From Inspiration to Illustration: An Interview with Koyorin

Koyorin is a Toronto-based digital illustrator whose work has appeared in conventions like The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) and Anime North. Currently, they are working as a freelance artist after having completed their bachelor’s degree in design from OCAD university. In their free time, Koyorin draws fan art or original art, plays video games, and simultaneously runs multiple social media accounts. You can find more of Koyorin’s art here:

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

weight_of_the_world___web_by_koyorin-dbnp5f2.jpgWhat was it about drawing that captured your interest in the first place? And what inspired you to make the shift from drawing as a hobby to drawing as a career?

Well, I have a great interest in visual storytelling and creating appealing characters to tell said stories, and I was also an avid consumer of different video games and anime. Around my teen years, I started paying a lot more attention to the concept art and illustrations that went into the creation of some of my favourite entertainment media, and it occurred to me that I could start turning my hobby into a viable career. After all, from an early age I decided that I wanted to work in a career path that went hand-in-hand with my passions, whatever the cost.

Could you name some of your all-time favourite video games and anime?

Some of my favourite games in the past few years include Bloodborne, the Gravity Rush games, NieR and NieR: Automata, Persona 3 Portable, Undertale, Transistor, and VA-11 Hall-A. My main draws to these games are their likeable characters, good music, and appealing art direction. In terms of anime, I think it’s harder to pick a favourite series, but there are several anime films that come to mind, such as most Studio Ghibli films, Akira, and Kimi no Na wa.

When did you make the decision to focus on creating digital art, and do you think it suits your personal style more than traditional approaches to illustration?

I got my first tablet—a Wacom Bamboo tablet—when I was around 15 years old, which is when I started to dabble in digital art. Ever since then, traditional art kind of got put on the back burner, and it’s been digital drawing and painting for me ever since. Digital art allows for a different workflow and for different visual elements that appeal to me more than those of traditional art, which is why I chose to stick with it I suppose!

You’ve become a very popular fan artist, so do you intend to keep up with your large output of fan art in the future or do you foresee a shift to a greater focus on original work?

Eventually I’d like to be better known for original work. Fan art is never a bad place for artists to start building a social media presence, but I also genuinely enjoy drawing fan art for games and anime that I like. It’s a good way to show that appreciation while also attracting an audience with similar interests.

What was building up your social media presence like? Were there any challenges you faced?

Personally, I think it was a pretty organic process. I started uploading my work to websites like DeviantArt when I was 14 or 15, and eventually started a Tumblr blog when I was nearing the end of high school. Since then, I made sure to keep sharing work on a regular basis, and to never disappear for too long. I think any challenges I faced were mostly on my own side, like being too busy to make my own work to share, which was an issue I faced while I was in university, and now while I have freelance work as well.

You’ve recently created a series of original pieces (collected in a zine) called “Weapon Girls” that combines a science-fiction aesthetic with traditional fantasy-style weaponry like greatswords and giant hammers. Would you say that you have a current interest in the hybridity of these genres?

Science fiction and fantasy are my two favourite genres in the games and anime that I engage with, so combining the two is only natural, I think. My drive for the series is to just have a personal project to work on that isn’t related to my freelance work. I think there are a lot of general inspirations but no direct, specific inspirations for it—really just whatever related art media has caught my eye recently.

weapon girls

Hypothetically, if all your other responsibilities were wiped out of existence, and you could work on any possible project at this moment, what would that dream project be?

Ideally, I’d like to be a lead character designer on a Japanese role-playing game. I think the kind of work that I put out is more suited for that genre as opposed to most Western style games. And I also feel like I’d excel more on projects that had more female characters than male characters, or just only female characters, since I tend to prefer designing them.

Do you have a goal for yourself as an artist? As in, is there a certain standard that you want to achieve, and could you describe what you envision that to be?

There’s definitely a level I want to be at in terms of artistic skill and design sense, but it’s something I’m still working towards. Of course, I’d also say that reaching the level of my favourite artists is definitely a goal of mine, but I also believe that the learning process and interpretation of what it means to “improve” constantly shifts as an artist gets further into their artistic career. Eventually, when I do reach a level that I’m satisfied with, there will always be some other artistic endeavour I want to achieve; so it never really ends!

Are there are any active artists now who you admire? What makes their work stand out for you?

There are many who do stand out to me, and more recently I’ve been interested in artists who have good style as well as design sense. This includes artists like ASK, Akihiko Yoshida, Yuya Nagai, Ilya Kuvshinov, Shigenori Soejima, pomodorosa, and Krenz. All of these artists have really good technical skills, but are also skilled designers and have styles that are easily recognizable in the immense field of illustration and concept work. I think the reason artists like them are standing out more to me now as compared to when I was more interested in semi-realism, is that I’ve begun to notice the importance of having a good style and good design sense. With enough practice, anyone can learn to render well and paint well, but it’s harder to learn to reinterpret reality in a way that’s memorable.


What’s the difference in your creative process when you produce original art in comparison to fan art?

The benefit of working on fan art is that you don’t have to worry about design. All of the design work has already been done, and all you need to do is focus on the composition, light, and colour. When producing original work, there’s the additional steps of figuring out coherent design that fulfils the purpose you want to achieve with it, in addition to the compositional parts. A big part of designing is problem solving, and doing fan art removes a portion of that from the equation when creating artwork, so in some ways it’s more relaxing on the brain. My personal design approach (for my own work, not for my freelance/commercial work) tends to be very impulsive, since it’s just for me and only really needs to fulfil my needs for the design.

Is there any advice you can give to aspiring digital illustrators about finding their own approach to design?

It’s important to establish a strong foundation, regardless of style, and also to recognize that it’s good to have a wide variety of influences, art related or not. I find that it’s far too easy to pigeonhole yourself into creating work that looks like your favourite artists’ work, so it’s important to be open to all kinds of inspiration to contribute to your personal work. In addition, I know many other artists say this too, but don’t worry yourself too much about comparing yourself to others or what others are up to. It’s a source of stress for many, including myself, but ultimately it amounts to a poor use of time and energy that’s better put towards improving yourself. Everybody’s growth as an artist is different, and I think that’s a core aspect of being creative in the first place.

-Contributed by Lawrence Stewen


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