Karuki Mura, looking back on half a lifetime of rebellion - "I’m here because people have always rejected the things that I like."
Interviewer: Yuka Abe
- Karuki Mura
- An illustrator based in Chiba. Their favorite things are silver accessories, the color blue, bones, and games. After working for an illustration production company for social games for three years, they turned freelance. They’ve worked with light novels, games, and MV illustrations. Their works include the books “7 Shoku no Tema Irasuto de Manabu Nuri Tekunikku Jinbutsu kara Hana/Sora/Mizu/Hoshi Made”, “Bishounen no Kakiwake Nuri Tekunikku Jinbutsu kara Keshiki/Tabemono/Shizen/Shoumei made” (Hobby Japan Publication), “Mura Karuki Gashuu Ga” (Genkosha Publication).
The one who got me on the path of being an illustrator was my sister
── I read that it was your older sister who influenced you to start drawing.
── Is there a particular creator who has influenced you?
The shift from being a background artist to a character illustrator
── You said that you were a background artist. Did you have more interest in doing scenery and background from the start?
I wanted to be an artist who created image boards and concept boards for console games. I dreamed of getting a job at a game company, but I’d mostly done drawing using analog materials and, frankly, simply did not have the right drawing skills yet, so for about a year and a half after graduating from a vocational school, I worked freelance while job hunting. That period was just before the social network game boom and there was a sales rep from an illustration company that worked on social network games who came to my alma mater. My teacher showed them my portfolio, which led to my being hired at an illustration company.
── Right now you’re mainly drawing characters, though. What led to that change?
── It seems to me that you had the option of switching to drawing characters while also staying at that company, so why did you become a freelance illustrator thereafter?
It all started when I drew the cover art for the magazine “SS” (Small S). At the time, I was into the 90s art so my art style was kind of old-school… So the company would often tell me, “We can't use your art.” I’d been submitting illustrations to “SS” for about two years, and around the time they started to publish my work on a larger scale, they reached out to me asking if I could draw cover art for them. I was so happy to get my first job that would be under my name and in my own art style. I always thought my art would never be chosen for official work so this was a very big deal.
Until then, I’d been working hard, trying to improve my skills with the motivation to move on to a bigger social game company, but after “SS” gave me the chance to draw cover art for them, that was when I started to think that I could work as a freelance illustrator.
── It’s quite the change to go from drawing backgrounds to drawing characters. How did you experience that transition?
Drawing art to match the world-building
── I get the impression of your art dramatically changing from one piece to another. It looks like starting from a place of thinking about world-building influences each piece you draw greatly.
── Is there anything you’re particular about when drawing?
── When you’re coloring in your illustration, instead of using the colors you like, will you instead choose colors that match the world-building of the picture?
The best thing about transitioning to digital is that it doesn’t cost extra money
── Until you started working for a game company, you were drawing mostly in analog. Was there ever a time that you felt it helped you even after your transition to digital creation?
Yes, because it made me able to use a huge variety of different coloring techniques. In my art course in high school, I made all sorts of pieces using various art mediums. I personally like analog drawing and I would use my allowance to buy materials to play around with various art mediums not just for school, but also for my hobby. Because I had experience using all sorts of materials, including copic markers, watercolors, Gouache acrylic paints, oil paint, pastels, facepaint, airbrush, poster color, etc., I was able to handle pretty much any request from my company, whether I was asked to apply watercolors, anime-style color, thick or heavy colors or other different styles by my company. I was often told by the company, “We can’t use your illustrations,” but since I could color using various mediums and draw backgrounds, those two things kept me from being fired.
── On the other hand, is there anything good that you think came out of going from analog to digital?
It’s cost-effective. I was rather financially unstable during those years when I went from part-time to company worker and even the number of years after I became a freelancer that sometimes I didn’t know if I’d have enough money to eat and couldn’t afford art supplies. I moved to digital art so that I could get into a game company, but if I hadn’t gone digital back then, I probably wouldn’t have been able to draw any color illustrations.
── Even though it costs money for the software and drawing tablet, once you have those you don’t have to buy anything else, right?
