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Araki Koman

An interview with Araki Koman, a Paris-born minimalist illustrator and designer.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself ...

I am a Parisian Designer and Illustrator based in London. Six years ago, I recovered from a 10-year creative block while embracing a minimalist mindset and living in eight countries as a modern nomad. When I am not designing products for my online shop and drawing for clients, I share my experiences, discoveries and insights to help and inspire art enthusiasts express themselves confidently and authentically, using the wisdom of minimalism.

Do you have a nickname ?

Aki. This is what some of my close friends and family call me and the easiest pronunciation of my name for those who struggle with the French ‘r’ sound.

Where do you call home ?

Although I was born and grew up in Paris, and my family is still there, living between eight countries back and forth for the last 12 years has made the notion of ‘home’ quite abstract. I feel like I have several ‘homes’. All the places that played a significant part in my evolution, influenced my identity and mindset through their culture or people I connected with are part of it.

What defines home for you ?

Home would be a place where I can be relaxed enough to take baths, meditate, journal, speak out loud to myself (I love doing that)… That could be anywhere geographically, as long as I am secure and cosy – that’s very important for me, especially as an introvert.

Who or what do you turn to when you have had a bad day ?

I am a person who usually likes avoiding pain and what’s not working (optimistic), so when I am not feeling well, doing something that calms myself is very important. Simply going back to sleep because the next day when I’ll wake up, I know I’ll be in a completely different mood and able to reset completely as if nothing happened.

Tell us about your Health + Wellness journey ?

In 2011, I was in my last job in marketing in a big company, and I was feeling really depressed. I know I wasn’t at the right place but I didn’t know what to do with my future, so everyday after work I would go to a park to do some soul searching to find answers to my struggles and see what would be next for me. At the time I was 24 and I knew I didn’t want to do what I was doing for the rest of my life, so I started Googling to understand why I was not feeling well and I remember asking one question to God, “What should I do now?” And a little voice inside of me replied, “Go back to what you used to do when you were younger.”

I was very creative as a child and wanted to be either an Illustrator, a Fashion Designer, Architect or Graphic Designer. I just knew I wanted to be in a creative career. Fast forward to a few months later, I enrolled into a Graphic Design class in London. In my new city, I met really interesting friends and one of them told me about about a 10-day meditation course called Vipassana.

In 2013, a few months after getting my first graphic design job, I signed up for this retreat in the English countryside. The rules were quite strict but brought a lot of healing and clarity at the time. Basically, for 10 days you had to stop talking and leave all distractions behind (no music, no phone, no books) in order to focus your full attention on meditation. We meditated 12 hours a day, woke up at 4 am, slept at 10pm. We had amazing plant-based nutritious food from the garden. It was an amazing experience because we were feeling things we never experienced before. The fact that we were silent and meditating with so much depth made our taste buds and body sensations really sharp. I personally experienced intense  reactions by unblocking unidentified things from my subconscious. It made me see life through a different angle.

Ever since, I’ve been interested in topics related to personal development, wellness and spirituality. For example, shortly after leaving Vipassana, I realised I wasn’t missing animal food. I then became a raw vegan, then slowly transitioned to vegan and finally vegetarian. I try my best to keep up with meditation in all forms (seating, writing and walking) and yoga practices. And for me, drawing and embracing my creativity is also a spiritual practice because when I create, I am very focused and feel quite intensely, whether it is joy, peace, pain and discomfort, facing it all while not trying to control it is a kind of meditation for me.

Where is your favourite Health + Wellness destination ?

I don’t necessarily go to a certain place. At the moment I am taking a six-week Kundalini workshop at Triyoga in Shoreditch – I really like the space. I also like taking walks. In terms of places, I really, really, really love cosy places. That’s so important for me. When it comes to work for example, if I am not cosy I can’t work and focus. I also really like being in green spaces. Although I don’t do it as much, that’s something that I really enjoy. I like mountainy areas, sun but not too much heat.

What's been your best Health + Wellness experience ?

I lived in Iceland from 2013 to 2014 for six months. That’s a place where there are lots of natural hot springs in nature and hot baths in all public swimming pools. Every mornings at 7am I used to do some aqua fitness at my local swimming pool. I was the only foreigner and young person in the middle of a group of old Icelandic people in that class. The class was led in Icelandic, which I couldn’t speak or understand but I didn’t care because I enjoyed the experience. My favourite moment was hanging out with some of them in the outdoor hot bath after each class, and having deep surreal conversations which I’ll never forget. A pure bliss!

What is your daily/weekly Health + Wellness routine ?

Exercise: I am very lazy, I do yoga once a week but I walk a lot. That’s my main exercise routine. I try to meditate everyday and do breathwork.

Nutrition: I usually eat a little bit throughout the day. I don’t eat at specific times, but usually when I am hungry. I know how to cook but I don’t have the patience, so I prefer just eating simple ingredients separately or recipes with less than five ingredients and less than an hour preparation and cooking time. The majority of the food I eat is wholesome and nutritious.

Spirituality: I am super connected. For me God is the most important aspect of my life. I see every interaction, sign, thing, people crossing my path with a purpose. I am very connected even though I don’t necessarily pray, but I am super aware and this regular communication helps me feeling like I am connected with all things. I am not perfect but I am trying to always come back to this mindset when life becomes a bit too hard.

