Chiaki Kobayashi’s wavy lines make for calming illustrative works

The Tokyo-based illustrator and designer has found her signature stride in the perfect simplicity of one wavy line.

13 April 2021

It’s likely that as children, most of us will have sat down, pens and paper neatly laid out, and attempted to draw a wave. But rather than the gradual arching of a tunnel-like shape in the water, these waves followed a simpler structure. Actually, they consisted of just one line. A perfectly tidy singular line, dipping down, back up, and down again like a bumpy piece of string running the width of the page. Straight away, any teacher, parent or fellow kid would know instantly: Yep, that’s the sea they’re drawing.

It’s a therapeutic practice looking back, just one universal line to represent something far wider and deeper, and one Tokyo-based illustrator Chiaki Kobayashi has kept drawing even after all these years. In Chiaki’s work this wobbly line has grown up, reaching round to present a whole host of objects: the bobbly texture that gathers on the outside of a fleece, the vibration that takes over a triangle once musically struck, or the folding shape of an umbrella. “I can’t actually put it into words, but what I am really attracted to is the way of drawing with just wavy lines,” she tells It’s Nice That of this stylistic tendency. “I think it’s a very important feeling in my life, to be attracted to something even though you don’t know why,” and so, Chiaki has followed the line wherever it takes her.

Originally studying visual communication and textile design at university, Chiaki has always drawn since she was a child. A regular part of her practice, which also encompasses graphic design, while at high school she began posting drawings on Instagram as she explored styles, “drawing in many ways that I was interested in”. Deciding to keep iterating works until she found her own, in March of last year she held a show of each of these styles and, once all laid out together, “I wanted to dig into the style that I felt had potential,” now seemingly only creating artworks in black and white with one waving line.

The focal point for these pieces has naturally become “things that actually wave” she points out, hinting at the water motif in her work, via drawings of legs dangled in pools, or a glass of water. This is then pulled wider by looking at objects where an image might be refracted or in similar textures, like the perforated edge of a stamp. “I also draw things that don’t actually wave, but can be expressed with wavy lines,” she expands, “such as a moment of pain when something falls on your foot, or when you have mixed feelings.” It’s here that a thematic edge to Chiaki’s work becomes clear, as she adds: “I don’t just draw anything with wavy lines, I draw it for a reason.”


Chiaki Kobayashi: Triangle (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)

This minimalistic approach developed from a want in Chiaki to only draw the most important aspect of her main subject. Character is then instilled through her illustrative approach and “by adding the visual noise of the wavy lines, I think it has become my own personality,” she says.

Creating these pieces by hand, Chiaki will first draw her piece before tracing it carefully with black pen. She’ll then scan in the piece, but only to add a slight grey background. “People often ask me if I draw lines on the computer, but I find digital lines too uniform and uncomfortable for me,” she explains of this process. Straight lines are of course made with a ruler, but as for her signature wave: “I draw the centre line as the axis and the auxiliary lines on both sides where the waves are the largest,” describes the illustrator. Repetition then ensues, drawing “the lines again and again until I am satisfied with the result,” Chiaki adds. “I feel tense when I’m drawing, but when I’m satisfied with the result, I feel very happy.”

Only very recently settling in her waving style, Chiaki is hoping to continue her studies on waves, possibly via silkscreening or embroidering, on walls, illustrating stories, catalogues and comics, she lists. All the while, her aim will to be “to try to draw a picture that is calm, but not cold,” she concludes. “I also hope that I can draw something that gives the viewer a small surprise and discover that it is possible to express such a thing using wavy lines. I would like to draw something that makes me feel that way.”


Chiaki Kobayashi: Soldering Iron (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)


Chiaki Kobayashi: Pool (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)


Chiaki Kobayashi: Hot Dog (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)


Chiaki Kobayashi: Catalog (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)


Chiaki Kobayashi: Glass of Water (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)


Chiaki Kobayashi: Tape No 5 (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)


Chiaki Kobayashi: Straw (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)


Chiaki Kobayashi: Squeeze Lemon (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)


Chiaki Kobayashi: Umbrella (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)

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Chiaki Kobayashi: Fleece (Copyright © Chiaki Kobayashi, 2020)

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.

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