The first time I saw Okamoto Hajime’s cat drawings, I was immediately taken in by their charm. To me, Okamoto (and so many Japanese illustrators and artists) have a quality that is hard for me to define, and yet, there is a distinct “Japanese” style to it. Whatever that is, it’s something that I try to emulate (with not much success) in my own drawings.
Born in Osaka in 1942, Okamoto’s style was greatly influenced while on a cultural exchange to the Jilin Province of China in the 80’s. The Kabamaru Series series was born, with delightful drawings of cats in various situations.
These playful cats each have their own name and personality. Kabamaru is the leader of the group, taking good care of his friends. “Kaba” in Japanese means “hippo” and “maru” means “round.” He’s named that because he’s a bit of a slow walker. Urume is a laid back tomboy.
I wonder if it has to do with my brief time living in Japan as a child that feel like these speak to something deep in my subconscious, but I can’t seem to get over how funny, interesting and ultimately beautiful these illustrations they are. I think that there is a difficult challenge when drawing characters that don’t look 100% proportionate, or drawn in a “childlike” way, and yet looks “right” to my eye. Honestly, I think it’s because Okamoto is actually a brilliant drawer, and can pull off illustrating something that looks deceptively simple – something that a less-than-brilliant drawer would be able to pull off.