Edo and Meiji era Japanese artwork now available for free download

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Attention all designers, artists, fashion enthusiasts and people who just appreciate some nice Japanese artwork: The Smithsonian Libraries should be your best friends.

Among their thousands of other free artwork and books, The Smithsonian Libraries and the Freer and Slacker Galleries, Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Arts now offer free downloads of thousands of beautiful Japanese prints.

Haven’t you ever wanted the simple yet colorful and whimsical prints of Meiji era (1868-1912) artwork as a digital file on your computer? Yeah, we have too and we’re really excited about this cool find.

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The collection is in fact a series of monthly design magazines, entitled Shin-bijutsukai.They were released in 1902 to show various designs by famous artists of the day. Artists featured include the editor himself, Korin Furuya, and his predecessor, Kamisaka Sekka. Sekka is known for being one of the first to incorporate Western tastes, styles and methods into traditional Japanese-style works. Furuya carried on this new, modern Japanese style and helped spread it around the world.

▼ Can you see the Western influence?

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If you want digital access to the pictures above and hundreds more, head to The Smithsonian Libraries website. There are two volumes of Shin-bijutsukai and both can be downloaded in their entirety by clicking the links towards the bottom of the website here.

Be aware, the files are kind of big, so you might want to stick with computers, not smart phones for this one.


If you’re more into traditional artwork, the Freer and Slacker Museums also offer countless free downloads of artwork from all over Asia here. In the Japan section, you can find Edo period woodblock prints from world-famous artists, such as Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige.

▼ “Wood-block Print of Two Fish with Floral Sprays and a Poetic Inscription” by Utagawa Hiroshige.


▼ “Merry Makers at Cherry Blossom Festival” by Yeisen


Sometimes staring at pictures in museums just isn’t enough; you want to get them from the wall and onto your computer. Now you can and what’s even better, is that they’re available for free. Thank you technology and thank you Smithsonian Library.

Dirty Car Art is the perfect excuse not to wash your car ever again


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Have you ever doodled in the dirt on your car before you finally got around to washing it? Or perhaps when you were younger you wrote something rude in the dust on the neighbour’s rear window? American artist Scott Wade took his doodling many steps further and now creates this stunning Dirty Car Art that you’d never want to wash off.

Born and raised in the US, Scott is an artist and musician who has spent his life nurturing his creativity. He discovered Dirty Car Art as he was living on a long dirt road in Texas where his cars were always covered in dust and grime. His natural instinct was always to doodle in the dust, and this led to him experimenting with various techniques, and eventually evolved into the art we see from him today which he’s been working on since 2003. It’s reminiscent of the chalk art that’s popular in Japan right now with the use of subtle shading to create almost photographic realism.

Of course when turning up to work at a fancy motor event it’s unlikely that any of the cars there will be waiting for him covered in dirt. While he prefers to work on ‘natural’ canvases, in other words cars that have got really dirty from driving for miles along dry dirt roads, he has also developed a technique for creating an ‘artificial’ canvas. The simple process involves spreading a thin, even layer of oil over the window then using a hair dryer to blow handfuls of fine dirt or other powder across the whole thing, which sounds easy enough for anyone to do. The hard part is the bit where you actually have to be able to draw.

▼Here is a recreation of the iconic woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai from his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series that Scott created for Japanese television.


In response to the question of whether it makes him said that his work is washed away when it rains, he answered with a very Japanese outlook, saying: “The impermanence of this art form is one of the things I really love about it. For one thing, it helps me to not take it too seriously and to really have fun with it. But most important, it reminds me that all of life is transient, that we won’t be here all that long, and to really enjoy the wonder and beauty while we’re here.”

▼Another piece done for a Japanese TV show, this time featuring a heron.


▼He was commissioned to draw this fantastic dragon for a Nokia commercial.


And it’s not just oriental styles – Scott creates a wide range of scenes from his own original work to incredible recreations of familiar and famous pieces. Check them out below.

▼A recreation of English romantic painter John Constable’s The Hay Wain.


▼M.C. Escher’s impossible architecture.


▼A beautiful wildflower meadow created for a South Korean TV show.


▼He drew a car on his car! Xzibit would be proud.


▼The Boy Who Lived.


▼Awww! Polar bears!


▼One of C.M. Coolidge’s famous paintings of dogs playing poker.


▼And last but not least, something seasonal.


You can see more from Scott over at his official website. And next time you think your car really could do with a clean, why not have a little doodle on it beforehand? If it goes terribly then you can wash away all the evidence!

