Cover Artist Gallery: Leeay Aikawa

An interview with the creator of The Walrus’s September 2010 cover
September 2010

SubjectThe Boomerang Effect” by Marni Jackson
Artist ’s portfolioleeay aikawa illustration/design

Astory about the then and now of parenting: then — the ’60s — independent kids strike off into the beyond while parents quietly worry; now — the naughts — dependent kids take a few runs at the runway before they move out, while their parents openly fret. This story seemed to demand a retro touch, something that would suggest the past while demonstrating the (similar) situation of today. Jennifer Spinner, The Walrus’s art intern, suggested Leeay, and the fit between her work and what we needed was ideal.

One of the really good things about Leeay’s work is that there is an almost other-worldly feeling to her collages, a feeling that raises them far above the standard fare. Her work seems to evoke the space exploration section of a Golden Book children’s encyclopedia from the mid-’60s, where the greenhouses and towers of our future colony on Mars are laid out with precision. Although he feels a little young for the story, I love the figure she found to represent the boy, as well as the house. For some reason the combined result makes me think of Neo Rauch.

Brian Morgan: Whose work has influenced you the most? And who or what has shaped your style?

Leeay Aikawa: I strongly believe in the power of collage. My style is actually a piece of collage — it’s made of influences from the great artists like Dali, Magritte, Lissitzky, Marianne Brandt, Hannah Höch, László Moholy-Nagy, movements like Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, and contemporary illustrators like Julien Pacaud, Paul Blow, Eduardo Recife, Mario Wagner, and the list goes on.

I must give credit to the city of Toronto for shaping my style as well. I was born and raised in Japan, but grew up as an illustrator here in Toronto. I think that living in Toronto, where many diverse cultures meet, has greatly influenced the work you see in my collage art. As a matter of fact, to me the city of Toronto is like collage art, consisting of people of various backgrounds, values, and viewpoints. All these elements combined give Toronto its identity.

Similarly, all my collage work is the result of mixing elements and inspirations. That’s what makes my work complete. I don’t always believe in the concept that less is more — I believe that if you do it right, the elements can speak more as a whole.

Brian Morgan: In general terms, how do you create your work? Where do you find your imagery, and do you prefer to assemble your pieces in Photoshop or work things out on paper first?

Leeay Aikawa: I write down key elements on paper after reading the article, then I look through my image library on my computer to see if I have anything appropriate. If I don’t, I usually go to the antique market or the reference library to find one that I really want to use. Then scanning begins, which is my least favorite part. However, I try to use my own photos more these days so I can avoid copyright issues, and so my photos don’t just sit in my iPhoto library.

I do sketch on paper for fashion illustration and logo designs. For this collage style, working directly in Photoshop is better. I save more time.

Brian Morgan: How is Canadian illustration different from Japanese illustration? For example, are things more or less literal here than in Japan?

Leeay Aikawa: Japanese illustration is definitely more literal than here, whether it is a good thing or bad thing. This is ironically funny because Japanese people are less direct when it comes to oral communication, but they seem to prefer direct messages when it comes to visual communication. My first illustration class at OCAD with [fellow Walrus contributor] Mr. Gary Taxali was a pain since I did not know what concept illustration really was. My approach was rather literal.

Advertising here and there is also very different. I found that Japanese advertising, especially TV ads, is cute and foolish, often ending with a funny song, whereas advertising here has more mature content.

Brian Morgan: After we spoke about this commission, what were your initial thoughts about the story?

Leeay Aikawa: I compared it to the relationship I have with my mother. It reminded me of the day I left Japan to come to Canada seven years ago. My mother cried in the middle of Tokyo’s airport and apologized for not being able to come with me to help settle down. Japan doesn’t have a hug culture, but she hugged me in public that day. I didn’t know what to do. Most likely she was going through what Marni was going through. I have never been a mother, and thus never experienced their feelings before, but I just knew that my future kids (if I decide to have any!) will probably make me worry in the same way I make them worry. I would like to read this article again when I am a mother.

Brian Morgan: How did you approach this illustration?

Leeay Aikawa: I tried to identify with the characters from the article. I remembered the day I flew to Canada. I was more excited to see the other side of the world, just like Marni’s son, while my mother was crying. Putting a blue sky to indicate her son’s excitement was my way to show how I felt when I left Japan. In addition, your note to use a warm colour palette and include both parents [in the illustration] was a great way to start this project. And the rule about byline text, which had to go right under Walrus, gave me the rough layout idea, meaning I had less choices. Less choices is good!

Brian Morgan is the art director of The Walrus.

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