John Nakatsu is a graphic designer based in Seattle. He illustrated the KOBO at Higo screen printed poster <link> which we love so much. We wanted to learn more about his background and creative inspirations -- here is the interview:
KOBO: Where are you from and what do you do? John Nakatsu: I was born and raised in Kent, but currently live in West Seattle. Currently I work as a graphic designer for a local architecture firm, but before that I was a professional photographer, specializing primarily in Food and Weddings.
KOBO: What inspired you to illustrate KOBO at Higo storefront? John: I attended Seattle Central Creative Academy for my degree in Graphic Design, and one of my classes was poster design. Our instructor, Shogo Ota, had us design a poster for a local historical landmark as one of our projects. We were challenged to create a two-color screen print, and I chose KOBO because it is one of my favorite shops in Seattle, and I feel it has been important to Japantown.
KOBO: What is your connection to Japantown? John: I am fourth-generation Japanese here in Seattle, and much of my family grew up in the Japantown area. Growing up, we would often head to the International District to eat at the Japanese restaurants and shop at Uwajimaya. I now work just down the street in Pioneer Square, and often visit Japantown for lunch or running errands.
KOBO: Who are your biggest artistic influences? John: Artistically, I think that Enfu has been my biggest inspiration. I worked for several years at Blue C Sushi, and his artwork was on all the walls throughout the restaurants. I admired his work, and have several of his prints hanging on my walls at home. I love his style and how he incorporates Japanese culture into his art. I also admire the work of my poster teacher, Shogo Ota, who has many murals around the Seattle area. He taught me a lot about poster design, and was the one who encouraged me to make the poster and reach out to Kobo to see if they would be interested in using it!
KOBO: What inspired you to pursue a career in graphic design? John: I spent many years as a professional photographer, and eventually found a job working for Blue C Sushi as their Brand Manager/Photographer/Graphic Designer. I didn’t have a ton of experience as a graphic designer, but I learned a lot while working there and enjoyed that part the most. After Blue C closed, I wanted to find a job as a graphic designer, but decided to learn the technical skills needed to pursue a career in graphic design. I searched around and found the Seattle Central Creative Academy, and decided to enroll in their program. After graduating in 2021, I started working at my current job as a designer for a local architecture firm.
KOBO: How do you spend your free time? John: In my free time I like to cook, especially Japanese food. I also enjoy traveling and doing photography. Biking is also one of my hobbies.
KOBO: What advice would you give to an art/design student? John: If you are planning to go into design as a career, choose a different creative outlet as a hobby. It helps to do something different to keep from feeling burnt out, but still flex those artistic muscles. I started to feel tired of photography after working professionally for over a decade, and began to lose my interest in it. Now that I have a career in graphic design, I have found a new appreciation for photography as a hobby. The skills learned as a photographer have also helped my graphic design abilities, especially with things like color, light, and composition.
KOBO: What are a couple of your bucket list items? John: One of my bucket list items would be to photograph the Aurora Borealis. I would also love to design a book—maybe a cookbook? It would be really cool to take the photographs for it as well. Lastly I hope to spend a few years living in Japan and work on my Japanese.