Japanese illustrator Sabu is influenced by the nostalgia of old adverts

Instead of looking to the latest trends in the creative industries, the illustrator looks to the past. Influenced by the old knick-knacks in her granny's house and yellowing vintage ads, Sabu's original work takes us a step back in time.

3 December 2019


Instead of looking to the latest trends in the creative industries, illustrator Sabu looks to the past. “I am greatly affected by Japanese old things” she tells It’s Nice That on her influences, “like the old things in my grandmother’s house.” As a result, the illustrator’s references tend to be vintage scenes of nostalgia, searching for old Japanese advertisements on yellowing paper as well as old illustrations from a different age.

It’s an artistic trait that has made its way into Sabu’s signature aesthetic. Her illustrations possess a hint of both the retro and the contemporary, often choosing to paint on yellow paper rather than white to evoke that vintage feeling. With harsh sweeping white lines carved across her illustration, much of Sabu’s work is recognisable for the way light falls across the composition. In a Bauhaus-cum Japanese twist, geometry and vivid colour burst through the page, not to mention a sweet little animal friend here and there too.

Having drawn since her early childhood, Sabu has always loved the medium, but didn’t think she could make a career out of it. Steadily building up her client base as the years rolled by, she now works as a freelance illustrator, publishing her own zines and selling an array of charming embroideries at the same time. Consistently across these mediums, she includes vintage product design and objects in the compositions. Her favourite cafe is depicted with 70s, rose-coloured, L-shaped sofas for example, and her characters are adorned in big shoulder-padded suits or 50s checked dresses.

The food featured, on the other hand, rings out with the 70s loud and clear. The cocktails, puddings, soda glasses (not to mention the maraschino cherries) hark back to a different time. And it’s precisely this unique turning of time that we love in Sabu’s work. Her imagination drips from the page and each illustration seems to tell a story through the great number of objects squeezed onto the page. In one image, for instance, a photo of a couple looking down on a goldfish bowl is hung next to a ceramic Mickey Mouse character and a creepy doll. “I want to express freely what I want, and when I want,” she tells It’s Nice That of her work. “And I would also be so happy if people from overseas come to see my work.”


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About the Author

Jyni Ong

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.

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