Revisiting Kellen Hatanaka’s bright, bold work is a surefire way to counteract the occasional winter blah. When it’s extra gray outside, we’re desperate for ankle coverage, and our favorite foods aren’t in season, Hatanaka’s clean, poppy images put a little pep in our step. Frankly, they’re refreshing. Just see his two 20x200 editions for yourself. His graphic, pared down aesthetic and emphasis on shape and color result in totally charming renderings, objects and figures that pack a lot of personality. Imagine the effect on a mural—Hatanaka is a true multitalent, flexing his distinctive style through large scale public pieces, illustration, graphic design, painting, mixed media and more. There’s a sense of spontaneity, and a passionate sort of genuineness in his perfectly imperfect lines.
We probably should have guessed he’d field our burning questions with disarming authenticity and characteristic cool-guy grace. In our In The Studio, tour Hatanaka’s Stratford, Ontario studio, then get his thoughts on carving out dedicated work space, letting off a little steam with a skateboarding sesh, and making time for personal art priorities. Take a peek below! – Jen Bekman + Team 20x200
Where's your studio?
My studio is located in Stratford, Ontario.
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
I use a variety of mediums and tools in my work. Most of my practice consists of painting, but I also like to work on sculptural pieces. I definitely have favorite brushes for certain situations while I am painting, but I think my favorite tool in the studio is my Japanese hand plane. Aesthetically it’s beautiful and I love the simplicity of the design.
What do you wear when working in the studio?
I paint in a pair of navy work pants and a plain tee.
What's on your in-studio playlist?
It all depends on the day but usually a mix of rap, jazz, soul, R&B and blues. Podcasts are great too.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
When I arrive at the studio I change and set up my workspace for the day. I also take a critical look at my works in progress. I had a painting teacher who told us the first few minutes before you start to paint is the best time to figure out what needs to be done/reworked. You’re far more likely to dive in and paint over something early on than you are after working at the piece for hours.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
My natural tendency is to work in bursts. I definitely tend to procrastinate which leads to long days/late nights leading up to a deadline. However, since my wife and I had our son I’ve worked hard to be more proactive and set up a studio schedule to manage my time better.
You've designed and illustrated for some super huge brands and publications, but you've also built out a beautiful portfolio beyond that. How do you balance your personal artistic practice with your commercial work? Is there any rule or guideline you use when approaching a new a commercial project?
Finding a balance between commercial and personal work can be tricky. It’s easy to let personal projects slide when client deadlines are looming. I try to block off certain hours or days in the week for my personal work. Right now my goal is to try and maintain at least a 50/50 split for commercial and personal work but eventually, I’d like to see the scale tip further towards my fine art practice.
I always make sure my client work is a good fit. If I have moral reservations about the client or they are asking me to do something that I feel won't result in my best work, I don't take it on.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
I’ve got a few, but number one would have to be skateboarding. My space is just long enough that I can skate flat ground so I’ll do that if I hit a wall or just want to move around. I’ve also got a basketball net set up which can be a fun way to burn a few minutes.
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist and how’d you get there?
I’m not sure if I ever had that moment of realization. I always liked drawing and building things when I was young which led to me trying to paint canvases and stuff like that in high school. Eventually I ended up in the illustration program at OCADU. More recently I’ve realized that I want to focus my time on painting and sculpture and pursuing a much more active fine art practice.
How do you get over creative blocks?
Getting over creative blocks is tough. Sometimes it just takes putting in those extra hours of work to finally figure out the solution but often I just need to step away. Taking the dog for a walk with my wife, playing with my 10 month old and skateboarding have been really important for me when I need to get over a creative block or relieve work stress.
What do you like best about 20x200?
20x200 gives people access to a wide variety of incredible art. It’s a great way for people to get into collecting art and discover new artists.
Which artists' 20x200 collections do you most covet (and why)?
Jimmy Mezei is killing it. He’s one of my closest friends and he keeps me inspired with the work he’s consistently putting out. Love Yuji Yamada’s sports pieces. Also Jason Polan, Hiro Kurata and Kindah Khalidy’s work is really great.
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
First of all, I think it helps a lot to have a physical barrier between work and home life. When you have to travel to the studio it puts you in the mindset to work. You’re there for one purpose only. It’s also very important for me because I like to work on large paintings, so I need the physical space to facilitate my work. For anyone looking to build a work space I would say just put yourself in the best situation you can to succeed. Being able to make the work is number one as far as I am concerned.
The 411 on Kellen Hatanaka
Kellen Hatanaka is an artist and designer from Toronto, Canada. He works in a variety of disciplines including graphic design, illustration, painting and sculpture. In his bold, graphic approach he reduces his subject matter into minimalist studies of shape and color. Drawing with a sense of immediacy and embracing the resulting imperfections, Hatanaka creates compositions reminiscent of cut paper. He lives with his wife Kiersten, their son Tomo, and their dog, Paul.