The country devoted to illustration
February 9, 2012
It’s about time we spoke about Japan. Many names have already been lost in memories. You can be disgusted or dazzled by the pictures you see, but your demons will like them. Fountains of blood, blue school skirts, knives and genitals, mascots and flowers, tentacles, robots and girls are far and near. Sophisticated technique, acute angles and unusual materials create the atmosphere of pathological artlessness of perception. There are thousands of crazy pictures. It’s not the fact that the Japanese illustrators are more talented than the European ones. With their constant outburst of creative power they are just like floodlighted praised Superheroes.
To judge from our friends’ words, Japan seems to be a perfect country of illustrators. That’s what the people who observe the development as well as the history of illustration in Japan say.
Author - 27°
Hokusai Katsushika (1760—1849)
Utagawa Kunisada (1786—1865)
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797—1862)
Kunitika Toehara (1835—1900)
Baido Hosai (1848—1920)
What’s going on with the illustration in Japan today? Where is it mostly used?
Valeriy Korneev, the art director of Reanimedia, ex-editor of the Anime Guide, an expert in Japanese culture: But for China, there’s no other place like Japan where so many skilled and demanded illustrators work. Having hieroglyphics as the essence of written culture and their own peculiarities of color perception, the Japanese have always paid attention to drawing and creative work.
So the present-day illustration in Japan is the result of the centuries-old development of skills and mastery. We can say that the illustration is underway as soon as just about every person you meet can draw you a good map if you ask for direction. Art is in the air.
Most of Japanese illustrators and manga artists are now using digital imaging technology, but the major point is still the art of freehand drawing. The same situation is with animated cartoons: in spite of the 3DCG-breakthrough of the recent 15 years, the foundation of anime is still hand drawn on paper.
Japanese civilization is absolutely graphical. It is the country devoted to illustration.
Andrew Bold, the art director of F5 newspaper, lives in Tokyo: There is plenty of illustration in Japan. It is used in different magazines and newspapers, advertising, clothing, packaging. There is much animated advertising on TV. The Japanese have a weakness for all kinds of characters like Hello Kitty, Chebyrashka etc. Having reached a minimal level of popularity, they are all sold like hot pies as toys, key rings and other amulets of all size and material, occupying most of the space.
Tasha Woit, the illustrator, has lived in Japan for 2 years: The Japanese like to illustrate even different manuals.
Tetsuro Honda, the director of The Japanese illustration association: Pictures are more often used in electronic equipment. All the applications for the gadgets people use, the wrapping of the things they buy, books – everything is illustrated.
What is unique about the art of Japan?
Andrew Bold: For Europe philosophy is the basis of art. On the contrary, for Japanese people trade is the essence of art. That is to say that commercial forms of art like illustration, manga and animation are sure to be more successful in Japan than the art as it is. That is what forces many artists to look for recognition abroad.
Where can people study illustration?
Valeriy Korneev: Children take art lessons at school and they can keep on drawing up to the time when they leave school. There are more than ten major universities in the country where people can study art — Tokyo University of the Arts, Musashino Art University, Osaka University of Arts, Tohoku University of Art and Design etc. Young artists often practice as assistants of manga artists, or trainees at animation studios. There is also a very popular web site Ustream, where one can watch skilled illustrators drawing online.
Is European illustration clear to the Japanese?
Andrew Bold: No doubt. It’s the nation of fetishists, so there you can easily find the best of the illustration in the best quality.
Tasha Woit: I think Japan has been open to everything European for a long period of time, so they don’t just understand but adopt the popular styles of illustration.
Do all the Japanese like manga and anime?
Valeryi Korneev: Quite many people don’t interpret animation at all. Japan is not the exception although the Japanese are far more used to visual presentations. In Japan anime is not a genre but styles and technique in total.
Andrew Bold: To some extent, however, manga they like more. They can draw it about everything.
Tasha Woit: Almost everybody reads manga as soon as there are plenty of types of it. It is sold everywhere. The industry is prospering.
What are the Japanese illustration agencies?
Valeryi Korneev: There are some companies that work just for the home market, and some of them function with major publishing houses‘ support.The ARTas1 agency works with foreign companies. It gives Western companies an opportunity to work with hundreds of professionals. That’s the main entry point when you need a Japanese artist.
In search of artists you can also use Pixiv — a variant of DeviantArt community, a social net for Japanese illustrators. But when you find an artist there is a chance that a person will speak Japanese only.
What are the best sites to familiarize oneself with Japanese illustration?
What are your favorite illustrators?
Uno Moralez, the illustrator Bang! Bang!: I like Suehiro Maruo. There is also a must for any gourmet “Mr.Arasi’s freakshow” by Hiroshi Harada. I also like Namio Harukawa and Yoshiaki Kawajiri.
Nastya Zabrodina, the illustrator Bang! Bang!: I have the following list: Gez Fry, Natsu Tomo, Yuko Odawara, Yusuke Nakamura, Shohei Otomo (Hakuchi), Reiko Oba. And there’s also Τrevor Brown, a Briton who has adopted a lot of Japanese pervertion.
And now the question is what we all are doing? Why do we hardly ever use illustration in design? Russia seems to be a country with no air of illustration. Illustration is hidden deep under the covers of popular magazines, cultivated in children books’ publishing, flashes in advertising. But it’s still covered with dross.
According to Tetsuro Honda they are facing the crisis now and it influences the creative sphere. Cuts in expenditure draw cuts in honorarium. Even well-known illustrators are in a difficult situation and, unfortunately, the situation is getting worse after the Leman shock of 2008.