Illustrator/graphic designer Akira Uno has been leading the Japanese art industry for decades and is known for illustrations depicting young girls using touches of fantasy. He is now 82 years old, but his passion for creativity has not changed a bit.
Fashion Headline had the opportunity to meet with the marvelous artist. Below are the details of the interview with him.
Fashion Headline (FH): Where’s the charm in creating illustrations for picture books?
Uno: There are many types of picture books, but for me the charm is in creating illustrations expressing fantasy, surrealism, wonder, strangeness and sometimes brutality. Pictures go beyond words, and they can be very fascinating.
I wrote a book named “White Circus” (1991), and the story starts off with the stroke of a pen of a ringmaster, who begins to draw an elephant, penguin, sea lion, horse and other animals that make up the plot. At the end of the story, seven baby goats appear and are nearly attacked by a wolf and lion. The ringmaster feels sorry for the goats and saves them by adding new lines to the story. In the end, the ringmaster creates an enormous canvas to enclose all the animals, and he himself also becomes a part of the canvas. This kind of whimsical expression can only be made through pictures.
FH: Which is one of your favorite pieces of work?
Uno: One of my favorites is the picture book titled “Somebody Help Me” (1996) written by Eiko Kadono, who is known for her work “Kiki's Delivery Service.” The story is about a little girl, who is told to turn off the lights and go to sleep. When she tries to do so, the miniature bulb in the room transforms into the eye of a leopard and the sofa turns into a hippopotamus, the piano into a zebra and her slippers into a hedgehog. The rotating chair becomes a gorilla. My job becomes a whole lot interesting, when I come across a piece of writing, which is so fascinating, creative and surreal.
FH: Any others that come to mind?
Uno: I created a pop-up picture book about dragons and ghosts in 2004. The book produces sounds once opened. I wrote the story and drew the pictures myself, but I had the help of a designer specializing in pop-up books. The finished product was much more than I expected, and the pop-ups were very dynamic and three-dimensional. I wouldn’t have been able to create the same effect on my own.
FH: What is involved in the creative process?
Uno: I like to introduce a lot of tricks into my illustrations. This year, I exhibited a piece for my solo exhibit “Capriccio” at Ginza Mitsukoshi department store. I drew cats in Joan Miro’s style, Tsuguharu Foujita’s style, Pablo Picasso’s style and et cetera. I named the piece, “Picasso, Foujita and Miro’s Cats, My Cat and Cocteau’s Cat.”
I’ve also created a calendar for 2017. The cover was created using gold leaf, showing a cat with a missing eye. The missing eye is worn by a girl as a part of a ring. The picture portrays the cat as being in love with the girl. Instead of regarding this as my job, I make it interesting and have fun.
FH: How is a picture book created?
Uno: Let me show you a mockup of my new work, “Cinderella” (2017). I draw my illustrations onto the mockup as it should be in the final version. I make the necessary adjustments at this point, such as where each character should be placed. In this case, I was precise about the positioning of Cinderella and the witch.
I come up with new ideas as I draw. That’s how I came up with the idea of placing a dachshund by Cinderella’s sisters and a cat by Cinderella in all the scenes. Sometimes I find that the mockup is better than the final version, in which case I use the mockup as the real thing.
FH: Please tell us more about the magic behind picture books.
I like the shape of each book, and I enjoy the process of selecting the right type of paper and ink. I want my readers to enjoy everything about the books, because the books have something that smartphones don’t.
I’m not very good at producing picture books for children. I want the readers to discover something new or have their imaginations stirred. There are more and more picture books being sold for adults, but I think there’s more that can be done to increase the popularity of this genre.
In bookstores, the categorization of picture books is quite ambiguous. Is it part of children’s books or art? I hope that a greater number of people will come to love picture books to the point where bookstores would need to create an entire section dedicated to this genre.