We've all dabbled in a bit of time travel. Be it to relive a happy moment or one that we'll forever wish we could change. The fact of the matter is, it is possible. So, on that note I implore we all travel back in time to the year 2016. It was the year that I jumped feet first into the world that is illustration, enamoured by its colour, energy, illusion and mystique. It was also the year I first discovered Mariya Suzuki's work; loved it so much that I had to jot down my thoughts on here for all to to see and then eagerly proceeded to ask her a bunch of questions about her life and work.
In October 2016, Mariya found a sliver of time to put finger to keyboard and graciously sent me her answers to my questions. I was elated! Gaining insight into the perspective of people whose work you admire is chance I will almost never pass up and I am oh-so grateful to Mariya for entertaining my curiosity. I am aware that several months have passed since I got her email but as the saying goes: Better late than never.
Ok, let's jump right in. Three words you'd use to describe yourself are?
So sorry, I thought about this for a long time but couldn’t come up with a reasonable answer!
Where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were younger?
I grew up in Nara, Japan. I lived in the mountains with my family from age 6 to 14. I wanted to be an artist.
What was it about art that had you spellbound making you want to give it a go yourself? And where did you draw your inspiration from at the time?
I’ve always liked drawing. And I was pretty good at it as a kid, and somehow I always knew that I would be an artist when I grew up. I remember drawing our family cat a lot.
How did you refine your drawing skills and then decide to study Illustration at uni in California? And how would you say that school environment has affected your artistic style today?
Before going to college, I didn’t really take special training in art except for the art classes provided at school. In high school I didn’t have any art classes. I drew for my friends and sometimes applied for art competitions. Though I spent more time in music during high school, my college major choice would always be art.
At university, I got the chance to take lots of different types of art classes. In some classes I had more freedom in concept/themes, while in others I had to work within a given theme. It allowed me to develop various areas of artistic skills. What I like to draw doesn’t seem to have changed much since then, though. I was drawing buildings and cityscapes, people, and coffee.
Were your family quite supportive of your desire to pursue the arts as a career?
My family has always been very supportive. I’m so grateful for that, and I want to give it back to them by succeeding as an artist.
You are working as a freelance illustrator now but how did you get to this point after graduation and are there any other lines of work you would like to/are try(ing) out?
When I moved back to Japan after graduation, I created an instagram account. At first, my instagram account was mainly for showing my friends overseas what I was up to because I was homesick for people and my lifestyle in Long Beach. But as I kept it up, the number of followers gradually grew and I “met” some artists in Tokyo through it.
Moving to Tokyo was huge for my career. There are so many opportunities and always so much going on. People I meet here are all eager to do new and fun things, inspiring me to do the same.
Having moved from the US back to Tokyo a few years ago, what are some of the things that you love and/or find unique about Tokyo and which 3 places would you recommend people visit?
(I had never lived in Tokyo before I moved here in 2014) This is my first time living in such a big city. It’s been 2 years since I moved here, but it’s still hard to get used to getting around within so many people. I try to avoid the crowds on weekends and subways during rush hour.
What I love about Tokyo is that there are so many good people here. Of course there are lots of not-so-good ones, too. I’ve been very lucky to get to know people with good hearts who inspire me to be better both as an artist and as a person.
My favorite place in Tokyo is Yoyogi Park. I like checking out shows at 21_21 Design Site in Roppongi. There are also lots of coffee shops that would be fun to hop around.
How would you describe your take on illustration now and what projects are you working on at the moment (if you can say)?
I’m working on various projects at the moment. A project that I enjoyed most this year was a mural for a company in their new office. That was fun.
Next week I will be part of Roppongi Art Night.
What part of your work do you love the most and which part do you find the most challenging?
I like when the commission fits perfectly with what and how I like to draw. I also love it when the work is over and both parties want to work together again. Communicating with client and making sure we are on the same page can be challenging, as well as negotiating money stuff.
When you have creative blocks what do you to unwind and reconnect with your passion for illustration?
When I feel like my hands aren’t doing what I want it to do or my drawing doesn’t look satisfying, I turn to what I like to draw best. I love drawing old houses and the cityscapes they create. Drawing them and to keep drawing them help me regain my lines.
What does your workspace look like and what are some of your favourite weapons of choice when tackling your art projects?
I have a big desk where I do most of my work. I have some wooden things that I made in the space - a little stage on the desk for putting my computer on, a table to put a big cutting matt on, and a book shelf that I made with a help from my friend. My desk is messy pretty much all the time. My favorite drawing tools are pens and pencils.
Who are some of your biggest influences today?
Aquirax Uno, Trey Bryan (@treybryan), Inma Serrano (@inmaserranito) are my favorite artists.
A favourite film, TV show, art book (and/or comic) and song you recommend people check out are?
I like Amelie and many of Wes Anderson movies. My favorite book is “Akarui Hako,” a Japanese picture book illustrated by Aquirax Uno and written by Kaori Ekuni. My all-time favorite song is “Bring It On Home To Me” by Sam Cooke.
With all that you know now, do you have any advice for those aspiring illustrators out there who are just starting out, those who feel they aren't very good and those looking to go freelance?
I just kept drawing what I like to draw. I was insecure about my drawings and drawing skills for a long time, but I had to be confident at some point if I was to be a full time artist. And that was all I wanted to be.
Some people spend their most of their lives thinking 'what if?' and are unable to reach their goals. Despite any obstacles you may face, what would you like to achieve in this lifetime?
I want to always be happy.
I love stories and how they can be told in a myriad of ways. What story are you trying to tell with your art?
I enjoy drawing everyday life moments, objects, and scenes because I think they are beautiful. I suspect that, for lots of people, those moments and scenes could easily go unnoticed. The same people might, however, stop to look at my drawings and feel something similar to what I feel while drawing. I think it would be nice if my drawings could cause them to start noticing those little bits of beautiful elements scattered everywhere in their everyday life.