Interviewer: Yuka Abe
- Eku Uekura
- An illustrator with a penchant for cute clothes and sweets, she illustrates the concept of “girls who look as if they’re made from sweet sugar” in mind. She does work for a wide variety of fields in the art world such as key visuals for events, character design, and collaboration illustrations with companies. She’s even released two books: Tea Party-Eku Uekura Art Book- (Hifumi Shobo) and Eku Uekura Shinpinshu: Sugary Girls -Amakute Oishii Yousou-ten (PIE International)
The path from part-time to full-time illustrator
── It’s been five years since you last sat down for an interview with us. During that time, have there been any big changes in your life?
── Has anything changed for you since becoming a full-time illustrator?
When it was just a side job, I had this rough schedule of going to my full-time job on weekdays and spending weekends and holidays doing personal work. Ever since I’ve taken on illustration full-time, however, I’ve been able to solely focus on my work and that gives me more leeway both physically and mentally.
Of course, I’m doing all of this while caring for my child, so things don’t go as scheduled if they get sick. While that is challenging, it would’ve been worse if I was still working two jobs. In that sense, it's a huge help to have a job that allows me to be flexible with my schedule.
── Although working as an individual may seem daunting, it seems to be a somewhat religious cycle for you.
The trick to choosing colors narrowing it down to four to five colors based on the theme.
── Your attention to detail is apparent in your illustrations, in everything from the hair and clothing to the accessories. What do you start on first when working on an illustration?
── Is there a limit to how many colors you’ll use?
There is. It’s hard to masterfully use a lot of colors together so I use themes that consist of four to five colors. I’ll choose the main color first and then other colors that correspond with the theme.
For example, the other day, I drew a piece with a “mature yet girly” theme. I initially chose pink as the main color, followed by red and white, which pair nicely with pink. From there, I went with black and brown to fit the theme’s “mature” aspect.
── Depending on the illustration, some areas will have different line colors than others, right?
── The way you layer textures with dots and stamps also makes your illustrations rather unique.
In an illustration class I took back in vocational school, I learned that overlaying textures on an illustration can instantly change the work’s overall vibe. After discovering how fun it was, I started to layer different things. In the beginning, I would overlay using photos I’d taken myself but then I noticed how cute stamp textures looked when I happened to stick them on the material collection books I’d buy. From then on, there was this period when I would overuse stamps in my pieces. I’d add them even if they didn’t match the picture. (laughs)
Recently, to ensure I use textures that match the picture, I don’t use stamp textures as much. However, whenever the stamps suit the illustration, people will tell me how cute they find the piece because of the stamps, which makes me pretty happy.
I visualize a figurine and draw it out.
── Is there anything that you’re especially particular about when you draw?
I have a few things. First are the eyes. Lately, I’ve especially been spending a lot of time adding details to eyelashes. I draw them out while leaving gaps so that I don’t color them in completely. I think that this allows me to add more lashes and make them pretty.But as for the eyes themselves, I try to keep them as simple as possible, making especially sure to not add more than one highlight. I want the outfit design to stand out so I think simplifying the eyes strikes a good balance, which has led me to how I do things now.
── In that sense, is clothing another point you’re fixated on as well?
That’s right. Among other things, I’m meticulous about the shape of the ruffles and how the skirt spreads out, making them look fluffy and cute.
But there’s this selfish part of me that wants to show off both the dress and the girl wearing the dress. (laughs) When showing off clothes, your feet should be firmly planted on the ground and you should strike a small pose like a magazine model would. In a way that says, “At the end of the day, it’s the clothes that are in the spotlight!” However, I felt that doing it that way left something to be desired and I wound up wanting to add a floaty and dynamic feel… Because of that, I’m stuck with this dilemma of even though I design the clothes I’m not able to express them well using certain poses. (laughs)
── But I feel that, with the pose included, you were able to capture the moment the girl looks her softest.
── You draw a lot of chibi-style characters, too, right? Please tell us what you focus on when drawing characters in this style.
The source of my ideas is, first and foremost, input.
── Have you ever suffered from creative block when coming up with ideas for themes or clothing designs?
── You gather your information on clothing and fashion items from window shopping?
── In your art book, Tea Party - Eku Uekura Art Book, you mentioned being influenced by the anime, Little Witch Academia. What parts in particular were you influenced by?
── Aside from Little Witch Academia, have any other works influenced you?
Takako Shimura’s Aoi Hana. There are so many parts that I can relate to, like how the main character is a shy girl who can’t express her feelings in words properly. I love that anime so much, especially Shimura- sensei’s lovely and delicate art style.I actually entered pixiv’s Aoi Hana Illustration Contest in the past and my entry won a prize for being Shimura sensei’s favorite. I won a book personally signed by her. Good times… (laughs)
Envisioning “a stylish dress shop with a buit-in cafe” for the solo exhibition
── Now, let’s talk about your Sugary Girls exhibition. It’s happening ahead of the December 14th release of your new art book but tell us why you went with the concept of a “chic dress shop” for it.
── Does the exhibition have this same concept?
It does. When making the art book, I envisioned “a stylish dress shop with a built-in cafe” so I thought it would be a good idea to have the exhibition revolve around the same theme. A lively interior decorated with ribbons and balloons and a special ceramic cake display. We even have merchandise, presents, and sweets prepared as well. I want this exhibition to have both a delicious and fun atmosphere.
── You mentioned that illustrations from your art book will be on display but among all your pieces do you have any specific favorites?
── We’d love to hear what your favorite costumes are.
── Is there anything you’re looking forward to at your solo exhibition?
Due to various circumstances, I haven’t been able to participate in exhibit and sales events for about three years so I look forward to being in the gallery and giving out autographs because being able to interact with everyone who comes is precious to me.I also asked a professional to re-create a life-size version of the dress the girl is wearing in the key visual to go with the exhibition. The decorative cutlery and pendants were all made via 3D printer so I hope everyone has a chance to come in and see them in person. The end products really look like they came right out of a picture. I’m really happy with how they turned out.
── Do you have any favorite merchandise?
── Lastly, could you please tell us what hopes you have for future activities?
I’m just dying to do some kind of collaboration with a high-end brand. Recently, I had the chance to collaborate on the costume design for the dress-up app game “Pokekoro Twins” and I hope to have more chances to collaborate on projects like that in the future.Also, it’s a dream of mine to have my name appear in the staff credits for an anime. I would be happy to be involved in an anime in any role. I’m going to dream big (laughs).
Eku Uekura’s solo exhibition, Sugary Girls -Amakute Oishii Yousouten continues through December 25th
pixiv WAEN GALLERY by TWINPLANET × pixiv, a gallery jointly operated by pixiv and Twin Planet, is currently holding Eku Uekura’s solo exhibition, Sugary Girls −Amakute Oishii Yousou-ten– (Sugary Girls -A Sweet and Delicious Dress Shop) until Sunday, December 25th.
Dates: December 6th, 2022 (Tuesday) ~ December 25th, 2022 (Sunday)
Days Closed: None
Address: Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 5 Chome-46-1 TWIN PLANET South BLDG. 1F
Hours: 12:00 ~ 19:00