Painting of a malevolent, grinning, demonic face that is adorned with other demons, a running track, and other beings caught in its midst.

Artist Kehasuk Talks to Anime Herald

Interview With Kehasuk
Location: Email
Interview Date: 5/1/2023

Kehasuk: Forgive me if I’m a little out of it. I haven’t eaten.

Anime Herald: You don’t get to sleep or eat much, it’s a death march for four days?

Kehasuk: It’s a death march for five-to-six days.

Anime Herald: Ah, for the days before and after as well.

Kehasuk: Yeah. We had to do a lot of planning.

Anime Herald: Are you still working primarily in Photoshop?

Kehasuk: Yes I am. It was the first one I learned and I’ve stuck with it. I’m a very habit-based person. I stick with whatever I start with.

Painting of a woman wielding a katana, her bare back facing the camera. Her back has a floral tattoo and she is surrounded by sunflowers and records. Text: Samurai Champloo

Anime Herald: I feel that. Is your process still the same, using two-to-three brushes?

Kehasuk: Yes. It’s definitely easier to keep fewer brushes than more. I have a library of maybe 100 brushes, but it takes too much mental space to switch around. I usually stick with the round brush, the default one. I have this other square one that I use to render. I like the texture it makes. I have a third one, a texture-ish one, but I rarely use it.

Anime Herald: When you do one of the new pieces that you’ve been doing, with the differing styles, how long does that take you?

Kehasuk: I think they take me a couple of days to a week at most. I’ve been trying to focus on process. Previously, my pieces would take months to finish. At least two weeks to a couple of months. The longest I’ve spent was six months on a piece. It was around 1,000 hours. It was really intense. I want to figure out a way to get some of these ideas out faster, so I’ve been working on process. Anywhere between a couple of days to a week is ideal.

Painting by artist Kehasuk that depicts a spiky-haired, demonic face. Text: Bleach

Anime Herald: That’s pretty fast for the kind of scale and detail you’ve been doing.

Kehasuk: I’ve been developing my aesthetic for the past several years. I’m starting to know what I want and like, and have a flow in my work. Right now I’m working on learning to try to prioritize what I feel is important, and work on a really solid base. Let the small stuff be small stuff.

Before I used to obsess about everything equally. Now I’m learning how to pour my attention into more efficient places?

Anime Herald: What pieces are you working on now?

Kehasuk: Oh shoot. I know I just said all that, but I’m actually working on One Piece. I like to switch around.

Anime Herald: If Oda-san can be crazy, so can you!

Kehasuk: Yeah. (Laughs)

Working on process is fun, but I think I have an obsessive nature. I think I find fulfillment in doing these crazy pieces, sometimes. I just bounce back-and-forth. I like having options.

Right now I’m working on a piece that represents the Wano arc.

(Editor’s note: That piece is going to be released this June.)

Painting by artist Kehasuk that depicts headshots of the One Piece cast, obscured by moments from their journey.

Anime Herald: You’ve said you’ve been inspired by western cartoons and Japanese manga. Are there any in particular that have stuck with you?

Kehasuk: Dragon Ball was my first one, so it stuck with me. I really like his shape language. I like how everything he does is really simplified. I like how clean his shapes are. I feel like I’ve drawn inspiration by how he breaks down shapes.

Disney, too. A lot of circles, squares, and triangles. I like simplified shapes. That’s what has stuck with me.

Anime Herald: Are you a gamer at all?

Kehasuk: I think by nature I am, but I force myself to not play games. Because I love games. I make a game out of everything that I do. But I know that if I focus on a game, I’m going to live there and won’t get any work done. I just make a game out of life.

Anime Herald: I bring it up because of Dragon Quest VIII.

Kehasuk: Oh my god. I really want to start Dragon Quest, but I’m scared.

Anime Herald: You said you’re self taught.

Kehasuk: Yeah.

Anime Herald: You’ve clearly studied some art theory. How did you get into this business?