That’s right. With analog drawing, I’d mainly use water paints or acrylic but one tube of paint would be a few hundred yen each. The price would change according to the color and when I went out to buy art materials I’d think, “If only they were a bit cheaper” or “I can’t afford this right now, but I’ll buy it next month.” With digital, as long as nothing breaks, you can color and re-color as much as you like and it won’t cost you anything. That’s very cost-effective (laughs).
However, with analog, you can make naturally textured lines with just one stroke depending on the brush and amount of water, but with digital if you don’t think about your brush choice and how to draw, you’ll end up with a dull picture. I had to draw digitally at the company, but when I got home I’d draw using pencils, paints, and brushes and think about how much more fun it is compared to digital drawing (laughs). It took me three to four years to completely move over to digital.
── Can you tell us about your work station?
“I want to share my skills and knowledge to help those who are struggling.”
── You go to vocational schools as a guest lecturer and write technical books. What kinds of things have you noticed in student illustrations?
Many students out there want to draw characters, so I often feel that even though they draw their characters so beautifully, the scenery, accessories, lighting, etc. all pale in comparison.
Nonetheless, I can understand how tough it can be to draw scenery. That’s why in “7 Shoku no Tema Irasuto de Manabu Nuri Tekunikku” I introduce a method for easily increasing the quality of your illustration by copying and pasting pictures and textures. For example, sunlight through the trees, which looks difficult, can be easily drawn with a little creative replication to paint the colors in and remove the light, and by doing so improves the overall look of the piece. The amount of time and passion people have for drawing and painting varies from person to person and I wrote this technique book hoping that it will make creating good illustrations easy and fun.
── Is there a reason you’re so proactive when it comes to teaching, such as being a lecturer and a technique book author?
This might come off as a sad story, but I’m not good at remembering things and many people have gotten angry at me saying, “You can’t even do something like this?” I had to work twice as hard as everyone else and even when I put in the effort people would still get upset with me so I’d shrink into myself, making it even more difficult for me to do whatever it was I needed to do. That’s why when I was thinking of what I could provide now, I thought how great it would be if I could teach in a way that anyone could easily understand. Plus, since I’m the type that won’t continue something if it isn’t fun I wondered if I could do it in a way that was both simple and enjoyable. Because I’ve experienced what it’s like to be scolded and hurt by it, I actively write technical books and lecture at vocational schools because I think that I can teach those who are in the same situation as me without hurting them.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. For every person who can pick up something right away, there’s going to be someone who will need years or decades until it clicks for them, and then there are those who just aren’t ever able to do it. However, there are many people out there who think that just because they can do it means everyone else should be able to do it. Those are the people who go, “You can’t even do something like this?” when you’re having a hard time.
I’ve often been on the receiving end of that comment on my career. But because of that, I now understand why I can’t do certain things, which has helped me learn how to teach others how to do some things well and have fun doing them. For that reason, I want to share my skills and knowledge to help those who are struggling.
── I think it’s wonderful you’re taking a bad experience and turning it into a driving force. You’ll be releasing a new technique book in March called “Bishounen no Kakiwake Nuri Tekunikku”. Can you tell us what makes this book different from “7 Shoku no Te-ma Irasuto de Manabu Nuri Tekunikku”?
To all who like the things I like, with a heart full of gratitude I give you “GA”
── Let’s talk about your solo exhibition “GA”. It’s being released in conjunction with your new artbook, also named “GA”, going on sale on April 18th, but can you tell us the reason behind the title?
── Gratitude, you say?
I’ve been drawing ever since I was a child, but I never experienced the “I started to like drawing because someone complimented me on it and it made me happy” thing, ever. Some of the neighbor’s kids would say, “Your sister draws better than you so I don’t need your picture.” There would always be so many more talented people around me, and people would point to sections of my art and say “This part here is weird.” So I don’t have any recollection of being complimented or praised during my school days. On top of that, since I’ve always liked things that are pretty niche, I often got asked, “Why do you like something like this?” I grew up in the kind of environment that rejected all the things that I liked so I got tired of putting that part of me out there. I’ve also been told things like, “This is what the people like, so you’re better off going with this one.”
