Saori is a passionate and self-taught Japanese lettering artist. I discovered her work through Instagram but it turned out we did have common friends ‘in real life’. Saori was living in London before coming back to Japan, where she got plenty of inspiration to start with a completely new skill, hand lettering.
Her well-curated Instagram stands out as soon as you browse through her clean and bright portfolio. We met in a café and then in her studio, where she will show where she gets inspiration and how she came to be where she is now. This is Saori Kasai:
When and how did you decide to move abroad?
I unexpectedly moved to London in 2014 due to my day job (which has nothing to do with lettering) and spent a little over three years there. It was a total surprise that I was moving to Europe although I knew I would be transferred to somewhere in the world.
Tell us a bit more about you
I grew up in the western side of Japan, surrounded by mountains. I moved out from home at 18, went to uni in Kyoto, and relocated to Tokyo at 22 to start my full-time job there. After four years in Tokyo, my day-job finally took me to London.
As you know, the weather in London is not the greatest, so basically, I wanted to find something I can do indoor. First, I re-discovered the fun of graphic designs by watching YouTube tutorials and made a whole bunch of vector designs. That led me to explore other kinds of arts and designs such as modern calligraphy which then led me to self-study typography. Now that I think of, I’ve always loved typefaces from my young age, looking through fonts online and remembering their shapes and names, but not exactly knowing that typography is a thing. I fell in love with lettering, kept drawing, and here I am!
Your skills in 2 years have improved vastly. How many hours and days have you spent learning?
Aw, thank you! I would spend a whole day during weekends at my favorite cafe nearby, just drawing and drawing, then go back home and keep drawing again. During weekdays, I carried my iPad and was drawing on the commute, and during lunchtime and after work at home. So I think I spent quite some time doing lettering.
I plan to keep doing lettering and exploring new styles, but I want to focus more on creating for others. Having clients and their needs is quite different from doing lettering as a hobby, and I want to get better at knowing what they need.
Also, I would like to teach other people more. I did brush calligraphy workshops in August and September and learned a lot. Teaching really has let me realize what I know and what I don’t know, and I think it’s such a valuable experience for me to get better. So I plan to continue doing that.
Did your intensive approach impact your social life?
Once I got back to Tokyo, I met SO MANY people in the creative field. I set my goal to meet as many Japan-based creatives mostly in the lettering community I follow on Instagram. So in that sense, I got much more active, having plans every weekend to meet someone or going to events. Also, I think I got used to meeting and talking to new people. I am still a bit of awkward person but I learned to speak with confidence in front of people by going to events and meetups, doing workshops and presentations.
I think there are more pros than cons for being active on weekends! You have a different life with different identity almost… Working as an office worker gets sometimes stressful or boring, but having a passion outside the day-job and being able to have time to focus on your passion is making my life a lot more fun and meaningful. I think the cons are that I don’t often go back to my parent’s house because I have plans during weekends.
Do you have a mentor?
I didn’t have a proper mentor but I learned so much from people I met in London and Tokyo, and the artists I admire. One of the people I admire is Lauren Hom – she is a talented lettering artist based in the US, not only creating amazing artworks but also working very hard to encourage and inspire other artists. I was inspired in many ways but the biggest part would be the mindset that I don’t just want to do lettering and making pretty images that may be forgotten tomorrow but want to use lettering as a medium to convey positive messages that could impact someone’s mindset, life, and goals.
How is your life in Tokyo?
I love living in Tokyo! The sky is blue almost every day (though this year has more typhoons it seems…), the food is amazing, and it is so easy to find great stationery. I think I have had a lot more opportunities in Tokyo too, I started getting a lot more inquiries once I moved to Tokyo for some reason.
Some of the things I miss about being in London is the big parks, old pubs with wooden interior, nice cafes with wi-fi, middle-eastern foods (falafel and hummus!), and how easy it is to travel around Europe!
What are your future plans?
My future plan is to have a business around lettering and stationery. In the short term, I would like to meet as many people as possible in person, not necessarily those who are in the lettering community, but anyone with a passion for something. In the long term, xxx
Where can our readers reach you?
I am most active on Instagram (@_lil.something_), so it is best to be reached there.
“LIL” stands for Life in London, however, I am not in London anymore, so thinking of what to do with this name!
Can you also share some of your favorite pieces?
Do you have a store?
Not right now, but there will be! I have been collaborating with a stationery brand called My Colugo in Indonesia, and the products will be available soon, so I will open a store when they are all ready.
I want to thank Saori for being part of this interview and for showing a little bit of her life.
Hope you get to know her more through her Social Media channels:
I also want to thank Miquel Gonzalez, Alvaro Arregui and Ian Battaglia for their feedback before posting this article.
Also published on Medium.