Text and composition / Nakanishi Kyu
The 2023 pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest was a great success this year, receiving a record number of 1,310 entries.
This year’s panel of judges consisted of five popular creators: Silver (head judge), Naoki Saito, Ogipote, Hanabushi, and Fuzichoco.
With the judging, critiques and award ceremony over, our five judges took some time to look back on this year’s illustration contest.
What kind of illustration would they have drawn if they were high school students submitting a piece to this contest? Even though it didn’t get a prize, what entry caught their eye? Whether you were an illustration contest contestant or not, this behind-the-scenes chat between the judges is sure to have something you’ll be interested in!
Check out this article for the results announcement and critiques!
Check out this video to see the critique session!
Let’s ask the professionals: “How would you have approached this year’s theme?”
Fuzichoco: Hm… If I consider it from the perspective of, “How would I draw this theme when I was in high school?”, since I was really into aesthetics more like the retro Showa era at the time, I’d draw something tying that period with the present period. Maybe I’d draw two girls from different eras and figure out some kind of motif that ties them together through the flow of time or history.
Saito: That’s just like you, Fuzichoco, since you tend to approach your drawings starting with what kind of scene you want to draw rather than what kind of characters. For me… If I were to draw this now instead of when I was in high school, I’d want to draw a self-portait of myself in a digital space tied together to a “living” version of me. Recently I’ve gotten more chances to speak or present on YouTube and other mediums, and I feel like the me out there in the digital world is living life more than the real me. I think that there are a lot of creators like that, who sometimes feel like real life doesn’t feel so real.
Silver: There were a fair number of illustrations just like that among the entries, so I think there's probably a lot of people who can relate to feeling like the border between reality and digital is getting blurry. How about you, Ogipote?
Ogipote: I apologize in advance for being too on-brand (laughs), but I’d probably draw something that could be considered “classic Ogipote”, like making eye contact with a girl. At the end of the day, I’m the type to decide on motifs based on what I want to draw. Rather than coming up with a concept from the given theme, I start with something that I want to draw and work towards tying that together with the theme.
Silver: I think I’d do the same. Start with something I like, then find a way to connect it to the theme. Something like that, right?
Ogipote: If I didn’t do it that way, I’d probably run out of motivation.
Fuzichoco: I think it’s worth mentioning that it’s important and helpful for figuring out how to incorporate your specific fields of expertise.
Ogipote: Exactly. Thank you for making it sound good. (laughs)
Saito: That’s how creators are, no matter where they’re coming from. If there are two circles, one being what you want to draw and the other being what you have to draw, the goal is to find a sweet spot where the two overlap. Otherwise, I won’t be able to find the energy to draw something I don’t want to in the first place.
Fuzichoco: That’s exactly it!
Silver: How about you, Hanabushi? The artwork you awarded the Illustrator Panel Award was quite different in nature from the ones the rest of us chose, so I’m very interested in how you would draw this theme.
Hanabushi: I’m going to be completely honest and confess that I’m drawing a complete blank. (laughs) I’m the type who won’t know until I actually start drawing.
Fuzichoco: Ah, so like thinking as you go.
Hanabushi: That’s right. First of all, I’d start with something basic, like, “I’ll go with a female character,” and it’ll gradually take shape as I start to work and I’d squeeze out how it fits with the theme “Connect” later on. The challenge for me would be more along the lines of, “How can I present this in a way that fits the theme?” I’d probably go about making my piece like that.
Saito: On the other hand, if you start with the theme you might end up with a really conventional picture. For example, for “Connect”, someone might think, “Oh, something with two people holding hands.” When you start with the first basic ideas that come to mind, it’s easy for the visual to stay basic. Rather than getting caught there, although it might be harder to start with something I want to draw but don’t have a clear picture of how it connects to the theme yet, the process of finding the connection with the theme seems like a good way to create a more interesting piece.
Hanabushi: Though there’s a certain amount of logic necessary in a piece, I think it should ultimately just be additional validation in the end that you made the piece the way you wanted to. Eventually, whether it’s a good picture or not and whether it makes sense or not are two different things.
Saito: I agree. No matter how well it fits with the theme…
Silver: If it doesn’t have the viewers thinking, “Wow, this is a great picture,” it’s not going to get any attention.