But I always believed that what everyone thinks is “good” doesn’t necessarily have to be what I think is “good”. There was no social media back then so I wasn’t able to show my art to many people, and the only place where I could feel completely free to like what I liked was in my own art. I needed an outlet to express what I love and that’s why I was able to keep drawing without the praise of others.
Then came the internet and social media era, where it’s become the norm to post your art online for everyone to see, but I had a hard time gaining popularity, and it was hard for others to understand what was so appealing about the things I like. Because of that, I did some research on how to make it more appealing, was lucky enough to attract some interest, which helped me get work, and I was even given the chance to release an artbook and hold a solo exhibition. I just kept to the things I like and there are people out there who came to like them as well. “GA” is my expression of gratitude to them.
── So would you say that both the cover art for your artbook and the main images for your exhibition are filled with the things you like?
When I asked the person in charge of my illustration book what would be good for a cover, they said, “You can draw whatever you like.” So I drew my most beloved elements from the “Black” series, which I’m always drawing for. Because it’s the cover of the book, I initially intended to make it something that would be popular with the general public but I realized that I have no idea what that actually entails; instead, since I’ve always liked to draw images with a completely filled-out background, I drew a picture packed with stuff that that a younger me would look at and be delighted to see.
Since the artbook corner in the bookstores tends to be colorful and have a lot of books with dazzling covers, I thought it would be nice to make my cover just black, white, and red to give it a different feel from the others and hence, hopefully, have it stand out. The same goes for the exhibition’s main visual image. I have an image of Omotesando, where the exhibition is being held, being a simple and pretty street, so maybe making the main image monotone wouldn’t allow it to stand out. As a result, I wanted to create something with a bright red background that would look out-of-place there. It would make me happy if people saw it and thought, “Wow! That’s so red!” (laughs).
── Is there anything in particular that you want guests to pay special close attention to at the exhibit?
We have a life-sized black skeleton on display that I would love everyone to have a look at. I love silver accessories with black coating and I often include them in my illustrations, so I got a bit self-indulgent and asked them to prepare a black-coated skeleton but the final result went above and beyond my expectations. Even if you have the opportunity to see a full-size skeleton at a doctor’s clinic, I don’t think it’s every day you’ll come across one that’s been completely coated black, so I’m also looking forward to it (laughs).
── Sounds like it will make quite an impact (laughs). What about merchandise?
I haven’t really seen acrylics that are layered so I’m looking forward to that. We also have merchandise using newly drawn illustrations for the exhibition so I’d be happy if visitors took an interest in them. When I went to the pixiv WAEN GALLERY previously, all of the goods were printed so beautifully that I want everyone to take a good look at all of them.
── Lastly, could you tell us what your plans are for future activities?
I originally wanted to enter a console game company so, if I can be of use, whether it’s background, character, or design, I’d love to work on console games.
Also, since I’ve received commissions from VTubers and V Singers, I’ve been watching more of their streams and listening to their songs and it’s become one of my hobbies. For that reason, I want to do designs for VTubers and V Singers, too. If I’m given a chance to work on other projects, I would like to use those opportunities to proactively expand the scope of my activities.
Karuki Mura’s first exhibition “GA” is happening now until Wednesday, April 26th
pixiv WAEN GALLERY by TWINPLANET × pixiv, a gallery jointly operated by pixiv and Twin Planet, is currently holding Mura Karuki’s first exhibition “GA” until Wednesday, April 26th.
From among all the works they’ve created until now, around 90 have been chosen for display. Aside from large-sized tapestries and acrylic art, Mura Karuki’s favorite motif of black skeletons also makes its life-sized debut.
Dates: Friday, April 7th, 2023 to Wednesday, April 26th, 2023
Days closed: None
Address: Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 5 Chome-46-1 TWIN PLANET South BLDG. 1F
Hours: 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
＞＞pixiv WAEN GALLERY Website＜＜
Some merchandise is also available online!
Some of the merchandise sold at the exhibition will be available for purchase on BOOTH. You’ll be able to buy gorgeous tapestries and cute acrylic stands. Not only that, but you can also get your hands on other merch, like the choker made under creative direction by Karuki Mura, so please drop by and have a look.