Mention coffee cup art to anyone nowadays and their eyelids begin to droop at the prospect of another Instagram picture of a barista’s swirly latte foam creation.
But the work of Adrian Hogan, a self-employed illustrator based in Tokyo, should jolt them open again with the force of a triple espresso.
Hogan has become an Internet sensation after a video of street sketches he makes on the side of disposal coffee cups got people clicking.
“Once I drew on the coffee cup, I filmed it and rotated the coffee cup at the same time,” says Hogan. “So you have the panorama of the background and the coffee cup in the foreground.”
The appeal, he says, is that people like to see how the scene unveils as he drew it.
He credits the idea to an invitation from his friend, Mariya Suzuki.
Suzuki, also an illustrator, was having a solo exhibition “Coffee People” about, unsurprisingly, coffee.
As part of the event, she invited a few friends, Hogan among them, to paint on coffee cups.
Hogan, a design graduate, came to Japan five years ago to teach English.
He then returned to his native Australia to study fine art but maintained his link to Japan and returned in 2013.
“I was working a few night jobs at a Japanese restaurant when I was freelancing as an illustrator in Melbourne to keep the language going,” he says.
Hogan says he was lured to Japan by the work of contemporary Japanese artists like Takashi Murakami and Aida Makoto.
“The thing I really found inspiring was the different approach — to all kinds of aspect of life, of course, but especially in relation to drawing that I didn’t understood until I came here,” he says.
“Japanese drawings are often very flat. They don’t really strive to create an illusion of three-dimensional that we often do in Western drawing.
“I can understand it when I get here — there is a flatness to the scenery, the landscape and architecture, here.”
Taking his cue from such scenes, Hogan worked on projects like “Entrances,” creating drawings of Tokyo shopfronts.
“If you look at the building from the entrance you see the way the building is intended to be — it’s almost like a wallpaper.”
Hogan’s painting mostly focuses on urban life in Tokyo and he sketches wherever he goes.
He recommends a few ideal spots for people-watching (and drawing) around Tokyo.
“Omotesando is a high-end, glitzy part of town. A lot of street fashion photography you may come across in Japanese magazines are taken in this part of town,” he says.
He recommends Ginza, with its decades-old department stores, for its retro feel.
“It’s very elegant with white buildings … it has an airy and dreamy feeling to it.
“You get to see more older and more elegant men and women there, especially on the weekend when they close the street for pedestrians so they would walk more freely.”
Shibuya’s famous scrambled intersection is also one of Hogan’s favorites, but he enjoys older Tokyo neighborhoods more.
“I really like areas like Musashi Koyama, this is more of a working class area slightly becoming more gentrified,” he says. “There are a lot of standing-drinking bars, small and quite tightly packed in. It’s a very fun imagery to draw.”
There’s also Nihonbashi, where a massive freeway sits.
“It’s beautiful and it’s where you meet a lot of salary men. They’re usually very interested in what I’m doing. It’s a great way to meet people.”
Hogan says he’s used sketching to aid his travels, breaking down language barriers with illustrations.
“Half the sketchbooks ended up being pictures of the place and the other half includes diagrams explaining where I was from and little objects of what I wanted to buy in the supermarkets.”
“I did it very often when I first came to Japan.”
Hogan thinks his work makes more of an impact with Japanese people than Westerners.
“I am not sure if it’s because people grow up here with manga and anime, but people react to drawing more strongly than people do in the West.”
“The things you draw have real power to them and people can be affected by that in a good way,” says Hogan. “That’s something I really like.”