Leaving his home in Moscow behind in search of a truly authentic experience amongst the masters of anime and manga in Yokohama, Ilya Kuvshinov is making a name for himself through his fascinating, bubblegum-pop-culture artistry. As someone who’s always had trouble deciding what to do with his life, this is an exciting new experience he’s soaking up – and one he hopes will continue and give way to more opportunities in animation and video game development. His detailed, digital illustrations have given him a massive online following of almost 500 000 on Facebook alone, and the fact that he’s so active on Patreon and socials just sweetens the deal. I was ecstatic to speak to him about his process, why he loves this genre of illustration, and how he finally made the move to Yokohama.
Why did you choose this particular medium in which to express your artistry, and what is your background in art?
It looks like I’ve only started to actually choosing what to do and how to express what I really wanted to express not so long ago – just three or four years ago, or maybe I just started realizing what I really want to do with my life three years ago, or maybe I started believing that my dreams about perfect job can actually become a reality three years ago.
Anyway, I never chose to draw professionally every day. As a kid, I wanted to write literature. Our family didn’t have many toys, but we had lots of books and paper with pencils, so all my free time starting at 4 years old I spent doing that non-stop: reading and drawing.
I was so much better at reading than drawing, really! But it’s so hard to show people around you that you are a hella good reader – but it’s easy for people to recognise that “this kid loves drawing”, because of all the wasted paper with my sketches on it. So my mother decided that I should work on that skill from now on. I mean, she chose that for me.
Also, I really liked animation, comics and video games. All kids do, right?
So, at 11 years old I got into Moscow Art Lyceum on the architecture faculty to get six years of really good, high-level art education. My mother chose it for me, again. I nearly failed the entrance exam test, but still magically got in there, and spent six really awesome years of my life drawing people, landscapes, still life, illustrations, and also doing architecture models.
I also never chose to go to Moscow Academy of Arts on the architecture faculty. It was just logical to go there after the lyceum, and so I went. This time, however, I failed the exams because of the math (I’m really bad at it). I was destroyed. Then I thought, maybe I should try to choose college myself this time? That was when I got into the animation college. Yes, I had actually chosen this one myself! It would never happen if I’d never failed the entrance exams to the Academy though. And after a year of animation I tried my hand at math again, and magically got to the Academy this time. I did this because the Academy was a prestige level, and the animation college that I chose for myself wasn’t. That’s it. I just haven’t trusted myself enough in the past.
After four years of more architecture models, I decided to choose something for myself again – I decided to choose my job. After my years at the Academy, I realised that there are so many things I like much more that same-ish boring 17-stores buildings: manga, anime, movies, and, oh, video games! So I chose to work at a game development company as a concept artist.
I loved it so much so that I left the Academy, and concentrated on just the job – video games at first, then I got to direct a Sci-Fi motion comic called Knights of the Void, where I did my first storyboards (22 episodes of the show including concepts, colour design, and animation check) and started to do illustrations every day to improve my drawing skills.
What happened to me made realise that I want to choose – and that’s a lot – I want to be an animation director, I want to be a video game director, I want to write a comic, I want to write a book, I want to direct a music video for a favourite band, I want to create my own college of art and design for entertainment industry, and I want to draw illustrations just for fun. This last one is easiest for now. I just haven’t been brave enough to wish for all of it and wasn’t brave enough to choose what I really love.
I feel as though all sorts of pop culture, not just Japanese anime and manga inspire you, and you reference some of this in your work. What is it about the contemporary world that draws you?
I’m a big fan of deep, carefully written characters and plots that can change the viewer; make him think, make him a better person. There’s an unbelievable amount of good stories with even better characters in the contemporary world, in games, comics, movies, TV series, and of course literature. It’s just so sad I can’t have all the time I want to play, watch, or read all of them, so it’s really a big deal for me to choose the next title to dive in!
Where do you find inspiration for the bubblegum-pop style of art you create? Which artists, contemporary and classic have influenced your work?
I’m in love with works of Mucha and Leyendecker, Fechin and Vrubel, Warhol and Rockwell, Serov and Nomata; and especially Bernie Fuchs. Because at my Art Lyceum I was always trying to be as real as I could with my works, it was always exciting for me to see the works with some degree of stylisation and personal view of things.
Tell me about your process. How do you go about doing an original piece of art; what are the major steps you take from start to finish?