Are words needed in art?
Saito: This year we had some amazing entries but among them, I got the impression that the ones who had some sort of original perspective won many of the awards. I feel that the value of individuality and authorship is rising rapidly.
Hanabushi: I also tend to like people who have a distinctive style. We’re probably trying to see the artist on the other side of the pictures we draw. It’s something that I can’t help thinking about.
Fuzichoco: That’s exactly why this day and age might be difficult for those aspiring to be illustrators from now on. Even if they can level up their art skills, there are a lot of people out there feeling troubled about how they can improve their style or art sense.
Silver: At the end of the day, drawing ability is only one factor that makes up a whole picture.
Saito: We all came up in a time when we were able to get by relying on drawing ability, but I guess that’s not going to be the case going forward.
Silver: From here on out, new illustrators will probably need a variety of different skills and experience, huh?
Ogipote: It’s definitely a good thing to experience things other than drawing pictures.
Fuzichoco: That’s right. Because the inspiration for a picture rarely comes from just drawing. Also, during the judging process, the topic of how reading the caption enhanced the quality of the picture came up several times.
Silver: It did, didn’t it?
Saito: The context, or rather the feelings and thoughts of the artist, seeped into the caption.
Hanabushi: That’s because we can see what that person is thinking. It really is nice to see the artist behind the image.
Fuzichoco: Even on social media, I remember seeing a validating phrase like, “How you caption it can make all the difference in the number of responses.”
Silver: That effect isn’t limited to clever captions. Even just one word that can capture someone’s attention is good enough.
Ogipote: Shorter is probably better. Rather than explaining the piece too much, it would be more effective to have just one word that hits home.
Silver: Word sense is important nowadays. Some people believe that illustrations should be expressed through pictures alone, but the value of a well-placed explanatory text is well-known in the world of traditional art too.
Fuzichoco: Personally, I… Well, especially when I was a student, I was very opposed to explaining my pictures with words. (laughs) I sort of felt like the picture was losing to the text somehow.
Saito: I don’t think that’s an unusual mindset when it comes to art though, right? When you already have the picture, you might think, “Adding words is redundant,” or, “It’s completely unnecessary.” I think that way of thinking is pretty mainstream in the illustration community, but I feel like we’re in an era where that’s not enough to grab people’s attention.
Fuzichoco: And there are so many artworks out there now. I think there’s truth in the idea that when it comes to standing out in the market, there’s a limit to artistic skill alone.
Silver: That’s why there’s an ongoing trend of works being paired with text somehow, instead of being 100% pure art. There’s also the pattern of illustrators themselves becoming celebrities, as well… But personally, I truly hope that there will still be people out there who compete with their drawing ability alone.
Fuzichoco: I get you. The current generation is definitely one where those with more in their toolbox can really take advantage of that and thrive, but I have a strong desire to see people who draw simply for the sake of drawing remain in this community. I also want to remain here as such. (laughs)
What if the problem isn’t them? Maybe it’s us, for not being able to give them an award?
Silver: How did you feel about the trends in the entries we got this year?
Fuzichoco: I mentioned this in the award ceremony as well, but the designs were really varied, and my first impression was that it was really interesting to see. I assumed we’d get more entries that would go with what’s popular nowadays, but there wasn’t any of that at all.
Silver: Right? It was very Galapagosized, and I mean that in a good way. It’s like everyone is evolving in their unique way.
Saito: Personally, I’ve been wondering if the problem lies with us and not with these high school students who are elevating the quality of their art. Among the entries that we weren’t able to give an award to, I couldn’t help but feel, “Aren’t we the ones with the problem if we aren’t able to give this entry an award?”
Hanabushi: Meaning that we’re still tied to the idea of what an artwork “should” look like, right?
Fuzichoco: I do feel that we may be getting caught up in the framework of the contest.
Saito: When it comes to contests, there’s certainly an inclination for the evaluation criteria to lean towards technical skills. But I think that’s one of those things that can’t be helped.
Hanabushi: Maybe we need more than one focal point when it comes to evaluations. For example, something like “The Idea Award”... Of course, we should evaluate technical skills based on technical skills, but it might be good to have awards given out based on other perspectives like inventiveness and originality.
Ogipote: Fundamentally that’s what the Illustrator Panel Awards are for, but giving just one judge one chance to recognize a piece will have its limits.
