Funny advertisements on trains, construction sites, hipster clothing from secondhand shops, messy rooms, traffic signs and rural mountain roads: these are the pillars to the work of illustrator Megumi Ono-Chan. By drawing from these elements of daily life, the illustrator is able to depict a satirical and humorous take on the world. Yet how she got here wasn’t quite a clear path.
Based in Saitama, Japan, Ono-Chan has spent most of her life drawing – particularly taking inspiration from her favourite TV anime characters. Then, during high school, she toyed with the nature of realism and turned towards scenery and still life as her subjects, before learning towards design. “I liked rock music and I was really interested in video footage,” Ono-Chan tells It’s Nice That. “Therefore, I went to video school and studied music video production.” After graduating, she pursued a role as a display producer for a photography studio part-time. “Alongside this, I made movies and drew pictures as a hobby,” she continues. But it was when she had a sudden realisation that illustration was more than just an art form, that she steered away from graphic design and ventured further into the medium.
Now, Ono-Chan creates vibrant illustrative work that rings with a number of influences. Firstly, she cites the usual suspect of Yayoi Kusama as key a player in her work, as well as Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake, French illustrator and filmmaker Michel Gondry, plus Spitz, a Japanese rock band, and Crayon Shin-chan, a Japanese manga series, and a monkey character named Osaru no Monkish. “The characters have helped develop my current drawing style,” she says, continuing to explain how her interests in fashion magazines, record jackets, and 70s and 80s culture have also been enigmatic. “I’m always attracted and inspired by what I see in daily life.”
With these varying elements in mind, Ono-Chan takes to her studio and commences her drawing process – one that interchanges depending on the “mood of the day”, in terms of people, objects or landscapes. But before putting pen to paper, she makes sure to add to her archive of materials that she’s stockpiled over time, be it images found online or in physical magazines. “Once I have enough of them, I sketch and start to draw, adding colours abruptly.” She turns to water-based pens, oil-based markers and watercolour paints as her tools of choice, while adhering to a spontaneous practice that varies depending on that which she’s illustrating. “I enjoy the tension and feeling of creating an unexpected shape, as it makes the picture interesting,” she says.
The result is a character-driven portfolio filled with rather whacky illustrations. “All of the characters were created by myself and were developed from a casual sketch,” she adds. “One day, I drew my eyes with my hands and legs, and made them appear to be dressed up – then a mysterious and unique creature was born.” Thus, this blossomed into the idea of a “swimsuit female character”, developed primarily from 80s pin-up girls. “I wanted to break the image of the pin-up girl as feminine, so I made it appear with even colours. By chance, the shape of the head turned out to look like an octopus, so I went along with it.”
Her most recent series, titled Utopia, sees these characters come into play. With an idea to reference the notion of life and death, Ono-Chan decided on a story that focused on an “exhausted construction worker” who “caught the eye of a beautiful women in a big signboard while operating a heavy machine”. She adds: “It caused an accident. Once he recovered to consciousness, there’s the same woman standing in front of him. He was tempted by her and followed her into the sea.” As a symbol of sex, the woman lured in this “lustful labourer” who ultimately followed her out to sea and to his death. This, in some ways radical feminist stance takes a firm look at the relationship between men and women, and how these two gendered constructs are becoming “ambiguous in the present age”.
In the future, Ono-Chan has plans to continue work with heavy machines and the swimsuit beauty series. “However, curiosity changes from day-to-day, so I may start drawing something completely different tomorrow – in any case, I want to keep on drawing with my eyes wide open.”