Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Illustrators Arise: Cube Watermelon

What's up, creative people? Guess what, it's now time for another round of Illustrators Arise! If you're new and you don't know what that is, it is basically one of the oldest features on this blog where I introduce my favourite illustrators from across the globe by having them over for an interview every month. Are you psyched? Let's get started, then! This month's special guest is the author behind the hit webcomic series KiwiBlitz - with over 800 fans on Facebook, Mary Cagle a.k.a. Cube Watermelon. Ever since I found her on deviantART - back when her username was ShikakuSuika -, I've been quite smitten with her adorable style and witty personality. When she's not drawing for KiwiBlitz, you can find her teaching English at elementary schools in Japan and doing 50 things at once.

Hello, Mary! To start with, would you please tell us of how you started drawing and why you continued on?
Oh jeez, like most people, I started when I was a little kid. I remember that I always wanted to trace my coloring books instead of using them for their intended purpose. Which might be ironic, considering my specialty nowadays. But things like Sailor Moon and Pokemon are what really got me interested in drawing characters and telling stories.

Oh wow! Another SCAD graduate! What did you learn there, other than art and would you recommend other people to go to art schools?

Oorf, that's a tough one. To be honest, unless you can get a really good scholarship, I have trouble recommending art school to anyone. It's so much money!! I definitely learned some things there, but I probably could have learned most of them at a community college or something. I saw way too many peers getting into serious debt to tell anyone they should try doing the same. That said, I wouldn't be able to get my current job if I didn't have some sort of bachelor's degree, so I'm at least grateful for that.

What kind of materials do you usually use?
It depends on the project. 90% of the time, I work entirely digital in photoshop with my intuos tablet. For my Let's Speak English comics, though, I use bristol board and pens from the 100 yen store ;)

Let’s talk about KiwiBlitz! It started out in 2009, I believe. How did it all begin? Did you imagine it would last this long?
I was in my first year of college, and I really wanted to have a webcomic of my own. I'd created Steffi and Ben previously for some character contests on deviantART, so their personalities and ideas for their world had been floating around in my head for a while. But I still had a very poor idea of where KB was going when it started.

With over 15 tracks so far, KiwiBlitz seems to have become quite a huge hit! Are you planning on having it printed out and sold at some point?
Oh yeah! I've actually printed a few volumes in small on-demand runs, for sale at conventions. But now that I'm in Japan, I decided to hold off until KB is complete to make another book. At that point, I want to kickstart a big fancy omnibus of the whole thing.

Around 2 years ago, you moved to Japan to teach English at elementary schools in Kurihara. What motivated you to make this decision? What have you learnt from the experience?
Basically, I was at a crossroads where I had to decide what to do with the coming year. My art business was going okay, but it wasn't at a point yet where I could definitely rely on it being stable. The last thing I wanted to do was get another crappy day job, So I finally got the motivation to try for an English teaching job. It's something that I always had as a kind of pie-in-the-sky goal, as a good way to save up some money while learning about another culture. Obviously Japanese media has influenced my work the most, so it was the obvious choice.

We can see in your tumblr page that you draw comics from your daily life living in Japan. What has been the most memorable experience you’ve stumbled upon?
Yeesh, I dunno if I can pick out just one! I think the biggest thing I'll walk away with is just the feeling of how great it is to work with kids and introduce them to a whole new world they're unfamiliar with. I'm generally the only foreigner my students interact with, but they're always so enthusiastic and friendly and sweet! It's a good feeling.

Your style is suitable for children and you teach children on a daily basis. Do you see the influence one field of work has on the other? If so, how?
Absolutely! I draw a lot of flashcards and whiteboard art and such at school, and sometimes the kids ask me to draw on their notebooks or whatnot. It's definitely helped me hone my speed drawing skills! And let me tell ya, nothing ups your confidence as an artist quite like showing your work to children and having them react like you're some kind of wizard.

What does the future look like for Cube Watermelon?
In May 2016, this current school year will end and I'll most likely return to America. I love it here, but I also want to return to focusing on my art career eventually. My general plan is to sort things out back home, then move to Seattle to be closer to many of my comics friends. Seattle is also a great city in general with a nice Japanese community too, so I'll be able to get a lot of the stuff I'd otherwise miss from here.

What kind of wisdom would you impart on newbie illustrators out there (including me)?
Life studies, whether it's people or objects or environments, really are the best way to learn almost anything art-wise. I still hate doing 'em, but looking back I know that many of my coloring skills came from learning light and shadow in still-life class. But as an independent artist, you also should never feel guilty for just doodling what you like. We can't all be perfect at everything, and I think we all struggle with accepting that whenever we've grown comfortable in our niche.

A little note from me

With an incredibly adorable style, neat finish and digital clarity, Mary's artworks always give this modern, kiddy look which can also be hardcore but friendly to the eyes. The cutesy of her lines and shapes and her witty personality create a compatible edge when put together. Personally, I also love the wide variety of her colour palette and the way she handles her fluid lines beautifully. Because I've been following her for years and years - maybe even before KB started, it's been absolutely amazing to see how she's grown as an artist yet still stays true to herself. She also doesn't limit herself to one genre, in terms of webcomic and entertainment that she enjoys, and it's like she has so many things to offer. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to more of her growth as an artist and more projects she might delve into in the future.

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