Interview by Ichibo Harada
Keep striving for new heights, high school illustrators! The pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2023 is accepting submissions until 11:59 pm JST on Sunday, August 27th. This year’s theme is “Connect”.
This contest was first launched in 2018, and heralded the discovery of numerous young creative talents. Fui, the grand prize winner of last year’s contest, pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2022, received professional business offers after their win, and has made a solid start in launching their professional career. In this interview, we spoke to them about the inspiration behind their winning work, and how winning the grand prize affected their creative life.
- 3000 new followers in one day
- The most important thing is, “Does your work express your passion?”
- Lectures and review notebooks… Fui’s efforts to master digital art
- “I wanted to broaden what I can do with art.”
- Everything Fui is learning at art college is being reflected in their illustrations
- The pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2023 is accepting submissions until Sunday, August 27th!
- pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest - Past Interviews
3000 new followers in one day
── Congratulations on winning the grand prize in the pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2022 last year! What inspired you to enter the contest?
I felt very inspired by Ishida-san’s winning work for the pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2020. I entered the next year, but while I did win a prize, I felt like I hadn’t had enough time to draw an illustration I could be satisfied with. I ended up putting a lot more effort into my entry for the pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2022.
── How did you feel when you found out that you’d won the grand prize?
I had hoped maybe I would win one of the judge’s awards or corporate sponsor awards, but I never dreamed that I’d win the grand prize. I was so shocked I actually got sick! (laughs)
── Please tell us about what happened after you won the prize
I got about 3000 new Twitter followers in a single day. I also received my first professional commission from a business, to illustrate a music video for the Nijisanji VTuber Ryushen. I felt so nervous about landing such a big project all of a sudden! The time period for completing the project also overlapped with my exams, so I think that was the busiest, most challenging time in my life so far. (laughs)
Later, when I applied to art college, I used a print of the illustration that won the grand prize in the pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2022 as part of my portfolio. When I talked about the illustration contest during the interview, I got a pretty good reaction. I think that was part of why I was accepted to the school.
── Maybe winning the contest did help you enter art school. After winning, did your attitudes toward your own work change at all?
── That’s the most important thing!
The most important thing is, “Does your work express your passion?”
── Please tell us the most important points you considered when you were creating your winning work.
I didn’t want it to just be pretty and eye-catching at a glance. I wanted to create an illustration that would spark the imagination of the viewer. That’s why I was very particular about the title of the piece. While I wanted to choose a title that would easily explain the work, I didn’t want to go too far in explaining, so I wavered for a while about whether to title it or leave it untitled.
Also, I used stronger colors and contrast than I usually do, so that the thumbnail image would stand out.
── You said you wanted to create a work that would spark the imagination of the viewer, and certainly, the scrapes on the boy’s left arm make the viewer start to wonder about his story.
It’s a little embarrassing, but that was actually my mother’s advice, so I added them in at the very end. My mother said “What if he had scrapes on his hands?” (laughs)
── Your mother gave you such a titillating suggestion, wow! However, it’s clear that you put a lot of thought into the work in order to win.
That’s right. I thought a lot about what type of work would be favored by the judges. But ultimately the most important thing is that the work instantly captures the viewer’s attention, and in order to do that, the best way is by increasing the color saturation and contrast, to make the work stand out. The title and caption should further broaden the scope of the world expressed by the work. Also, as an artist, I think it’s very important that your work should express passion for the things you love.
── Fui, your work was particularly appreciated by the judges because, in their words, “It's clear in this illustration what the artist likes most.” So I’d like to ask you again, what kinds of subjects do you like to draw?
── The judges remarked that “the mask dangling from the boy’s ear places the work in a specific era”.
── So, does that mean that you’re the type of illustrator who, instead of having a clear story from the beginning, starts by coming up with the kinds of motifs and characters you’d like to draw, and works from there?
That’s right. Maybe it doesn’t sound good for me to say that I made up the story after the fact, but I really only start thinking about the story after I’ve already started drawing.
Lectures and review notebooks… Fui’s efforts to master digital art
── Please tell us about your current work environment.
── When did you start drawing digital art?
I started during the winter of my first year of high school.
── So that must mean that when you won the grand prize in the pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2022, you had less than two years of digital art experience under your belt!
── Which creators influenced you?
My biggest influence is the illustrator RAID. RAID’s work is perfect, from the character styles down to the folds in the clothing. Also, the manga Horimiya (author: HERO / illustrator: Daisuke Hagiwara) inspired me to draw the folds in clothing, and for a period of time I was just drawing lots and lots of clothing and fabric.
── Where do you get your inspiration from?
I enjoy anime and manga, but what really inspires me is music. When I hear lyrics I like, I think “I’d like to illustrate this scene”. I often listen to Ed Sheeran and Queen.
“I wanted to broaden what I can do with art.”
── As last year’s grand prize winner, you created the main visual for this year’s pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2023. What points did you pay particular attention to when creating this illustration?
Until now, I didn’t have many chances to draw two characters together, so I tried my best to do that. I like to draw the randomness inherent in nature, so I added in images of waves and light reflecting on water, light reflecting on balloons, things like that. I used motifs that were to my own taste. I drew at duck for the 2022 contest, so this time I decided to draw another animal, called a flapjack octopus.
── Do you have any special techniques for tying together all your different favorite motifs into a unified work?
── How did you feel about making the main visual for this year’s contest?
── Changed, in what way?
── I see. So, starting to do professional work awakened you to this kind of thinking…
That’s why I’m so anxious these days!
── Being faced with new challenges is how you improve your skills, though. Have you learned anything new by working professionally?
Everything Fui is learning at art college is being reflected in their illustrations
── You posted a Tweet that stuck in my head. You said, “If I let myself relax, my style gets too cutesy, so I can’t relax.” Is cuteness something you want to avoid as an element of your personal illustration style?
I do try to go for “cool” over “cute”. I like the way that RAID and WOOMA don’t add any extraneous elements to their characters’ faces, but still make sure that all the features are in the right place and the whole thing looks polished. That’s my ideal style. I’m still far from being able to draw illustrations that look as good as the images in my head. Even with illustrations that I thought were finished, sometimes I look at them again the next day and think, “This doesn’t look cool at all!” Then I spend hours reworking them. I especially want to make the faces as perfect as possible, so I look at lots of different angles, flip them right or left, adjust the proportions, and keep asking myself, “Does this really look cool?”
── Are there any works you created where you thought, “I did a great job on this one”?
── It seems that you were interested in the online illustration course offered by pixiv’s affiliate, Kyoto University of the Arts, but ultimately, you decided to go to an art college you got into instead. What kind of work are you creating at college?
── So, in contrast to the work you post on pixiv, now you’re studying serious, classical fine art. Why did you choose that path?
I’m learning sketching and oil painting at college, but illustration is still what I love best. I’m not studying oil painting and sketching to do that as an end goal. Rather, I’m studying oil painting so I can use elements from oil painting to improve my illustrations. I would never have been able to paint the work I submitted to the pixiv High Schoolers contest if I hadn’t already taken an oil painting course at a cram school. All the techniques from fine art that I’ve learned, I later incorporate into my illustrations.
── So you do it all in order to draw better illustrations in the future! What kinds of jobs would you like to work on in the future?
I want to do illustrations for music videos. I’d also like to do book covers because I love reading.
── In conclusion, what’s your message for the people considering applying to the pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2023?
The pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest 2023 is accepting submissions until Sunday, August 27th!
The pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest is a contest for high school students held by pixiv with the goal of laying the groundwork for the next generation of creators. Popular illustrators Naoki Saitou and Ogipote will serve as judges, along with a number of corporate sponsors, using their professional judgment to pick the winners.
Winners can receive cash prizes as well as prize gifts from the various corporate sponsors, and may also win a chance to participate in pixiv-sponsored events or create visuals for pixiv-related projects in the future.
The submission deadline is Sunday, August 27th, 11:59 pm JST.
Why not spend your summer vacation drawing?