Interview: Momoka Ito (Vi) Photography: Pon Sato
#DESKWATCH is a project that shines the spotlight on creators of illustrations, manga, anime, videos, music… and their work environment. Discover how these gems of creativity are born, and what kind of tools professional creators use through photos and interviews!
This time, we checked out the desk of illustrator Gemi, known for his warm and detailed work, that makes digital processes look like analog ones.
From pictures to specimens, and a variety of other objects, it was just like a mini gallery. What kind of work does Gemi do in this stylish little space?
▲ Specs: Windows7 PC, Intel Core i7-4790K (4.00GHz), 16GB memory, hard disk:SSD500GB＋HDD500GB. 2TB＋1TB backup-use memory disks attached. Display: EIZO ColorEdge 24 inch color management liquid crystal monitor and Cintiq27 QHD.
Feel textures from Gemi’s art. All he uses is Photoshop
- What an amazing atmosphere your room has! The huge whale beside the monitor really catches your eye.
Thank you! If there’s something that I like, I really have to get it. This whale piece was created by a graduate student from the Tokyo University of the Arts, Isana Yamada. It’s a part of a 6-piece series, Samsara, and is called Jigokumichi (Way to Hell).
- I could write a whole essay about your interior design, but let’s get on with the main topic! Firstly, could you tell us more about your work environment? Your illustrations all seem very analog, but are you using any paint tools?
I only use Photoshop. I mean, that’s the only thing I know how to use…… I’m interested in other software like Painter, but I can’t seem to find the time to learn them.
- I never knew you could bring out so much depth with that one software…! There’re many analog tools around your workplace, but when did you first switch over to digital tools?
Hmmn, around my 2nd or 3rd year in college. Up till high school, getting into art college was my only aim, and I did a lot of analog sketching as part of examination preparation. That’s why, I never had much interest in manga drawing or uploading my work on the internet.
But once I entered art college, all my friends, be it from the Western art course, or the traditional Japanese art course, were able to draw manga. I was invited to drawing chats by my friends, but I didn’t even know the existence of drawing forums then. I vaguely knew that you could draw with computers, and even thought that pen tablets were just a mouse in the shape of a pen.
- Mouse in the shape of a pen (lol) So you started using digital tools under the influence of your friends.
Yes. My friends told me about “pen tablets can sense pressure”. I bought a Intuos to try it out but… I couldn’t get used to pen tablets nor manga illustrations, and was the only one exceedingly bad at them. While my friends were drawing a variety of characters on these drawing chats, I was only drawing backgrounds.
Even so, it was my dream to get into illustration communities and talk to all sorts of people. It was about then I registered with pixiv. At first, I only uploaded illustrations of backgrounds with people the size of beans, but slowly increased their sizes.
▲ Gemi’s first upload on pixiv.
- Is there a tool you use frequently on Photoshop?
I’m always playing around with the settings. I rarely use the same customized brushes for a long time… I also bought analog-ish brushes to mix in with my own. I haven’t reached a stage where I’m satisfied with how “analog” my illustrations are, so I’m still testing out waters everyday.
- Are there some brushes that you have stuck with over the years?
I use the rough droplets-like one often. However, the rough surface may make the illustration look low-resolution in certain situations, so I layer the brushes.
It’s uncomfortable being too beautiful. I like it when it looks like it was a “series of coincidences”
- Your illustrations have a special touch to them, is there something you pay particular notice to?
Since I’m working with digital tools, I try to bring in all sorts of elements, from Japanese art to Western art, woodcuts etc. When drawing with analog tools, some are water-based and some oil-based, and you are restricted to one particular tool. However, you don’t find that problem when drawing digitally, and you can incorporate the dry feel of Japanese art, the moist feel of oil paintings, flat effect of woodcuts all in one illustration.
▲ Gemi’s illustrations always have a variety of textures. It’s only possible because of digital tools that captures the best parts of analog techniques.
- Are there areas where you use the same techniques as analog methods?
I don’t really use that many layers, and tend to just cover up mistakes by coloring over it. Furthermore, I may spill out of the borders on purpose and layer it up. You can draw exact lines digitally, but making it too perfect is uncomfortable.
I like it when illustrations look like they’re a series of coincidences. So not fitting all the colors perfectly within the lines, is something rather analog. I mess up the brushes on purposes. You can control everything with digital tools, so I remove some of that perfect control to make it seem more analog.
▲ A portion of his workspace, with many brushes and painting tools that make it seem like an analog workspace. It seems that he makes plastic models here once in a while too.
- Do you use shortcut keys?
Just the default ones. Undo one step, hide selected area, just the two of them. And changing brush sizes I guess. The liquid crystal pen tablet has a shortcut key and wheel, but I haven’t really gotten used to them so I mostly use the keyboard.
- What’s your favorite part of the illustrating process?
Playing around with colors. It’s something you can’t do when drawing with analog tools. It’s mostly the balance between light and shadows when I don’t feel satisfied with something, and color choices are really important. After layering the colors, they start getting a little cloudy. I get excited when I have to fix that. The illustration often ends up as something I didn’t really expect at the start, and that’s really fun.
