LUIS MENDO ILLUSTRATES A TOKYO RARELY SEEN BY VISITORS
In our interview below, Illustrator and WNW Member Luis Mendo discusses his move from Amsterdam to Tokyo, the difference between the two creative scenes, and how he developed a fascination with his latest subject: Tokyo interiors. "In Tokyo, people use their houses merely as a place to sleep. Most of us eat and meet friends outside, in cafes or restaurants. The apartments are tiny and don’t allow much of inviting others in. That’s why the interiors are often very personal, full of things, and reflect very well the true personalities of the people living in them."
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. Who is Luis and how did he get here?
I was born in a small city in Spain and after studying graphic design in Madrid and Holland, I worked in Barcelona for a while designing magazines and newspapers. Then moved to Amsterdam where I became known as an editorial designer and art director, relaunching titles and creating new ones on a lead role. After 18 years of that, it became all too much and I needed a big change so I moved to Tokyo where I decided to draw for a living.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
My Spanish background and visual references (from Picasso to Goya) are probably visible in what I do, I try to keep my line loose and fresh, that’s why I rarely do pencils before making a drawing and start inking straightaway. People say they recognize a style although I do different things, some tight and some really loose. As a former art director I know each client needs a different approach to convey the message so I adapt easily. Also I like to keep changing styles so I don’t end up boring myself.
You recently created a series of 7 animations of Tokyo interiors for Electric Objects. What were you hoping to capture with this project?
Years before moving to Tokyo, I found the Kyoichi Tsuzuki book "Tokyo: A Certain Style” which showed the insides of small Tokyo apartments, tiny spaces packed with stuff from floor to ceiling. I found those photos mesmerizing and loved to look at them. Now that I’ve lived here for a while, I made these drawings being a mix of my own apartment, the one I would like to live in and those of friends, including some city constants like the red lights on tall buildings, the crows, and the carefully “hairdressed” trees.
Can you share some of the creative challenges and breakthroughs that came with the undertaking?
Since I was working from mental references directly in my sketchbook, it was a pretty straightforward process. I enjoyed making all the mistakes which I partly left in there. Only used photoshop to color them. The most difficult part was the animation (which is not my strong suit) but luckily my friend Fons Schiedon helped with that and made beautiful animations out of my drawings.
Do you see the interior world of Tokyo as an escape from the city’s bustle, or just a natural display of a Japanese way of living?
In Tokyo, people use their houses merely as a place to sleep. Most of us eat and meet friends outside, in cafes or restaurants. The apartments are tiny and don’t allow much of inviting others in. That’s why the interiors are often very personal, full of things, and reflect very well the true personalities of the people living in them. That’s what interests me so much and I always try to visit people’s homes to see who they really are.
What’s the creative scene like in Tokyo? How does it differ from that of Amsterdam?
I think it’s very different to other cities I know mainly because of how well people treat each other. There’s no conflict, envy or rivalry. We are all pretty good friends of each other and the disciplines are very mixed, so I will go to UI/UX meet-ups and you see architects at illustrators' parties. We all get along really well and everybody is nice and friendly. Something very different with my experience in Amsterdam.
In what ways has living in Tokyo surprised you?
There’s always something to discover. So many neighborhoods all full of different things. You can walk endlessly and there’s always something interesting around each corner. I always avoid the big streets as the charm is really in the back alleys.
Who and what are your biggest creative influences?
So many… Comic book artists like Loustal, Joann Sfar and Christophe Blain, modern illustrators like Quentin Blake, Javier Olivares and Lauren Tamaki, but also timeless heroes like Robert Weaver, Miroslav Sasek and Ronald Searle. Picasso and Luis Buñuel have always been a constant in my world of references and as of late I have discovered people so different in approaches like Chris Sasaki, Damien Cuypers and Georges Beuville.
What advice can you offer to creatives for drawing inspiration from their immediate surroundings?
Don’t look so much to other people’s work and concentrate on yourself more, draw all the time, carry a sketchbook with you at all times and annotate what you see. A face, a building, a detail… As Paul Smith said, “there’s inspiration in everything, and if you don’t see it, look again”.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
Now working on a T-shirt line for a sustainable fashion brand, doing monthly covers for Wako department store in Ginza, weekly travel sections for Volkskrant Magazine in Amsterdam, some animation backgrounds for a huge Japanese train company, and planning a show in Shanghai. It’s all very mixed in theme and kind of work, but that’s how I like things to be.
What do you do when Not Working?
I am always working. In the sense that I do not really see the difference between drawing someone in the train or a small spot illustration for a magazine. I do enjoy both and they fill my head all the time. Even when I am eating or walking I will think about how to draw things.
Who are some WNW Members whose work you admire?
Anything else you’d like to add?
I consider myself a total amateur, having been drawing professionally for just the last 4 years. I think I know nothing and learn a lot every day. My extra asset is that after 20 years as an art director, I easily think as such and help art directors to make the best of a job. I also understand what moves them and their needs.