July 21, 2009

Sketching in Tokyo, the fluid lines of illustrator Lok Jansen


Interview by Zhenia Vasiliev
USk Moscow correspondent [flickr]

Lok Jansen is a Dutch illustrator and architect living in Tokyo, where he first moved in 1999 with a scholarship to get his masters degree. He worked in Amsterdam for three years before returning to the Japanese metropolis in 2004. Lok joined USk as correspondent when the blog launched in November of 2008.

What is it like for to sketch in Tokyo compared to the Netherlands?

In Tokyo I love walking around the small back streets or getting up on rooftops, to see and draw the random accumulation of buildings, objects and people that surround you. There’s all these unimaginable combinations of building types, styles and ages that go beyond what people would come up with or design. This undesigned quality adds a lot of character and surprise to the place and it never seems to bore me. Holland has a lot of beautiful places of itself but can be a bit monotonous and it just doesn’t hit me as hard I guess.

I love to do quick one or two minute people sketches on the train though and that is possible almost anywhere. What I like about Holland when drawing people is that there’s more variety in race and so you get to draw some more different facial structures.


You use many different tools and techniques in your sketches. What are your favourites?

I like using different tools or techniques because sometimes a certain medium goes better with what you are seeing at the time, and because experimenting helps to keep you on your toes and not get too comfortable. Sometimes just simply grabbing a huge piece of oil bar or a giant brush forces you to think differently. What do you leave out, what do you keep, etc. So it’s not just the feeling of putting marks on paper, but also affects how you abstract and edit the visual information in front of you.

I do have a method/habit of course, and I use felt tip pens very often because I like the boldness and immediacy you get from them. I mostly draw directly in pen, making it about that moment of seeing and about responding to the subject and what comes out on paper.

I love how the immediacy of drawing in ink shows the authors mood regardless of if he wants it or not. If you were relaxed, hyper, too hesitant or too bold — it will all show in the drawing, and thereʼs no way to correct for it.


Sketching is also part of your work as an architect and illustrator. How do you manage both? Do you think sketches can be self-contained illustrations?

Partly the two overlap — it both requires visual thinking on paper, generating a lot of (stupid) ideas by drawing thumbnails and diagrams, and then combining them to find see if you can find something you wouldn’t have thought off. Drawing is also useful for architectural visualization of course, but luckily the last three years almost all of my income comes from illustration work.

I definitely think sketches can be self-contained illustrations. When done right they can convey a great energy and liveliness and a sense of being there that you might not find with more elaborately drawn illustrations.

Lok Omae book3

What are the sources of inspiration of your grotesque-style sketches? What are other artists that inspire you?

I never really thought of them as grotesque-style, but now that you say so it’s fun to compare them and see what you mean. I think it’s about trying to get to the essence of a subject — city, object or person — in a way that I feel sums up their major qualities or character. Exaggerating certain aspects, downplaying others.

Apart from life, love, nature, music and walking around the city at night I get excited by a lot of contemporary art. I love the videos by Saskia Olde Wolbers for example.

Euan Uglow is an inspiration for the incredible sense of volume in his figure paintings. They are a beautiful balance of being graphic and at the same time very painterly. Even if his figures can sometimes look like objects or statues, they still convey this great sense of life.

For old masters I would have to choose Rembrandt (as a drawer), Nagasawa Rosetsu and Ito Jakuchu, because of their apparent looseness, and how little they needed while expressing so much. Jakuchu especially was an incredible innovator and seeing those works you can’t help but feel inspired and wanting to go out and draw.

• Lok's art on Flickr.

Would you like to contribute an interview or article to the blog? We want to hear from you. Interview a favorite artist you admire, review a book about sketching with watercolors or tell the story of a memorable sketching trip. Contact us at urbansketchers at gmail dot com.


gabi campanario said...

hope to go to Tokyo one day, in the meantime I really enjoy your work especially your train sketches

Ricky Holtman said...

This is the best posting interview, to me, that I've really connected with in some time. There are a lot of good ones here but this, this is different for me. Thank you for the interview and posting...you inspire me like a kindred spirit.

Isabel said...

wonderful to getto know where you coming from and what inspires you thanks for the interview

TIA said...

Great to know your thought process. Great post!

jerry waese said...

fantastic work yours is
practically cubism via linearity
very natural and wonderful.

Lok said...

Thanks a lot for being featured and for all the responses - but especially to Gabi and Zhenia for the nice questions and their patience..

It's amazing how quick Urban Sketchers has grown and I love to see all the different ways of seeing and doing things. Should have put that in my inspiration..

Gabi - when you're ship lands just let me know.
Jerry - you got a point there. I think it's the thinking about space that makes it relate. Hadn't thought of it yet though.


CATI said...

very nice interview!
and so beautiful and playful lines in your work!

B2-kun said...

Quite inspirational sketches and interview! thank you for posting them.

douglas wittnebel said...

Lok Jansen,

Great collection of sektches of tokyo, one of my favorite cities and I love the energy captured in your views.

Here is may collection of Tokyo sketches in a video format.


douglas wittnebel

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

I love it when people assume they mastered a program just because they know the basics. Nothing quite as funny as a "Photoshop Master" who doesn't know what Layers are used for -_-' LOL. www.shlogodesign.com/logo-design-illustrator-or-photoshop/