Talk for Kotonoha

Hey everyone! I just got back these minutes from a short Q&A “talk” I did some time ago for a Polish Japanese language school, Kotonoha, on topics of Japan, languages, communications, creativity, etc. I thought you would like it 👍

Please remember that this is an English translation of a talk event that was originally done in Polish, so confusing sentences and weirdness are afoot! I just did some general dust-sweeping and fact-wrangling on it.

Also, here is the Polish version if you prefer: FILE


At our school, there are students interested in visual arts and particularly in graphics or animation. Today, they find themselves facing a decision concerning the development of their careers. Whether to carry on with them in Europe or rather to challenge themselves in Japan. You have chosen Japan. Could you tell us what made you decide to go to Japan?  

Mateusz Urbanowicz: 

My adventure with graphic arts started when I was still little. When I was a child, I used to love reading and drawing, and I particularly liked reading Belgian and French comics or animations on television. When I was at the university, I came across the Japanese culture, and there and then, I knew it was my kind of thing. Thus, it felt natural that after my graduation in Poland, I started to look for opportunities to continue working or studying in the arts fields. 

I wanted to draw, make illustrations, and also to create my own comics or animations. But unfortunately, where I lived – that is, in Silesia, in the vicinity of Katowice – there were no companies or graphic studios eager to employ me as an illustrator. It has to be said here that, at that time, my working methods were not crystallized yet. Moreover, there were no concrete possibilities to study and work via the internet – that manner of work was not very popular yet. For example, there was no Patreon, and so forth. 

And so, the only way I could do something was to go and find daywork! Try to go for an interview, look for a job, and see what kind of people they want to take on. The only company with a profile more or less matching my educational background was a design studio producing advertising leaflets, calendars, and so on. It was not a very creative activity – what they did rather resembled the edition of templates, which had already been prepared by someone else. In the end, I accidentally found an Internet advertisement in which the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Education was offering one-year-long scholarships in Japan to graduates of Polish universities. There were just eight places for the whole country! I had a chance of success, but rather a slim one, as there were more than three thousand candidates for the program! For all that, I did not give up. I presented my research plans to the review panel (it was rather a plea to allow me to do more comics), and clearly, they found it convincing, as I got the scholarship and was able to go to Japan. Here, I could study manga (comics) and anime (animation). 

Looking back on it sometime later, I can say that thanks to the internet, the contemporary market and industry of visualization are much better developed, and there is much easier access to them. The very journey to Japan provided me with the possibility to study Japanese graphic arts straight from the source and enabled me to get to know the Japanese people, their culture, language, and tradition a bit. At present, it really makes my work much easier. 


How old were you when you started to study drawing? 


As I have already mentioned, I have been drawing since I was very little, but I was not studying drawing in any art school. I am a mostly self-thought artist. In Poland, I have been studying computer science, whereas in Japan, I started postgraduate manga and anime studies. There, I was expected to already be able to demonstrate a good working knowledge of how to draw or how to create a basic comic by myself. 

I had learned everything, or basically the majority of the things I could do, by doing and creating different projects – mainly comics and animations.

Nowadays, I would correct or completely change lots of my works created along the way, but I have to say that I have learned a lot and the majority of my abilities were acquired through such projects. I have to confess that there is one thing I regret. In Japan, when I was surrounded by professors and people I could learn from, I was not really eager to ask them questions or ask for their opinion. 

Let me give you an example: one of the professors, who used to come to give lectures on drawing techniques at the Japanese university where I studied, was the author of the original “Gundam” comic book series. At that time, I was not yet well versed in communication in Japanese, and so I did not sit riveted to his desk to receive my professional education from him. Instead, I did other things, more important for me at the time – my passion projects. Now, I regret I was not coming to that professor with my sketches or drawings of characters to ask for his feedback at least three times a day. 

Therefore, one thing I really regret is that, when I was at the university, I still followed the path of self-studying instead of taking advice and drawing on the experience of people who were there with the aim of teaching me something. If I could change something now, I would change that. I guess it sometimes takes to grow up to really be able to take and use advice from others.


