Sharp-eyed Sparksheet readers may recognize the cloned feline in our latest Feature Article “cover image” as Maneki Neko, the “beckoning cat” whose ceramic likeness is seen in restaurants and shops around the world. They may also be wondering why we used a Japanese icon to illustrate a story about China’s copycat brands.

It turns out that the so-called “lucky cat” is frequently mistaken as being Chinese in origin due to its popularity in Chinese communities. But, of course, we’re worldly enough at Sparksheet to know a Japanese cat when we see it. In fact, our adoption of Maneki Neko for this story was no accident at all. Here’s the story behind the cover image, from the mouth of Sparksheet Creative Director Charles Lim, who created it:

So when we first take a look at illustrating a Feature Article, it’s important to have some idea or concept before attempting a visual execution. Pushing pixels around without any solid idea often results in the ultimate shame: banality.

For this piece, we looked at the word “copycat,” and eventually honed in on the Lucky Cat (Maneki Neko). Yes, we were aware that the cat’s origin is Japanese, but it made sense within the context of counterfeit brands, and how Chinese communities adopted the sculpture to the point where it’s frequently mistaken as the original. We turned the cat into a repeating background, and gradually degraded the quality and alignment until it looked like a bad photocopy.

Choosing a suitable type is always informed by the article’s content, so in this case we used a trendy condensed Franklin and used its industrial-ness to contrast with the humanity of the Pigeon font underneath. To reinforce the copycat theme even more, we offset the type using a slighly greenish neon yellow and a warm magenta, which vaguely recall China’s national colours – but not quite.

Check out the article: Shenzhai: China’s Brand Copycats.