InqPOP! Exclusive: Tokidoki creator Simone Legno on his art and what he wants to do next


AsiaPOP Comicon Manila (APCC Manila 2017) will have its third run in the country this August 25 to 27 at the SMX Convention Center and will feature many international artists including Tokidoki creator Simone Legno.

Simone Legno is an Italian artist who created the now widely-popular Tokidoki brand. His work is inspired by Japanese art and culture as well as street art and graffiti.

The word “tokidoki”, which means “sometimes” in Japanese, was chosen by Legno because he thinks “everyone waits for moments that change one’s destiny, by chance or by meeting a new person.”  

Some of Legno’s Tokidoki characters

Legno’s big break came when entrepreneurs Pooneh Mohajer and Ivan Arnold saw his online portfolio and convinced him to start a partnership with them in 2005. Since then, Tokidoki has partnered with international brands like Barbie, Hello Kitty, Onitsuka Tiger, Levi’s, LeSportsac, and more.

InqPOP! had the chance to ask him a few questions about his art and what he plans to do next:

InqPOP!:  What started your fascination with Japanese art and culture?

Legno: I’ve been watching Japanese anime ever since I was a little boy. Japanese pop culture really took off in Italy in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, so back then, anime was everywhere on TV. Through anime, I wasn’t just watching scenes of cute characters or robots, I was getting a glimpse into the culture and seeing what real life was like in Japan. Japanese iconography like cherry blossoms, bullet trains, school uniforms, kimonos — all of that really resonated with me and it led me to want to research and study more.

When I was a teenager, I would go to the Japan Foundation in Rome, and that was a center where I could watch movies, study the language, and learn more about Japanese culture. I feel like this interest was something that naturally developed in me — this fascination with Japan that I still carry with me today.

What is your creative process like for creating new Tokidoki characters?

I always start with a sketch and then I scan it to my computer.

The characters are ideas that came from observing reality, and I’m always looking for items or places that are beautiful or interesting to me. Everything can be beautiful or interesting because of its shape or its meaning.

For example, I created Latte by observing my fridge. And by observing donuts one day, I realized that they reminded me of UFOs.

Which of your Tokidoki characters are you most fond of?

I love all of the characters, so it’s really hard to choose because each one of them is a part of my life and a part of my personality. A few of them have become champion characters, so for example, when I hear someone say “tokidoki,” the first character that comes to my mind is SANDy. And then there are our Unicornos, which have become an icon for the brand. The character that I have a lot of fun drawing and would like to see more of is the tiger character, Salary Man.

As a character, I think it appeals to both sexes — it’s cute yet masculine, and it’s also funny and edgy. In general, tigers are one of my favorite animals. I admire them for being both beautiful and strong.

Is there anything you still want to accomplish in your career as an artist?

To be honest, I really feel like I am still at the beginning of my career. I want to bring Tokidoki to every corner of the world and I want the brand to become an icon that will persist even after I am gone.

From a commercial art point of view, I would love to have the opportunity to work with an airline on a Tokidoki-themed airplane. I would also love to have a Tokidoki theme park one day.

I believe in my art, so I would like to develop my fine art career further in terms of exhibiting at galleries and museums. I would love to put aside more time for this.  

What’s the most challenging part of collaborating with world-famous brands like Barbie and Onitsuka Tiger?

I think that the challenging part is trying to create something original while respecting the tradition and the essence of the brands that we are working with. We have to mesh and create something new and special that also incorporates that brand’s DNA.

What advice can you give to young people who are struggling to choose between pursuing their passion for art and making a career out of it?

I don’t think that there is an ideal occupation out there that will let you pursue just your passion   for art. To live from art, you must be willing to do many other things than just sitting down and drawing. In order to pay your bills and survive, you’ll need to look for and take the opportunities in front of you. You’ll sometimes need to do things that you may not want to do, but if you continue to stick to your art, good things will come out of it.

At the beginning of my career, I was creating animated GIFs and editing banners for websites in Photoshop, so you really can’t expect to be able to do what you want to do right from the start. It may take years, but if you don’t give up and keep your dream alive, it will happen.

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Catch Simone Legno and his Tokidokis together with other international artists at the APCC Manila 2017 being held at the SMX Convention Center this August 25-27.