Idea #405: Sneaking a Look

USD $50.00 postpaid (international air shipping included)
Seibundo Shinkosha
Idea + Publications

Sneaking a Look
Cross Sections, Floor Plans & Exploded Diagrams: Visualizing the Invisible

Add to Cart
Direction by Idea
Design by LABORATORIES (Kensaku Kato, Sae Kamata)

Visual representations depicting the inside of cities and structures that human eyes cannot normally see have a mysterious allure that captures the imagination of the viewer, including structural drawings and floor plans depicting the framework of buildings, cross- sectional views of subways and sewers crawling underground in huge cities, and bird’s-eye views of production lines inside closed factories. The illustrations in the picture books, which depict exploded views of vehicles and machines, human anatomy, and the contents of vegetables and plants, attract many children. Bird’s eye views of the city and house floor plans also serve as visual devices that engage adults’ memories and imaginations.
Seeing or drawing invisible objects is one of the fundamental human desires. When and how did illustrations, such as cross sections and bird’s eye views, come into existence? Its origins can be traced, for example, to the cave paintings left by Aborigines in prehistoric Australia (known as “x-rays,” paintings of animals and fish with transparent bones and organs). As time progressed, many cross- sectional representations were used in medicine and engineering to explain the inner workings. Some of them, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings of the human anatomy, went beyond their original use and reached the realm of art. Furthermore, from the latter half of the 19th century to the 20th century, with the spread of printing technology, people in Europe and the United States became familiar with cutaway or cross-section illustrations for newspapers and magazines. During the Great War in the 20th century, many cutaway illustrations of modern fighter jets, tanks, and battleships were drawn in Japanese children’s science magazines and comics.
In Japanese visual culture, which has a long history of grasping space with a perspective that differs from the realistic pictorial representation of the West, such as suiboku-ga (ink painting) and ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints), illustration seems to be familiar as a method of expressing lyricism and ambiguity rather than a functional one. We might say it is an intermediate expression, neither written nor painted. This may be due in part to the influence of the“Heta-uma” illustrations (designating a work poorly drawn, but with an aesthetically conscious quality)by artists such as Teruhiko Yumura and Kotobuki Shiriagari, which became popular in the field of commercial illustration in the 1980s.
On the other hand, “infographics” and “data visualization” in the field of graphic design play a functional role in explaining things through diagrams, a role that illustration has not played in Japanese visual culture. But we have a concern that the rise of computer graphics and the tendency of people to place an excessive priority on “comprehensibility” in recent years have led to the uniformity of expressions. What kind of expression is it that sublimates the rich expression that illustration has fostered and connects both illustration and design?
In this special issue, we explore the “visual representation,” that is graphics, regardless of field. The eight artists of all times and places we feature in this special issue are from different backgrounds, some as illustrators and others as architects and game-graphers. They all focus on depicting the “inside of things” and continue to produce eye- catching works using expressions such as cross-sectional drawings and floor plans. We will also introduce the work of authors who are fascinated by drawing the invisible, such as spatial expressions in picture books and illustrations in the areas of maps and architecture in our contributions and small features in the latter half of the special issue. We hope that many readers will encounter new discoveries and excitement through their perspective.

Honami  Enya

Kei  Endo

Tetsuya  Masaki

Seiji  Yoshida

Seiji Yoshida Believability techniques: Seiji Yoshida’s bird’s-eye view of the world
Text by So Takahashi

Kappa Sneaky Peeks: Kappa Senoo’s illustrations and their perspectives


Doug John Miller

Owen D. Pomery

Éva Le Roi

Visualizing the invisible in picture books
Text by Misa Sasaki

Nishiyama Uzo and Illustration
Text by Shigeru Matsumoto

The desire for introspection – a literary fragment on fault lines
Text by Akio Ota

Leslie Ashwell Wood:
Britain’s Finest Cutaway Artist
Text by Steve Holland 

Design Eccentric
From the World Collectors’ Room
vol. 5 The Design Reviewed Archive, part 5 Designing History: The Legacy of Jan Bons
Text by Matt Lamont
Design by Kazuhiro Yamada + Akiko Takeo (nipponia)
Translation by Manami Yamamoto

Isao Mitobe and Naoko Nakui 
Landscapes seen through book design
Text by Toshinobu Nagata
Photography by Satoshi Aoyagi

Form #1: FormSWISS at ECAL Exhibition Review
Interview with Alexis Georgacopoulos
Translation by Manami Yamamoto

“Modes and Characters: Poetics of Graphic Design”
The now and future of Japanese graphic design, seen through typography

Text by Toshinobu Nagata
Photography by Keizo Kioku

Add to Cart

You Might Also Like:

Idea #406: Ikki Kobayashi

Idea + Publications

The latest issue of Idea is largely devoted to the work of the amazing Ikki Kobayashi, one of the leaders of contemporary Japanese graphic design.

IDEA Magazine Annual Subscription!

Idea + Misc. + Publications

We are pleased to offer annual subscriptions to IDEA, Japan’s leading graphic design magazine to the world!


Fonts + Idea + Publications

Kimbo is a plug-in for Adobe Illustrator that adds 13 new tools in 2 tool groups to Illustrator’s tool palette. These tools permit the creation of artwork that would otherwise be difficult or time-consuming to create. Updated for CC2023/2024!

Moji Image Graphic


The new 289-page bilingual E/J guide to contemporary Japanese graphic design.

Daijiro Ohara Handbook


The powerhouse 368-page debut monograph of Japanese graphic designer Daijiro Ohara.

Idea #404: Co-creation between AI and us

Idea + Publications

In recent years artificial intelligence (AI) has become the topic of international conversation, and though there are more than a few who feel threatened by the existence of AI, this issue of IDEA focuses not on ‘Us vs. AI’ but on the potential of ‘Us & AI’ working together.