Eri Wakiyama Illustration Essay

Tell us about yourself.
I’m Eri, born in japan, raised in California, and now I’m in New York. I work in the fashion merchandising, buying and retail for an internationally renowned brand. I originally studied fashion design, although somehow ended up here. What I love to do is draw. I like to think of myself as a fashion illustrator and painter. I’m finding myself drawing many different versions of the same girl on a different day and different setting in different clothes and mood. I can’t separate myself from fashion so I am taking two things I love to do and doing it at once.

What is beauty to you and how do you define beauty?
Beauty is not based on how ‘beautiful’ something is visually. Not entirely or solely anyway. It’s different for everybody and can be found anywhere. Sometimes you see it often and some days it lasts only a moment and you can never find it ever again. So when you see it or feel it, I know it.

How did you get into illustration?
I’ve literally done it all my life. Doodling everywhere. But when I was younger, I thought it was something everyone did like eating or sleeping. Of course I realized that it was something I loved to do while some kids were only forced to do it in school. Or when I would sit out during recess and prefer drawing with crayons than run around with boys.

What is your creative process like when it comes to drawing?
Never forced. Nothing good comes out that way. But sometimes you have to plan, or you’ll never ever finish. Drawing has its advantages and disadvantage. Unlike a medium such as photography, you must start with nothing on the paper or canvas. it’s difficult to take the first step. It’s especially difficult when you’re just drawing from a memory or feeling you have. But it could be easy in that way as well. When I am drawing a fashion thing- it starts with the garment, and then the girl follows, and then the story of the girl completes it. It’s just, when I am drawing something from nothing, it comes from things that I cannot explain. It comes from being bored, being happy, being lonely, being angry, being in love, being out of love, .. so many things everyone feels. I do this thing though, when I’m painting. In the beginning I am a traumatic mess on the canvas. So many colours and so many layers. So many changes going through one girl’s face. It all seems stupid along the way and unnecessary waste of paint and time. But it’s not in the end because after doing all the work, I always find myself subtracting the colours by adding white on top. Pretty ironic when I’ve just described how frustrating it is to start with nothing.

In addition to illustration, you are a designer, having graduated from Parsons School of Design. How would you describe your style and clothing?
It’s difficult to describe the type of style, as it seems like it always changes for me. I always like things when they are real life with a little bit of fantasy.

You worked as store staff at Commes des Garcons and BLACK Commes des Garcons. Clearly, you are a fan of Rei Kawakubo and her designs. What is it about the line that you feel matches your aesthetics?
Her designs are completely out of this world, yet keep me grounded because I feel a connection with what she wants to say or how she feels. I feel comfortable in her clothes when many are afraid of it. For her, her ‘fashion-line’ is not solely for the sake of making clothes, but the creation of what she feels in the medium of clothes. I don’t think it had to be clothes, but I’m glad it is because clothing is something people cannot really live without in our society. So if you have to have one thing, you should choose Comme des Garcons.

When I look at your drawings, I am reminded of traditional calligraphic techniques. How does your background [as a first-generation Japanese immigrant] influence your work and drawings?
It’s not because I am a first-generation Japanese immigrant. It is because of an accident or a so-called coincidence that my mother had made me take Japanese calligraphy classes when I was young up until the end of high school. I use the medium now in my drawings sometimes but it is totally an unconscious decision.

What is it about the Japanese culture that fascinates you?
I’ve never lived in Japan before so I think that’s why it fascinates me. Again, I think it isn’t necessarily because I am Japanese that I am intrigued, but it’s something I never fully had or am (not genetically speaking).

You’re known for your infatuation with Yoko Ono. In fact, there is an undeniable and uncanny resemblance between the two of you. What is it that you love about her?
She is a strong woman. I think everyone wants to be stronger. And she is my hero in that sense.

In what ways does Yoko influence your work?
Well, she says what she wants to say. That’s always important.

You have a blog called “Mermaid Hair.” What’s the story behind the name?
“Mermaid” was a nickname my friend in college had given me one night when I couldn’t wake up no matter how many times they tried to wake me up. Every time they called my name, the only thing I did was kick my legs in the air like the fin of a mermaid. Or so they say. Anyway, I happen to have long, long, black curly hair a few years back so I just named it mermaid hair, randomly, really.

You’ve been in the fashion and art industry for a bit, but your style is very atypical. It’s very “Eri,” to put it bluntly. What is your opinion on the typical perception of “beauty,” as portrayed by society and the media?
The portrayal of anything by society and media, sucks. Just because someone else something is beautiful, I don’t care. Why do people need to comfort themselves in someone else’s skin and mind when you have your own?

I’m a huge Murakami fan and I know you are also. What are your favorite books of his and what about his writing mesmerizes you?
My favorites are “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, “Wild Sheep Chase”, and “Kakfa on the Shore”. I love the characters. I loved May. I love the cats. And I love the ease and twist of his writing.

Please share your perfect playlist.
Some of Joe Hisaishi, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and then some classic Debussy, and then some old school Japanese pop like SPITZ, or Shina Ringo, and them some TLC from the early 2000s and then some Azealia Banks or 2 chainz.

What are some things most people don’t know about you?
I’m shy and I can’t live without my cat. Seriously.


For more of Eri’s work, check out her website and blog.

By: The Raw BookFiled under The Artists.Tagged illustrator.Bookmark the permalink.

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Eri Wakiyama


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