where I am today.

How did the change from digital illustration back then to the hand-drawn style you use now lead to the work you do today?

Please tell us about how your work began to revolve around this style.

Kitazawa:Francais was a big factor. That was 5 or 6 years ago. Before that, there was a period when I had no work at all, during the 2011 earthquake disaster. Until then, I had a normal job and was able to make a living, but then I realized that I had no work at all, and this continued for about six months, and I thought, "Oh, I'm done as an illustrator. I thought, and during that time, I was also working as an English translator, and I took advice from many people. I was told, "You should hold a solid solo exhibition," and I was introduced to Gallery Speak For in Daikanyama. I went to an art supply store and bought some color ink because I thought I would wither away if I did not do something different from the digital work I had been doing. Color ink is beautiful in bottles, isn't it? I also bought some brushes and looked up how to use them on youtube and held a solo exhibition.

Osaka College of Music Poster Series

Kitazawa: Then they told me, "Just meet people. I was told to "go to parties," which I did. I was invited to a party thrown by an advertising agency, and I went with some timidness, but the people I met there were very kind. One of them was a photographer who introduced me to Tatsuya Kawanishi (THAT'S ALL RIGHT), a designer who would later design Francais. I met him at the gallery and he asked me if we could do something together. Before working with Mr. Kawanishi on the Francais job, we worked together on a poster for the 100th anniversary of "Osaka College of Music. I was given the opportunity to create three completely different styles of posters, and thinking back, I thought that was the test for Mr. Kawanishi. Six months after that, he asked me, "Mr. Kitazawa, let's make sweets together.

francais logo and package

Kitazawa: Francais is a confectionery manufacturer that has been in business for more than 60 years, and I assisted Mr. Kawanishi in rebranding the company for the renewal. We created a total of eight different packages, and I took on the challenge of using different art materials for each of the eight series. I think this work was also made possible by my experience at Osaka College of Music.

The encounter with Mr. Kawanishi and the work with him were a big event for you, weren't they?

Kitazawa: Kawanishi-san changed the way I thought about work, as well as art direction. Until then, I was a bit of a cocky person and often quarreled with designers, but I realized that good things can be created when working with a person I can trust.

COCO'S Menu 2022

Kitazawa: The work shown here is from Francais onward: the annual visual work for Shop in, a cosmetics store, was the first job we were commissioned for after seeing the "Francais" package. The series of work for Afternoon Tea Living was also significant. The designer was amazing, I just drew 4 line drawings, but he created about 40 items per season from the 4 drawings, and they were all so cute. I have also been working for a family restaurant since 2018, which was also started by an encounter at a party.

I have been working on this project for five seasons now, and I have never had to make a single modification to it, including rough and production work. COCO'S is delicious. Their hamburgers, for example.

This time, I asked Mr. Kitazawa to let's go with "Work Exhibition" and "Best of Heisuke Kitazawa".

I was surprised at the sheer volume of work that arrived and the amount of work that went into it. All of these are analog, right?

Now the balance is about 7:3 analog.

All of the works exhibited at the "Oshigoto Exhibition" are hand-drawn, and each piece is painted with a pen. I was surprised to see how carefully they were painted.

You also have a sketchbook here. What is your current working style?

When I receive a job, I first have a meeting with the client. One good thing about my time at Corona is that I work remotely, so I don't have to move around, which allows me to spend more time drawing. If the deadline is a month from now, I give a rough draft in about two weeks. I draw rough sketches digitally, but by drawing a careful rough sketch from the beginning, I can reduce one step in the exchange process, so these days I submit a rough sketch that is almost in its final form.

(Left) Part of line drawing (Right) Designed products

Kitazawa: This is a rough sketch of Afternoon Tea. I use a mac application called Clip Studio to draw it almost full-size, and when I get an OK for the rough sketch, I place it on a tracing table, put watercolor paper on it, draw in the line drawing using a faceted brush and coloring, and then apply color afterward. I try to reduce the drafting process as much as possible to shorten the work.

