Acclaimed graphic designer Shogo Ota gave a presentation on his work as part of the Dow Visiting Artist series on Friday, March 24, in the Arbury Fine Arts Center.
Ota’s presentation included a diverse array of his artwork from music posters for local bands to restaurant branding and menu design, among others.
Ota’s artwork has appeared in publications as notable as The New York Times and HOW Magazine, and he has worked with well-known clients, Disney and Live Nation.
Originally from Japan, Ota says he was pretty good at drawing as a kid but never thought about a career.
“I always liked art class, since first and second grade,” Ota said.
But drawing was just another activity he did when he was younger, along with playing soccer or fishing in the river. It wasn’t until college that his mind changed.
“You know, it’s really funny, because my major was business economics at the University of Idaho,” Ota said.
One of Ota’s friends got him to change majors, incidentally, by simply telling him that he looks like he enjoys making art.
“One of my friends, she told me, I look like I’m a designer,” Ota said. “I was like huh, that sounds right, that sounds cool.”
Ota received a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the University of Idaho.
Ota employs a variety of different methods and styles to create his designs, from line drawings, collages and stencils to brush drawings and watercolors. A lot of the designs for the music posters have a vivid, psychedelic style to them.
Ota likes working with local bands. They do not always know what they want, so Ota gets some leeway with the design process.
“I always ask bands, ‘What are you looking for?’ and they give me a couple of themes or ideas and I kind of tweak it,” he said.
To get some of the detail on his sketches and hand-drawn designs, he uses a really fine pen, 0.01—the smallest you can find.
Despite the meticulous detail and intricacy of the designs, most of the band posters only take Ota one to two days to create.
“After I started my studio I still kept making music posters,” Ota said.
His design work is what eventually caught the attention of Starbucks. Ota started working with Starbucks about two or three years ago, and the company commissioned him to design custom artwork.
That included working on a hand-painted mural at a Starbucks in Ferguson, Missouri and designing a special green cup that was launched as part of the company’s limited time campaign last November to promote human connectivity and unity.
While the marketing campaign drew some criticism for appearing too political, Ota said that was not his intention. The design featured people from different walks of life; Ota wanted to draw everybody in one line.
Having accomplished many things in his career so far, there is one thing Ota said he would like to do, but he realizes that desire may just remain a dream.
“I always wanted to do a shoe design for Nike or something. That’s one of my dreams,” Ota said. “They always ask for an illustrator who has only one style, but for me, I don’t have one style that people can recognize for sure, so it might be hard.”
Graphic design junior Nichole Crook said it is inspiring for young, aspiring artists to meet someone who’s actually in the business.
“I thought it’d be very helpful to see a professional’s work, hear about his techniques, see how he got to be where he is,” Crook said.
Crook appreciated the opportunity to see Ota’s work in person.
“It gives us something to look forward to, to strive for,” he said.
Ota hopes the presentation can serve as an inspiration to students.
“There (are) always opportunities out there so I want them to keep working hard,” Ota said. “Have fun and be creative.”