Today’s aquatic yokai is another Ainu myth. The last part of his name “kamui/kamuy” is something you’ll see a lot in Ainu tales. It seems to be a cognate of the Japanese word “kami,” as in god, or spirit. I like this guy because he is almost like a pre-modern kaiju. If ever there was a creature worthy of that title, this guy deserves it. I wonder who would win between him and Godzilla…
Akkorokamui is another Patreon request which was made earlier this year. I’ve shared it on social media and yokai.com before, but featuring it in A-Yokai-A-Day gives me the fun chance to dish out a little bit on the yokai creation process, something which usually onmy my Patreon backers get to see, as it doesn’t get posted up here or on yokai.com.
All of my yokai paintings and translations start out with lots of research. In some cases I will go straight to my favorite yokai sources books: yokai encyclopedia’s written by Toriyama Sekien, Mizuki Shigeru, and Murakami Kenji. They often contain references to other books, and I also usually check the Japanese Wikipedia page for the yokai (if there is one) to look for additional source books to check out (Google Book search is often helpful enough to show me the pages I need if I can’t get my hands on a copy). For more obscure yokai, I’ll dive into JSTOR, or one of my favorite locations: the Nichibunken Yokai databases of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto. I also have a few websites I enjoy reading before moving on, such as youkaiwiki and atelier cromagon. For some yokai and urban legends, like the stories that are so widespread as to have thousands of different versions, I have to do a lot of digging on the internet to find when and where they originated, as these are not usually listed in the yokai encyclopedias I use as my primary sources, so sometimes a lot more googling is required.
After I have an idea of the story and description of the yokai, I start brainstorming and doodling to come up with a composition. When I get one I like, I’ll do a pencil sketch. Sometimes this is super rough and noodley, while other times it is very tight and detailed… It all depends on the mood I am in at the time. For this particular painting, it was very loose:
I knew that for this one the painting would be pretty simple, except for the water, so the sketch was mostly to figure out proportions and composition. This sketch also includes gathering a lot of reference images. This takes the form of photos for things like the texture of the octopus’s skin, landscapes that match the location I am painting, and often woodblock prints that serve as starting points for the textures and colors I will use.
My next step is to scan the sketch and start working on it digitally. I have a Wacom Cintiq Companion tablet that I do my yokai on, and it takes all the pain out of digital illustration and most closely replicates the real thing. I do these digital because of the speed I needed to work in and the volume of images I needed to produce for the books. I want to keep the same look across all of my yokai illustrations so I stick to the same medium. I digitally ink the image, playing with any parts that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped they would (and sometimes silently cursing myself for not doing a tighter, better sketch). By the time the “inking” phase is done, it looks something like this:
The last step is to paint. This usually doesn’t take so long if I did a good job planning the sketch and the line work. As with most things, preparation is the majority of the work, so the more time I spend perfecting the early sketches and the line work, the less time I spend painting.
I have the bad habit of getting lost in details, and I have to force myself to keep things simple. Since my main visual inspiration is woodblock prints, I limit my painting to a selection of colors based on the traditional Japanese ink palette. This is challenging at times, but in some ways a limited palette is also liberating. Forcing yourself to simplify is usually a good thing.
I work in layers in my painting, and I try to treat the painting as if it were a woodblock print. Each layer is a single color, and I try to use lots of gradients just as my favorite hanga artists did. My absolute favorite hanga artist is Kawase Hasui, and if you google his artwork you’ll see why. His prints are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, and I take a lot of my painting inspiration from him. After many layers and a fair amount of time, the painting is done. I slap on a few layers of texture to give it an older, papery, printed look.
The final final step is to once again go back to all of the source material, re-read it, and then write my yokai entry. I try not to copy any one source, and I don’t directly translate what I read. Instead, I try to digest, understand, and then regurgitate the legends. Because yokai are folklore, most of them have numerous versions, many of which are contradictory. I try to include some of the variations I find most interesting, and of what remains I choose the versions that I like best and cut the rest. I’m one of those people who will nerd out and just ramble on for hours on a topic that I am passionate about (as my wife and friends will attest to), so I again have to force myself to keep it simple. I try to fit all of my yokai entries into a single page when possible, and that limitation helps me to find the real heart of each yokai without going off on etymological tangents.
So the final painting looks like this. Click below to visit yokai.com and read about this awesome octopus. And if this was an interesting post, you should join the rest of my Patreon backers, who get the backstory like this for all of my yokai!