The Artist Behind the Art: Ryohei Yamashita

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For several years, the SketchBook team has been showcasing art created by a particular artist for our marketing and promotional content. The images are full of life and help spark inspiration for our users. For whatever reason (we don’t actually know why), we have never featured the artist behind these incredibly vibrant works of art. Well, the time is come to introduce our audience to our very good friend, Ryohei Yamashita. We sat down with Ryohei to ask him a few questions about his work, tools and how he got to where he is today:

The Artist Behind the Art – Ryohei Yamashita

Ryohei Yamashita creates paintings with the consistent theme of YAKUDO, which means, translated literally, “full of life and energy.” Like the climactic moment in a film, his paintings are iconic, explosive, energetic, and memorable. RYOHEI’s unique fisheye lens perspective adds to his works’ depth, breadth, and beautiful trajectory lines, creating this dramatic effect of YAKUDO.


SKETCHBOOK: Hi Ryohei, Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of our questions.
As you know, we have been loyal fans of your work for a number of years now. Your style of painting brings so much life to the canvas. However, we haven’t ever really let our users know who the artist is behind these iconic paintings.

We’d like to start by asking if you have been drawing and painting your entire life? Or if there was a point growing up where you decided that art was something that you were passionate about?

RYOHEI YAMASHITA: My pleasure. As far I can remember, I always was drawing things if I had paper and pen on hand. Anyway, I was interested in many different drawings.

I remember as a young child of getting engrossed in encyclopedias which were rich in illustrations. I also would copy any illustration that caught my eye. During my childhood, I was mainly involved in athletic sports but I continued my interest in drawing. My first paid experience for drawing was in college when I drew caricatures on the street.

BMX Kyoto – Ryohei Yamashita

SB: Can you think of any projects that you’ve worked on that stand out as having a significant impact on your career?

RY: A proposal I received in 2008 to make a visual production for Nike, later became very important to me as well as for my career. My athletic experience as a child had a positive impact in the production of this visual project. Ever since, I’ve been given more opportunities to do sports oriented projects. I’ve also been able to do more drawings of people full of life and energy.

SB: Are there any artists that you take influence from? Or whose careers you aspire to be similar to?

RY: I haven’t really been influenced by any one artist but I do like the brush touches and illumination expression of such artists as Auguste Renoir, Charles Sovek, Edward Hopper and Joaquín Sorolla. With expression involving movement, I like Leroy Neiman, Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly. Perhaps I’m influenced in some way by these people.

SB: Do you take influence from other mediums you may not work with? How does sculpture/architecture/music influence your work?

RY: Motion pictures, in particular, influence me a lot. My concentration of study at college was motion picture related and at the time, my dream was to become a film director. I feel these experiences have been put to use in my painting compositions and works expressing movement. Incidentally, the very first motion picture I ever saw was “Star Wars” in 1977. I was just 4 years old but some scenes from the film are still vivid in my memory.

Waterside – Ryohei Yamashita

SB: On your website, you mention the style ‘YAKUDO’ which means, translated literally, “full of life and energy.”  Clearly this is something that you excel at. Is this something that you strive to achieve, based on other artist using the Yakudo style? Or was this a characteristic of your work that developed naturally over time?

RY: As far as the “YAKUDO” style, I wasn’t conscious of it at first. I became conscious of it later, however, when people who saw my works started to talk about my artwork as being “full of life and energy”. I think it was this sense of mine developed from my childhood days as an athlete and from my film studies in college that somehow resulted in my artwork expression being “full of life and energy”.

SB: Are there any specific philosophies that you follow, or techniques in your process that help bring your paintings to life?

RY: First, make sure you enjoy the feeling of being lively and energetic. I think the experience of seeing this happen with your own eyes will result in putting reality into your artwork.

Illustration 1 (Longboard) – Ryohei Yamashita

SB: Has becoming a professional artist hindered your passion for your craft in anyway?

RY: It’s true that whatever the job may be, there’s going to be various restrictions placed on you if you act in the capacity of a professional. Naturally, I may get a bit depressed depending on the nature of such restrictions. However I’ve never felt these restrictions hampering my passion for my work.

