Shin Tanaka

Japanese street artist Shin Tanaka is best known for his elaborate paper creations. With his use of curves, bright colours and careful attention to detail, Tanaka is successful in fusing origami and urban culture in his work. Some of his most notable pieces are his paper sneakers. While he only started to make replicas of popular sneaker designs to comfort the fact that he could not afford the real deal on a student’s budget, Tanaka’s idea exploded into a very unique, worldwide open source project.

Artists and designers are encouraged to use his templates for popular sneakers as a platform for creativity. Today, Tanaka continues to support the growth of custom art by making more of his paper patterns available on his website.

“When I make a paper toy, I repeat drawing lines, building it up and modifying it many times. The most difficult part is to express the roundness of the sneaker, because paper is flat and cannot stretch. It’s always a process of trial and error.”

Format: Did you ever do origami as a child?
Shin Tanaka: Yes, I did. I loved Origami. My parents said they gave me paper and I started it when I was four years old. I could fold paper without instructions after folding the designs just once.

Format: Why did you decide to use paper as a medium to create your art?
Shin Tanaka: Because paper is a very familiar material for me, and I thought it’s very easy for everyone to build it up by themselves and to customize it.

Format: What, in your opinion makes a good paper design?
Shin Tanaka: I always consider the curves of the paper; it’s a very elegant surface. Many people make paper toys, but they are very boring because they use 3D-modeling software. As a result, their toys are like polygon characters with no curved surfaces. It’s just a copy of computer polygon characters. I hate them and this is the most important difference between them and me.

Format: What sort of reaction did you get when people first saw your paper sneakers? Was it an instant hit or did people criticize you for imitating designs that already existed?
Shin Tanaka: They couldn’t understand that they are made from a paper. They also couldn’t believe that they are only 7cm small; most people thought they were real human sizes. (I also make human size paper sneakers or much bigger ones; I have made sneakers 3 meters long even.) The sneakers were an instant hit. People didn’t criticize. They loved the concept I started. They can customize and make their own colored sneakers.

Format: We think it’s fantastic that you have your templates available online for the intrepid designer to play with. Was it important to you to make this an open source project?
Shin Tanaka: Yes, it’s very important. I think my template is a medium between people. Therefore I should make as many people able to join this project as easily as possible.

Format: What is your process of designing a sneaker replica? What is the most difficult part?
Shin Tanaka: When I make a paper toy, I repeat drawing lines, building it up and modifying it many times. The most difficult part is to express the roundness of the sneaker, because paper is flat and cannot stretch. It’s always a process of trial and error.

Format: Do you have any plans to design real sneakers in the future?
Shin Tanaka: No, but I’d like to make my own real sneaker in my future.

Format: What is the perfect sneaker design for Shin Tanaka? Does it exist yet?
Shin Tanaka: I think it is Nike AF1. The reason is that it’s been loved by many people for over 25 years. Also, I think it is very interesting that AF1 has so many color variations and different feelings.

Format: Do you have any advice for anyone getting into paper design?
Shin Tanaka: Just love paper, love sneakers!

More Info: http://shin.co.nr/

Kim Sison

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4 comments

  1. Shin makes amazing paper toys and i love the way he opens it up for artists around the world to customize them at home as they like….
    i have done a few myself!

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