Interview by Ichibo Harada
The exhibit features around 150 new illustrations from their first artbook Drown in Water and Dream, including some from their personal series Fantasy Water Tales.
- Miwano Rag
After working as an animator, they have been active as a freelance illustrator since 2020. Their range of work is extensive, with a portfolio including book covers, imagery for virtual performers, and other projects; they're known for their textural and transparent depictions inspired by watercolor and oil painting techniques. Their first art book Drown in Water and Dream (published by KADOKAWA and on sale since March 2022), mainly contains illustrations from Fantasy Water Tales, a collection focusing on a slightly darker worldview.
Their favorite things are reptiles, sake, and horror games.
My high school homestay was my turning point
── You went from animator to freelance illustrator, correct? Was this the job you always wanted?
I guess I was kind of interested in it, but I never thought of it as a future career… The college I went to wasn’t even related to art. But I happened to come across a job ad for the production company of my favorite show looking for animators while I was a student! I decided to send in some illustrations and ended up getting the job. So I dropped out of school to become an animator.
── How bold of you...!
Yeah. (laughs) I was planning on doing the regular job hunt, but accidentally ended up drawing for a living. I think I was pretty lucky.
── But to get a job at an animation studio, you must have already been drawing quite a lot?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but the big change came when I was a high school junior doing a month-long homestay in the US. My host mother knew I liked drawing, so she took me to a place in Colorado where the whole town was filled with art. One of the artists there asked me what I liked to draw, so I drew them something and they were so happy that I gave it to them. That really changed the way I thought about drawing, and I felt the need to draw constantly. During that time, I would fill up a 100-page notebook in 2 weeks.
── That’s amazing. How long have you been a freelance illustrator?
I left my company in 2019, so it’s been a little over 2 years. One has to earn money to survive, but it was about time for me to start looking for a new job, and I decided that the only thing I could do was to get really serious about drawing. That’s why I decided to focus on uploading my illustrations to social media.
── Did you upload anything other than your best work?
If I didn’t upload anything then no one would know me as “Miwano Rag the Illustrator.” So I thought it was important to get as much exposure as possible in the beginning.
The translucent style with roots in Western painting
── What is your current working environment?
The software I use is called CLIP STUDIO PAINT EX. I use Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 for line drawing and Wacom Intuos Pro in size M for coloring. I use the Cintiq Pro 24 in an attempt to correct my posture because I tend to hunch when I'm working.
I have been drawing digitally for about 10 years. I remember my mother being very angry with me because I bought a drawing tablet right before I took an entrance exam. (laughs)
── Your style is known to have a sense of translucency to it. What advice would you give to artists who want to put that translucency into their own work?
It’s all about the paint. I have always loved looking at watercolor and oil paintings, and if you look closely at Western paintings from the Renaissance to the modern period, you can see that even though the skin looks as translucent as porcelain, it is painted very well. That’s what gave me the idea to focus on the contrast between light and dark colors, rather than exclusively using light colors.
── The contrast between light and dark?
For example, the color with the highest saturation is placed at the border between light and shadow. Next to that, a darker color is placed, and next to that, a color that looks like a mixture of light blue and gray. This arrangement of colors is something I learned from old paintings.
Those interested can see an example from Miwano themselves via their FANBOX.
── I always thought that illustrators who were so focused on lighting must have photography as a hobby, but in your case your roots are in watercolors and oil paintings.
One of the paintings that left the biggest impact on me was "Daughter of Fisherman" by William Adolphe Bouguereau. When I was in junior high school, I fell completely in love with this work and had a postcard version of it that I treasured.
Determining the primary and secondary parts of an illustration
── Do you feel like you still use your experience as an animator today?
── What exactly do you mean by “focus on the eyes”?
Guiding the viewer's gaze may sound a little difficult, but in essence, it means "making it clear which parts of the picture are the primary focus and which parts are secondary". If everything is painted in exactly the same way, the viewer won’t know where to look. The character's eyes, or face, is the part I want to make stand out the most. That is why I use highly saturated colors and place the hands close to the face. On the other hand, I place the less saturated colors away from the face and try not to draw too much attention to that area. I think of it as increasing the amount of information around the face and "removing" it elsewhere.
── You very effectively use blurring in the backgrounds of your illustrations. Is this another way you “remove” information?
── Is there anything else you learned as an animator that you still use today?
I was always told to observe the poses people naturally make in everyday life. So I’ve started taking pictures of people around me in casual poses and making them into illustrations. For better or worse, unnatural poses create a sense of tension in illustrations. I’m better at thinking of unnatural poses, so conversely, when I draw such natural poses, I can discover new things like wrinkles in clothing or the range of motion in the shoulders.
── How did you practice when you first began drawing?
I’ve always liked to draw figures (e.g. humanoid drawing mannequins), so ever since I was a student I’ve been drawing them quickly and in various poses with a ballpoint pen. It's a bit like drawing a live model. With a pencil, you can go back and redo, but with a ballpoint pen, you can't make corrections, so you have to think as you draw.
Start with the pose and then add in the details
── I’ve heard that the focus of your compositions is the character’s poses. What do you consider to be a good pose?
── How do you usually put it all together?
