Fumi Mini Nakamura is a NYC based illustrator and designer. In addition to making her living as a working artist and being featured by heavy hitters like “Juxtapoz” and “New York Art Magazine”, Fumi has collaborated with brands like Threadless, Nylon Magazine, and the Gap. We had a chance to catch up with Fumi to discuss her art, her inspiration, and digital vs. traditional mediums:
1. What was it like spending your childhood in Japan?
In my mind, the memories of my childhood in Japan are quite dark. There are many parts I try to forget, simply because it weighs me down and brings out the darkest in me. However there are also the parts that are great and beautiful but I can only remember them as blurry images with colors. I guess my memories and experiences of childhood in Japan seem like a dream.
2. Do you think your heritage affects your style of illustration at all?
I don’t think my heritage does have any effect on my style. Maybe the viewer has that idea more? I am not sure. However, my work is all based on memories and moments, so maybe [my art] might have influenced by my heritage– but that would be unintentional.
3. What influences/inspires you when it comes to your art?
Moments, experiences and memories–these things are the subjects I concentrate on when I create work. All three of them contain some form of “stories” and I like to analyze them, then cut them up into small fragments in my head, then put them together like a collage on the paper.
4. It seems that nature plays a major role in your work, can you explain some of the recurring imagery?
I grew up most of my life surrounded by nature. Both California and Shizuoka have great mountains, forests and the ocean! I was so spoiled to be surrounded by something so beautiful! Oh, I miss it! Nature feels like a nest for me–it calms and inspires me. I stress out and get overwhelmed so easily, so I always want to escape to somewhere. When I think about escape, the first thing comes to my mind has always being some sort of nature.
Living in New York it has been a bit difficult to [escape] because the nature is very limited. It’s crowded with people and you really have to take some time off in order to escape the city. But whenever I am back in California or Shizuoka, I usually go for a long hike in the forest or mountains.
My work reflects my strong memories and the urge to be a part of nature. But also it shows that eventually we all pass away, buried under the ground, and become a part of nature spiritually and physically.
5. What’s it like living life as a working artist? I can picture it being both really liberating and really stressful…
You nailed it. It’s tough and great at the same time – especially being creative part. I can’t complain about making some income or getting exposure for drawing…That is such a luxury! It seems better than most jobs for sure, but it is draining–for me mentally, physically and emotionally! Coming up with something unique and being able to survive [on my work] are so hard.
The creative field is very competitive and in order to get to the top (become acknowledged or known as an artist) you really have to sell yourself. It doesn’t always need to be like that–Everyone has their own fun goal in creating, but if you really want to be successful, or want to get somewhere higher, you have to really put yourself out there.
I’ve been working as an illustrator/artist for past eight years and I still feel like I am far from where I want to be. I am never content and always struggling. But I guess that makes my life more interesting! If you always look at things positively, it will be always positive. The creative fields are tough, but I want to make it fun!
6. How have you seen your work evolve over the years? Is there one theme you keep coming back to?
Yes, I believe so. The styles are similar, or at least the processes of drawing are the same. However, I’ve become more detail-oriented and made my work more heavy and ornate. As I get older, I have more time in silence and think heavily about my surroundings and myself. All these thoughts, emotions and moments grow larger, and then become these intense collages in my head. I think more about meaning and reason in my work than what I used to.
The theme I keep coming back to is probably what I’ve lost in the past and regrets those losses create.
7. It seems that a lot of illustration today is created on the computer. You work both in digital form and with traditional mediums, so you’ve had experience in both. How do you feel about so much of art going digital?
I don’t like it! I value all the [older drawing] traditions and I don’t like how schools are going all digital and the skilled traditional artisans are disappearing! I mean, there are lots of great digital works and I appreciate them, but I believe the most digital work doesn’t hold the same value as traditional medium. I mean, some people can manipulate images well but the feeling you get from digital art is just not the same! I think they’re cold, and even though the image can look pretty, it looks so distant.
For example, when comparing print making and digital printing, the time that’s used to make the actual work might be close to the same, however, the physical energy and feeling you put into print making is far beyond comparable. You prepare images; etch plates or make screen; mix colors; print several times and make edits. You don’t experience the same thing with digitals.
Techniques are so important. I feel like people these days care less about it, and maybe that is why traditional mediums are vanishing. It makes me depressed thinking about it! Yikes.
8. You’ve done work for some really high level companies (The Gap, Threadless and Nylon Mag) Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on?
Hmmm. Tough question!
Each project with each company has been a blast! The apparel collaborations are always enjoyable because you get to see the physical objects, and sometimes you can see people wear them on the street; illustration work with publications is always challenging but seeing the end result in print is exciting! I cannot choose!
[All images are pieces from Fumi's latest collection, "Our Hands Will Eventually Destroy Everything Beautiful." ]