Character Sketch

Why the Illustrator Naomi Otsu Still Thinks About Sesame Street

Naomi Otsu had pretty much the coolest job you can get after graduating from Parsons School of Design: working on graphics for the hipper-than-hip brand Opening Ceremony. Since going freelance in 2014, she has collaborated with the likes of Adidas, DKNY, and Y7 and has done all sorts of for-fun projects that seem throwback and fresh at once. Born in New York and raised in Tokyo, Naomi loves to call back to the TV she watched as a kid and brings a colorful eye to all she creates. Get to know Naomi—and her favorite things to draw—below.


Q. How did you hone in on your style and tone?

A. “It took a while but came to me naturally after I let go of what I thought I should be in relation to other people. I work both by hand and digitally depending on the job, but I learn towards digital mediums for my personal work. Still, I really enjoy painting when I do have the time and love a solid pen to sketch and write with.”


Q. Tell us about your self-portrait—what gives it its Naomi-ness?

A. “I haven’t drawn a self-portrait in a while, and in this one, I made sure to include plants and pops of color in a clean environment. I think those things represent my general aesthetic.”


Q. Who are a few of your favorite illustrators? What informed your work—which manages to feel both modern and a little bit retro—when you were a younger artist?

A. “The illustrations in Schoolhouse Rock! and the pinball countdown in Sesame Street were so visually satisfying to me as a kid, and that’s true to this day. And Mike Mills really influenced me during my teenage years.”

Q. What’s your favorite subject matter to draw?

A. “Food! I love drawing food. There are so many textures and colors to play with! I have a blog that I work on with my sister called we8that—we get dinner together and review restaurants around New York, and sometimes when we go home to Tokyo. I illustrate the dishes.”


Q. Is there a new project you’re really excited about right now?

A. “I recently collaborated with my boyfriend, Nico, to do a train etiquette pamphlet that we handed out earlier this year.”


Q.  What’s your drawing setup? Do you stay in one spot or mix up locations?

A. “I have a desk in my room that I work at most of the time. If I need to zone out and crank on something for long periods of time, I’ll get myself a hot cup of tea and listen to Complexion radio. When I get stuck, I get out of that space that I’m in and take a walk or go to the gym to let my mind focus on something else.”