In your opinion, what conditions do you have to meet to become a professional illustrator?


I think that more than having talent (in which I don’t believe too much), one needs originality. That is, you need something that will make your work and output stand out from the work of masses of other artists, both the contemporary, the future ones, and the non-human-AI ones nowadays. You’ve got to have an asset of some kind! To have this… “knack,” this “specialty”! For instance, if some people need a graphic artist for a particular project of some kind, they will know at once where to find the right person, that is … you. 

They contact you and contract the work to you because nobody else does drawings of, for example, I don’t know… classic cars just the way you do; or no one else does such outstanding sketches of buildings or animals – and particularly, let’s say, horses as you do; or – depending what is more needed – nobody else produces works of such quality, or does it so quickly, or with such a flare, and so on. 

It seems to me as well that in such a case, one should … have pleasant manners – ought to be an author that is approachable and available to audience and employers. In other words, to listen, to talk to them, and to try to understand what they really want. 

And another thing connected with the previous points. Namely, you should know how to price your work, neither to price it up nor down. 

Nowadays, our situation is comfortable because we don’t have to fulfill all these conditions at a time. If you are, as I have already mentioned, a well-known super-duper car illustrator, and consequently you work for good money, then you do not have to look for clients and audience at all costs. Even if you were an uncouth lout, you would find your audience. (laugh)

To sum up, one does not have to be perfect, but it is advisable to be known for at least two or three of the above-mentioned characteristics. That should be enough to encourage clients to commission you to execute their projects.

It works this way when you do freelance work. 

If you create something on your own and only then hope to find a customer, the circumstances are quite different. Although a commissioned theme does not limit your work, and you can do a lot of different projects, this working method is much more difficult – you have to really make something appealing to be able to sustain yourself through that. In my view, a way more demanding thing than becoming – let’s say – a freelancer. It seems to me that a professional “artist” works exactly this way.

I keep trying to develop this kind of working style, that is, to create things, which are so, let’s call them, catchy and sought after so as to attract people who would like to buy them without compromising on the contents of the art itself. 

So, from what I’ve said, you may draw the conclusion that there are two paths to choose from. 


As far as I remember, in one of your interviews, you said that: good drawings bring to your mind all sorts of experiences. I would like to refer to your statement. What do you think about when – while drawing or walking around Tokyo – you come across a place that reminds you of Poland?


Maybe not as much of Poland, although there are places in the city that remind me of my home country or of Europe. I have spent most of my life in Poland on a housing estate that had been built at times of architectural socialist realism. Identical, mostly concrete blocks were grey and featureless. The only nice thing about them was lots of foliage and trees. 

Still, I have always liked the cities and places where I felt history and architectural originality. That is why, when I arrived in Tokyo, I observed that here as well, there were many places completely sucked-out of originality, and many others, in which – if you look carefully – you may find plenty of character and atmosphere… really, really original architecture. Even though the buildings are not typical of the so-called “old Japan,” they are historically and architecturally unique – it is a rewarding experience to see them. 

For this reason, I try to immortalize in my illustrations, or other works the places which stir up positive emotions. Yes, this place has its own character, and that one – an incredible atmosphere. 

I do my best to show all of this in my works. Sometimes I succeed, and other times I fail. Consequently, some illustrations appeal to some people, and others provoke no emotions at all. And yet, I always strive to reveal the atmosphere of those places and their “spirit” in the buildings or other things I draw.


I want to ask about your cooperation with Mr. Makoto Shinkai. Did you always communicate in Japanese? And, in your opinion, are there any particularly difficult aspects of cooperation with the Japanese?


It seems to me that the biggest challenge in interpersonal communication here is the aspect of linguistic differences. I have experienced this while working in an animation studio. There, you had to speak Japanese, even when someone in the studio could read English or speak it even. However, there were some exceptions when someone used to be abroad and understood the nature of the problem. Such a person spoke English from time to time, but rather not on an everyday basis. What’s more, you had to know the specific slang used in this environment.

