Interview: PICA, a Japan Inspired Design Duo

Here at Love Japan Magazine, we're always on the lookout for inspiring people to connect with, and today we're pleased to introduce PICA, a design duo from Canada.  Their vibrant and colourful work is inspired by a two year adventure in Tokyo, and we caught up with co-creators Alyona and Robby to explore the impact that the land of the rising sun has had on their design.

Robby, Alyona, and their adorable kitty

How did you become a design duo, and what do you enjoy about working creatively together?

Our lifelong partnership was born in design school. We met each other while doing our undergrad studies in Image Arts - New Media, where after teaming up for every project that came our way, we discovered that we not only complemented each other in our eccentric humour, but also in our creative endeavours. We both had something to offer to the table that the other was perhaps missing. I was strong in illustration, and Robby was excellent in interactive design. Our creative skills truly complimented each other, allowing us to collaborate on projects that we were proud of. I would say it was a perfect match as we absolutely loved working and spending time together, in and outside of school.

The PICA workspace

Katoributa print

Today Robby and I still hold very specific roles that compliment each other and help PICA grow. I am still the force behind the illustration design and colour composition, where Robby over the years became the master of typography and my biggest critic. Despite having different strength and skill aspirations, we share the same style sensibility, design principles, and know that by working together we produce something much greater than what could have been had we’ve been working alone.

How do you think living in Tokyo for two years has shaped your design style?

Living in Japan has given us deep understanding of its beliefs, values, customs and people, that are often overshadowed by the glamorized image of the Cool Japan. This insight into Japanese culture is what drives our creative process and inspiration at PICA. We are not aiming to just create prints that are stereotypically Japanese. Our subject matter is the Japanese culture that is known by few, but is very dear to us—expats and its natives. We hope through our prints to create awareness that there is more to Japan than sushi and Japanese swords. 

Daruma prints in an assortment of colours

Japan has also long been known for leading in fashion, architectural, industrial and product design due to its culturally rooted design philosophy. Our experience of living there has taught us to embrace the Japanese way of purity, simplicity and functionality. Keeping that close to heart, we always strive to create work that not just emulates these principles but embodies them in all facets of our design process and print product production.

What do you draw your inspiration from?

We draw our inspiration from the Pop Art movement of the 1960s. Pop Art is characterized by the bold, simple, vibrant colour imagery featuring everyday objects of mass culture. Similarly we strive to celebrate the aspects of the Japanese culture—traditional and modern—in the analogous manner by employing bright colour palette alongside bold, clean line illustrations.

Additionally, we are completely enamoured with the Japanese normcore interior design trend, much celebrated by MUJI (one of our top favourite brands), with its neat, plain design furniture in natural wood and white colours. At PICA we find this inspirational, and strive to create art that can live and coexist in such minimal spaces, while bringing a touch of bold, bright colour to the otherwise plain neutral coloured walls.

Maneki neko print

PICA prints

What's next for PICA? 

There are lots of exciting new prints in store for PICA. We have been collecting ideas for awhile now, and the list is getting long. There are a couple of new designs in the works right now as we speak, and a whole lot more to come. Every object we celebrate in our prints has a story or a deep cultural meaning associated with it, so you won’t be disappointed!

As for PICA’s whereabouts, while we are currently based in Toronto, Canada—the multicultural mecca, it is quite possible that PICA might find itself returning to its origins and continue to thrive creatively in Japan. Stay tuned!

Japan post print

Thanks to Robby and Alyona for sharing their story and inspiration with us.  You can connect with PICA on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or via their website where you can purchase an assortment of wonderful prints and calendars.  

All images are © Alyona Polianskaia