We’re long time fans of Seb Agresti’s here at It’s Nice That, so the enticement of new work from the illustrator is always an exciting one. And this time, we were particularly drawn to it, as it has been a whole two years since we last wrote about his work, and because he’s recently completed a three-month residency in Japan.
Seb moved there last March, he tells us, to undertake a residency at Studio Kura in a little town called Itoshima. “I saw some Instagram stories by Dutch illustrator Aafke Bouman when she was doing the same residence there a year ago and really felt drawn to the place and its surroundings. I’ve always had a strong connection with Japan, am a big fan of Japanese cinema and collect a lot of Japanese art books and vinyl, so I always had the plan to make the trip down here at some point.”
On top of this, Seb had been working non-stop for two years and felt “really worn out and uninspired during my last few projects.” While he was “still delivering work that satisfied clients” he missed the playfulness and element of the unexpected which he’d previously enjoyed so much. “In illustration, you are often asked because of the last thing you did, and if you don’t look out you can end up really repeating yourself a lot,” he adds. Seb arrived in Japan just as the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to escalate and his return flight got cancelled, meaning his trip has been extended and he’s still there. “Because times are uncertain I have been taking on client work as well, but most time has been spent working and trying out things for myself.”
The work Seb produced in Japan appears to be a direct response to his frustrations, depicting a series of beautifully calm landscapes which were his attempt to “shut off my brain for a while and not be bothered with coming up with conceptual ideas.” He employed a similar technique when back in art school, enrolling a still life painting class when he was feeling a similar way. “People who have never done still life painting often think it’s quite boring, trying to capture exactly what’s in front of you, but it’s not. If you look at everyones work at the end of a session, the works looks totally different,” he remarks. Personality is clearly visible in this kind of work, he continues, and “without the restrictions of client-based work or art directors feedback, this was an exercise in finding out, again, how I translate my own experiences into drawings and capturing a place that has been like a second home for the past four months.”
As a location, Itoshima has been creatively uplifting for Seb, describing how “it just really is a different planet, where everything looks and works differently.” In turn, he’s been collecting a lot of reference material, photographing book covers, street signs and posters, as well as architecture. There’s also the endless hours he’s spent in vintage toy shops, “discovering so many great things that I would have never found online.”
In total, there will be 36 landscapes, inspired by Hokusai’s 36 views of Mt. Fuji, as well as other artists working in the Ukiyo-e tradition. This is evident in the work’s flat style, which lacks any realistic perspective and had a graphic quality to it. Alongside these landscapes, Seb has also produced a “manual of sorts,” documenting “a lot of different visual experiments, from drawing styles and custom made brushes to textures and Photoshop/Illustrator effects.” He’s yet to share these online, but is looking for a way they could be integrated into the series somehow.
Reflecting on how the past two years has impacted his work, Seb has learned that he needs to be creatively challenged by a broad spectrum of creative assignments. “I am interested to see how my ideas and designs translate to other mediums,” he says, pointing to the facade and interior mural he created for Warby Parker’s new Houston store as a highlight. These kinds of challenges have “really improved my confidence as a visual designer and problem solver,” he continues. “When you start out, it can be tempting to focus on pleasing the client and agree with all their feedback, wanting your work to get out there.” At some point, he advises, you have to start seeing yourself as a creative who gets hired because of successful work you have done in the past and when you understand this, it massively changes your relationship with clients. “It’s believing in your own creative choices and being able to communicate to others effectively.”
Finally, he tells us how looking ahead, he wants to continue reinventing himself and his work, taking inspiration from a design hero of his, Milton Glaser. “If you look at his book with posters, at first it looks like all these are made by different people, yet there is something very ‘Milton Glaser’ about these posters,” Seb says. “It’s something I strive towards, re-inventing myself, learning and evolving as an artist. Having spent time experimenting for myself in the past couple of months and experiencing the joy of happy accidents and documenting new ways of working, it has really motivated me to incorporate these experiences into future projects and try out different visual languages.”
View of Imazu Bay, Itoshima, Fukuoka
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.