Our Featured Artist: Chie Kutsuwada

‘Self Portrait’ by Chie Kutsuwada
‘Self Portrait’ by Chie Kutsuwada
‘Self Portrait’ by Chie Kutsuwada

Chie Kutsuwada is a well-known Japanese manga artist and cartoonist. She teaches manga and has worked on projects for Channel 4, CNN, Wagamama and more. We chatted to her about how she started out and what inspires her practice.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what inspired you to become an illustrator?

Since I was young, I’ve always loved to draw. So, becoming any type of visual creator was always a dream of mine. As a Japanese kid, quite naturally I started drawing in manga style (if you live in Japan, it is quite difficult to avoid manga influences, they are almost everywhere!).

At one point I stopped drawing for a while and moved to the UK to study English. But after a few years, I started creating art again. As my style shifted towards fine art, I eventually decided to enroll at the Royal College of Art.

How did you get into Manga illustration specifically?

At the graduation show of RCA, I saw some young people excited by my work, which was highly influenced by manga, anime and computer games. That experience made me want to communicate with young people that are struggling with their lives. I wanted and still want to make something they can use to release and forget their stress. I feel as though manga might be the best medium to do so, as it also allowed me to dream when I was young.

Chie Kutsuwada
® Chie Kutsuwada

What manga artists inspire you?

I love Yumiko Oshima and Moto Hagio. They are big influential figures since their debut in the late 60’s. Moto Hagio’s works are translated in English so if you have a chance, please check them out! Their work is not only beautifully and delicately drawn but also highly philosophical, moving, and even shocking. I also love Asumiko Nakamura’s work. Her drawing style is unique yet beautiful, and sometimes slightly scary. I really admire their works as they show multiple dimensions and depths.

Chie Kutsuwada
® Chie Kutsuwada

What is your favourite type of manga to illustrate?

I enjoy stories of daily life with some twists, maybe horror or fantasy. I also like romantic, down to earth love stories. I love drawing male characters, so I tend to create gay romance and bromance manga too.

I also create illustrations for books, and love exploring different genres and creating illustrations to fit those specific genres. It is a challenge I really enjoy!

As for my personal illustration projects, I love drawing portraits. It is so satisfying when I manage to draw a portrait that looks just like its model, but at the same time adding my own touch so that they look like they just came out of a manga story.

Chie Kutsuwada
® Chie Kutsuwada

What is your favourite medium to work with and why?

I work digitally most of the time, given that a lot of my work is for people around the world, working digitally makes me feel closer to them and it’s also easier to share my work with more people.

On the other hand, I often take commissions at conventions, art markets, and online. For those personalised illustrations, I love using fineliners and markers. I like even and clear lines, and with the fineliners it is possible to achieve my ideal lines. I also really love the duality of markers, as they have unique depth and texture. I also find that traditional drawing with pencils is a great form of meditation for me!

Chie Kutsuwada
® Chie Kutsuwada

What would be your advice to artists and illustrators who are just starting out?

I recommend everyone (including me!) to always look for and open themselves to new opportunities and challenges. It is quite important to have your unique style, but do not rely on it too much. You should be stubborn on what you love but do not limit yourself by it.

Secondly, when you think you are in slump, go back to the basics. For example, whenever I am not sure what I am doing, I like doing some life drawings.

For the people who want to improve their manga style drawings, I advise to learn the anatomy and do lots of life drawings – there are people who don’t think drawing exercises are necessary for manga style, but that is wrong! Sometimes your job requires to illustrate long stories and you will need to draw the characters repeatedly. For this kind of work, what you need is constancy, and skills you can gain from drawing exercises make a big change, trust me!

Do you have a typical routine you follow when you start a new piece; if so, what is it?

First of all, I make a cup of coffee! And maybe I tidy up my desk a little bit before starting a new piece. If the work is an analogue one, I will make colour charts trying out all the colours I am planning to use for the piece.

At the earlier stage of creation, such as planning pages for manga comic or rough sketching for an illustration, I often listen to ASMR nature sounds or classical music to improve my concentration level.

Chie Kutsuwada
® Chie Kutsuwada

Where do you find inspiration for a new illustration?

Inspiration usually hits me suddenly, especially when I am on trains or in the shower. I think it is quite common thing among artists, isn’t it?

I get inspired from anything… I love observing people at cafes, watching films, and reading news and ghost stories. And I often think “IF”. One cheesy example is to imagine, what IF some of those people waiting for the bus are not actually human…

Another thing feeding my imagination is nature. I love looking at mosses and tiny plants growing on stone walls. And I often imagine what is happening in their micro cosmos. Deriving from this, I also love personification of things such as plants, moths and sea creatures. I can easily spend days imagining things.

What is your favourite Winsor & Newton product to work with and why?

I like using the black Fineliners. They are easy to use and smudge proof! I also like Promarkers. My absolute favourite colours are Magenta and Soft Green. They are just beautiful. And I love using Putty for healthy looking dark skin and China Blue for accent shadowing.