Even if you have a character who is sitting, if you put their hands close to their face, the focus will be on the face. And if you place a flower on their lap, then that too becomes a point of interest. If you don't first decide what you want to highlight, you won’t be able to decide the overall composition. Many people start with a motif or theme, but I always think of the pose first, and then add in elements that will enhance it. This is just my opinion, but I feel that if I start with a theme, the finished work will inevitably be boxed into that theme, and I won't be able to come up with anything worthwhile.
── So you start with a pose, and then you add in extra elements to enhance it.
── I see. So you decided on the details by working backward from the intention of highlighting vertical lines. I’ve also heard that you are particular about the titles of your works.
Now, let me use my illustration Wolf-Girl Who Spouts Poison Flowers, as an example. At first, I started out just intending to draw a girl sitting down, but halfway through, I wanted to draw beast ears, so she turned into a wolf-girl. And since she’s a wolf-girl I thought, this kid might be a liar(*). That’s when I remembered hearing "beautiful flowers have poison". I interpreted lying as "spouting poisonous flowers," and so I added some flowers to the drawing... This is how my workflow usually goes.
(*) Translator's Note: The Japanese title of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" uses the word "liar", causing some folks to end up associating wolves, children, and lies. This is the connection the illustrator is referring to here.
── So instead of deciding on a title after you finish, you use the title as a way to expand and summarize the worldview of the work
── I was always under the impression that illustrators were divided into two groups. Those who focus on the visual and start with a motif they want to draw, or those who begin with a concept, going so far as to start worldbuilding and giving a character some backstory. I had no idea your way of drawing even existed.
When we previously released the making-of video, people were surprised at the “unusual way” I drew. (laughs) I started the line art while I was still in the sketch phase, and then I continued to sketch all while adding in more line art. Then I started coloring part of it as I went along with the line work... My ideas expand as I draw, so I tend to go back and forth between the rough sketch and the line art. In my regular work, I try as much as possible not to make the rough sketch too rigid.
── What do you do when you run into a creative block?
The conflict and coexistence between humans and the “Ayakashi” in "Fantasy Water Tales"
── Tell us about your personal series, Fantasy Water Tales.
It’s an original work set in a mostly sunken city that focuses on the conflict and coexistence between humans and the ayakashi(*). I originally had the idea about five years ago, and at the time I was really interested in a story that would express emotions through battles and conflict. From there, I came up with the idea of a city where the atmosphere changes from level to level, where boys and girls run through the streets...
(*) Translator's Note: ayakashi (あやかし) is a word for ghosts or spirits that appear around water.
── There are many characters, such as those who are a part of the secret organizations of the oni and the ayakashi. This makes for a compelling story with multiple protagonists. Is there any character that you’re particularly attached to?
That would have to be the main character Nagi Mizuno. She's a member of the oni(*), but has the blood of an ayakashi. Nagi is a character I've been drawing even before I started working on Fantasy Water Tales. She has short hair, a choker, legs... Basically all my favorite things. (laughs)
(*) Translator's Note: oni (鬼) is a word for demons.
── Both your first art book, released in March, and this solo exhibition are titled Drown in Water and Dream.
I asked my editor at KADOKAWA what they thought would be an appropriate title based on my previous works and with what I started with Fantasy Water Tales and we came to realize that “water” was a strong overarching theme in my work. We also added “dream” to create a more whimsical atmosphere, and the title was born. It refers to the dream you experience the second you drown.
── The exhibition space is decorated with aurora borealis colors and other materials that recreate the atmosphere of your art.
── I heard from the gallery manager that you are quite particular about the types of materials that you use.
It all started when I got a Blu-ray of Blue Exorcist. The silver paper included in it was so impressive that I seriously wanted to publish my own book on it. I even contacted the publisher about it. (laughs) From there, I just fell in head first. I would look at the packaging used for candies in the convenience store and think, “these materials and the way they’re processed… what a waste of money!” It’s my own art after all, so I think it adds a little extra fun if the material it’s printed on has its own story as well. I have a designer that I often work with who’s also obsessed with materials. It really helps because they can even tell me which materials would be best for line drawings and so on.
── I am really looking forward to your detail-packed solo exhibition! But with your art book released in March and this solo exhibition, is this the end of Fantasy Water Tales?
Not at all! This is only a small portion of it! There are still many parts that I haven't fully explained, so I’m planning to continue publishing it in fanzines and other publications in the future. Being a former animator, I would be very happy if Fantasy Water Tales eventually becomes an anime.
── Miwano has uploaded some commentary on their solo exhibition via FANBOX. Make sure to check it out!
Miwano Rag’s Solo Exhibition "Drown in Water and Dream" on display until June 29th!
pixiv WAEN GALLERY by TWINPLANET × pixiv, a gallery jointly operated by pixiv and Twin Planet, is currently holding Miwano Rag’s first solo exhibition Drown in Water and Dream until June 29th, 2022.
Approximately 150 illustrations, including original and commercial illustrations, will be on display. The exhibition will also include acrylic art displays featuring particularly memorable illustrations from Miwano's previous works, as well as other items. Particular attention to detail has been spent on the method of displaying Miwano’s creations.
Using the translucency of Miwano’s art as inspiration, the theme of “water” will also be present in purchasable merchandise that uses transparent materials and aurora borealis colors. Please feel free to stop by!
Exhibition Period: June 10th (Fri) - June 29th (Wed)
Location: TWIN PLANET South BLDG. 1F, 5-46-1 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
Opening hours: 12:00 pm - 7:00 pm