Drawing for someone, instead of for yourself
- What is the most memorable illustration you uploaded on pixiv?
Hoshi no Amaoto, I’d say.
It might leave a bad taste in your mouth if I say this, but for a period of time, I was obsessed over ranking top in the daily rankings. Thinking about what kind of drawings would gather what kind of attention, and even uploaded 3 of the same illustrations with minor changes to test things out.
- Could you give us a specific example?
For example, if I was drawing according to the theme of green, I’d upload a drawing with pale green and another with vivid green. They’d have the same structure, just that the pale green one might be raining or have mist, will the vivid green one would be a sunny day...something like that.
After analyzing the responses to both illustrations, I understood what kind of atmosphere was more liked by the viewers. During the topic of green, the misty one had better ratings, and with that in mind, I drew the 3rd illustration.
By repeating that, I began to understand what would be popular. Of course, assuming it was something I enjoyed drawing, but it helped me figure out how to express myself or what kind of atmosphere to bring out with my illustrations.
- I see. Like market research huh.
Apart from that, I noticed that illustrations of stars were popular while looking at the pixiv ranking. My selling point is rainy backgrounds, and rain and stars can’t co-exist as the clouds would cover up the stars. Back then, there weren’t any illustrations with both the tags of Starry Skies and Rain.
That’s why, I was sure that by combining the two elements, I would be able to clinch 1st place. As I pondered over how to mix them, it struck me that leaking roofs would make this possible. And that’s how Hoshi no Amaoto was born. This illustration actually clinched 1st place, but it was actually the result of trial and error, making it a very memorable experience for me.
- So you found your own strengths and continued to polish them.
Yeah. It also made me realize that poor skills can be covered up with creativity. I see illustrators as people who translate people’s thoughts into drawings. There’re people who want to express themselves, although I’m a little different.
It may be that I’m not very artist-like, but I didn’t know what I wanted to draw for a period of time, and became completely unable to draw. It was then that I received an offer to illustrate something, and it made me understand that being asked to draw something was very valuable to me.
Wanting to draw, but not knowing what to draw, was fixed by drawing for someone else. From then on, instead of drawing to express myself, I now draw for the sake of someone else in the form of requests.
- Is there anything you particularly like outside of work?
I really like a whole range of things now. Well I guess it’s because I made up my mind to experience lots of things so that I’ll be able to respond to all sorts of requests. I just want to find something that I really love by 50 or 60.
Getting osteopathic treatment twice a week, care for the body
- About the items around your desk, is there something you cannot live without?
Wilkinson Dry Cola. Despite being normal carbonated water, it tastes like cola. I feel refreshed drinking it, and I drink when I feel the need to turn up my gears. And also coffee from home. My family actually runs a homemade coffee shop.
- Do you listen to music while working?
the pillows when I’m trying to get my spirits up. My teacher from art school was a fan of the pillows, and their songs were always playing after class. I fell in love with them after always listening to their songs.
In college, when I told my friends that I liked the pillows, they all linked it to Fooly Cooly (*1). I didn’t even know that the pillows sang the music for it. I watched it then and had no idea what was going on, but when I watched it again when I was in my 20s, I suddenly found it so interesting (lol).
*1 Fooly Cooly: OVA series produced by Gainax and Production I.G. Also has a novel and manga, and a variety of media releases.
The rest would be Western music. I play the CD of which I’m designing the jacket covers of though.
▲ Gemi worked on the PV illustrations for VOCALOID music producer keeno’s before light. Gemi was originally a fan of keeno before that, and it was one of his favorite works.
- You have to sit and face the computer for long periods of time, so is there anything you do when resting your eyes, hands and feet?
I get osteopathic treatment twice a week. My legs get swollen easily. I have a foot massager at home, but my blood flow just doesn’t get smooth. Also, I used to have a slouch, but I corrected it across 2-3 months. My shoulder aches went away after I fixed my posture! Getting the treatment refreshes my mind, and it makes me work harder to finish before my treatment.
- It seems that you’re taking proper care of your body.
I’ve actually hurt my hip about 4 times. I used to play a lot of sports, like track, swimming, tennis, and first hurt my hip when I was in middle school. They say hip problems keep coming back don’t they? I was afraid that staying like this would hurt my back even more, and so I quit sports and switched over to the arts.
- For those trying to create their own working space, what do you think is the most important thing to have?
A monitor with a calibration function (*2). Illustrators draw for others, so it’s more important how they see it than how you see it. When I made up the resolve to become an illustrator, I bought a monitor with a calibration function first.
*2 Calibration: Adjusting your display settings to standardize colors and sizes.
- Lastly, tell us more about your current activities.
- Thank you!
Carrying out refined work in a refined workplace
He dedicates himself to creating work that can make someone else happy. His refined awareness as a professional illustrator shines through his gorgeous, warm illustrations.
The workspace which sees the birth of these gems was also a refined, warm one.
#DESKWATCH checks out the inspiring desks of creators, and observes as they strive to deliver the best quality work.
Well then, till next time!