The Whimsical Designs of Donna Ikkanda

For Donna Ikkanda, drawing animals has always been a challenge, dating all the way back to first grade. “My first critique came from my first grade teacher,” recalls Ikkanda. “I had drawn a reindeer; she told me I had not drawn a reindeer but Mickey Mouse with antlers. As a child, I used to copy drawings from the Sunday paper, so I’ve no doubt she was probably correct.”

These days, Ikkanda’s drawings have found their audience. Her latest designs are featured on Asian zodiac t-shirts at the Museum Store. Development of her design concepts evolve through character research. “I like to think about those animals and what, to me, may be their strongest character traits,” says Ikkanda. “It’s key that these animals show a personality—hopefully not in a cartoonish way. For the dog, it was a sense of exuberance; for the boar, sheer determination.”

This year, Ikkanda added a new element to her zodiac t-shirt design for the Year of the Boar, by adding the kanji of the boar, to give the design more of an Asian connection. “I think people aren’t necessarily prompted to buy because one thing is more ethnically appropriate than another,” she says. “I wanted to incorporate the kanji because it’s visually interesting, but also, not change the overall style of my look,” which Ikkanda herself describes as whimsy. “I think there’s something wonderful about being able to look at art or design and want to smile. I’m charmed by things that are child-like.”

Growing up in West Los Angeles, this Sansei artist studied Fine Arts at UCLA in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but her greatest artistic influences can be drawn within her own cultural background. “The Japanese prints I saw at my grandfather’s house were probably the biggest influence on my art I can remember,” recalls Ikkanda. “My maternal grandfather had a great appreciation for beautiful things. He had several books on Japanese art and Ukiyoe on his shelves, and I often looked through these books when we’d visit his house in Pasadena,” she adds. “Japanese art is so inherently graphic, and its strength, to me, lies in its deceptive simplicity, strength of composition, line, color and pattern,” Ikkanda continues. “No matter what the subject matter, traditional Japanese art always combines all these elements in a way which is simultaneously dynamic, graceful, rich, deep, clean, and pure. It’s a very strong visual tradition.”

Today, as an accomplished artist, Ikkanda still finds people’s response of her work the most terrifying aspect of the job, whether someone is viewing one of her time-honored Japanese prints of geishas, samurai, and kimono prints, or one of her whimsical animal designs. “The worst reaction is for someone to look and walk on without comment,” says Ikkanda. “The best reaction is a smile or a laugh of delight, or a long lingering look.” Ikkanda recalls the time she and her husband witnessed a customer’s reaction to her “Year of the Dog” shirt at the Museum Store last year. “We were like spies. We watched this one woman return to the shirt on display several times. I don’t know if she ever ended up buying a shirt, but it was wonderful to watch her respond.”

February 2007

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