|Artist Julie Okahara|
Julie Okahara describes herself as a “Japanese artist living in America.” Originally from the Kansai region of Japan and growing up in the bustling metropolitan city of Osaka, Julie began drawing in a blank notebook during school recess when she was just a first-grader.
Her passion for art led her from doodling in the schoolyard to pursuing graphic design training throughout her high school years and later, to enrolling in art classes at Junior College. In 2005, she moved to California, both to pursue her passion for studio art and to develop her bilingual skills.
Learn more about Julie, our March Featured Artist, in the interview below.
We’ll discuss everything from her artistic influences to her deliberative approach and imaginative style. We’ll also uncover the subconscious reason why so many of her subjects simply refuse to “sit up straight!”
Artist Julie Okahara Reception at Empire's Comics Art Gallery
Read on, then come and see Julie’s amazing art for yourself here in the shop during the month of March. Join us for the FREE reception on Saturday, March 7, 2015, starting at 5 p.m.
Artist Julie Okahara's Origin Story
How did growing up in Japan influence your art?
In the style, many have said that my art reminded them of comic, cartoon, or anime styles, but my content is more strongly influenced by my origin. I’m very far away from involving heavy themes, like religion or politics.
Yes, if I could include Japanese ones.
How has your love of comics influenced your art?
A lot, that’s how I started drawing. I used to copy, or I should say tried to copy, my favorite characters when I was little.
Who is your favorite comic book artist? What do you love about his/her work?
Taiyō Matsumoto. I love his style, kinda trippy, though. He creates realistic in unrealistic. It’s somehow comforting to me.
How did those early art classes affect your technique?
I didn’t have much art training, but a lot of graphic design training throughout high school. The way I approach a canvas, very precise and well planned, strongly influenced by my high school experience.
How has your training as a graphic artist shaped your approach to studio art?
My design technique gives me a solid working method to create my pieces. I sometimes make 5 [preliminary] sketches or more just to make sure all the compositions are right. It takes time to finish a piece, but I like knowing what the final piece should look like before I start.
Inspiration and Intention
Who are the artists that have influenced you?
Raymond Savignac. He was a graphic designer, but I really like his work. It’s super comical and makes me laugh out loud. I like humor, and I try to put those elements to my pieces, hoping to make people smile. Yoshitomo Nara is another of my favorite artists. He made me realize that it’s okay to have recurring characters in my art work.
How has living in California influenced your art?
My colors got brighter. I don’t know if it’s because of moving to California or getting older, but I’ve become more conscious about what I eat. At the same time, I was exposed to American standup comedy. Jim Gaffigan and Louis C.K. love to talk about food. Anyhow, I started drawing food more often.
You’ve described your work as “Illustrative, colorful, and very playful.” Was that always your style? Or did that style develop over time?
These past 8 years or so, I focused on sticking with one style so I could develop the character.
It wasn’t planned or anything. One day, I just thought, “I should pick one, and see how long I can stick with it.” I was just curious, and I am still curious to see when I will get sick of it.
You mentioned recurring characters, who are the characters in your art based on?
They are like fairies. They live in our world, but we don’t see them.
What's your intention when you create a piece?
I want to make people smile through my art. It always starts with my silly thought, like: “What if you had a pomegranate but also a submarine? What if the pomarine is your house and you are living under the sea? What is your life like?” I just want to share those silly thoughts of mine with others.
Several of the subjects in your pieces assume a similar physical posture. It could be described as a slouch or a hunch. Where does that come from? What does that particular posture mean to you?
I never really thought of it before. But I was told numerous times by my parents, “Straighten your back, you are hunched again,” and I never liked that as a kid.
And now your characters can slouch beautifully in rebellion! Describe some of the emotional differences you feel as artist when you render an existing character (Alice in Wonderland, Beetlejuice etc.) versus a character that you’ve originated?
I enjoy both, but when I use pop culture references, I spend more time researching and finding a comfortable zone between the original and my style. It’s like hanging out with friends at home versus hanging out by yourself. They both are fun and relaxing, but in a slightly different way.
Art and Commerce
If you could make a living from your studio art, would you? How would the pressure to sell your work affect your approach to art?
I would love to be a full time working artist. However, if I have to make a shift in my style to sell well, I would rather be a part time artist.
Describe your experience working on commissioned pieces. How much pressure do you feel to please the client? How does that affect the piece?
I don’t normally think of the client for my commissions. As long as they want my art, there isn’t
much pressure. I’m always happy that somebody liked my art that much.
Do you get as much joy out of creating graphic art for a client as you do creating studio art for yourself? Describe some of the differences in those processes.
Now, these are two different things. Having a client for commercialized product is more challenging than creating art. I’m always concerned if my piece would satisfy the client’s need. So when I’m done, I feel relief more than satisfaction. Creating art is more fun. I can try new things without worrying about what other people think. Things still get frustrating and challenging, but when I overcome them, I will have learned something and be satisfied.
Where does the courage to put your work out on display come from?
I don’t think I have courage, but I just never thought of it. I am super lucky because I never had bad reviews or mean comments about my work. People are always nice to me and supportive. So I just went for it.
How important is it to you that your work be seen and appreciated by others?
Very important. I like sharing fun stuff! Even if nobody saw my art, I wouldn’t stop creating. I could still satisfy myself. But it’s always more fun to have somebody I can share with!
How do you feel when someone appreciates your work enough to buy it?
Very happy. I don’t normally get attached to my pieces, so it never is hard to let them go.
How important is it to you that your work commercially be recognized?
Not too important. I would love my work to be recognized by larger audience as art, not commercial products. I’m happy to do it for the exposure, but it is not the end goal.
In the Scene
How often do you go to museums? How important is it for you as an artist to be exposed
to other people's art?
A few times a year, definitely not often enough. But I also like checking out local galleries and studios. I get energy from talking to other artists as well. I really enjoy talking to others who like art as much as me because it's exciting to hear other people’s processes. It doesn't really affect my art. I just like listening and learning.
How does your local art community inspire you? What would you like to see happen in your local art community?
I like the Sacramento art community. It’s not only lead by curators or galleries but also by artists. Since it’s a small community, there are many opportunities to get into shows and be recognized. I wish there were more businesses that focus on art toys and street art by local artists rather than on high end art.
One More Thing
What's one more thing you'd like our readers to know about you or your art that I didn't ask about? I love giraffes!!!
View Julie's art on display here at Empire's Comics Vault from March 3 through 31, 2015.