Photo: Fran Hales

What is your go-to health food ?

I love almonds, anything with wholegrain, organic soy milk, herbal tea, and anything infused with ginger.

What's your devilish indulgence ?

Devilish or not… I call myself an intuitive vegetarian because 99% of what I eat is vegetarian. However, sometimes when I really feel like eating something that is not plant-based, I just go for it so the craving doesn’t come back. For example, I reintroduced fish into my diet when I spent three months in Japan, as I couldn’t function well as a full vegetarian there. I’ve been eating some from time to time ever since but I am very complicated when it come to fish. I am allergic to seafood and only like salmon or white fish, so I rarely eat it.

What is your favourite yoga position ?

Child’s pose. I really like that we are really like children, by letting go completely and it just allows you to feel supported. You feel like you can abandon yourself in the hand of God and I love this comfort and cosiness.

What makes you laugh ?

I laugh about how crazy this world is. I like looking around me in crowded streets or in the bus in the morning and wonder what we are all doing here. I think the concept of reality and life is quite hilarious in itself because we are trying to find sense, purpose and reasons to be doing what we are doing, while we don’t even know why we are here. This uncertainty is quite funny to me because we are trying to be super serious about things, we reject what’s not logic and realistic, while life itself is nothing logical. Our mere presence on this universe is a miracle but we constantly forget about it.

What do you fear ?

I fear losing my freedom to experiment and play with what life has to offer, as well leaving this life with nothing of value behind.

How do you find serenity ?

By focusing on what I am curious about, as time tends to stop when I am hyper-focused, being in visually peaceful environments and lush nature (except when mosquitoes find me tasty!).

What is it about IKIGAI Global that appeals to you ?

I really like the values behind and the visual identity!

What is the one book that has helped you discover your path and yourself ?

Definitely Eat Pray Love. I discovered that book at a time when I was living in Montreal, Canada. I remember when I read it, I had so many aha moments and tearful experiences because it felt like Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, was talking for me.

What's been the hardest thing to accept ?

Nothing is permanent. It’s both liberating for negative situations and scary for positive ones. It’s frightening to know that your existence won’t last forever and that you can loose the people that you love… in a blink. The worst is not the idea that it’s going to end but the fact that we don’t know when and how. We have to embrace the notion that nothing is permanent but the uncertainty bit is the hardest to accept I think.

How, what and why have you changed over the last 10 years ?

As I said earlier, in the past 12 years, I’ve lived in eight countries and I’ve had more than 10 different jobs. I’ve met so many people. If I compare myself to my 21-year-old self and who I am today, 10 years later, at 31; the main difference I can see is I accept vulnerability way more than I used to. I thought I had to have everything figured out to navigate this life and be confident. Today, I am okay with not knowing everything. I think it’s part of life to not know but still keep moving forward.

I am aware that my experience is a very rich part of myself. Even though my life isn’t what I would have expected at 31 back then (except the travelling and creative part), I know I have enough lessons from my own experience to share to the world.

Also, my language abilities got better, I am way less anxious than I used to be and I can see when things are not aligned with myself. My personal boundaries are stronger than they used to be. I was so insecure that I was trying to be liked by everyone. I am recovering slowly but I am just strong enough now to walk away or say no when something sounds off.

What do you do to make the world a more sustainable place ?

I am mindful about what I consume. I like buying from brands which align with my values as much as possible. As a minimalist, I also buy less things but focus on what I really love instead, donate what I am not using but can be useful for someone else. As a nomadic designer, wherever I am, I focus on working with local suppliers instead of looking for faraway cheap alternatives. For example, I worked with local printers and product manufacturers in Japan, France and the UK to design some prints, textiles, stationary. Whether its buying recycled paper or textile, or being super intentional with the tools that I choose to use (like using digital mediums or only buying a selected colour palette which I am sure to work with when using colour), I like to keep things simple and qualitative.

In my work I am also drawing about things that could be useful for people to know about. For example, by using my interest for anthropology in my Global Couture project I offer a different perspective about women from various cultures in the world. Seeing them as illustrations rather than remotely in books or magazines that people never buy makes them less exotic. Also, not using colour in my work – especially for people’s skin colour – is a way to see everyone at the same level. You just see them as they are: Humans. There’s no more hierarchy or preference to be made.

Do you have a good luck charm ?

It’s nothing material, but my faith in God, life and my optimism in general helps me attract lucky situations.

What is your mantra ?

Trust in the light of the Universe and know you are being guided.

What inspires you ?

Japan, fashion and lifestyle photography, anthropology, lush nature, travelling, people who live fully…

And finally, what is your ikigai ?

Art, creativity, illustration and design, which are the core of what I am doing. This is something that I love, I have an audience of people who appreciate my work and clients who need what I am doing for their own business, or to adorn their space. I am a professional because I am paid for it and it allows me to sustain myself.

To make this ikigai stronger, I am adding other components. I really think that what allowed me to bring more depth and more power to my creativity and my style is minimalism. A minimalism that came from my modern nomad experience. My goal right now is to implement those two other aspects into my career and do more than just create art by also sharing my wisdom, ideas, discoveries… I’d really love to dive deeper into those topics and explore how they relate to creativity through a blog, classes, workshops, talks. I am currently thinking about potentially launching a podcast and YouTube channel.

Cover Photo: Tim Franklin

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