Douglas Barrett, who has been working as a graphic designer for two decades, embodies the “designer as author” ethos. His latest work is an ode to Japanese commuting culture—a collection of original paintings called “Stations of Tokyo” that depicts each of the 29 stops on that city’s Yamanote Line. The circular railway system girdles Tokyo and is reportedly one of the most heavily traveled sections of track on the planet.

“It is an amazing piece of human engineering and in my opinion a world wonder,” Barrett says. “It circles Tokyo much like a clock, and I began to see Tokyo as a clock face, tied together by the stations.” But “Stations of Tokyo” isn’t really about trains, Barrett says—it’s a graphical hook, a “visually poetic map” on which to hang his meditations on the street life and character of each neighborhood the train visits. “Each area of Tokyo serviced by the Yamanote has its own personality and is known for its contributions to Tokyo’s culture and economy,” Barrett explains.

[Click the arrows below to see a slideshow of Barrett's "Stations of Tokyo" paintings.]

The series reflects Barrett’s longstanding fascination with Japanese design and culture—an appetite he feeds on the four- to six-week trips he takes to the country each year. “Anyone who has done design work eventually looks at Japanese design, because it is so well thought out,” says Barrett. “As a graduate student, I went to Japan for a few weeks and really fell in love with the architecture, the public spaces, the advertising.”

Each of these elements is represented in “Stations of Tokyo,” which debuted at a hip community gallery in Tokyo last summer. Many of the pieces have already sold, Barrett says. But the best compensation is being able to share his original images and ideas, he says. “These illustrations tell my own story in a way that client work cannot.”

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