I fell in love with the beauty of watercolor paints and have since been trying to create a color that only I can make.
Hiroki Takeda is an emerging watercolor artist from Japan who has developed a unique style of combining vibrant hues with plant motifs to create realistic portraits of animals. In this interview, we talk with him about his artistic origin, how he developed his own style, and the charm he finds in working with watercolors. (This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
The Merging of Watercolors, Plants, and Animals
…my art is unique in the way that it combines animals, flowers, and plants to create a realistic yet charming depiction.
Describe to us the concept of your work. What kind of world are you trying to express?
I fell in love with the beauty of watercolor paints and have since been trying to create a color that only I can make.There are three key factors that unify my artwork: watercolors, plant motifs, and animals.
Discovering the beauty of watercolors
I first became interested in watercolor painting when I took a class with the award-winning illustrator Goro Sasaki while I was studying at my university. Before then, the only kind of watercolor art I knew was the layering of soft colors. I was shocked to discover Mr. Sasaki’s art style with his use of strong, vivid colors.
A love of plants
I had an inspiration for drawing art with flower and plant motif when I saw a woman with a flower-pattern dress at the part-time caricature artist job I had when I was a university student. Another reason for this focus could be that my mother always loved to grow plants, so I grew up surrounded by them.
Expressing his vision through animals
After graduating, I experimented with a variety of art styles, such as the trending “cool” art style, but my family told me that this style didn’t fit my personality. I spent much time looking for my art style. One day, when I saw a picture of an animal, I had the vision of a moment where its fur looked like plants.
The idea of combining watercolor, plants, and animals in my art felt very natural for me. Of course, other artists are making paintings of animals with the simple aim of being adorable, but I like to think that my art is unique in the way that it combines animals, flowers, and plants to create a realistic yet charming depiction.
In your artistic journey, has there been an artist or artwork that has deeply influenced you?
As I mentioned before, the artist that first interested me in watercolors was Goro Sasaki, but the artist that influenced me the most was Takeshi Ohgushi. I met him at the “Terakoya” project right after I settled into my current art style. Terakoya is a non-profit art project/contest hosted by Mr. Ohgushi and major advertising agencies to support illustrators and designers in Japan. He accepted me and my art style, which gave me a lot of confidence. I respect him very much and look at him as my master in art. He sometimes uses the technique of leaving the outline not depicted in his art, which greatly influenced me.
Finding His Way as an Artist
Ever since I met Goro Sasaki, I have been using watercolors and devoting my life as an artist.
How did your career in art begin?
When I was a child, I liked the Japanese comic series Dragon Ball. I was astonished by the way the illustrations were drawn. I loved tracing the comic panels over and over, but I never used thin tracing paper because I wanted to paint in the colors and I felt I was doing something different than the other kids. In middle school, I challenged myself to create my own original comic and even considered pursuing a career as a comic book artist.
It didn’t take long for me to realize how difficult the life of a comic book artist is, and while I didn’t excel academically, I knew I had talent at art and drawing. This led me to study at a high school with design classes and then on to an art university. Ever since I met Goro Sasaki, I have been using watercolors and devoting my life as an artist.
Other than art, what are you influenced by?
I like Japanese manga and comics, like Dragon Ball and One Piece. I like how they depict the movement and atmosphere of the characters, and I was inspired to make my art more vivid and lifelike as if you can “smell” the scene through the art. Also, I often enjoy watching movies as they motivate me to create art that moves people emotionally, much in the same way that movies do.
It seems to us that your works have a warm, friendly quality. Is there a message you are trying to convey to the viewer?
I don’t have a general message that I put into my works, but I want my art to make the viewer relax. I want my art to be something that you can casually enjoy without thinking too much.
A Vivid Blending of Colors
During this process, I try to include fun motifs like plants and butterflies as I see fit, so that the viewer can enjoy discovering them.
Can you describe what makes watercolors special to you?
I am interested in the unknown of how the colors will look once the paint has dried and how they seamlessly blend with one another. My art leaves much of the canvas blank, so I try to balance the details I want to depict.
While your art is very finely detailed, your initial drafts are only a rough outline with a pencil. How do you decide the motifs of each piece?
I start by drawing a general outline. I spend time composing the design by studying the reference image of the motifs and work out the details in my mind. I tell myself to persevere, and when I have a clear idea, I quickly finish the art before the paint dries completely. During this process, I try to include fun motifs like plants and butterflies as I see fit, so that the viewer can enjoy discovering them.
What is the the most difficult part of creating?
Adjusting how much water I add to dilute the paints. This is solely based on my experience and feeling. The most difficult part is to find the best balance of water and paint. Also, when I am painting, I can lose myself in the details and end up with too many — composing a piece while balancing an artistic sense and overall balance is always a challenge. Sometimes, I take time off from the piece and come back after a while to see it with a fresh point of view.
Also, I try to keep adding new elements into my art by studying a variety of plants and creating a playful, natural scenery within the animal’s silhouette.
Is there a particular watercolor movement that your style follows?
Since what I want is to perfect my own style, I don’t care much for artistic trends and heritage. I want to make my art stand apart by using a strong blending of vivid colors.
How do you think your style might evolve in the future?
I want to create art that mixes Japanese elements with my own artistic expression. For instance, I am composing art of bonsai with a motif of coral reef. I want to expand beyond animals, while continuing to create colorful, relaxing art for my viewers.
Where to Buy Hiroki Takeda’s Art
TRiCERA is proud to include many of Hiroki Takeda’s colorful renditions of watercolor animal portraits in our growing offering of Japanese art. Check out more of his works on TRiCERA and fill your life with the best of Japanese contemporary art!