Silver: Having awards aside from the Grand Prize or the Illustrator Panel Award, like an “Idea Award” as Hanabusa mentioned, might be good for creating a system where artists can focus on their specific strong points and aim for that respective award. It might make it easier to choose on our end, too.
Saito: There were several entries that the panel discussed enthusiastically, but in the end weren’t chosen for any award. That was a bit of a downer…
Fuzichoco: There were, weren’t there? I also have one entry that left a lasting impression on me but did not win anything.
Saito: Right? For example, we got an entry with a grandmother and grandchild sitting together with a lot of daruma dolls lined up above them.
Saito: It couldn’t be chosen for an award because there was some disagreement about how well it fit the theme of the contest, but it left a lasting impression on me. In fact, there’s a part of me that thinks that this sort of work will become more important in the future.
Silver: Exactly. We got really lively during the panel meeting about this, didn’t we? Saying things about this illustration like, “Doesn’t this butterfly represent the grandfather returning for Obon?” (Obon is a Buddhist event in Japan, a time during summer when it is believed that the spirits of deceased ancestors return to this world to visit their families.)
Saito: I was frustrated that we weren’t able to give awards to those kinds of entries. I want a “We couldn’t give it an award but it left an impression” award category. (laughs)
Ogipote: If we’re talking about entries that got us all talking, there was that one with the folding screen, right?
Hanabushi: Yeah, we were saying things like, “Wow, this is interesting. The composition is really good. This picture really allows us to imagine what the illustrator’s work may be when they get better in the future.”
Saito: Content-wise, it is exceptional. But as a picture, when I see it, I can’t help but notice some poor technical aspects and it’s hard to give it a very high evaluation.
Silver: The concept itself is wonderful so, for example, if it was drawn in a quality that made it stand out then it would definitely win an award.
Fuzichoco: There’s no mistake that it’s an outstanding piece of work. What left an impression on me was the entry where a girl is sitting on a porch and her face is reflected in the hand mirror she’s holding.
Silver: With that entry, I didn’t realize until I zoomed in but, there is actually another person behind her.
Fuzichoco: That’s right. The person in the back is tying her hair for her.
Saito: The entry that got my attention was the one titled, “May we be bound together.”
Saito: These are probably the hands of an old man and woman and it tugs at your heart when you think, “They probably don’t have a lot of time together left in this world.” Even though that isn’t exactly depicted in this image.
Hanabushi: Pictures that manage to express multiple dimensions and a deeper context are really nice, aren’t they? Because they depict things beyond the piece itself.
Saito: Unfortunately, I think this piece was cut off a little too sharply and so it doesn’t convey its own good qualities well enough.
The first goal is to complete what you're drawing.
Saito: As you can see, there were a lot of talented people who weren’t chosen for an award, but what I want to say to them is to not be discouraged. I don’t want them to think that just because they didn’t get an award here, their entry has no value. It just means that we weren’t able to give it a prize in this year’s contest.
Fuzichoco: That’s right. Maybe a different contest and panel would judge all of these illustrations completely differently.
Hanabushi: I was definitely not the type to get these sorts of prizes when I was in high school. Even if contests like the pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest did exist back then and I submitted an entry, I probably wouldn’t have gotten any attention.
Ogipote:I also want to tell past me who wouldn’t get chosen in contests, “There’s nothing to be depressed about.” (laughs) It’s like job hunting; you could certainly say that compatibility with a contest exists, in that you have it or you don’t.
Fuzichoco: For those who are thinking about applying for the pixiv High Schoolers’ Illustration Contest from next year on, I hope that you don’t get too caught up in analyzing the trends of the contest. Instead, keep and enhance your way of world-building.
Silver: Yes, because we’re really starting to see more diversity. If we see a larger variety of diversity it will be a more enjoyable discussion for us judges, so I want you to find lots of things that you like.
Everyone: That’s right.
Silver: Since just finishing a piece is a wonderful accomplishment, the first goal is to complete your work. Among those that you finish, you might find one that makes you think, “I’m proud of this work.” Then, that’s your chance to put your work out there, whether it’s for the pixiv High Schoolers Illustration Contest or somewhere else. Just keep putting your work out there and enjoy a life drawing.