Kitazawa-san's work is so colorful, and he seems to use a lot of colors.

I think there is an overall tone or Kitazawa color.

While responding to the client's requests, do you have your own particular color palette?

The interesting thing about color ink is that the color can be adjusted with the amount of water, so red and pink are the same color. Therefore, there are always only 5 to 6 colors on the palette.

The pink is beautiful.

Thank you very much. I like pink. It is a color I have come to love since I came to Japan.

Original Art for sale in bulk" Corner

In this exhibition, there is not only a wall display, but also a "sale of original work in pieces" ....

Kitazawa: It's a festival.

You have done an amazing amount of work. Magazine illustrations, for example.

Kitazawa: I have illustrations for magazines, book covers, and advertisements, but it is very difficult to frame them and make them into a single picture, so they have been in a closet for a long time.

Ana logue (ANA) cut

Is this ANA's in-flight magazine? It's the kind of thing you could accompany a travel essay with.

There are pictures of Chinese food, monja-yaki, and the Tokyo Tower.

I was surprised that you could draw such realistic pictures.

How long does it take you to complete an illustration?

I do a rough sketch in one day, line drawings in half a day, and coloring in the same day.

It's something you don't often show in a solo exhibition, but it's an exhibition and sale of original drawings at the end of the work day.

It is a very SDGS-like experiment, but surprisingly, line drawings are also popular.

Everyone who comes today, if you have any questions you want to ask Mr. Kitazawa, he's ready to answer them! LOL!

Question from a participant: I heard that you draw rough sketches on an iPad and send them to us? What kind of rough sketch do you send?

Only line drawings. Colors are explained in words. Colors are sometimes easy to fix the image. And in the case of advertisements, sometimes the designer chooses the colors. There are many designers who are better at drawing than I am. Laughs

A participant asked: You have illustrated many books.Do you read them beforehand?

Yes, I read everything. In the past, manuscripts used to come on paper, but nowadays they are all digital, so I put them all on my kindle, and since it has a highlighting function, I just highlight the parts I like while reading, print them out, look at them myself, and think about the ideas. I do this before meetings. The same goes for "Anne of Green Gables.

(Left) Illustration for "Anne of Green Gables" (Middle right) Illustration for "Takekurabe" and "Nigorie" by Higuchi Ichyo

Anne of Green Gables" and "Nigoroe" and "Takekurabe" by Ichiyo Higuchi are masterpieces, aren't they?

How does it feel to illustrate a masterpiece?

Kitazawa: I was very tensed. The designer in charge of the book visited my private exhibition at HB Gallery at the end of last year and liked the style of my work, which led to the job. The theme of my solo exhibition was "Signposts," and I used two colors for the entire series, so I finished this work in two colors as well. After my solo exhibition, I often receive requests for work with new touches that I have tried, which is very important. The year before last, I had a solo exhibition on the theme of " monsters," but I have yet to receive a single request for a monster.

What are your plans for this year, Mr. Kitazawa?

Kitazawa: Most recently, I have a deadline for a picture book next week, and I haven't finished about three pages yet. It is a pilot version of a picture book in the genre of "Sagashimono ehon," which I was asked to create by the picture book magazine "moe. And when I tried to hide it, I had to draw a lot of things, so it was very difficult. It's a lot of work. It will be released in September. The exhibition is scheduled to be a two-person show in December, with designer Kawanishi of Francais. I plan to realize what Kawanishi-san wants to do outside of work. It will be fun. I haven't drawn anything yet, so I don't know what kind of crazy ideas he will come up with. Laughs

Is there anything you want to do in the future?

Also, even after 20 years, I would like to draw the QURULI jacket that you mentioned earlier.

The "Heisuke Kitazawa's Work" exhibition will be open until June 12.

It is a valuable exhibition where you can see many original drawings of his work.

Please come to Chignitta!


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