I have approximately three types of approaches for personal illustrations:
- I suddenly come up with the idea, on a train, before sleep, during sleep, anywhere; I write it in my notepad and just can’t wait to sit and start it! This way I just sit and do it, without changing the initial idea.
- It’s more often that I don’t have any plan for my daily illustration, so I giving myself ten or fifteen minutes to brainstorm. I usually find three words that I like, mix them together and trying to introduce the idea with it making sense in terms of composition and colour design. This way I usually change it a lot along the way.
- I just start drawing something. It’s usually a face or even a random shape, and in the process, I try to decide how I want to finish it. This way picture is constantly changing, and the result is usually a surprise for me.
It usually takes between one and two-and-a-half hours to complete a personal piece and roughly four to eight hours for a commission.
What is your everyday life like, how do you divide it up from the moment you wake till you rest your head again?
It’s usually pretty normal! But it has its unbreakable points: 10am to 5pm I spend at my job at the studio, 7pm to 9pm is for my freelance job at home, and 9pm to 11pm is spent on Patreon or personal illustrations. I always try to insert a couple of hours of Japanese kanji practice here and there, and also walk a lot, but unfortunately, the studio job is getting busier and busier.
Why did you decide to move to Yokohama? It must have been huge change moving from one country to another and making your home there.
There is something in the huge amount of Japanese literature and manga I’ve read, animes I’ve seen, and games I played that resonates deeply with me. The storytelling style is concentrated on character development, attention to detail, the desire to find joy in the simplest things, and more. I wanted to be a part of the industry, work with the people I deeply respect so much, be on the same wavelength with them; so I decided to move to Japan.
As a self-described Art Director, Illustrator, and Comic Artist, what kind of work do you enjoy doing most, and how does art direction differ from illustration, for instance?
My personal favourite is storyboarding. While reading tons of literature as a kid, I had SO much fun imagining these books as movies in my head, so that passion is continuing.
I was director and art-director of Sci-Fi motion comic called Knights of the Void back in Russia, and was really happy when it was time to do the next chapter’s storyboard as a director! On the other hand, as an art director, I needed to approve a lot of visually-related concepts such as locations, guns, aliens, etc. It was fun as well, but not nearly as much fun as when I got to do storyboarding.
Do you prefer working on 3D or 2D pieces? What tools do you use most, or prefer to work with?
I like working in 3D like 3ds Max, and ZBrush is so much fun, but usually because of the nature of work I’ve been doing (personal or not) I always sketch the rough idea in 2D. I use Photoshop CC and Clip Studio on my computer and Procreate on my iPad.
How healthy would you say the 21st century is for artists?
This the best time in history for artists. Thanks to the internet and social networks, people can find your works and contact you from all around the globe. And also give you work. Drawing is a skill, and most important is that what you want to create using this skill. The biggest challenge for me was finally deciding if I want to create video games, or comics and animation; because there are so many opportunities now! Thanks, internet.
What work are you doing at the moment, are there any exhibitions in 2017 our readers should know about?
I’m working on a big, big – personally, the biggest in my life – secret project right now, so until it finished there probably won’t be any exhibitions, unfortunately. But please look forward to that secret project! I also plan on doing an acrylic works exhibition here in Japan, and maybe in other countries afterwards as well. Stay tuned.
Which of all your work are your favourites and why?
It’s really hard because I start getting sick of my own illustrations before even finishing them, but there are a couple of illustrations I don’t heavily regret doing that came to mind right at this moment:
Heavy Lyre (2014) – This one was inspired by Victor Pelevin’s The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, one of my favourite books.
Sunny (2015) – Love the light and colours here! (laughs)
Green (2017) – This is the convenience store I come by every day on my way to work.
Where do you see yourself as an artist in the next 5-10 years?
In the industry, learning from my idols!
What advice would you give to up and coming artists who want to follow in your footsteps?
Start with basics. Start with still life, do a lot of sketches every day. Find Loomis’ books, learn from seniors, and never lose your passion. Also, at some point you should decide how you want to use your drawing skills and which job do you want.
Any last words, info or news you’d like to share?
There’s one certain website called Patreon.com, where I found a beautiful way to be financially stable enough to continue staying in Japan without a full-time job by drawing illustrations I want to draw. Thanks to all the awesome people who support me there and all my awesome patrons, because if not for them, I would be so, so far from my dreams right now.