Lindgren & Smith

Artistic Minds want to know....

An Interview with Coco Masuda

Hi Coco! Coco is such an interesting first name, can you tell us why did your parents chose it?

It is actually nothing special. My real first name is Midori, which means “green”, but my father started to call me “Coco (or Koko)” when I was a toddler. My parents don’t remember exactly why but maybe my name was too difficult to pronounce for a toddler and I answered, “Koko!” (means “here!” in Japanese) . Eventually, everyone, except my mother, started to call me “Coco”, and it became my nickname all my life. When I came to the States, I didn’t like how American pronounce “Midori” stressing “do”, so I started introducing myself as “Coco” instead. Now I have a mixed feeling about it.

Could you tell us more about your art and design background and what made you become an artist and designer?

This answer will be a long one! I was a graphic designer first, and I still consider myself a designer who can draw, which can be a problem because my brain works like an art director and tend to come up with different solution (in term of drawing/painting style) for different project. I SHOULD have been an art director.

Firstly, being both artist and designer is more common in my country. Creators go from one discipline to another without being questioned, even acting! So, I grew up wanting to be an “multi” artist. I never thought of choosing one specialty.

When I was being interviewed to attend Parsons School of Design, I told them that I can’t really choose Communication Design or Illustration department. They advised me to major in Illustration and take Communication Design classes, so that’s what I did. I also took photography classes, too. In hindsight, I wish I majored in Communication Design.
I believe that one doesn’t need to major in Illustration to become a good illustrator.

By the time I was graduating, I was leaning more toward graphic design and fashion (another one!). My boy friend and I formed a company called “Unit”, and started to sell hand printed T-shirts and one of a kind clothing in street fairs, which sold like hot cakes!
Our apartment turned into a sweat shop! I had to paint quicker and that’s when I started using airbrush, not to paint realistically but to paint flat and fast using stencils. We eventually switched to having silk-screening.
We borrowed $3,500 from my father, and rented a booth in a trade show. It was an unexpected success! We got huge orders from all over U.S., Canada, including an order from Bloomingdale’s. We didn’t know how to fill so much order quickly and the business failed. Really. Can you believe it? What a shame.

Then I got a job to draw comps with a small graphic design studio, David Curry Design, and that’s where I learned everything about graphic design, and my ability to draw came handy, too. It was pre-computer time and David taught me how to do mechanicals (production), layout, and eventually trusted me to work with the client, too. Knoll and LeSportsac were few of our clients. I was with David for 2 years went on my own.

Three years after graduating, I formed a graphic design studio, Quatorze Design, in Union Square. I took a big space and invested in renovating it to attract big clients, but instead of hiring full-time staff, rented cubicles to few creatives. First, it was an interior designer who designed the space, then came illustrators, Mary Lynn Blasutta, Sergio Baradat who were my classmate at Parsons, Sue Blubaugh who became fine artist, and Carry Meagan who was a toy packaging designer. It was a lot of fun sharing the space with these creative people!

I hired part time stuff for my own graphic design project. I had good eyes for talent, so they never stayed! My clients were mostly fashion related. Toward the end of it’s glory, the Italian fashion label, Fiorucci became my client, and I decided to use my own illustration. That was 1988 and it set fire on my desire to illustrate. I went to see John Jay at Bloomingdale’s in 1989, and by the time I got back to my studio, I had a call from him with an assignment. I became busy with illustration right away but I continued to take some design jobs the following 5 years or so. I tried to keep up with design skills, but the continuous upgrade of layout programs, and introduction of web design made it impossible for me, and I eventually gave up.

However, while I was trying to venture into licensing and planning to develop products, I have been trying to brush up my design skills the last few years. I would love to work with talented young designers again.

Oh, yes, my painting! I started painting last year. I knew I wanted to start painting but didn’t know what and how. It really took me long time to get going. So, I found a gallery in Tokyo to have a solo show, and figured out what to do then. I needed a deadline! It still took few more months until it all came together.
My painting is completely different from my illustration. I specialize in portraits and New York Cityscapes.

Your work is quite unique, can you tell us where your inspiration comes from?

I would have said “travel” in old days, but I don’t travel much anymore because of having a young daughter. Now our life is tied to her school schedule and her liking.
I’m lucky to be still living in New York City where one can find inspirations everywhere.
I need to breath different air, otherwise I go crazy. In this city, each neighborhood offers different culture and energy, so it’s great.

I have deep love for Middle Eastern culture, and instead of going all the way to Middle East, I can go to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and have a meal next to Yemenis who are dressed in traditional clothes; I can go to Neue Gallerie and immerse myself in the world of Viennese Secession. Visiting Barney’s helps, too! I know it’s not the same with traveling, but I can at least keep myself from going dehydrated of inspiration.

What hardware and software are you using?

I have 24” screen iMac at the studio and at home. I also have iBook, too. I use Photoshop for illustration.

How does your job as an artist and designer influence your life? Do you feel that you see things around you differently?

I guess. It has pros and cons. My work is basically my hobby. There is only a fine line between the two. Being creative can make you picky and it can create conflict if your spouse is also a creative who has a different taste (my husband is a former art director). You live in constant compromise. A wrong color of kitchen brush can make me (or him) annoyed. I feel that we both deserve to live in environment of our liking. How? is the question.

And both skills come in handy also. My daughter is definitely a beneficiary of my skills, and I tell her not to take it for granted, but she does. I’ve organized art projects for her class, too. Now she wants me to paint all her 23 Webkins. I bet you don’t know what that is, do you? I’ve done 4 so far.

Where would you like to be with your illustration 5 to 10 years from now?

I would actually like to be on the client side hiring illustrators to illustrate my bilingual education products. I guess I will finally become an art director. How is that?

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