Chinatsu Watanabe lures her readers deep into a mysterious visual landscape using mirrors. Her first two books Fushigi na Niji (The Strange Rainbows) and Kyou no Oyatsu wa (For Today’s Snack) were published simultaneously in 2014—unusual for a newcomer.
“Mirrors attracted me in how well they worked with contemporary art, architecture, and design. Art, architecture, and even toys seemed closer with mirrors. This excited me,” says Chinatsu Watanabe.
Watanabe’s attraction to mirrors and books as a medium for artistic expression dates back to her undergrad years when she was studying graphic design. Her quest to find new and interesting ways to express herself led to her experiments with pop-up books.
After graduation, she took a job handling color and package design for a household items company. While working, she entered her ideas in competitions, but faced rejection at every turn—budgeting for a mirror book was a daunting task for most publishers. However, in 2014 at the age of twenty-seven, Fujinkan Shoten Publishing took on her project.
“It’s really a pop-up book for everyone. The plan wasn’t to create an expensive specialty art volume, but we had to be sure it was made right. Any bumps or wrinkles in the mirror’s surface would ruin the sensation of being drawn into the book. To realize my vision, I had to work closely with the publisher to find the right materials and methods.”
The book offers the reader a series of two-page spreads adorned with Watanabe’s colored pencil and acrylic work. She designed the layout and binding as well, for a finished product that is exclusively hers.
The center of the book is where the reflection comes to life, weakening as the reader goes to the outer edges. The book has a real feel of a journey to and from something. To do this, Watanabe made an effort to balance the pictures and consider the layout, drawing and redrawing the images while testing each with the mirror. The tests had to be done with books and mirrors not digital representations, so it required prototype after prototype.
The warmth and feel of a physical book that doesn’t rely on digital elements is the secret that captivates children and adults alike. Her first two publications took nearly ten years from conception to printing.
Watanabe feels that her books represent artists reaching new heights and pushing through boundaries and criticism. Many would have thought her ideas crazy, but she made them happen. Her eyes come to life when she talks about graphic design, and her creativity and inquisitive mind are always on. Here’s to the crazy ones.
Words: Takahiro Koike
- Chinatsu Watanabe, Picture Book Author/Graphic Designer
Born in Aichi Prefecture, 1984. Watanabe designed household product packaging and colors before attending graduate school at the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music. Her first two books, Fushigi na Niji (The Strange Rainbows), Kyou no Oyatsu wa (For Today’s Snack), Fuinkan Shoten Publishing 2014, were produced while she was in school. Since then she has published the massive BIG MIRROR BOOK I and II, which both stand 185 cm tall, and Kagami no Saakasu (A Circus of Mirrors) Fuinkan Shoten Publishing 2016.