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a few hours in tokyo

With help from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Japan.

All photos by Jaime Miki.

In the summer of 2022, I had my first solo exhibition in Tokyo, Japan. It's embarrasingly late, but I wanted the work I did for this exhibition to have a special place on the Internet somewhere, all combined. A little time capsule on my blog.

The show was called 'a few hours in Tokyo' and was the conclusion of a three-week residency I did at Almost Perfect in Taito, Tokyo. More information on why I wanted to do this residency in my previous posts, but after three weeks of sketching, illustrating, walking around, and reflection, I created a series of work I was really proud of.


One of the reasons of going to Almost Perfect was to challenge myself creatively. I love Luis' work (one of the owners of the residency and also an illustrator) and his way of working and view on the world inspired me. He showed me a few techniques on how to make your digital work looking a little bit more analogue, which adds so much warmth to my work. His motto ('perfection is overrated') also made me look differently at my work. I've been told in the past it was a little safe, and maybe too 'perfect'-looking. I still struggle with loosing it up a little bit (I've made a lot of rules about color and shapes in my head), but I think my attitude towards it changed at least. In life, as well. The world in Taito feels much more slower and authentic, opposed to the sometimes very fast Amsterdam. Looking back, it feels like those three weeks took forever, and every minute lasted a very peaceful hour.

I think my work definitely got a boost since I've visited Japan. Looking back I think it was such a great experience, and the perfect timing for me personally and professionally. As I made the first few illustrations, I felt my distinctive style firmly take root for the first time, a start of a new direction in my artistic journey.

Modan Garu

The highlight of my show was 'Modan Garu', a triptych based on two artworks: the Japanese 'Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre' by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and the English 'Ophelia' by John Everett Millais.

The woodblock triptych was very interesting to me, as it was one illustration, divided in three frames. The artist made sure every individual frame was interesting to look at, but the illustration only made sense as a whole.

'Ophelia' always inspired me because of the drama of it. Ophelia looks very serene and pretty, between all these floating flowers, but it's actually a very morbid scene as she just took her own life.

With 'Modan Garu' I wanted to create my own triptych, in which the composition is the main challenge. I wanted to feature typical Japanese elements (the waterlilies, koi, heron and irisses), but create them in my own, Western way of drawing. The illustration is mirrored to 'Ophelia' and shows a geisha letting her hair loose in the koi pond. Contrary to Ophelia, she looks much more content.

Japanese Pots

Actually the first thing I drew, was the goldfish in the ceramic bowl. Taito was filled with little makeshift gardens on the street, pots and plants and tiny little goldfish ponds. Someone told me they sometimes put little ceramic cats on the bowls, to scare away real cats (I doubt this works, but it did look very cute).

Japan is a country filled with ceramics, and after the goldfish, I thought it was nice to create a series of ceramic bowls and their uses. A ramen bowl and an Ikebana vase also came up. I intended for the round motif to be placed a little higher in every illustration and included a small animal in all of them, creating a small series.

Mask Shoji

Next was also a work that also started out as a series. Initially, I wanted to create a comic in the shoji frame Paco made for me (see previous blogpost), but then I visited Asakusa. Lots of market stalls were selling small theatre masks in all shapes and sizes, the expressions looking really funny. I decided to draw them and add them in the frame as a series. Underneath all the masks, a geisha shows up between two daruma's.

Shadow Shoji

This shoji I got second hand from someone in Tokyo. I thought it looked really pretty and wanted to experiment on it. I always draw digitally, and wanted to challenge myself working with paint or ink, without a Command+Z button. Also an exercise in making less 'perfect' work! I visited Kakimori, the prettiest stationary store I've ever visited. Here you could make your own ink color or create your own notebook, based on your personal preferences. I bought an expensive fountain pen and some ink in an amber tone, to work on the shoji.

I got the idea of painting a tutorial in hand shadow animals, with the hands on the left, and the animal on the right. On the top of the shoji, the animal's name in Dutch is visible. This way, it's a great tool for kids to learn animal's names.

It was very scary to work on the delicate washi paper, but in the end, I did enjoy making it, which was the whole point of the experiment.

Unfortunately, just before the start of the show, we broke one of the lower frames of the shoji. As it's made with very fine washi paper, you have to be very careful not to tear it. We chose to cut the whole frame out, because, in Luis' words, 'perfection is overrated'.

This shoji is still for sale. Please email me when interested.

The show

The reception of my show was July 23. One of the hottest days of the year (and in Tokyo, it can get HOT!), and unfortunately, just a few days after a wave of new Covid infections. People where very hesitant to come, as they were advised to stay indoors as much as possible (and the Japanese like to follow rules!).

Not many people showed up, but that didn't matter too much. I love talking about my work to the people who visited, and for me, my goals had already been achieved: I've made more work! That I was proud of!

Luis san presenting me and my work to the visitors.

Jaime Miki made this gorgeous artist portrait of me.

If you came this far, thank you for reading! This was an important time in my career, and I'm happy to share this with you.


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