For me, there was no other way than to learn at least the basics of the – let’s call it – “lingua-animation” Japanese and lots of other phrases of professional jargon. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what to do or what the director and the screenwriter were up to. Especially as the animators’ circle is, let’s say, quite a hermetic professional group with a specific language of its own. 

To give you some examples: you probably know, what does the English abbreviation “F.O” mean. It stands for “Fade Out”. The same as “P.U.” stands for “a pan upwards (an upward movement of a camera),” and “P.R.” means “a pan to the right.” There are many director’s abbreviations connected with the so-called storyboards drawn by a graphic artist: “T.U.” means “Track Up”, “T.B.” – “Track Back”, and so on. It’s a whole professional language you need to know, and you have to learn by heart. And nobody is going to explain it to you, as everybody knows it and people use it on an everyday basis, thinking that you know perfectly well, what this is all about. And at that time – at that studio and that company – it was my first encounter or even a clash with the Japanese corporation environment.  

It was a standard procedure there to come to work at least an hour earlier than you should. And the first thing to do was to clean all of the toilets on your floor. Just to set a good example. Everybody did so, and there was a fixed day for each person to do it. The studio manager considered it a morale-boosting and bonding experience, or something like that. Or the usual going-home-after-work procedures. If the people who were higher than you in the company hierarchy were working overtime, you obviously were supposed to stay and do overtime as well. 

I have to admit, in some cases, I tried to use my status as a foreigner who was unfamiliar with such customs and was seen as a foreign body inside the tightly-knit company-studio organism. Obviously, there were pros and cons. The biggest disadvantage was the difficulty of doing something more ambitious. On the other hand, being left on the outskirts of the team gave me the advantage of being able to get away with many things. Not too many of them, but still a bit more than in the case of an ordinary, recently employed Japanese staff. 

The communication at work, as well as the learning and adapting processes, were really quite demanding.

For example, a few years following my employment, a young Japanese graduate was employed at the studio. Although he was very eager to work, he could not fit in, and his career was short. So, no doubt, a lot depends on being a Japanese or a foreigner, but if you fail to adapt to such a group, interpersonal communication will go amiss, and you will become an outsider very quickly. 

Another thing was to do exactly what was required. Until then, I had been used to creating whatever I wanted to. In other words, I painted my own things in my own style. 

Here, all of a sudden, I had to start working on my illustrations, drawings, and all of my art in a different way so as to make them useful for the company. Consequently, everything I did had to be perfectly consistent in its style and content. It had to live up to the expectations of both Makoto Shinkai, the director of the movie, and, of course, the director of backgrounds, who was my immediate superior.

Both of them worked really close to my desk. It was quite comfortable for me because I could always – whenever I had some doubts – ask for an explanation from Tanji-san, who was directing the backgrounds for “Your Name.”

I used to take advantage of this opportunity, coming up to him and asking him questions, for example:

– Should I draw this cloud right here or more to the right?… 

That was a very positive experience. Makoto Shinkai, who had created his animations single-handedly before he started to direct films, got to know not only the arcana of directing but was also very knowledgeable about the technical aspects of animation drawing, as he had done them himself from A to Z. So I could always ask him for more technical advice. And that helped me a lot.


Do you think communication skills and sociability are the qualities of a good illustrator?


It depends. If you choose the first of the paths I have described, that is, you find fulfillment in becoming a freelancer and painting something according to somebody’s instructions, communication skills are very important.  

I will add one more point to the list of good professional qualities. Let’s assume you have communication skills and you are able to make pleasant conversation. What is more, you know how to reply to e-mails and to specify every detail of the project during a meeting, so later on you know what to do. Hence, conversational skills help a lot. 

On the other hand, if you follow the other path, the artistic one, and your art is good enough to sell, and, of course, good enough for others to like it, in such a case – I guess – we may ease up a bit… It does not mean we can be blunt or arrogant. It only means that building up a reputation, you don’t have to try so hard to understand and satisfy everybody. 

So, in this case, everything will depend on your position and the path you will choose. I think it always pays to be polite and to respect others, as it certainly helps in every situation, not only in the professional one. It is helpful in striking up an acquaintance and strengthening relations between people, as you never know how these relations could develop. 

I have recently been interviewed along an architect who is a director of a museum in Tokyo. We were talking about architecture, urban planning, house building, and so on. Several people were listening to our conversation. I later started talking to them. It was a spontaneous thing. I wanted to know what they did for a living and what their opinion was on the subjects. Just then, I realized that one of them was working at a publishing house I knew. We started talking about a project I was working on at that time and about my future plans. As a result, the comic I was currently working on at that time is now published by this very publisher because it was perfect for them.

I had no such plans beforehand. These positive decisions were taken only because I was open to contact with other people there and because I began the conversation.

For me, this kind of openness, communication, information exchange, and knowledge sharing facilitate functioning in a group of people who are sympathetic towards you and work better than doing things on your own.

And yet, it’s not that I want to be a part of a group, and as a result, come to an office, work, and have coffee and lunch together, day after day – I’m an introvert. The point is, when I simply spend time with somebody, then I try to establish some kind of contact. You never know how things will turn out. For this reason, I recommend showing receptiveness to communication, especially when you choose the path of reliance on somebody’s work or cooperation. 


We focus on language, looking at some objects and then using words to express our opinions about them. In this regard, we have something in common. In one of your previous interviews, you said that:

“Tokyo lights up the heart of a person who knows how to look at Tokyo.” 

Your drawings are more than just scenes. There is warmth and a fascinating wealth of detail. How can you successfully combine feelings with drawing techniques?


In general, I try to paint themes that evoke positive emotions I want to share with others. In my view, animations, and comics – and I want to emphasize that this is my personal opinion – are the highest form of art, containing a whole range of feelings. Why? Because there are not only visual elements – images – but also some involving stories and characters we may identify with, all in one place, text, and music too. But, as I am not particularly good at comics and animation yet, I keep trying to do the same thing by means of my illustrations. I have to admit that, even if I am not satisfied with it, the way I feel affects the way I work. 

Painting the “Tokyo Storefronts” made me feel the pure joy of being an artist. It resulted from the fact that I am very fond of these old shops. I consider them the underrated gems of Japanese architecture that you may come across in every Japanese city. These are such crystals of good character that have survived there. 

And on the other hand, there was the “Tokyo at Nights.” When I was painting illustrations for that book, I was in a state of depression, or at least in serious doldrums. Maybe that was because I was working all the time and I was alone in Tokyo. I had just moved from Kobe, where I had left all of my friends. I moved to Tokyo and stayed in a flat of, I do not know exactly how many, but maybe like 10 square meters. And I worked all the time in this cubbyhole or in the animation studio.

That’s why the positive energy that I had saved while I was at the university lasted only for two or three years. And later on, it went from bad to worse. All this resulted in creating, let’s say, gloomy projects. For some time, at night, I used to walk through Tokyo because I couldn’t sleep.

All these night scenes, which have been lodged in my memory, proved that at night Tokyo is a very strange city. It’s “creepy” – that is odd and sort of eerie. Why? 

It apparently is very bright and safe, as everything is illuminated. Because of this light, the sky is also bright. Even if it’s cloudy, these clouds reflect the lights of the whole city. At that time, the sky is kind of strange, milky pink. 

The streets are brightly lit, but there are no people. It feels pretty weird and uneasy, especially when you enter one of the back alleys.  

Hence this heavy atmosphere and the subtly depressive touch of the illustrations for that book. Tokyo itself inspired them. And it seems to me that I managed to reflect this mood quite accurately. 

I must say, I’d be truly glad if I could organize an exhibition of those works. So that you could see all of them in their original format, not as they are shown in the book.  

If only to see that, indeed, they are much bigger than reproductions in the book – these are quite large watercolors. 

It appears to me Tokyo is a city, a place where if you feel happy and you are in touch with your friends or family, you find a lot of entertainment to have a great time. At such time, all these neon lights will shine for you, like colorful suns, and it will be cool. However, when you are feeling low and depressed, Tokyo becomes a burden that is getting you down. In those days, all these colorful streets and back streets won’t be so pleasant. They will be depressing, concrete, and after all…empty. That is why, for me, there is something odd about the city that amplifies our emotions, magnifies them, I suppose.


How do you relax when the work tires you out?


I read a lot and play some very relaxing computer games, such as “No Man’s Sky.” Recently, I have been reading many scientific books for the general public about psychology, the history of Japan, the history of architecture, and other related subjects—the ones concerning general knowledge. And yet, when I want to relax, I reach for something more pleasurable, such as Diana Wynne Jones’s books.

All in all, our family lives in a place where you can go walking. When it’s not too hot, we go outside and have short walks in a nearby park or make little trips. 


Could you tell us about your favorite childhood animations?


 By and large, I was brought up watching animated films that were shown on television. At home, I also had some films on VHS tapes. They were quite popular at that time. We had no ability to record films, so there were only about five Disney titles recorded for us by someone else from television. I had a passion for Polish cartoons, that is, children’s animated TV series. I have to admit that I liked very much: “Pomysłowy Dobromir” and “Reksio” – both series were really well-animated. However, at that time, I just loved watching “Maya the Honey Bee” (“Pszczółka Maja“) and “Moomin” (“Muminki“). Quite interestingly, both of these animations were made in cooperation with Japanese studios. 

I don’t know if you remember these animated films, which were broadcast in Poland at that time. They had been purchased from Italy. As far as I remember, the dialogues were in Italian, and there was a Polish television voice narrator on top. At that time, I saw the Japanese “Captain Tsubasa” (“Kapitan Tsubasa“) and other similar productions for the first time.  

At that time, these animations were not particularly interesting or involving for me. Not till I was a twenty-year-old, at university my colleagues showed me serious Japanese animations, such as: “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade”, “Ghost in the Shell”, or the anime films directed by Satoshi Kon. That is, the animations or animated series produced for adult viewers and raising psychological issues, showing the atrocities of war or modern life problems. I have to admit. I simply had not seen such productions, as well as science fiction and fantasy films like that, before. To me, until then, comics and animations were limited to books and short films for children and adolescents. And all of a sudden, I realized that both comics and animations could raise serious matters and complex problems and could be for adult viewers as well. 

And at the same time, there were such works like my favorite, Studio Ghibli. The productions bring up serious matters too, but at the same time, are still suitable for young viewers, which is a very hard feat. Everyone can find something positive in them. 

Though at that time, I was bewitched by films for adult audiences, such as “Paprika” or “Millennium Actress.” Animated films measured up for adults were a significant change for me. As for the comics I used to read as a child, I could perhaps recommend a series of five comic books, entitled “Hugo” that had been drawn by a Belgian graphic artist Bernard Dumont, and the “Boska Jabłoń” album in particular. But sadly, I think that the comic book series was published only in Polish and French. 

For no apparent reason, it is not known abroad. The person, who had drawn it, used the “Bedu” pseudonym, and he used to publish comics at Orbita publishing house. I think in the 1990s. That is a great comic book. It is somewhat similar to the Studio Ghibli animations. Both adult and young readers are going to enjoy it greatly. I recommend it. 


The students of our school are learning the language (Japanese), wishing to visit Japan. We would like to get your message across to them, as you have taken up a significant challenge, and you are building a brilliant career as a graphic artist in Japan. Could you give our students some kind of advice?


In my case, foreign language learning gave me a lot of options to choose from. Everything started from my interest in computers – I took up programming and developed some applications already in my secondary school. Most information on the subject was to be found on the internet, and in English, of course. This made me translate and try to read in this language. 

In the course of my research, I somehow learned English by myself. And owing precisely to my ability to speak and write in English, I could seize the opportunity of that scholarship of the Japanese ministry. To meet its requirements, one had to speak Japanese or English.  

I came to Japan knowing only English. There, I began studying Japanese in earnest. The course took three or four months. And it was highly intensive. From time to time, some of my friends say that I speak English and Japanese a bit like a gangster. It’s probably because I have learned these languages by myself while reading, listening, and I’m using them in everyday contexts how I see fit, not caring very much about being fully correct. Occasionally, I make odd mistakes. However, I care, so everything I say is intelligible to the others. 

It seems to me that to avoid drowning, the best you can do in this case is to go into waist-high water instead of throwing yourself in at the deepest end. To swim just a little, and by swimming, to learn how to keep your head above water. 

If you are to go to a country, not knowing the language, and even then you want to do something to communicate, it is pretty hard. You can easily become discouraged. It is not easy. 

However, when you have already acquired the rudiments of a language, doing some kind of a language course, whether abroad or not, then it is easier to learn. Later on, when you already use the language, talking and writing on an everyday basis, in no time, you will encounter the possibility to use your knowledge and the vocabulary you have learned.  

Even though what you say is not one hundred percent grammatically correct, and you do not read and write perfectly well, you can communicate, and you will, in time, develop a sufficiently large vocabulary for different topics too. 

You should not feel embarrassed for not having an excellent command of a given language. The phrase: “me drink water” is far from perfect, but it’s okay if, afterward, someone brings you water, right? You were successful, weren’t you? Your communication attempt was successful, and it is all right. 

Sometimes, it is simply so that language fluency is achieved as if by osmosis. Studying and using the language helps a lot. And eventually, it will get better and better. The truth is that learning without using it is very difficult. So, to me, it would be all right to “go waist into the water” at least a few days a week. 

As I have already said, communication, the possibility to communicate, and communication skills are quite important if we are in Japan and we are to do something together with a Japanese person. When these people speak English as well, and what is more, they know that we have a working knowledge of Japanese, the atmosphere is quite different. 

There is no embarrassment, let’s say, even though you make mistakes or use hand signs because you are lost for words. Right? 

To sum up, when you can at least say: “I drink water”, it does make a difference. And the knowledge of these basics helps a lot in overcoming barriers.  

On the other hand, what is most up to date on the career subject – though I am not sure whether what I do may be called a career – or the graphic art market, or, let us call it – in the artistic community, is that the command of English language is becoming increasingly common. 

Even Japanese anime or manga, published in numerous countries, are not entirely Japanese. Nowadays, for example, you can be a Japanese anime director, who is working for Netflix, and your film will be produced by a team of people from all over the world. And thus, linguistic proficiency, cultural knowledge, refinement, as well as positive communication are considerable advantages these days but maybe not 100% a must.


How was the “Tokyo Storefronts” album created? Were you inspired by the works of the Ukiyo-e genre while creating the pictures published in the album? If so, which of this genre’s creators do you value the most?


I admit that I like Ukiyo-e – “pictures of the floating world” and to some slight degree, I had been inspired by the works of artists who had created in this way. The Hiroshige’s and Hokusai’s works really appeal to me.

I have books and picture albums of both of these masters. I admit I often make use of their works in kind of a referential manner. It results from the fact that the works of the creators of the Ukiyo-e genre have a unique atmosphere. I also want to create such an atmosphere in my works. Their works have character and soul, which displays plenty of substantive emotions. 

In other words, if we take for instance an imaginary woodcut entitled: “The River at Night,” then this is not just any river painted at night. This is not an emotionless painting, showing how the river looks like at night. In the Ukiyo-e style, there is always a tendency to show and convey a feeling of something more: some unsettling distance, the light in one of the windows of a house on the riverbank, a samurai with an umbrella, walking towards this very house, in the rain, maybe. 

These works always tell us stories. These stories show emotions, and there is even some kind of… one-panel manga feel. There is a hidden story for us to discover, interpret, and admire. 

There obviously are no people in my illustrations in the “Tokyo Storefronts,” but each time, I tried to add some details and architectural elements, suggesting whose store it is, who visits it, how does it look like, and when there are people inside of it? For instance: over here, some laundry is drying on the balcony, and over there, a beer crate has been taken out. It was left next to the store, turned upside down, which probably suggests that someone sits on it, possibly smoking cigarettes, as there is an ashtray next to it. In another image, there is somebody’s chair set up in front of the store, so no doubt somebody sits in it in their spare time, and so on… 

I think these little details, my way of looking at the city and nature, adding, for instance, the elements of everyday life, make my illustrations – seen from the angle of Ukiyo-e – similar to the ones I like.

Japan of my works is always shown from the angle of people who live here, who like everyone else – have some problems, go somewhere, do something, and so forth. 

In Ukiyo-e, even when there in no one and only Mount Fuji is visible, we can always empathize with the feelings of the person who was looking at this outstanding mountain at sunrise. 

The human aspect is always present in my works. They differ from the images painted in watercolors or oils, with their “glory of nature” and extravaganza of color, or the number of details of the European or American paintings, in which there is a bit less humanism. 

I think that there is much, much more of this humanism in the Ukiyo-e paintings and wood engravings. 

Although I do not paint people and characters in most of my pictures, I always try to be aware of the fact that the space is inhabited by the citizens of Tokyo, Kioto, and so on.


Have you heard about DALL-E image generator, which can create illustrations from text descriptions? Do you think this technology could ever pose a threat to an illustrator? 


I suppose so. All the more so because I am relatively well up on the subject. I am an electronic engineer and a programmer as well by education, so I am interested in these things. 

Anyway, I don’t think AI is able to compete with some top artists. Instead, I guess it can easily compete with – let’s say – those who are more artisans than artists. 

Like, when you create postcards. An “artisan” graphic designer takes a given picture, then edits it, and inserts a caption with relevant text. When the appropriate amount of the ordered cards are made, they are handed in, and the designer is given the money. Suppose someone “trains” AI on the basis of millions of postcards that have already been made. In that case, this makes it possible for it to generate new postcards, totally bypassing the artisan graphic designer, the illustrator, or even the photographer, who took the pictures for these cards. 

So, I think artificial intelligence will seriously threaten this kind of “artisan” artistic performance. Instead of hiring somebody, a customer can commission an AI company to do the work. That’s why, to me, these actions and professions, which are more “repeatable” by their very nature, might be jeopardized by automatic systems.  

What can we do about it? Frankly speaking… I don’t know. 

When you are going to make ten icons for a new app, you submit such a request to AI, and as if by “magic” ten icon versions pop up, and you can choose one of them. Then you submit the chosen one to the system again. AI will process everything afresh, and then you’ve got a perfect ready version. Finally, you take it to a designer, who may improve this “work” for you or refrain from doing it. It’s up to you. The better these systems will be, the more such repeatable actions and artisan work could be done this way. Surely, a lot of people will lose on this. In the end, somewhere out there, many people love and take deep satisfaction from making nice icons for various apps or postcards to earn a living.


Where can we buy your “Tokyo Storefronts” album? Is it available only in Japan? 


There is an English-Japanese version available in most of the internet bookshops selling Japanese books. That is, for instance, in The Book Depository or on Amazon, where one can order and purchase this book and expect a trouble-free delivery, but I would recommend looking at more local bookstores first.


Have you ever been brought into contact with or worked for gamedev? For example, Studio Ghibli was working in this field while creating “Ni no Kuni”.


No, I haven’t, although I had some offers connected with game development. To be sure, we would like to try making a game together with my wife, but I haven’t worked or created anything in this field yet.

2 thoughts on “Talk for Kotonoha”

  1. thank you thank you thank you so so so much mateusz for posting/blogging/writing regularly ❤ i have watched your content since middle school, and i’m now in my first year of my dream university, studying design (industrial design) i have always been drawing since i was little, and art is my passion and happiness. your works, reflections on art and advice have impacted me immensely all these years and i still have much more to learn. you are truly one of my favorite artists.

    i will always support you and thank you for sharing your wonderful work to the public !

    there is so many things i want to tell you, but for now.. mateusz you are one incredible and wonderful person. the audience can tell all the love, time and effort you put behind your creativity.

    love from norway ~


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