‘Catspiration’ and Illustration Advice from Kaori Mitsushima

Catching up with Japanese illustration artist Kaori Mitsushima

We first introduced you to illustration artist Kaori Mitsushima back in October of 2013. Her work is heavily influenced by her cultural heritage and her travels since leaving her home country of Japan. Her work is a quirky and cool fusion of East meets West with elements of traditional Japanese illustration. Since 2013 her illustration work has continued to flourish and expand. With her upcoming illustration exhibition this year in Prague, we decided to check in with her and find out more about her recent projects. Keep reading to get practical  illustration tips and to find out how Kaori keeps her creativity flowing.

self portrait illustration by KaoriCharacter selfie for Pictoplasma by Kaori

Catch-up Interview

What practical advice would you give to our students who want a career in illustration?

I would tell them that it’s a process that takes time and real commitment. I’m still trying to get established as a full-time illustrator, and I learn something new from each client and each job because a lot of what I do is dealing with people.

Building relationships is essential, but my practical advice is show your work to professionals you respect or would like to work with, ideally in person, and listen carefully to what they say about your work.


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It will definitely make you clear about which path you should follow as an illustrator, since professionals know the market. I had a few conversations like this last year and they deeply influenced my goals this year. Each different perspective helps, and so you listen and keep going, seeing each new job as another step in that process.

tour poster illustration by Kaori Promotional poster illustration by Kaori

What’s new with you since we last spoke?

The biggest change since the last interview is that I moved from the US to Prague, in July 2014. It has definitely been an adventure moving from a small college town, surrounded by nature, to a European city with a castle in my backyard. It has a fairy-tale feel, which I love.

That change has gone into my illustration work, which has been influenced both by Prague’s beautiful past, which is preserved, and the Czech artists creating now, who do wonderful work.

Otherwise, I have completed two Cats I Know calendars (2014 and 2016), cover art for a poetry book, a promotional poster for a band’s tour in Japan, animations for a New York based media production company, several posters for various documentary films, and painted a mural for a cat cafe in Prague.

cat calendar illustration by Kaori Cats I Know calendar by Kaori

What new work can we look forward to?

I’m preparing illustration works for my upcoming solo exhibition at ye’s kafe / studio in Letna, a very nice district in Prague. Compared to my previous work, this new series of illustrations will be in a different style.

Each work has a story inspired by actual snapshots I’ve taken over the last 10 years. I’m combining them with fictional stories to turn old moments into something new.

poster illustration by Kaori Film poster for “The Guardians of Recoleta”  by Kaori

What medium do you use when creating an illustration?

Black ink, Copic markers, Sharpies, coloured pencils, gouache and Photoshop.

Why do you use cats so much in your art?

Cats are my favourite subject to draw. Last year, I found a quote about cats by Yukio Mishima, a Japanese author I love. His words articulate my passion for cats: “Cats. I can’t stop myself from loving these melancholic beasts; and you’re wrong to believe that cats can’t learn tricks, they just think it’s stupid to do so. Their clever and pouty faces, their perfectly aligned teeth, their distant but seductive gazes – cats are indescribable, I love them all.” (Yukio Mishima, 1948)

You can never guess what cats are thinking by just looking at their faces, which is the opposite of dogs. They always retain some distance. It’s this mysterious side of cats that feeds my imagination. I love their independence. You can never own them.

cat illustration by Kaori Six Portraits of Cats by Kaori

How would you describe your illustrations?

Light-hearted and simple; like quiet bursts of laughter inspired by everyday life.

What do you do to overcome a creative block?

When I find myself stuck, I listen to quiet music with headphones on and read at a cafe near my flat.

Illustration by Kaori Film poster for “Anna Rising” by Kaori

What communities or online tools do you use?

I use Instagram regularly to post my sketchbook images, pictures from my work on my Cats I Know project and sometimes silly snapshots from my daily life. I follow quite a few other illustrators, artists and fashion labels on Instagram. I get inspired by their works.

For more illustration inspiration from Kaori follow her on Instagram and see more of her work on her website. All images used in this blog were created by  Kaori Mitsushima and used here with her permission. If you enjoyed this blog and are interested in Japanese Illustration check out our blog on the 13 best Japanese illustrators working in the industry today.


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