“Illustration is a fundamental form of visual communication”, says Tokyo-based illustrator Hiroki Nishiyama. “I believe that the meaning and appeal of ‘expression’ is to act as a trigger to connect people and things, as well as people and people.” This is evident in the illustrator’s sweeping lines and bold use of block colours that carve out scenes taken from society.
Hiroki’s illustrations are dynamic and architectural. Flat, understated colours are combined with feathered line work to create graphic compositions; an aesthetic that works for both commercial commissions and personal work. The illustrator tells It’s Nice That, “in addition to the formation of large colour planes,” seen in the background of many of Hiroki’s signature works, linear highlights are then applied to the canvas as “thin cutaways to the surface,” which outline certain details of the image which resultantly elevates the whole illustration.
Having taking an MA in graphic design at Tokyo’s Tama Arts University, Hiroki translates learnt graphic sensibilities into his illustration practice. He draws on traditional logo design techniques which involves “expressing a motif with as few colours and elements as possible” through the combination of “colour and figure and background”. And though Hiroki used to arrange his compositions through manually arranging cut-outs of paper, he now creates a prototype of the work digitally while utilising tricks from his graphic design studies to create an aesthetic balance.
Currently, through the use of the computer, Hiroki experiments with “sculpting shapes” that then become human silhouettes or mundane objects. And by viewing his work as “flat sculptures,” the creative devises a unique aesthetic that is equally impactful across both commercial work and Hiroki’s personal practice.
Presently, the illustrator works across the fields of book cover design, advertising and editorial illustration, while simultaneously producing original artwork for zines and exhibitions. His illustrations have graced the covers of Japanese translations for some timeless classics including Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and Patricia Highsmith’s Ripliad series. Similarly to how he creates his personal work, Hiroki considers the scene he wants to convey and uses Photoshop layers to experimentally apply sheets of pattern, shape and colour until he is satisfied with the overall look of the piece.
While his book cover design is a collaborative design process with other designers and editors, Hiroki’s personal work reflects small and inspiring moments from his daily life: “The sunny morning light, the scent of coffee drifting in the room, the changes in the air when a new season unfolds.” Hiroki gathers energy from such times in the day, expressing this “beautiful awareness and comfort across the canvas through illustration”. He then goes on to say, “In many cases, I realise that the pleasure of living is by finding beauty from ordinary life and making it visible through illustration.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.