*click pics to see full-size versions*
(this post will be updated with more pics)

This year, I was invited to draw, speak, sightsee and soak up the amazing city of Tokyo, Japan for Central West, Inc Entertainment caricature company, via my friends Kage and Kay Nakanishi.

I met Kage and Kay at the NCN conventions over the last couple of years and they are two amazing people. They have been inviting an American or European artist to Japan to draw for them during the holiday seasons (or other special times) for years. The list includes great caricaturists Paul Gaunt, Chris Rommell, Jan OpDeBeeck, and Court Jones. Staying in the Temple-laiden area of Asakusa (uh-sock'-suh) and working at the touristy mall known as Venus Fort in Odiba (oh-die'-buh), I had plenty of chances to see many different areas of Tokyo. Shibuya (shi-boo-yuh) was busy and crazy, full of youth and trends and fashion, Yokohama Bay was beautiful, with it's ports, navy ships, parks built on the water, unique buildings, and even a tourist mall with a Nakanishi caricature booth!

Everything about Tokyo amazed and impressed me. Kay and his girlfriend Hiromi (not sure about spelling... sorry!) were great in showing me and my girlfriend (Danielle) around in our spare time, and even helping her out when I was working. We visited the Ghibli Museum (for animator Miyazaki) and saw some amazing artwork, despite it being children-oriented. The food was amazing (and I WILL buy a good rice-cooker!) and the stores were unique and impressive.

The skylines were breathtaking - crammed with unique buildings of all shapes and sizes. The weather was fairly consistent, and clear. I could not get over the cars. They were all new. They were all small. With navigation systems, global GPS tracking, great fuel mileage, features that American cars have never heard of, and small, interesting parking garages/lifts/spaces/barriers that seemed far more efficient than anything we could ever think of. I was floored by the cleanliness... never have I seen a spotless subway train, and this one looked like someone's grandmother painstakingly and meticulously scrubbed every inch with a toothbrush.

Everything was smaller, tighter, more narrow, and far more efficient. Pictures on menus, English on signs, and a society that worked well. I feel as though the world I've grown to know society that doesn't revolve around them, but rather they have their place in it, and respe is one where everyone struggles to grab the biggest piece of the pie, whereas in Tokyo most seem to be sharing the pie, even if it leaves them with a small slice - - they understand that there is act that space. It's impressive.

Drawing Japanese tourists was great. They have to be the best customers I've ever encountered. It may have something to do with the fact that I had a sign-board beefing up the "visiting American Champion", but they seem to like exaggeration with a likeness more than any group I've ever encountered. I couldn't push it enough. Exaggeration, distortion, bold gestural lines, and off-the-wall expressions - - - as long as I held a likeness, there was nothing that they complained about, only laughs.

I drew for seven days of the 16 I was there, and each was fairly busy. I promised I would go back and I plan to, eventually.

While I was drawing at the booth, Kay decided to take pictures of the drawings that I seemed 'pleased with' - he could instantly read my face and reactions to my own decisions and executions, and I have to say, he had me pegged perfectly. He seemed to be able to tell from my body language and subtle facial expressions which ones I loved, liked, disliked, and hated, and he took pictures of anything that wouldn't make me angry:

many of these are my favorites drawn in Tokyo. I tried to push most of them to new exaggerations, drawing things and ways that I haven't before.

This couple, like most, took it well. They laughed out loud and took a picture with me.

This composition was very fitting with their face size/shape, but definitely borrowed from friends/inspirators Steve Brodner and Grigor Eftomov.

Like the last one, this was drawn from photos. This was for a wedding 'welcome' board and I tried to be true to the expressions in the pic - you get a lot more personality when you don't gloss over the uniqueness and strange parts of a photo. They loved it.

This gent waited for nearly an hour watching, one morning, then sat for his, only saying to Kay that he wanted it "as funny as I could draw" - I had just seen a book on French caricaturist Jean Milet-Renault, and pulled a lot of inspiration from his extreme description of form and exaggeration.

This young musician waited for a while and was very appreciative. I gave him a little more attention than the average guest, because I could see how he appreciated what I was doing.

Just a cute girl. Sometimes you need to see the 'cute' ones. Exaggeration does not only exist in the ugly, but it merely is to heighten the uniqueness of a face and persona. If one is cute, the caricature should feel 'cute' in the end, even if not classically proportioned.

A drawing for one of the artists of Central West.

I felt that this couple was already a caricature (as cheesy as that sounds) - they sat well, had great faces, made my job easy, and loved every line.

Great faces.

An australian couple - the biggest nose I got to draw all week. I enjoyed speaking English to someone for a change.

I love drawing kids with solid expressions. This one was fun.

This was the beginning of a long string of couples that lasted days. I love the contrast the two faces can offer, compositionally and with expression and exaggeration. It makes the drawing more interesting and frankly, easier to do.

Pushing the exaggeration. She was a bit shaken, but laughed at the drawing.

Young men sometimes wear eyeshadow in Japan - mostly trendy hip guys, but I had my share of magenta eyelids.

This couple was great - one of the few I held back on for likeness/quality's sake. I wanted to focus on cleanliness. It seemed to make them very happy.

Some people just draw themselves, with swooping lines and contours.

Another cartoony kid.

This couple seemed to be a bit stingy, but I saw some inspiration and couldn't hold back. Ironically, the woman loved it the most. I couldn't have predicted it, but loved their attitude.

Renault inspired, with a bit of Kruger-esque angles. I was feeling good at this point, drawing next to award-winning Kage Nakanishi on my last day - what an inspiration he is!

Just having fun with contrast in size, height, expression, and complexion. This was one of my favorites, after...

...this one. The only one that I felt I drew exactly (nearly) what I had intended and in mind. They were great sports, and the guy gestured her face-shape to her after he saw it, cracking them both up. I love Japan!


I've got more pics of Japan, and importantly, drawings of nearly every artist over there, step-by-step which I'll post here soon. Keep coming - I've got more park-sketches coming up this week (lots of them!).

I've got the 'comments' problem fixed, so post away.


Q7D2 said...

Great Stuff!! Love your attention to detail. How long on average do you spend on a caricature?

Nelson Santos said...

great experience Joe seems you had a lot of fun in Japan!

A Karikamania Das Caricaturas

Andy Murray said...

Joe, you're my hero. I weep at the thought of you leaving Orlando. I loved being able to hang out with but choosing to paint instead. I will always cherish these memories we almost shared.

On a serious note, I love seeing your live sketches, and I feel like I learn something every time I look at em. Thank you, good sir.

Joshua James said...


That is indeed some true magic and inspiration.


Jeremy Townsend (JERT) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeremy Townsend (JERT) said...

got some serious grammar issues, but that aside its nice to see some diffent live stuff, looks like your loosening up a little bit. hope coming home to the american crowd hasn't slowed your forward motion.

Joe Bluhm said...

Thanks y'all - browser issue on the grammar, Jert. it's fixed now.

I'm all over the country right now, teaching caricaturists how to have guts ;) - and yes, I loved Japan!

I actually spent around 6-16 minutes on each couple, depending on the drawing/mood. I sped through some, and they were more cartoony, but most I spent around 6-8 minutes per person. They were paying a bit more, so I felt the need to give them an extra little "zing".

Jeremy Townsend (JERT) said...

"zing", you're like the miracle whip of live caricature. if drawings were sandwiches the waistlines of our imaginations would burst with your delicious flavorings. oh and thanks for fixing the grammar problems, now i can truly appreciate the full scope of your caricature adventures.

Unknown said...

joe! are you coming to kamans --canada's wonderland! you HAVE TO! we need you!
these drawings make me weep, with awe and envy.
keep posting--> but bigger pictures please, some of these are kind of tiny.

Joe Bluhm said...

Not sure if I'm visiting Canada... maybe you can talk to your manager and make something happen. >>wink<< - but I'll be in the Buffalo area, I think... maybe around the 2nd week of July.

Some of the pics are as big as Kay took them (got the guests in the pics as well, so they were small). Plus, I can't give it ALL away. ;)

REJECTSthebook.com will be running by the fall or winter, I'm sure... with a book for sale!

Brian said...

Hey Joe,
I noticed on the first photo there is a drawing underneath it with heavy red lines. Was that a pre-sketch? Did you use small paper in Japan too?
Looking forward to the convention.

Anonymous said...

yeah dude...you gotta come over to canada! come to wonderland and help us out!

(that's basically me saying that i think your caricatures are nothing short of amazing, but seriously i think you should make the trip!)

Lar said...

If you can't make it to Wonderland I'll be willing to cram my car with people for a day trip down to Buffalo to watch you at work :) An opportunity not to be missed.

Great stuff, Joe :) Later!

Joe Bluhm said...

No buffalo - can you make it to PA?


Unknown said...

dang, japan? you lucky bastard you. my best friend just got back from a 6 week visit there. sounds like you had a blast. and your moving to nyc maybe? wicked!

haha sorry i'm tracking you down here on blogger too...i'm getting all this blog stuff up and running myself and thought i'd say hi on here.


Anonymous said...

Gabe showed us some of these last Sunday at our sketch night in North Park. We had fun laughing and learning.

Thanks for coming out!

Esly Carrero said...


Gabriel Hunt said...

My caricature crew at Legoland was wondering if you penciled any of these out first, or just did one of your famous under-sketches that you demostrted in our park.

Joe Bluhm said...

I think I stuck to undersketches... sometimes I penciled to save paper (guilt), but mostly they were artstixx sketches.

Danny said...

These are all phenomenal drawings, great inspiration.

I'm curious though, how do you get such a natural look with the colorstix, I've seen plenty of people who get such a clean skin rendering using colorstix, and I got some and am having a lot of trouble not making it look nice and even.