The best things in life are ‘Free!’

Ever Blue

My favorite new anime of last year was Free! Iwatobi Swim Club. As someone who is also fond of phone cases, I wanted a design that celebrates the good feelings and memories I got from Free!

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club official art

When it comes to merchandise, I usually prefer to use designs that don’t have images of the characters themselves on it. I enjoy a bit of subtlety. So for a Free! phone case, I wanted something with the main characters’ spirit animals. I couldn’t find anything like that, so I decided draw it myself.

Something I was able to identify with in the anime was Rei’s struggle to feel free. He was used to functioning based on theory and calculation, and he admired how Haruka could swim so freely. I feel something like that when I look at digital illustrations by other artists that I can tell were done quickly, which gives them a more expressive and dynamic quality.

I know I admire that sort of technique, but I felt that something was holding me back from executing it myself when working digitally. I would zoom into like, 400% even though I knew the illustration wasn’t meant to be viewed that way and overwork every little detail and clean up every pixel that went past the line art, stuff like that. I would spend so much time and energy, and then end up with something that looked flat and robotic.

“Why can’t I be free?”

It was something I asked myself too. So for this illustration which is my bit of fan art for a series called Free!, I figured it would be a good time to push myself to paint more freely.

Before I immerse myself in rendering, I like to block out where the elements go to make sure that the proportions and negative spaces are to my liking. It’s easier to adjust things at this phase rather than try to move them when they’ve already been painted in.

Here’s a closer look at a part of the illustration. I’m happy to say that I didn’t overthink the rendering and I really did allow myself to be more free and messy while working on this. I also finished in a relatively short time so I consider it a successful exercise although my improvement isn’t at a monumental scale, hahah. I will continue to work hard!

Here are the boys’ spirit animals all painted and happily swimming together!

Ever Blue phone case sample on iPhone5

And here’s how the artwork looks as a phone case! I go to Society6 to produce custom cases I design because I really enjoy the quality of their cases. Colors come out faithful to the original art, and they have a good feel and offer decent protection. If you are interested, wrote a review with lots of photos, which you may view here. I figured other Free! fans might appreciate the design too, so below is the store link if you want your own Ever Blue case!

Store link: Ever Blue phone case in white / blue
(Available for iPhone 5/5s/5c/4/4s/3G/3Gs, iPod Touch, and Samsung Galaxy S4)
If you scroll down you’ll also be given other options such as prints or shirts, if you’d prefer that!

I look forward to receving my phone case! Please share photos with me too if you get it as well!

Thanks for looking!

Three new illustrations, and a new space

I am always immensely grateful when people express the interest to own pieces of my work, so here is my new print store!

I do have some prints available on other sites like Society6 but I felt I wanted to try signing and packaging them myself so it feels more personal and special. In the future, I also want to do some pieces where I embellish parts of the print by hand.

A closer look at a couple of my prints

I am extremely pleased by how the prints turned out! I’m very particular about colors when it comes to printing, and these stayed true to my original work! I also got this textured archival paper that I’ll be using for some of the prints (mainly the ones that are meant to look like traditional paintings) which really makes it feel more like an actual painting than a print.

I finished some new artworks to release with the launch of my print store! It’s those pieces on the store screencap that might look quite unlike my usual work, hahah.

I’ve been drawing more often lately, but lacking finished work that I’ve felt was worth sharing over here. I have a series of personal work I’ve been meaning to execute. The ideas are in my head, however, I have been feeling like to be able to match my ideals on how they will turn out, I need  to brush up my technical skills. It’s good to really just keep drawing but sometimes I have trouble doing so without a very specific goal and direction.

I decided to channel my energy into something that I look forward to every week, and has been a source of entertainment and inspiration for me and my friends for a very long time — Naruto manga. The story has been intensely emotional lately, so I’ve been looking for an outlet for my feelings, hahah.

One development that really got to me is Naruto’s new bond with Kurama, the Kyuubi or Nine-Tailed Fox demon. The Kyuubi had been the bane of Naruto’s existence quite literally since he was born and the malevolent spirit was sealed inside him. During the years of his growth through the series, Naruto encountered people and experienced things that taught him about empathy and moving forward.  After all that time, I suppose Naruto and Kurama eventually understood that in some ways, they were both victims of circumstance but they could make things better together. An unlikely friendship blossomed between them.

It’s a story that’s far too long and complicated for me to really condense here for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, but I wanted to give a little background anyway!

To commemorate their new bond, I wanted to draw a series of artworks of Naruto and Kurama as other iconic human and creature companion pairs.

My Neighbor Kurama

First up is Naruto and Kurama in the style of Studio Ghibli, particularly the movie My Neighbor Totoro.

To be completely honest, Totoro has always kind of scared me even though everyone keeps going on about how cute he is. It was quite amusing to take that fear on another level and splice him with the Kyuubi. I don’t know which is scarier, the original form of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox or this thing I’ve drawn. Hahaha! Also, I’ve learned that it’s a bit of a challenge positioning nine tails.

I suppose this is also appropriate considering that during Naruto’s early childhood, the Kyuubi was this thing lurking inside him that he didn’t quite understand and caused much dread and apprehension.

(Just to share, I was creeped out by Totoro even before finding out about the Sayama Incident theory. Whether or not it is true, I do enjoy that idea and I felt it gave the movie much more depth. Read at your own discretion! Possible childhood ruiner if you don’t like creepy things, hahah)

My Neighbor Kurama was what I was working on when I posted this sketch of young Naruto on my Instagram.