Kehasuk: It was honestly kind of random. I took a break from art after high school and pursued other creative ventures. It wasn’t really working out, so I decided to reassess my life.

I remembered that drawing was something that had always felt natural to me. I decided to pick it back up.

The day I decided to pick it back up, I went to a Starbucks to do some sketching and brush up on my skills. The second person that I drew leaned over and asked, “Hey, is that me?”

Painting by artist Kehasuk that depicts the cast of Hunter x Hunter, set against a psychedelic background.

Anime Herald: Busted.

Kehasuk: Yeah. Now I feel like a creep. But he liked it: “Wow, you’re really good. Are you an artist?”

At the time I was so shy about being labeled one, “Nah, I just like to draw.”

He said “No, you’re really good. I’m sure if you wanted to make a living from it, you could.”

I was like, “No, you’re just saying that.”

He said, “I’m serious. I’m an author from Australia. I came to the states to do a book tour and promote my new book. I’ve been traveling to a bunch of these conventions. I write fantasy, so the target markets overlap. I’ve been doing a bunch of these conventions and I see people selling art there all the time. Your art is at least good enough to sell there.”

“Ah, I don’t know. I’m not sure I could do it.”

“I just fired my tour manager this morning. I’m going to head over to San Diego next week. If you want you could drive me and check it out at the same time.”

“Oh… Okay, that sounds good. I’ll go with you.”

“Yeah, cool. Just meet me here next week. Pick me up, and we’ll drive over to San Diego.”

I gave it a week. I thought about it. I figured that if I’m going to be there, I should draw something just to see if it it catches anyone’s attention. I came up with this whole project. I started out doing Minion portraits. They were really hot at the time.

I wanted to do portraits of people. I thought it would be really fun to practice drawing again, and interacting with people. I thought I could draw people in any style, Dragon Ball, The Simpsons, whatever. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, said “I’ve seen those things before.”

I said “Well, the Minions movie just came out. I think that would be kind of cute.”

“Oh yeah, I haven’t seen anyone do that. That would be cool.”

So, I’ll do that. I’ll do these Minion portraits, and maybe do a couple of paintings, and just sell it on the street.

So yeah, I met up with him, drove down to San Diego, and I just set up on the street, to see if I would get any attention. Yeah. I had a line going for eight hours. I set up in front of the convention center. I did a bunch of prep that week. I made this huge wooden sign. I lugged it half a mile. I didn’t know anything. I set up right up in front of the convention center. Someone lined up to get my drawing. Security came up and said “Hey, you can’t do that.”

I was like, “Oh shoot, I had no idea, I’ve never been to a convention.”

“You can’t be here doing this. People are paying to be inside. But you could just go across the street. We can’t do anything about it.”

I was like, “Oh, thanks for the tip.”

So, I took all of my stuff across the street. People just followed me. I set up across on Gaslamp District. I did a drawing and a lot of people came over, “What is he doing?”

A line just developed naturally. I had a line of 10-15 people. It just never stopped for eight hours. People were giving me tips and stuff. Some people were interested in buying paintings. “Where do I follow you on social media?”

I was like, “I don’t have any. Give me one second, let me make an Instagram account.”

People ended up waiting for around an hour to get one of these drawings. I felt so cool. I had never done anything like that before. It was super infectious. I loved being able to interact with people. Drawing is a really solitary practice. I had drawn a lot alone as a kid, because you’re by yourself all the time. But as I got older I wanted to socialize. I gave it up because I didn’t want to be holed up inside all the time. I wanted to connect with people.

Doing these drawings in person at these events was really cool. As I’m drawing them, I’m asking questions, we’re talking, interacting. I got to know them for maybe five minutes. “Okay, cool, that’s a person who exists.” And then another person would come, “Cool.”

I didn’t know any of these people existed before that. It was really infectious. I was like “Oh wow, that was so fun. I want to do more of these. That’s how I got started.

