Printmaking... with a digital twist - Interview with Asahi Nagata
As a lover of traditional printmaking, Japanese illustrator Asahi Nagata has taken the art form and transformed it into her own unique version of digital artwork. Her extraordinary, print-like pieces are full of brilliant colour with a hint of vintage elegance and texture. Let's learn how she drew inspiration from working in restoration at a design firm, and read about her incredible story! And be sure to get a closer look at Asahi’s work on the cover of our latest issue of AWW Magazine Issue 6: Welcome to My Shop: 63 Dreamers, Stories, How They Are Made.
AWW Issue 6 - Welcome to my shop! Cover Art by Asahi Nagata
AWW: What did you use to develop the cover illustration? Can you share your process with us?
Asahi: I started the initial sketches with pencils and papers. First I drew the scene, then I drew some characters on another sheet of paper, cut them out, and placed them on the scenes, moving them around to see where they fit the best. For the final artwork, I used my Wacom Pen-tablet Intuos Pro and Adobe Photoshop.
AWW: Are there any visual aspects from your childhood, like cartoons or books, that have influenced your work?
Asahi: Like many people in Japan, I read a lot of manga growing up and it taught me how much fun it is to communicate visually. I'm sure that it influenced my artistic eye as well. My mom introduced me to manga when I was very young, and she herself reads a lot of it and likes to draw. Whenever something funny happens, the two of us always make drawings to explain the event rather than describing it with words. We enjoy visual communication.
AWW: We’ve noticed on your website that your brand name is Illo Irro. It’s so unique! Can you explain how you thought of this name and what you hope people can take away from it?
Asahi: When I was thinking of a name for my brand (I needed it for my Etsy store), I wanted something rhythmical like Japanese onomatopoeia or reduplication. I decided to use the Japanese word IRO-IRO which means “many differences”, and replaced one of the “Iro’s” with ILLO. In Japanese there are no L and R sounds, so ILLO IRRO’s pronunciation is more like ILLO ILLO. A single “Iro” also means colour in Japanese. I hope that this name gives me and my brand the freedom to explore the colours, various materials, techniques, and platforms that come with the artistry.
AWW: If you were a crayon in a crayon box, what color would you be and why?
Asahi: Yellow — I always liked yellow the most! My name Asahi means “rising sun” in Japanese, so sunny yellow has always resonated with my spirit.
AWW: What was your first experience with printmaking like?
Asahi: The very first time I made my own print was in a woodcut printing class in elementary school, twenty some years ago. I always loved art classes as a kid, and woodcut printing was especially fun. Each kid carved out an illustration of a memory of their summer vacation onto a wood sheet, then printed with black ink. Although traditional printmaking is my biggest inspiration for my digital work, I don't have any experience with analog printmaking. This spring I will be taking a couple of workshops to learn how to prepare and make screen prints here in Minneapolis. I am excited to share some real screen printed pieces once I’ve learned how to make them!
AWW: How did you develop your retro, print-like texture and vintage style?
Asahi: After college I worked as an illustrator at a design firm here in Minneapolis. Aside from making illustrations, vintage print restoration was also a part of my job there. My boss had collected thousands of vintage commercial prints, books, matchboxes, toys, and so many weird things over the decades. I worked there for about 6 years, scanning these cool prints from the 50s and 60s, and restoring their wear and damage using Adobe Photoshop, giving them a second life as restored images. Seeing the cool vintage art from all over the world was fascinating. Not only did I get great inspiration from this, but I got to learn how to mimic the texture and effect of traditional printing digitally, and that motivated me to make my own art.
AWW: What is you and your daughter’s favourite thing to do together?
Asahi: We like to draw together! She likes to sit on my lap while I draw. There are so many pictures of her sitting on my lap while I am at work that make it look like she is the actual artist, not me! We also like to play restaurant, where we make noodles and pizza using paper scraps and thread.
To find out more about Asahi Nagata, please visit the artist’s IG account | @asahinagata
All images provided by Asahi Nagata.