SB: What drives you to continue making art?

RY: I think my insatiable quest for expression which I believe is stronger than what anyone else may have, is the driving force which allows me to continue creating art. The moment an original artwork of mine sells or the second I receive a request to do a new project is when I feel happiest about doing the work I do. You can say that the source of the passion I have for my work comes from the fact that people take the trouble to select me over all other artists.

Samurai Chop – Ryohei Yamashita

SB: How important is lighting and its behaviour to your work?

RY: In my artwork, lighting is as important as the essence of being “full of life and energy”. You can even say that the balance between light and shadow can make or break a piece of art.

SB: At what stage of the process do you start thinking about how light sources will affect your work?

RY: I become conscious at an early stage of my artwork as to how many colors of light exist with what type of intensity. This is because light and shadows have a close relationship. The degree of completion in a drawing improves dramatically if shadow coloring has a sensation of unity.

See You Tomorrow – Ryohei Yamashita

SB: Your compositions are always so impressive. And the viewer can spend quite a bit of time discovering new aspects hidden in the peripherals of the canvas. Do these details get added at the end of the painting process or are they always planned ahead of time?

RY: It really depends on the artwork. The setting for “See you tomorrow train” is based on the landscape of Yokohama, where I live. In my artwork, I put a dramatic moment of an encounter while walking alongside the river. The actual essence of items that really exist in the landscape such as trains, shrines and expressways are placed within the painting in good balance and then reconstructed.

Shibuya Race – Ryohei Yamashita

SB: What were your favourite tools or media before moving to digital?

RY: Before my encounter with digital media, I used acrylic paint, which I liked. I found it very useful for me from the point that you could over-glaze with it and because the paint dried quickly.

SB: How and when did you make the decision to move to digital painting?

RY: I remember that in the middle of the 1990s there was this Macintosh boom which got me really interested in digital drawing, so much so that I studied and practiced it on my very own. Mainly, I would draw illustrations using Photoshop. Its production process was totally different from analog drawing. This as well as its applicability fascinated me. For about ten years, digital media was practically all I did. Although I use both digital and analog methods to complete my works right now, I apply digital media to simulate color and composition even if I finish an artwork in analog.

SB: What was your first hardware setup for digital sketching?

RY: I used a Power Macintosh. For a college student at the time, this was an enormous purchase for me. Yet looking back now, I think it was the right investment to make.

Samurai 4D – Ryohei Yamashita

SB:  What about SketchBook makes it your software of choice?

RY: My fascination with SketchBook is in its rich variety of unique brushes and the affordability of the software. I also am fond with its interface which enables me to intuitively make sketches. When I was a college student, all they had was expensive painting software. So I feel a bit envious of students today who have affordable software they can purchase.

SB: Can you let the people know what your current hardware set up looks like?

RY: Right now, I’m using  a Wacom Intuos 5 Medium tablet, running off a 27″ iMac which is connected to a 17 inch sub-monitor.

SB: Do you have any hardware recommendations for new and aspiring artists looking to get into digital media?

RY: I’ve only used Macintosh computers so naturally I can recommend Macs. However I recommend a system that doesn’t get you stressed out when you draw.
It would be nice to have a monitor that’s 25 inches or more. Also enough RAM like at least 8GB. And when using SketchBook, what you shouldn’t be without is a pen tablet with fine pressure sensitivity.

Illustration 2 (Moving) – Ryohei Yamashita

SB: Finally, if you could give an aspiring artist one piece of advice, what would it be?

RY: Get involved seriously in the issues facing you today. If you do, the path to your next step will open before you. Even if this is something you don’t want to do, it will consequently be beneficial to you in your future works. When I was young I was caught up with a pursuit of finding my own, unique style. Yet I only ended up chasing after fashion and ultimately never discovered my own style. I would say, be patient and keep expressing yourself until what you see and feel in life filters into your artwork, even if you have to take a bit of a detour. You get your own, unique style of artwork by doing this.

SB: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.

RY: It is always a pleasure working with you.

To learn more about the immensely talented Ryohei Yamashita, and to view his entire catalogue of work, be sure to check out his site at