Rough initial sketches for Ghibli-style Naruto and Kurama

These are the sketches I started with when I was considering the idea, just to see if it would be possible. I don’t like how I drew the Kyuubi’s tails here. They look like a bunch of bananas sprouting out from his side. Hahah! But that is fine, we learn from our mistakes. Learning to edit ourselves is an important part of the process of any work, I think.

Refined sketches

I adjusted Naruto’s pose and facial expression, and completely redrew Kurama. Looking much better! I hadn’t completely decided on what to do about the tails at this point, though.

Because of their difference in size, I decided to draw them separately on paper so I could work with a comfortable scale for both of them. I planned to render them digitally anyway. After I felt I got the basic lines down, I scanned the sketches and worked on inking them digitally.

Final line art

And here is the final line art! I’m happy it kind of gave a Studio Ghibli vibe even before I added in the colors.

The coloring process was pretty simple. I followed the style of the original My Neighbor Totoro image, with cel-shaded characters on a more painterly background.

Naruto close-up

Here’s a close-up on little Naruto to better show some details in the artwork, like Naruto’s face, the reflection of his feet on the wet ground, and the background elements. I mainly used two textured Photoshop brush tools to paint the background — ‘Oil Pastel’ and ‘Charcoal Flat’.

And now I’ll show you how a little bit of shadowing adds atmosphere and depth:

On the image above, I colored Kurama’s body with just two flat shades of orange. He really sticks out of the background and looks like he doesn’t quite belong.

And over here, I’ve added a shadow layer — just a flat blue-grey layer, with the blending option set to ‘Multiply’. I masked out the parts where light was shining on his belly, and added a bit of brushed textured gradient below, as with the original Totoro image. Sometimes the simplest steps can make such a huge difference!

Now, for the next in this series:

Homicidal Psycho Ninja Fox

Homicidal Psycho Ninja Fox, which is a lot less scary than the title sounds! This time I’ve drawn them in the style of Calvin and Hobbes! The title is also a reference to one of the Calvin and Hobbes books — Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat

This might look familiar to some of you because it’s actually my second time attempting this piece! I did the first way back in 2005, and I was just a kid who had just learned to tinker around with Photoshop, hahah! The end product was this:

My first attempt at this concept, long, long ago

I executed this as a kid who had just learned Photoshop. I even submitted ir on dA back then, but it had to be taken down because I had only drawn over an image of Calvin and Hobbes after all. Somehow it made its rounds on the internet, though! I saw it going around on a lot of different sites and on people’s forum signatures and stuff. I didn’t watermark my work then, so nobody knew of the source, hahah.

I’ve improved my skills a lot since then and decided to give this piece another shot! And properly this time! I drew the whole thing from scratch, and painted it with watercolor like Bill Watterson’s work. (Figuring out how to position all nine tails was a challenge yet again!)

Thumbnail sketch for Homicidal Psycho Ninja Fox

I redrew it and started with a very small sketch. Just big enough to let me freely experiment with lines and be as messy as I needed to be. I drew it with red lead first then finalized the lines with graphite.

Inking the final line work

After I was satisfied with the overall composition, I redrew the line art very lightly in red lead again, and set off to ink and color it in.

Progress shot, lightly colored

I started coloring from light to dark, with special attention to the orange tones because they would be the one of the main focal points of the work.

My scrap paper, which was also important

I had an extra sheet of watercolor paper, same as the one I was using for the actual piece, which I used to test out my brush before working on the actual painting. Watercolor can be unforgiving at times, so it’s best to take safety precautions like this if you haven’t mastered using it. I used my scrap paper to test out colors I had just mixed, the effects of layering colors, and checking to see if my brush wasn’t too loaded for small details especially when it came to inking.

Bouken no Jikan

For the third installment of this series, Naruto and Kurama in the style of Adventure Time! The title Bouken no Jikan is just a very literal translation of ‘Adventure Time’ in Japanese, which my friend and I started using when we were trying to do a silly weaboo version of the opening song, hahah.

This was the simplest to do out of the three pieces of fan art in this post, so I’m afraid the process for this isn’t going to be as interesting as the previous two!

Initial rough sketch

This was my initial sketch, which I had done late one night as the idea popped into my head just as I was about to fall asleep.

Bouken no Jikan polished sketch

Here is the final line art, which I scanned and later inked and colored in Photoshop. That’s about it, really!

I had also drawn the background on the final work from scratch, but it was actually from a previous piece of Adventure Time fan art I made! My intention at first was just to see if the circle-cropped background would work for the composition. And then it looked pretty much perfect and nothing else I drew after that could match it! Hahah!

All of these new artworks, along with some of my older pieces are available on my new print store!

I can sign them if you want, and I can ship worldwide!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the process behind these three pieces. I had a lot of fun working on them! I have some ideas for other crossovers, but they’re mostly for laughs! If you want to make a suggestion, please feel free to leave a comment! Or just say hi or whatever you want! I love hearing from you guys!

Adventure Time fan art: Come Along With Me

Come Along With Me — fan art based on Adventure Time

(Though I do keep wishing for an episode where they show more of Marshall Lee)

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about my thought process for this drawing, as well as the progression from sketch to the final work. :) It’s going to be a moderately long post, but with lots of pictures and animations of my progress!

Read More »