Meet Neko Box: Rob McMaster


Welcome to part one of Meet Neko Box. Over two interviews we will introduce you to Neko Box's co-founders (and husband/wife super-duo): Rob McMaster and Carly Hitchcock. Get to know the people behind your monthly dose of Zen!

First up, Carly will interview Rob about his early interest in Japanese pop-culture as well as his approach to creating illustrations for Neko Box




Is it a little strange being interviewed by your wife?
Well, it's nothing I don't already handle on a day-to-day basis ;) *da-doosh*

Ahem. Well, anyway, lets begin! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm Rob McMaster. I'm an illustrator from Auckland, New Zealand. I've been living in Japan now for almost 2 years. Before that, I studied visual communication design in Wellington, New Zealand and then taught English in South Korea for a year.

How did you enjoy South Korea? Was the teaching fun?
Um, you remember we did that together right? 

Obviously! But for interview reasons....
Oh right, yes! Honestly, the experience was pretty intense! Neither of us had any experience teaching OR living in Asia, so taking everything in at once was a rush for sure. It was my first time really throwing myself in the deep end, and the experience taught me to be adaptable and to enjoy the unexpected. Everything considered, it was a great way to rinse the slate clean and get a fresh perspective on life. 

So your first trip in Asia was to Korea. What interested you in Japan?
When I was in my early teens I digested a lot Japanese media - you know, the typical teenage boy stuff: Dragon Ball Z, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Metal Gear Solid. I did Karate too. It must have all left a deep impression on me! 

When did you get a chance to first visit Japan? Was it what you expected?
After our year in Korea, we took a three week vacation to Japan (again, you were there :s). I was really excited. Luckily, we got to see quite a few places. We got a travel pass that took us through Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyojima island, Okayama and finally to Tokyo.

It was unreal being able to go to the home country of where a lot of my favourite media had been created and experience Japanese culture first-hand. I can honestly say that those 3 weeks met as well as exceeded my expectations of Japan. Visually, it can be a complete dreamland for a foreigner - especially if you take inspiration from things like that.

So during the whole trip you were searching for robots the size of buildings and memorabilia of said robots?
Well, I'm not going to lie - some time (and money) was spent on searching for and buying fanboy-related indulgences, but that's not the lasting memory of our first trip there! 

Riiiigggghhhttt. Well then, what made you want to come back?
All the things I wasn't anticipating to discover the first time. Like the way people are considerate towards each other, the delicious varieties of food, the sound of the language, the minimal but striking fashion. And most of all the ambience. 

The ambience? 
Oh yes. Late at night when the lights are aplenty and the people are few, there is an eery calm that feels completely safe. It's great for letting your thoughts flow freely. I haven't seen much of the world, but I imagine this vibe is pretty unique to Tokyo. 

Wow, that's so poetic. I wouldn't quit your day job however.
I won't. Because then you would be alone on this Neko Box thing ;)

'Late at night when the lights are aplenty and the people are few, there is an eery calm that feels completely safe.'

What do you do at Neko Box?

You're a co-founder and art director at Neko Box. What exactly do you do day-to-day?
My main responsibilities are creating the illustrations that you see inside of KAWA, shooting and editing photos of upcoming products, taking and cutting footage for promotional videos, writing content for KAWA and our blog. When it's time to get physical, I also work with you to carefully pack up our boxes then send them out to our customers.

Creating a unique visual identity is an important aim for us at Neko Box. Can you explain a little bit about your direction?
Absolutely. I love traditional mediums and the authenticity they create. With Neko Box's look and feel, I'm taking Japanese styled calligraphy and merging it with a modern and minimal graphic style. I feel as our art direction matures, it can help direct us towards the types of brands we want to feature in Neko Box.

I'm taking Japanese styled calligraphy and merging it with a modern and minimal graphic style.

KAWA 1 cover - by Rob McMaster

What tools do you use?
For the illustrations, I usually work on textured watercolour paper to roughen up the line quality. I use HB pencils to lay down the sketches and medium sized calligraphy brushes for the linework. I recently started using sumi-e ink and am loving the ease of flow. For colours, I use Photoshop. For KAWA, we use 2-colour printers, so I try to do the most within those limits. This usually involves colouring in lines and adding different textures to make the illustrations 'pop.'

Yeah. You know, look cool and stuff?

Ah, got it. 

Looking to the future

What excites you about Neko Box? Starting a company is difficult, especially in a foreign country. 
We are lucky enough to both share a similar passion toward Japan. I think sharing that interest kind of took us by surprise. I feel that the skills we have compliment each well and that together we really can offer a unique and exciting experience for our customers all over the world. We genuinely enjoy the places, people and products we find in Japan. We know people all over the world share that passion with us. If we can share a personable storytelling experience with great Japanese-made products, I think we can be successful!

Nice! I like your outlook! 
So you should! You're kind of stuck with me ;)

Ugh. That's true. 
It's not all bad!

Last question. What are you looking forward to achieving with Neko Box in the future?
I want to work with Japanese ceramic artists who are modernising their craft. Being able to bring a fresh vision of traditional techniques to a worldwide audience would be really exciting. Telling their stories through interviews and complimenting their work with modern branding would be awesome. 

It's out in the universe now. Perhaps someone will answer the call!
Maybe. You're up next!

Stay tuned for part two featuring an interview with co-founder Carly Hitchcock!