Sometimes we just love a bit of trash TV or a gameshow that makes our brain feel like mashed potato. Sometimes, we tune into something a bit special, something that re-adjusts our focus or refreshes our perspective. Whichever it happens to be, we are often treated to increasingly creative station ‘idents’, those funky motion graphics sent to remind us which channel we are tuned into at the time.
For the month of May, ITV has taken the creation of their station idents to a whole new level, a level that brings art and science together to mark Mental Health Awareness Week. In an ‘ITV Creates’ collaboration between our guest Tokyo-born, London-based artist and graphic designer, June Mineyama-Smithson (aka Mamimu) and neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart, three scenes have been created that represent the turning of negative thoughts into positive, the infinite possibilities of our brain, and the achievement of our dreams.
Together, they’re intended to form a beacon of optimism, ‘inducing happy hormones’ and functioning as a ‘happiness and resilience top up’ for viewers through their TV screens.
We were chuffed to have been able to grab a (virtual) coffee with June ahead of her work airing to find out more about what makes her marvellous brain tick and where she goes looking for inspiration. If you’ve seen the idents already, you’ll know what a master of her own magic June is. If you haven’t seen them yet, sit back, relax and keep reading as we give her brilliance some background and her creativity some context.
‘My mission is to inject optimism into the world and it all started when I was a child’
‘I’m not massively talented or anything’, June tells us - a proclamation her string of accolades, thousands of social media followers, high-profile lecturing, mentorship credentials and portfolio of work with some of the world’s biggest brands would contest. But where did it all begin? Somebody with such a colourful way of looking at life surely has a story to tell.
June Mineyama-Smithson was born in Tokyo, to well-travelled, doting parents who gave her a taste for the big wide world from a very early age. She was surrounded by a family of creative thinkers and doers; June’s relatives spanned a calligrapher, an art teacher and an interior designer. Growing up in 1970s/80s Japan, colour, pattern and a sunny disposition also became an innate part of her DNA.
As a five-year-old with not a care in the world, she would spend her afternoons at the local bus stop greeting passengers alighting from their journey with a beaming smile and a ‘Konichiwa!’. It was her favourite hobby. Throwing the don’t-speak-to-strangers rulebook right out the window, June ‘realised at the age of five that [she had] some kind of impact on people, to make them happy’. Listening to her giggle through our interview, charming us with her infectiously rose-tinted lens on life, we can confirm those suspicions were correct.
But what did that all mean for adult June? Sadly, in today’s world, a grown-up sat smiling in a bus stop doesn’t quite inspire the same reaction as a cute, doe-eyed youngster, right?
‘You can always find something you can be grateful for, but in day-to-day life we just forget what we’ve got’
June’s first job was an admin role at Japan Airlines - a dry, uninspiring way of spending her days that very quickly rendered her bored and hungry for more. This appetite led June to studies in web design, eventually spiralling into a move across the world to the cosmopolitan English capital of London to explore the wider scope of graphic design. Was it bravery that catalysed such a bold move, or dedication to a more fulfilling career? Perhaps, but in June’s own words: ‘the beauty of being young and ignorant’ played an integral part.
Today, June is a successful artist and graphic designer managing her own self-initiated projects as well as a number of global commissions (one of which links back to ITV Idents, but more on that in just a moment). Of late, particularly during the physical and mental confines of lockdown, June has found comfort, inspiration and empowerment in a traditional Japanese landscape technique which introduces larger landscape elements - like the sky or mountains - into smaller environments.
Her earlier work had roots in 17th Century Japanese kimono design, less in aesthetic but more in concept - finding beauty in ordinary, everyday motifs, be it clouds, waves, or fish scales. In 21st Century London, New York and Tokyo, as part of one of her first self-initiated projects, June found beauty in the mundane by collecting images of manhole covers from around the world and transforming them into remixed shapes and geometric prints.
‘My definition of optimism is determination to be happy’
What inspires June’s synonymous graphic, geometric, shape-centric creations? An ‘ultimate aim’ to ‘inject optimism into the world and make people happy like [she] did when [she] was five’. And that is precisely how adult June carries the legacy of five-year-old June, waving and smiling at the bus stop into her later life - through creating artwork that makes people smile. It wasn’t until her recent involvement with ITV Creates though that June was to learn more about the science behind these smiles.
As part of the project for ITV Creates, June collaborated with neuroscientist, Dr. Tara Swart to combine Art + Science; Magic + Logic. June learned from Dr. Swart that the smiles and positive emotion she aims to instil through her work is rooted in science; there’s method in the madness. From bonding hormones to happy hormones, looking at things which make us feel good and fuzzy inside has a positive impact on the chemicals in our brains.
Through this theory the two came together to create ‘Ultimate Optimism’ - a series of motion graphics (aka idents) ‘designed to top up your optimism for every viewing’. We won’t divulge too much here, so as not to spoil your own exploration of the artwork and its meaning, but trust us it’s worthy of your closest attention. After the year or so the world has just had, a generous dose of optimism can go a long, long way. If only we could bottle the work of these two wonderful people from two contrasting but complimentary worlds.
‘The biggest mistake lots of creative people make is trying to be original and trying to create something from nothing’
As has become tradition for all of our guests, we asked June what inspires her most. For someone who finds inspiration ‘everywhere’ and ‘beauty that is waiting to be discovered’ in the most mundane of places, I suspected this might be a tricky one to answer. But no - without hesitation nor barely pause for breath, June told us how her parents will always be her biggest source of inspiration. For ‘putting [her] on the right path as a young person’, and for making choices that steered June to where she is today. For that, she will always be ‘eternally grateful’.
No doubt you’ll join us in being eternally grateful for people like June who, even in the most challenging and uncertain times, still help us find that ray of sunshine to bask in and beauty even in the most unexpected places. Even manholes.
To hear more about her magical mindset and charming approach to life and her art, tune into June’s full interview on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast.