Getting Lost and Found

Guest Post by Reiko Murakami

For a long time I thought that if I wanted to be a successful artist I needed to paint instead of draw. This article is about how I got lost in these thoughts and (just recently) found my way again.

Back in 2012 or so, when I was trying to figure out how to get into the fantasy illustration industry, I noticed much of the art I admired were paintings. Meaning no outlines on a figure, beautifully rendered lights and shadows, and super polished surface details. I compared these masterful artworks to my portfolio at the time and I thought I needed to paint like these artists. I graduated from art school, but I never learned painting…nor illustration. I was an animation major. I was drawing all the time, since I was a kid. I was comfortable enough with drawing lines, but I never thought I was allowed to keep it as the finished piece. I spent years after college trying to learn how to cover it up with beautiful rendering.

In 2014 I took Smart School with Rebecca Leveille Guay. The first thing she said to me was to work on the preliminary drawings. It was a surprise for me because I felt I needed to learn how to paint more than how to draw. I did a couple pieces with her, then with Scott Fischer, and that was the first time I noticed it’s ok to keep the lines in my work.

The art you admire is not necessarily the art you should be making.
-Sam Weber

Around that time I started to work for a game studio, and I became a character illustrator for one of the major games they were running. The expectations were very different from my usual comfort zone, and I did my best to prove that I deserved the job. I worked hard – too hard. The project was fun, and the team was great, but I noticed the more successful I became on the project, the more I felt empty. Eventually I realized it’s because I had been pretending that I was someone else who was famous for that kind of work. I struggled to paint in a style where I felt I wasn’t being honest to myself. The most difficult part about it was that the things that were received well on the project were the pieces where I suppressed myself artistically. My success on the project felt like a denial of my true self.

By late 2017 I was completely lost. Between the job and my personal work, I didn’t know which side of me was supposed be the “good” side. So I went back to Smart School and Rebecca again. This time we focused on letting myself free from the aesthetics I developed because of the job, while keeping the technical skill level that’s needed to create effective personal work. She suggested to start experimenting on small traditional pieces, so I started making coaster art. In the beginning they were quick sketches of my impressions of the surrounding world. I had been working in digital for my entire career, but doing traditional drawing in this way brought back the feeling of being close to the art. I experimented with covering the drawings with tracing paper and drawing over them again to try to recreate the textures I used in my digital work. In doing so I remembered how much I enjoyed the texture of tracing paper as a child. Slowly this layering process became a platform to have an honest conversation with myself. Does this really need to be a painting? You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Why can’t it be a drawing? Express yourself in the most honest way you can. You can do this. It’s ok. I started to remember myself as an artist.

It’s 2019 and I’m still in the process of finding my voice. I don’t know exactly who I am yet. However, this year at least I learned that it’s ok to be myself. I wanted to erase the lines in my art a few years ago because I felt that was my weakness…not being able to render like famous painters. I wanted to be that popular painter when I was on the game project. I learned I am neither one of these. I am a drawing person. I think with lines. And, it’s ok.

Post written by Reiko Murakami

Reiko Murakami, also known as Raqmo is a U.S. based concept artist and illustrator specialized in surreal fantasy and horror characters. Her work has been published in Spectrum, Infected by Art, ArtOrder Invitational: The Journal, Exposé, 2D Artist and many others. For the latest information please visit instagram. For inquiry please contact via email: