SBP Blog

Stone Bridge Cafe: "Japanisms"

Thomas Joel - Monday, January 15, 2018

Stone Bridge Cafe is a bi-weekly online series from Stone Bridge Press devoted to bringing readers short stories, poems, non-fiction pieces, photographs, and artwork from and/or about East Asia. For submission guidelines and info, follow the link at the bottom of this post.

This week we're serving up 4 delectable digital illustrations created by 

Michael C. Paul that are inspired by traditional Japanese painting aesthetics, particularly the 

Ukiyo-e style of prints and woodblock paintings.

Easily the most recognizable genre of Japanese art, the 

Ukiyo-e style depicts

such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. 

Michael C. Paul's work pays homage to this aesthetic while maintaining his own distinct style, one that is as much rooted in Japan's cultural past as it is in the country's global, hyper-commercial present. All illustrations were created on an iPad with the app Procreate.


Benkei at Atakanoseki, from the Kabuki play Kanjincho
Benkei at Atakanoseki, from the Kabuki play Kanjincho 
This illustration is based on 19th and 20th century Japanese prints of kabuki actors.
In the referenced play, Kanjincho (The Subscription List), Yoshitsune Minamoto, disguised as a monk, is fleeing to Northern Honshu from his half-brother, the first Minamoto shogun, Yoritomo. Yoshitsune and his servant, Benkei, are stopped along the road and questioned by the officer, Togashi. Benkei claims they are monks gathering contributions from the faithful to support the monastery. When Togashi demands to see the subscription list, Benkei pretends to read from a blank scroll. After finishing, he cuts a mie mimicking the Buddhist wrathful deity Fudo Myō-ō, using the scroll like the god’s thunderbolt sword, and his rosary as the god’s lariat.
Sun and Blossoming Tree
Sun and Blossoming Tree 
This illustration is based on Japanese paintings of nature, such as flowering trees, birds, and the moon, by painters like Koson Ohara.
View of Mount Fuji
View of Mount Fuji 
As you may have noticed, this one is loosely based on Hokusai’s famous series of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints of various views of Mount Fuji.
Ukiyo-e Wonder Woman
Ukiyo-e Wonder Woman 
Finally, this illustration brings East and West together, drawing from American comic book art and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s series of Bajin-ga (beautiful women) Ukiyo-e prints from the mid to late 19th century, especially “Looking Itchy” (Fuzoku Sanjuniso no. 16). 


Michael C. Paul is a northern Virginia-based illustrator. He grew up in the Missouri and Kansas and studied history and political science. More of his illustrations can be seen at

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