Artist Matthew Meyer has been living in the remote Japanese village of Echizen for a little over four years. In that time, he has collected and translated hundreds of obscure pieces of folklore from the local population, particularly those focused around "yokai" — a breed of ancient, mythical creature with the power to shapeshift. According to Matthew, there are "hundreds and hundreds" of unique yokai, ranging from ghastly to cuddly, goofy to downright terrifying. Eek! The book that he's creating will feature a selection of just one hundred, accompanied by his beautiful, full-color illustrations. How exactly does one deduce thousands of years of Japanese folklore into a single picture? Matthew was kind enough to let us peek in on his creative process. Read on to see how he does it.
inspiration comes from old folk tales, woodblock prints, and paintings
from hundreds of years ago. One of primary sources for information and
imagery comes from the Gazu Hyakki Yakō
and other works by yokai anthologer Toriyama Sekien. I also collect
stories from other ancient authors. The lack of information on Yokai in
English means I have to do a lot of translation, but it is all fun work.
My most entertaining source for stories has been my wife's grandmother,
other family members, and locals from my rural town. I've been
collecting stories for the past 3+ years, so I have quite a lot to build
collecting my sources, I need to write down a brief description to fit
onto a single page in the book. Some yokai could fill multiple volumes
of a book, and it's incredibly hard to choose what to keep and what to
trim. Other yokai have the exact opposite problem, with little more than
one or two sentences and a picture to their name in all of Japanese
literature. Cutting, trimming, and writing down a single page for each
of one hundred yokai took about the first three months of 2011.
After I finished writing my descriptions of the
yokai, I spent the next three months making illustrations for them. I've
filled up two sketch books with various drawings, trying to come up
with the best illustrations I can. It's often difficult to try and
capture a mythological creature in just a single image, and I've worn
more than a few pencils and erasers down to nubs! Living here for over
four years means I have a pretty large and varied collection of photo
reference covering Japanese scenery and places, so it wasn't hard to
place the illustrations in realistic scenarios.
Once the illustrations were all finished, I scanned
them into my PC. Now I am on the third and most time-consuming part of
the process: painting each picture. I paint them with my Wacom tablet
and GIMP, and it takes roughly a full day to complete one painting — a
bit more for the most complex ones, and a bit less for the simplest
ones. This part of the process will last until the end of November, when
I'll have finished all 100 paintings. Fortunately, I have someone to
keep me company while I work. :)
of the paintings are finished. the final steps will be to insert them
into my book file and send it off to the printer for publishing.
Providing there are no snares in the final review and printing
processes, the book should be complete and my backers' hands by the end
of 2011 or very beginning of 2012. I can't wait!
Super cool! You can become a backer to see even more behind-the-scenes work.