Japanese art trends have greatly influenced modern graphic design trends, including classic art styles. Ukiyo-e is one of the most iconic Japanese arts, which influences that last to the modern era. This unique art is even applied by contemporary graphic designers, using it to depict design trends in 2022 and beyond.
What is Ukiyo-e art?
Translated into “the art of the floating world”, Ukiyo-e is a style of painting that gained popularity in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Despite being started by painters, this art style was later popular as woodblock panel arts. Uniquely, it began as monochromatic art; rich colors were introduced in the 18th Century.
The objects of traditional ukiyo-e range from nature to beautiful women and images of a hedonistic lifestyle, represented with depictions of dancers, courtesans, stage performers, daily activities, and drinking or bathhouse scenes. Many images appealed to the merchant and craftsmen classes because this art style was a response to a prosperous era.
Ukiyo-e was introduced to other countries in the 19th Century and even influenced Western artists such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Vincent van Gogh. However, it experienced a decline in Meiji Restoration Era because of modernization. Many people considered it too old-fashioned, and the coming of photography further initiated decline. However, the art was revived in the 21st Century by modern artists and designers, thanks to its iconic look.
Aesthetics of Ukiyo-e Art
Ukiyo-e art has several aesthetics that make it instantly recognizable, which are:
Strong, Simple Lines
In painting and wood print arts, ukiyo-e is characterized by its simple yet strong lines. They add sharpness to every image drawn, making every artwork distinctive.
Flat, Vibrant Colors
This art style uses a lot of bold, vibrant colors that will not escape your eyes. Many of the colors are even contrasting in nature, adding rich details into otherwise simple lining designs.
Asymmetric Style in Figures
Many figures in ukiyo-e are drawn in slightly asymmetrical or skewed style. For example, this can be seen from their faces and body positions when gesturing.
Mostly Features Nature and Daily Life
Unlike exclusive artworks commissioned by royals, ukiyo-e started as mass-produced art. They were popular among the newly emerging middle-class people, which made daily life popular objects to draw. Many of these artworks feature activities people do daily activities, such as chatting on the street, tending to the garden, and even visiting bathhouses and pleasure houses.
Female beauty is also a popular object, usually depicted as “exotic” and beautiful geisha and courtesans. In the past, these women were often drawn in sensual or elegant manners, with exquisite hairstyles and kimonos.
Nature is also a popular object to draw, although this trend did not catch on until the 19th Century. The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai is probably one of the most iconic examples.
How Ukiyo-e Fits with Modern Design
Thanks to its origin as a mass-produced artwork, ukiyo-e has strong potential to be adapted into modern graphic design. The simple but strong lines, combined with flat but vibrant colors, create a distinctive look that is also easy to replicate on various media.
The essential elements in ukiyo-e are balance, proportion, rich (and often symbolic) motifs, sense of movement, dramatic focus, and the smart use of negative space. The Japanese-style artwork instantly adds a recognizable value to your design. Even if you lean toward a more modern style, the unique influence of ukiyo-e will still be seen.
Cool Examples of Modern Ukiyo-e Designs
Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa is known for being replicated as iconic inspiration in modern graphic design. Even as digital artwork, t-shirt design, or vector image, you can still see the rising waves’ distinctive shapes, details, and colors.
Ukiyo-e Heroes by Jed Henry and David Bull are great examples of ukiyo-e principles in modern design. Created in 2012, these woodblock print artworks feature popular video game characters designed in ukiyo-e style. All the characters retain their unique visual features, but the Japanese style makes all the difference.
Yurie Takashima, a Japanese graphic designer, created a series of artistic letterforms called 36 Days of Type. In the series, you can see how ukiyo-e subtly influenced her works of contemporary letterforms, with their simple but strong linings, asymmetrical but harmonious compositions, and vibrant colors.
Ukiyo-e might experience a decline at some point, but its unique characteristics have made modern graphic designers adopt it for their works. Learn the details of this art style so you can apply them as a distinctive graphic design trend.