A brief history of Japanese illustration

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Japanese illustration, particularly manga, has gathered a huge, global fan base in the last few decades. As its influence continues to spread, we take a look back at how it all began, where it is now and what might happen in the future.


The Origins of Japanese Illustration

The beginning of modern Japanese illustration can be dated back to a series of medieval scrolls created in the 10th century that contain drawings of animals. These scrolls are thought of by many as the first example of the famous and hugely influential manga illustration style. Animals remained a common subject throughout the 13th century in linear illustration. These more closely resemble modern day manga illustrations. The afterlife was another popular subject for Japanese illustrators of this time, but after this period they began to branch out to wider ranging subjects.


The Art of Ukiyo-e

Ukiyo-e, the ancient Japanese illustration technique of painting onto wooden blocks, came about in the 1600s in the Edo period. Ukiyo-e often contained erotic content, like a lot of modern manga illustrations, as well as a lot of satirical content. The most recognisable ukiyo-e painting from this time is the incredibly famous illustration by Hokusai, ‘the Great Wave of Kanagawa’.

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The waves in this famous work are often mistakenly referred to as a ‘tsunami’, however, they are more accurately called ‘okinami’, or great off-shore waves


The late 1600s provided further innovation in Japanese illustration with ink-brushed illustrated prints; however, the content of the majority of these prints lacks a progressive storyline which is so common of modern manga illustration today.


The Origins of Manga

Manga are Japanese illustrated storybooks, comics or graphic novels. On every commuter train and in every waiting room or cafe in Tokyo you are certain to see a number of youngsters with their noses in a manga comic. The word ‘manga’ can be translated to mean ‘whimsical picture’. The popularity of manga, across the world of both illustration and storytelling, has been massive and their influence on modern commercial illustration styles continues to be strong.

The first commercial manga illustrated comics came about in the late 1940s. They were known as ‘Akahons’, or cheap red books, and were introduced to provide entertainment to the huge population of poor who were in desperate need of entertainment during the post-war period. Tezuka’s 1947 “New Treasure Island” sold over 400,000 copies when it was released and its popularity would change the face of Japanese illustration forever.


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Tezuka’s 1947 debut ‘New Treasure Island’ is widely credited as the first modern manga

Manga illustration today

By the 1990s, Japanese manga had become a popular commercial art form across the world, and artists in the West started to use the style to inform and inspire their own work. Luis NCT has been working as a freelance illustrator since 2005 and although he lives in Valencia, Spain, the biggest influence on his style comes from Japan. He feels the use of bold illustration is the perfect way to tell a visual story:

The first thing that attracted me to manga – when I began to see them in the comic book stores – was the strength and immediacy on the graphic. The contrasting pure black and white (even with the mechanic grey tones on it) of manga transmitted dynamism and promoted a faster reading rate, which I thought was much closer to the image in motion of cinema and animation. The stylisation on anatomies and composition contributes to the same effect, giving a special vitality to the artwork. Moreover, manga illustrations tend to avoid the use of bold black masses for shadow (in faces, for example) so the pages look less heavy and dissuades slow-reading, unlike a lot of those chiaroscuro-abused occidental comicbooks.


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“Sleepers” by Spanish illustrator Luis NCT is set to be released in the US early next year

I love that manga doesn’t try to mimic reality. It doesn’t look like a series of photographs translated to drawings, but images constructed with a graphic language that only make sense in drawing. Of course I’m generalising and there are a lot of exceptions,  for example the abuse of backgrounds traced from photo or 3D models seen over the last few years.


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Image from ‘Sleepers’ by Luis NCT

There is intersection between eastern and western design that you can see in colour illustrators, like Katsuya Terada or Katsuhiro Otomo (both were heavily influenced by Moebius and other European artists). I prefer this style to the cell-shading you could see on most of the mass-produced manga. Connecting with that, I have to say that I love manga artists that have a unique voice and style (like Otomo, Toriyama, Kishiro, Miyazaki, Tanaka, Nihei…) but I don’t like at all the standardised, commercial and mass-produced manga.


