“Unique, strange and weird”, Takaya Katsuragawa’s illustrations are full of unexpected moments

While preferring to work in the digital realm, the illustrator wants his work to have a hand-drawn feel and takes inspiration from traditional Japanese painting techniques.

16 August 2022

Despite their pleasant, calming style, Takaya Katsurgawa’s illustrations are littered with untoward happenings. Showing axe wielding figures, erupting fires and monster-like claws emerging through windows, his works have an unquestionably dark edge to them. But all of these acts and apparitions, which appear in seemingly everyday living spaces, are also given a uniquely peculiar feel. Creating this uneasy atmosphere is seemingly the foremost goal of the Tokyo-based illustrator. “I’m attracted to things that are unique, strange and weird, rather than direct, perfect and easy to understand stories,” he says, “I value this sense of strangeness in my work.”

Another means by which Takaya archives this feeling is by purposefully hiding facial expressions. Composing his characters so they are only viewed from behind, Takaya intends to “dilute” emotions. It's a technique that allows for the figures to be unified with the whole picture, all the while drawing the viewer’s eyes to the scene. This type of composition is informed by his love of photography, and the specific way photographers place both people and objects in their pieces.


Takaya Katsuragawa: Lost Love (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2021)

Despite having loved creative expression as a child, Takaya went on to study engineering at university. At the beginning of his academic journey, Takaya began drawing in analogue alongside his studies before slowly making the move to digital and getting hooked. It was then after winning a prize in a small competition that really pushed him to take things more seriously and “the experience made me think that I could make a living from drawing”. Now, Takaya is working as an illustrator and finishing his postgraduate studies.

While Takya is fairly dedicated to his digital approach, he consciously attempts to craft a hand-drawn feel in his work. “I deliberately create a messy part within my pieces to express the lack of control of hand-drawn illustrations, creating a sense of strangeness within the digital expression,” he explains. Recently, Takata took his digital exploration of analogue techniques even further. During an exhibition, he was told that his work reminded a number of people of early 20th Century Japanese Nihonga painting, a typically monochrome or polychrome style that uses natural raw materials. In response to this feedback, he created the piece Payback. Showing its central character in a traditional Japanese Kimono and maintaining a limited colour palette – while still including his trademark themes and settings – the piece is a perfect example of sticking true to your style while allowing for well-informed development.


Takaya Katsuragawa: Veil (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)


Takaya Katsuragawa: Midnight Monster (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)


Takaya Katsuragawa: Bizarre Love (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)


Takaya Katsuragawa: Hunter (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)


Takaya Katsuragawa: Fiction (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)


Takaya Katsuragawa: Crazy Neighbor (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)


Takaya Katsuragawa: Nauty Boy (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)


Takaya Katsuragawa: The Metamorphosis (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)


Takaya Katsuragawa: Secret (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa, 2022)

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Takaya Katsuragawa: Payback (Copyright © Takaya Katsuragawa 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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