Cute: attractive in a pretty or endearing way
Creepy: causing an unpleasant feeling of fear or unease.
Mixing characteristics that, at first sight, seem to be polar opposites has been one of the most effective ways to create interesting, challenging art. Giving something a bright and accessible appearance can be a smart way to draw people into an unexpected darkness. Ayame Shiroi, an illustrator well known for her usage of vivid colors, youthful fashion and spooky themes, is a good example of how to do the mix the right way, emphasizing the values of both cute and creepy. Interviewing her was a temptation we simply couldn’t resist.
Neko-chi (N): Introduce yourselves to us.
Ayame Shiroi (A): Hi! I’m Ayame Shiroi and I’m a person who draws and that is into strange and cute stuff, trying to make the world a weirder and more colorful place, one drawing at a time. I love pink, witches, glitter, demons, occult themes, crystals and plastic. English is not my mother tongue so please forgive the silly mistakes I will be making. Thank you for being here, I hope you enjoy this interview!
(N): What got you into drawing and when did you start thinking of it as a profession?
(A): Most of us start drawing when we are kids, I just never stopped, I found in it a way to express myself in a way I can’t with words. In a sense I always wanted it to be my profession, for a brief time I thought of being a translator but I was/am way too obsessed with drawing. I started to consider it more seriously when I started making a bit of money with it. Now-days I’m still fighting the battle for drawing to be my profession.
(N): Talk to us about your creative process. How do you come up with an idea, what are your preferred mediums and how long does it take to complete a project?
(A): This is a bit difficult because my mind is a complete chaos so drawing a map of it is very difficult, but I will try. My main sources of inspiration are feelings and fashion, mainly Japanese street fashion (and I’m starting to notice that food really inspires me too, hahaha). So it starts with something I want to express, it doesn’t always come from inside, sometimes it reflects the world around me. It can be something deep, like feeling lonely or trapped or something light-hearted like enjoying eating a snack. With that in mind I start drawing. I treat colors and clothes or any accessories as part of the character so they connect with the main feeling. I hope that made some sense. ^^u
I usually work digitally, it is very versatile and fast, compared to traditional mediums which I’m also enjoying lately. Most of my sketches start in random pieces of paper that I find here and there.
The time it takes me really depends but on most cases it goes from one day to one week.
(N): You describe your art as a combination of “cute” and “creepy”. How did you come up with that mix and what attracts you to each of these elements?
(A): They have been part of me since I can remember. I always loved cute things, they make me genuinely happy and when I was a little girl I was very afraid of death and ghosts, this fear somehow evolved into pure fascination as I started to learn more and more. I guess both things connect me in different ways to my childhood. Today, creepy and cute causes the same reaction to me. Them being the same to me I mix them without noticing. I would say that my art is mostly cute, but what do I know? For me blood, eyeballs and skeletons are cute too. ^^
(N): One of the things I’ve noticed while surfing through your tumblr is that you are a mahou shoujo fan, especially of titles like “Sailor Moon” and “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”. In what ways have these shows influenced you as an artist?
(A): They taught me that strength comes in different forms, that being fragile doesn’t make you weak, that we are all different and that should be cherished and that stereotypes should be broken. And the sense of magic! The feeling that everything is possible. All of that is very important to me as a person and they are messages I too want to tell. And let’s not forget the frilly sparkly dresses. 😉
(N): Is there an artwork of yours that you consider your favorite? If so, what makes it special?
(A): If I would need to pick only one it would be Supernatural because of the idea behind it: “Sometimes I would like to be natural, but I’m too weird for that.” That would be me. In addition, its colors are very soothing and it sort of relaxes me when I look at it.
(N): What feedback have you received so far? Is online response important to you?
(A): The feedback has been very positive and I still can’t believe that many people like what I do, I’ve been drawing for sometime without getting too much attention so for me that was the normal thing. The response is very important in many ways. As I said, it is important to me to know that people like what I do, it is comforting after putting work into something. It is also important since I’m trying to communicate, it means sort of ‘I hear what you say’, it’s the opening of a dialogue. And, of course, it is important in the sense that it let’s me know I may have an opportunity to keep on working hard on what I do and call it my profession.
(N): What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to promoting your work?
(A): I am very shy and anxious so the biggest challenge is to overcome myself and be able to talk about what I do in a way that will get people’s attention. If I would let myself go I would probably say “don’t waste your time with my trash” because of my anxieties but that is not reality, I do want you to pay attention to it, for all the reasons I said before, even though having expectations about something sometimes it is unbearable for me.
(N): Talk to us about your participation in The Master Guide to Drawing Anime. How was it working on this a project and what did you gain from the experience?
(A): I like to work on drawing guides, it is nice and it gives me the chance to go through all the basics. Sharing knowledge feels very rewarding. In this case I’ve had the chance to work with a very focused person and that was a very good experience. I usually work alone so it is a nice change to build something together with more people.
(A): If they want to use it or share it, it is there and, in any case, I can’t stop it. I also wanted to use other people’s art because I liked it or identified with it; if these are the reasons people want to use my images I feel very happy and flattered and if they credit me in return they also help me to reach further. As long as they don’t use my work to make money, which I would like to reserve for my self (hahaha) it is fine.
(N): If I am not mistaken there have been cases where your artwork has been used inappropriately by third persons. How difficult is it, for an independent artist, to control art theft and make sure people are playing by the rules?
(A): I would say that to control art theft is nearly impossible. If you promote yourself online and share your images it is going to happen so, in a sense, I depend on people’s good will. I think also it is important to be honest and let people know that if nobody supports the artist by actually buying the images or related products made by the artist then he/she can’t survive. So far I’ve been lucky and no big company took any of my images, let’s hope it stays that way, because that it is a whole different deal, a nasty one.
(N): If you could go back in time would you do anything differently?
(A): Ha… many things in a sense. I’m making stupid life changing decisions all the time ^^u but in reality I’m in a good place right now, after a very long time, so I would prefer to keep it as it is and move forward, dwelling in the past is useless though I may do it now and then. ^^u
(N): Let’s pretend that I am a jinn (genie) and I can grant you the opportunity to work, on your own terms, on your ideal project. What would the result be like?
(A): I would like to be more involved in fashion creation, I would love to make clothes and accessories, all of them with illustrations and other decorations. I would love to spend my time just creating and designing them, doing new illustrations and going to related events now and then. It would be my own business and I would love at some point to employ more people. Just give me that, a cute, nice studio to work, and a decent salary and I’m as happy as I can be.
(N): What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow your steps?
(A): Be true to what you like, don’t hide, there is no point in doing so. Work hard and practice, there will be hard times but try to hold on to the good things and don’t give up. ^^
(N): Thank you for this great interview. Any last words you wish to share with our readers?
(A): Thank you for your interest, see you around. *wink* (I’m very bad with parting words)
You can find Ayame Shiroi on