Next up in our Prints & Inks profiles is Jenn Kitagawa, a Toronto-based graphic designer and illustrator. A graduate of the Alberta College of Art & Design and Grant MacEwan University, she blends deceptively simple shapes and colours to construct complex new patterns and images. Much of her work has been created for independent projects or publications, such as Wyrd Distro, Uppercase Magazine, Polaris Music Prize, Market Collective and the Sled Island Music Festival. Currently she is a graphic designer for the record label Arts & Crafts, but Jenn also pursues painting, freelance design and illustration, and collaborates on projects with other local artists.
Here’s what she had to say about her work:
1. Describe your path to what you’re doing now. What got you interested in design and print?
I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta and was always interested in drawing and painting and new I wanted to go to university for painting. At Grant MacEwan University, I ended up dropping out of the Bachelor of Fine Arts program and graduating in Graphic Design and Illustration. Then I moved to Calgary, and studied at the Alberta College of Art & Design, where I received my Bachelors of Design.
After graduating from ACAD I moved to New York and interned for my long-time creative hero Mike Perry, as well as Nylon Magazine. From there I moved to Toronto and worked at a small design studio for about a year, and then later was hired at Arts & Crafts.
Despite the fact that I spend much of my time creating digitally, I’ve always had a connection with the handmade and the physicality that print design encompasses.
2. What are some of your influences? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Hvass & Hannibal is a studio I really look up to. They do a range of work, from book covers to quilting to installations. Everything they make is full of so much colour! I also really love Maya Hayuk’s work. She creates these really beautiful murals using every neon colour mixed with elaborate patterns.
I look for inspiration in pretty typical places; the internet, books, galleries and from stream of consciousness drawing in my sketchbooks. A lot of the time I go back to my sketches to “steal” my own ideas when an appropriate project comes along.
3. Describe your creative process. What techniques/tools/materials do you use to translate your ideas into your work?
I almost always use a good ol’ pencil to sketch out my ideas. Nothing beats it. From there I use anything from acrylic painting, watercolour, silk screen to vectorized shapes. I also use my scanner a lot to bring images into Photoshop to tweak colours and composition. Using the program Illustrator has also allowed me endless possibilities when it comes to pattern making.
4. How do you select which projects you want to work on? And how do you go about landing these opportunities?
Honestly, I almost never say no to projects. I just want to do everything! And I’ve been incredibly fortunate that independent projects have been interested in working with me. As for working with Market Collective, I actually became friends with the two fantastic ladies behind the market when I was in school in Calgary. There’s something to be said about being friendly and participating in events. With Wyrd Distro, I was a Weird Volunteer and offered to help with the visuals and I’m really happy I did! I love how everything turned out. And well with Arts & Crafts, I’d like to think I just have really good timing and that hard work pays off! And I’ll say it again, being friendly is always a good idea.
5. Currently you’re based in Toronto. How’s it like living there as an artist?
I find Toronto to be a bi-polar experience. Sometimes I’m so inspired by my creative friends and the creative community and I just can’t wait to be a part of it all. But the same events can also feel draining and intimidating like “Look how creative everyone else is! What the heck am I doing!?” But I like to think if you’re a perfect balance of excited and scared, you’re probably where you’re supposed to be. And right now that place for me is Toronto.
6. What creative projects are up next for you? Where do you see your creative path going in the next five years?
I’m currently preparing to do my first installation and I cannot wait! I’m wallpapering some walls in the Unaffiliated show here in Toronto, on June 22 on Toronto Island. I made this crazy, eyeball-popping pattern that is just going to engulf all viewers! For Arts & Crafts we’ve got a lot of great albums coming out in August and September like Zeus and Lowell. In September I’ll also be working with Flemish Eye Records and I’m really happy about this project. Flemish Eye is a company I really respect and have wanted to work with for a while.
In five years, I would love to be doing more elaborate installation pieces and to collaborate with my very talented woodworking friend. I’d like to continue to work in the music industry, and keep working with rad Canadian independent companies.
7. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to an illustrator or graphic designer starting out right now?
To be a good illustrator/graphic designer takes a lot of focus, maybe even veering on the side of obsessive. What I’m trying to say is you really have to like drawing or designing as more than a job. The idea of work-life balance is pretty much non-existent. You have to work harder than everyone else.
8. Top 3 artists/illustrators/printmakers/designers you’re into right now?
Oh, I guess I already answered this question in question number 2. But here are a few more:
9. Bonus question: Your favourite music artist/band/album?