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Meet Hijiri Takeuchi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hijiri Takeuchi.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am a Japanese American who resides in Los Angeles all my life pursuing a dream of making art as my career. The moment I fell in love with art was when I saw my father’s sketchbook filled with drafts and layouts of his stained glass windows for the first time. My father had my ideal artist career, a successful stained glass artist who owned a business where his art flourished the life of others through its use. In spite of his success, he sold his business and studio to sustain the family because of his injury on the job herniating two discs in his spine lifting heavy loads of glass. There were many family dramas following those years and I decided to leave the house after in my late teens because I wanted to step away from the toxic environment.

Supporting myself without funding was a challenge and am thankful for friends that let me crash on their couch for the first few months before I got a stable place to stay in LA. With no work experience, I was blessed with luck to find Sawtelle Japantown where I found businesses that took me in so I can remain independent. As I was getting accustomed to Sawtelle, I discovered a small illustration gallery called Giant Robot that displayed upcoming artists for the local West LA audience. As I viewed the gallery occasionally, my feelings towards pursuing my career as an artist strengthened and motivated me to create my own art. Wanting to learn more about art and design, I started to take Art courses at Santa Monica College to learn fundamentals to improve my skills. There, I met the instructors Nathan Ota and Mark Trujillo who showed me possible paths of an artist career outside of fine art and recommended me transferring out to a specialized school to help narrow down my path. Later on, the school that peaked my interest and well within my budget was California State University Long Beach where I found my emphasis in illustration.

Before attending CSULB, I was starting to feel lost in the reason for my art to exist. I failed to understand the artist path of creating art for the sake of artistic expression and gaining an audience through that personality so I started to dip my toes in different departments to find answers. After the transfer, I found that answer after enrolling into the illustration major. The fundamentals of the lectures were a mixture of two worlds, of both fine arts and graphic design. The art created for the courses honored the expression of the artist aesthetics and carried the visual philosophy of art design for use. The structures of the illustration department simulated a real-world working artist environment where artists had to show progress art such as thumbnails and drafts for the client or boss to revise to adjust the work and meet a complete project before the deadline. Through this experience, I found the reason why I create art so both I can appreciate its existence and have it used by my clients so it can aid their dreams.

Now that I have graduated in December of 2019, I have collaborated with students from the film department to create character designs for an animation short, made storyboards for film and commercials, and illustrated designs for small apparel businesses. I am still on a journey to strengthen my freelance business after losing my job as a full-time storyboard artist due to COVID-19 but feel blessed by those who came by and hired me to design art for their audience. As much love I received through my life, I want to show my appreciation through my works. Currently, my goal as an artist is to make art for those who care for my work so that my art can exist for them enhancing their daily progress towards their goals.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I believe there is no such thing as a smooth road in life. We all encounter different types of struggles to eventually better our lives and I believe my challenges were a common struggle compared to others. Back then, before I went to college, I struggled to keep up with the high rent in Los Angeles and all I could think of was how to survive day by day. With a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, I barely was able to pay off my apartment working two jobs, but my goal of becoming my own artist was motivation enough to endure hardship. After working for years, I was fortunate enough to land a management position at two businesses on Sawtelle Japantown which helped me save up to go to college.

The hardest challenge I faced was when I heard my father passed away unexpectedly due to diabetes-related organ failure. I visited annually but I never got to thank him for all he has done for my childhood and forgave him for emotionally hurt me, my mom and my brothers through his actions.

I still fight this demon called self-loathing. I personally think I wasn’t a good son nor a good brother. I was selfish for leaving the house when they raised me for years, however I do not regret my decision for wanting to pursue my dreams.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
HIJIRI focuses on supporting visualize client’s ideas and materialize their brand image, hobbies, apparel, etc. with an illustrative style. I want to support small businesses and starting businesses to develop a visual brand identity and have it accessible for their first step in starting their business. I would eventually like to work with indie companies or studios to be a part of a team to create art for a community.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I’m not sure if this counts as part of my career but my proudest moment was when I graduated CSULB. It was the moment when I realized I finally reached that goal I set a long time ago and that moment has finally come.

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All images belong to Hijiri Takeuchi

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