It’s worth braving the crowds at the British Museum to see ‘Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave’ this summer. Aside from the insights into Japanese culture and image-making, there’s a lot of personal branding tips for artists to learn and how to make a living from your art.
This is so relevant to modern creative practice. Hokusai’s broad range of subject matter, influences, and imagery mean if you’re making images and looking to brand yourself online, whether you design clothing and homeware or sell art prints, you’ll benefit from Hokusai’s wisdom.
Innovation and Inspiration
Historically, the most famous individual in Japanese art. The vibrant colors and energetic scenes will transport you to a world of flowers, animals, ancient spirits, and overwhelming landscapes. Hokusai opens a window into a society that was closed for two centuries until 10 years after his death.
The small amount of European contact that was permitted had a great influence on Hokusai as he experimented with European ideas of perspective, lighting, and the brilliant Prussian Blue; the new ideas Hokusai brought to Japanese image making and his fantastically inventive approaches meant he had such a profound effect on art history.
Personal Branding Tips for Artists from the Japanese Master
After Hokusai’s death, Japan opened its doors to the outside world, and Hokusai’s beautiful work flooded to the west. These now iconic images made their way west not as high art prints but on trade objects; screens, vases, fans, and plates. This popular design style was known as ‘Japonisme’. Each manifestation of the multiplication of an icon far from diminishes its power but rather serves to increase its fame. Printing your images across fashion and homeware pieces will only empower the piece further. Hokusai made his imagery and it was reproduced across a line of products.
He had his own brand too. In fact, over the course of his life time Hokusai renamed and rebranded himself over 30 times! Hokusai, the most popular of his signatures, means ‘North Studio’. At 61 he took on the name ‘Litsu’, which means ‘a fresh beginning’, and his last self-chosen name translates as ‘old man crazy to paint.’ Hokusai embraced change and rolled with the punches. He also wasn’t afraid to break boundaries.
A Life Saving Commission
Hokusai’s most famous print series ’36 views of Mount Fuji’ may well have saved his life. The poor, struggling artist received the commission at exactly the right time and the money allowed him to keep creating. He even had to self-medicate following a stroke because he couldn’t afford a doctor, whilst his grandson ran up large amounts of debt and his wife passed away.
This great series of bold colors and broad, eye-catching compositions depict all aspects and angles of Japanese life and Mount Fuji. We see colorways of the same print side by side, the paler the artist’s choice of color; the more vibrant, ‘Fine Wind, Clear Morning’ is now the more famous. It turns out even a great artist can’t always know which work will resonate the most with his audience.
All these prints, though small in size, have had a massive impact on artists since; from Monet to Van Gogh. The bold, almost graphic design is as strong as the timeless, universal narrative expressing the awesome power of nature. The permeance of the mountain and the fleeting transience of human life.
An Unwavering Worth Ethic
These great works come in the first half of the exhibition. Hokusai’s early work is barley shown but surmised in the chunks of text scattered throughout the gallery. There’s a good reason for this. When he took on the name Litsu he believed this was a new beginning for him, he believed his work would be reborn at the age of 61.
In the final third of his life, he produced an endless stream of increasingly beautiful images as he strived towards perfection. He honed his practice daily and believed each year that passed would improve his work. At 100 years-old he believed he would reach his peak. This drive and commitment to his work was truly inspiring and offers solace in times of frustration when creating.
Lessons to Learn from Hokusai
Feeling like a student again, I left the British museum with many lessons well learned. Inspired to fully commit to my work, draw upon all aspects of life, and see continuous change as a potential for opportunity. His works now appear on all manner of home and fashion items, from trays to scarves.
Whether you are looking to brand yourself online, are trying to sell your art online, or just need some personal branding tips for artists, look to Hokusai for answers. I have no doubt that if he were alive now, with his talent and drive, he’d be an elite #ContradoCreative. Click the banner below to see how you can brand yourself online and make a living from your art with Contrado.
Written by Mike Thebridge