Painting by artist Kehasuk that depicts a TV-headed being drawn in a smattering of colors. Characters can be seen within its body.

Text: FLCL

Anime Herald: You followed the rules.

Kehasuk: Yeah. It was free. I don’t have a business license or a seller’s permit. I knew I couldn’t be selling stuff. It was free and it was up to them if they wanted to tip me or not. I did that for about six months. I was trying to figure out how this all worked. I had never heard of any convention except AX.

I had come to AX once as an attendee when I was in high school in 2004. It was in Anaheim and it was much smaller. I didn’t know about the whole circuit. I learned about the art walks, the art festivals, the random pop-ups.

I spent about eight months, traveling two-to-three times a week, just going to different random things. Art walks would happen on Wednesdays, and maybe on Thursday in some other city. I got booked for some random group event in LA. There was a small convention in a hotel in Sacramento. I was driving, going everywhere, trying to figure it out.

Anime Herald: Without being able to charge, how were you earning a living?

Kehasuk: People were giving me tips. It was cool, people are pretty generous. It was a really positive experience. I had stopped drawing for eight years up to that point. It was something I had, but never used it for anything. The second I decided to use it, it was like a switch. The way people interacted with me would be different. I was able to create different experiences. I was like, “Whoa, this is so crazy. I literally had this the whole time.” People were just really nice about it.

Anime Herald: I went to your website. It’s rather professional.

Kehasuk: I spent a lot of time trying to figure this out.

Anime Herald: Are their any current anime you’re interested in that might be part of your future projects?

Kehasuk: I’ve been getting into a lot of anime movies. I feel like they don’t get enough love. Doing this and seeing what people are pushing in the hall…

I do love Spy x Family though.

Anime Herald: Same. Anya is so cute.

Kehasuk: She’s the best. The Ranking of Kings is [also] really cool to me. I thought that was different. I really liked Devilman. I was trying to figure out what else he’d made. I watched Night is Short, Walk on Girl. It was so beautiful!

Anime Herald: The drinking was great.

Kehasuk: I was like “Why is no one talking about this? The animation was so beautiful.” The storytelling… I couldn’t predict where it was going to go.

Anime Herald: That’ is the best description of that movie.

Kehasuk: I liked the structure of the storytelling. There wasn’t necessarily a clear conflict, or even a goal, but it was so entertaining. It kept me interested in the story, and visually it was beautiful. That was the last thing I’ve been really inspired by.

Anime Herald: I look forward to the piece that you do on it.

Kehasuk: I’m trying to figure out a way to compose it to make it feel like that movie. The visuals were so cool.

Anime Herald: Have you ever seen the stuff from Satoshi Kon?

Kehasuk: The ones I’ve been wanting to do are Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Paprika, [and] Summer Wars. I really liked Summer Wars. Tekkonkinkreet. There’s a couple more. I really liked Gantz. 20th Century Boys. There’s some other ones. Eva (Evangelion) is cool, but everyone’s done Eva. I’ve got some ideas, though.

A pin of a cartoon ninja wielding two swords and a demonic mask.

Anime Herald: How did you get the idea for the two-piece pins?

Kehasuk: I’ve actually always wanted to make toys and playsets so I usually treat all my pins as if they were mini sculptures. So, the idea of taking off the mask was just something reminiscent of the way an action figure would work but pin form. I thought about doing in different ways but in the end using a magnet seemed the cleanest and felt the most fun!

Anime Herald: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Kehasuk: Never wait to start something. Always be impatient about starting stuff. Just start things right away. I realized that people have the ability to do a bunch of stuff. At least for me, I was always told there was steps to stuff, “When you’re this age you’ll do this, and when you’re this age you’ll do that.”

I realized that people actually have the skills really early on. As young as you want, just start.

Painting by artist Kehasuk that depicts a grey head with a bowl cut and a blank smile, as colorful characters and monsters burst out from it.

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