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Image from ‘Sleepers by Luis NCT

Felix Setiawan is another manga illustrator who is creating work from outside of Japan. Living in Jakarta, Indonesia, Felix says he loves both reading and using the manga style for the escapism it provides and says, “the fantasy of manga illustration can make me forget about how boring real life is.”
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Manga fan art illustration by Felix Setiawan for Japanese video game ‘J Stars Victory Vs’

The Future of Japanese Illustration

While manga is the most popular form of Japanese illustration globally, there is a danger in thinking that manga illustration completely defines Japan’s illustration scene. While there are many outstanding Japanese illustrators who work with manga illustration styles, there are many who are influenced by the ancient history of Japanese illustration but work in a completely different style. Tatsuro Kiuchi, for example, is a multiple award-winning illustrator, representative of the amazingly talented Japanese illustration scene, that is not reliant on the manga industry:

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Award-winning illustration by Tatsuro Kiuchi

Actually, I am not particularly a big fan of manga right now. When I was a high school student, I read manga magazines regularly. However, I hardly read manga after that. I know some of the manga are very interesting and fun to read storywise, but I think I am not into those manga-type line drawings. I love drawings done by illustrators or fine artists much more. I do love a couple of manga artists such as Osamu Tezuka, Fujio Akatsuka, Katsuhiro Otomo, Katsuya Terada, Shigeru Mizuki; I admire the qualities of their line drawings. I tend to pay attention to the qualities of artworks in great detail rather than the stories in manga.”


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Illustration for Japan Railway Kyushu by Tatsuro Kiuchi

However, the popularity of manga in Japan is almost unavoidable and Tatsuro admits that manga has had some bearing on his own style as a top Japanese illustrator:

I can say that some of my favourite manga along with my favourite line artworks have influenced my work. I have been looking for great line drawings, and I get inspired when I find one. However, I think the percentage of manga influence on my work is not so high.”


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Cover Illustration for Style Asahi by Tatsuro Kiuchi

A bright past, present and future

As manga continues to influence the work of illustrators across the world, Japan looks set to continue to play a huge part in the global story of illustration. With the work of current Japanese illustrators, such as Tatsuro Kiuchi, already carving out a unique style that is influenced by, yet separate, from manga, we could yet see further evolution and advancement of Japanese influence on the industry.

Artist paints Totoro, classic Japanese artwork, and more, all on pregnant women’s stomachs

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In Japan, there’s a long, proud tradition of drunken men drawing faces on their bellies, then contorting in order to make them appear to talk or sing. Wait, did we say proud? We mean embarrassing.

This doesn’t mean all abdominal art is automatically silly and repulsive however, as one artist is helping enhance the radiance of pregnancy by painting beautiful works of art on the stomachs of mothers-to-be.

British artist Carrie Preston offers a number of services through her website, My Little Sweet-Pea. While we’re sure she does a fine job with her handmade plaques, clocks, and puppets, how Preston’s really making a name for herself is by using the stomachs of pregnant women as creative canvases.


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Each creation takes about two hours to paint from start to finish. That’s a lot of time for anyone to be on their feet, let alone someone carrying a whole other person inside of them, so thankfully Preston’s clients can sit down and relax while the artist does her thing.


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While Preston resides in Cornwall, her inspirations aren’t geographically limited to the UK. For instance, here’s her take on The Great Wave of Kanagawa, by celebrated 19th century Japanese artist Hokusai.


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Other projects draw from more contemporary sources.


▼ Technically speaking, if your baby is inside the anime icon, is Totoro still his neighbor?

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Looking forward to parenthood often gets people looking back on their own childhoods, which explains why children’s movies, particularly Disney classics, are in such high demand.


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▼ We’re not quite sure what to think about this one. We heard a rumor about something bad happening to Bambi’s mom, but we haven’t been able to confirm it since our parents always fast forwarded through one scene in the middle of the movie for some reason.

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▼ Everything worked out fine for Dumbo and his mom, though.

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After two decades of producing hits, Pixar’s fanbase has grow to a size rivaling that of Disney or Studio Ghibli. As such, it’s no surprise that some expectant mothers look forward to passing on their love of the skilled computer animators to their kids.


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For those who prefer their whimsy in live-action form, there’s this instantly recognizable scene of the beloved movie extra-terrestrial.


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▼ And possibly his home planet

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Preston can also do holiday designs, such as this Easter basket.


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▼ We’re a little surprised she didn’t double up by painting a face on that pumpkin and making it a Halloween jack o’ lantern.

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She’s also comfortable working with motifs from the animal kingdom.


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▼ How much do you want to bet this woman is going to call her kid “Honey?”

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▼ This is apparently in reference to the mother’s promise that she’ll love her child “’till the cows come home.” We don’t know if Denzel is supposed to be the name of the baby or the bovine, though.

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A few of Preston’s Bump Paintings even reach Escher-like levels of playing with perspective. For example, in the below picture, we see a baby inside an apple, which is painted on the stomach of woman with an actual baby beyond the one on her belly.


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