This Illustrator's Colorful Maps of World Cities Are Brilliant

By Frances Chen, July 7, 2017

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Our sister site Urban Family has recently updated its Facebook cover image with a fascinating illustrated map of Shanghai by Aunyarat Watanabe, a Japanese freelancer based in Tokyo. The artwork vividly portrays Shanghai as a fun and vibrant city that witnesses all kinds of excitements – from a Chinese acrobat performance at Shanghai Circus World to the soup dumplings at Yu Garden

Indulged with a pleasantly cartoonish color palette, her works always speak of a mischievous joyfulness through a wonderful child-like perspective. She was selected as one of the illustrators of BCBF (Bologna Children’s Book Fair) Illustrators Exhibition 2017, a leading international event in the children’s publishing industry and her reputation is growing.

Mesmerized by her intriguing scenes of the world, Urban Family sat down with her to find out what goes into constructing her thoughts when creating these adorable artworks.

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We love your book, Maaaps! Every city came to life so vividly in every piece of your map artwork. Do you need to personally visit these places to get inspiration?
Yes, I need to go and see the places personally to experience the authentic atmosphere. My book Maaaps, published by an American publisher, Studio SSS, is a collection of my illustrated maps of the places I visited. Traveling always inspires me and helps develop my work. For me, traveling and drawing are always in a set. It's a form of personal meditation/escapism that nurtures my imagination.

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Have you planned any similar map project for your home country Japan?
I'm working on my personal project called "Maps of Japan 100." I'm drawing 100 maps of Japanese cities and areas in order to introduce Japanese culture and its lovely quirkiness from my perspective. Hopefully I will complete this project before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Does Japan’s traditional art influence your creation?
I love Japanese traditional art, such as Ukiyoe and Kimono patterns. But I'd say my work is more casual and probably stemmed more from Japanese manga culture since I grew up reading tons of manga. I love to draw things in an exaggerated way with a hint of humor. I think it has something to do with manga's cartoony style. When it comes to mediums, I use pretty much everything from crayons to colored pencils, to acrylic paint, to Photoshop.

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We have noticed that your works are always brimming with a sense of joy and festiveness, and full of child-like characteristics. How did you develop this particular style and would you say it is your signature style?
My work has a childlike sense of wonder and I am happy to say it's my signature style. I always draw fun-filled festive places and characters. I'm such a happy-go-lucky person and simply can not create something too serious or sad. I doodled a lot when I was a child and I still draw in the same way. I guess I haven't grown up since and I hope I never do.

You were one of the selected illustrators from 26 countries at BCBF (Bologna Children's Book Fair) Illustrators Exhibition 2017. Do you enjoy creating works for children? Do you find it challenging to constantly create works that appeal to a young audience?
I do love creating works for kids more than anything else. I work in all markets from editorial work for magazines, to book illustration, to advertising, to TV commercials, but I believe my work fits best in children's books. Constantly coming up with great ideas for kids contents is indeed challenging, but I really enjoy the process.

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How did you feel about Shanghai as an artist? Out of so many cities in China, why did you choose Shanghai as your first map?
I had always wanted to visit Shanghai. I'd heard the city was a great combination of classic and modern. When I visited Shanghai I instantly fell in love with the city’s vibrant and fascinating ambiance. The composition of the elegant Chinese traditions and its modern cosmopolitan fashion provides a cultural and visual counterpoint. The lively hustle and bustle streets and busy downtown also appealed to me. My travel to Shanghai was a long time ago and I stayed for only six days. I really want to visit this fabulous city again.

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There are very specific elements that you choose to feature in every map. For instance, in the Shanghai map, you chose Shanghai Circus World and a dish of hairy crabs as the main elements instead of other common landmarks and features. What goes into your thoughts when choosing what should be included? 
Shanghai Circus World was just AMAZING. I've never seen anything so spectacular before. And the crab that I savored on the street was also other-worldly superb. In my map, what I was attracted to stands out regardless of whether it's a common landmark or not. For instance, if I encounter a small cafe in a town and meet friendly people there over a cup of lovely tea, the place would be included in my map even if it's a small ordinary street vendor. When I travel, a guide book is the last thing I need to my own serendipitous discoveries. My illustrated maps to some extent represent my dream world. They are in no way guide-book-style maps that have tourism information and accuracy. My maps are informative in an unique way with plentiful off-the-grids.


View more of Aunyarat Watanabe's works. This article originally appeared on Urban Family Shanghai.

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