Graffiti Tribe

Against the typical grain of thinking.

Ukiyo-e: Finding the New Vintage

Vintage has been on trend since the early 90s. Initially, it had come out with a nostalgic look to peace, love and harmony. Vintage meant hippie and we saw the revival of peace symbols, smiley faces and flower power. Over the years, it has evolved to a more sophisticated look. Now, vintage means art deco, retro and Victorian. If we look at how this trend has evolved, we see that the idea of ‘vintage’ moving further back in history; but there is a limit as to how far back in time we can go. The 20th century marked a global cultural revolution. The change in styles, fashion and trends within any given decade between the 1890s to now had been massive. Prior to this period, in a more demure environment, barely coming to terms with possibilities in industry there was little experimentation in design. We could mark the whole Georgian period under one style and group it alongside the styles we saw throughout early Victorian times. We are not going that way.

So where does Vintage go from here? How can we inject a new burst of life into this style?


by Martin Orona

Samurai by Martin Orona

I propose the new direction of Vintage will not continue in a linear direction, tracking back in Western culture. Instead, it will come from looking to the East and, in particular, the art of Japanese wood blocking, called Ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e was prominent in Japan from the 17th to the 20th Century as a mainstream art form. It is now reserved for the enthusiasts of Japanese cultural history. However, this could all be set to change. An article published on on August 28 of this year, talked about the use of iconic Nintendo characters to revitalise the face of Ukiyo-e. As well as this, the Huffington Post showcased what they were calling ‘Edo Pop’, to describe the Japan Society’s exhibition of Ukiyo-e art across mediums in both traditional and new forms across New York (March 10). The same exhibition was featured on the blog of Cool Hunting in March as well as a feature on Ukiyo-e artist, Tomokatzy Matsuyama. There was also a successful exhibition in August of 2012 at the International Creative Network (ICN) gallery in London, called Ukiyo-e Pop. THE APPEAL

Levis ad, turning the famous wave of Kanagawa (ukiyo-e art) into a collage

Levis ad, turning the famous wave of Kanagawa (ukiyo-e art) into a billboard collage

It is a genre that has been quietly gaining more followers in the last year and, I believe, will come in to its own as a global trend in graphic design in the coming year. The appeal of this is that:

  • The design is simple, imagery is flat, so if you are to take this to a virtual platform it can be recreated through vectors;
  • The image is vivid, the whole story is told through the image, words are not required;
  • From 18th century onwards it was viewed as art for the masses because of its ability to be recreated, specifically what was referred to as a polychromatic printing system.
  • It is different! For a long time, vintage has meant muted palettes, rustic texture. Ukiyo-e is vintage but none of the above.


Nintendo character, Samus Aran as an Ukiyo-e by Jed Henry

Nintendo character, Samus Aran as an Ukiyo-e by Jed Henry

The good news is that Ukiyo-e is an art form that can be easily recreated and mass-produced. Therefore its uptake into design firms should be, on an operational level, easy. Graphic Artist and co-founder of Ukiyo-e Heroes, Jad Henry, prefers the ease of Photoshop to recreate his Ukiyo-e pieces, however his co-founder, David Bull, is a practitioner of the traditional methods and, as such, still uses wood carvings and blocks to create his artwork. So, from a commercial perspective, if the industry follows Jad Henry’s entry into Ukiyo-e, it is a style that can be easily picked up by any designer or illustrator, in order to stay on par with the trend.


One comment on “Ukiyo-e: Finding the New Vintage

  1. Pingback: Illustration Trends for 2014 | Graffiti Tribe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on 04/11/2013 by in Graphic design, Illustration.
%d bloggers like this: