Thursday, February 7, 2013

Filling in the blanks

  Since the Xmas break, everything has been action packed! Many of you have followed my 'blow by blow' adventures on instagram but I know there are many more waiting to read the adventure here on my blog. Extra exciting opportunities arose creating a very tight mentor schedule. Due to the limited time and wanting to present an in depth account of my mentorship, I haven't published as many blog posts as I would have liked.

I am currently sitting in Design Festa Gallery East 102 at my '‘Sofubi and character work study tour: Conclusion exhibition' and I thought I would give a little 'gap filler' catch up post! Below is a list of all of my mentors and a brief description of my study with them. 

If you are in Tokyo, please come and say hello!

Facebook event: 
Ayako Takagi

Japanese retail operations

Going back to my retail roots, I assisted in the daily activities of running a gallery shop space. I discovered the differences in the Japanese marketplace and left with a deeper understanding of Japanese retail practices, methods and expectations.


Developing personal artistic styling

Discussion and development of my own unique aesthetic style in regards to creating original and licensed character works. My time with Touma has spawned a separate project that will be revealed at a later point in time. 


‘Korejanai robot’ building and developing concepts for the Japanese market. 

During my time at ZariganiWorks, I designed and built my own ‘Korejanai Robot’ named ‘Korewado Robot’. We also discussed the methodology and practices of ZariganiWorks to develop concepts for the Japanese market. I applied my new knowledge to develop a gacha series concept titled ‘BITE’.

Teresa Chiba

Deeper understanding of Japanese art and design through translation and guidance.

As my project mentor and translator, Teresa’s support was beyond direct translation and teachings of my mentors. Thanks to Teresa, I have achieved a deeper and richer experience throughout my time in Japan.

hidori Narita

Amigurumi creation from sketch to final product

Guidance and approach to knit my own amigurumi design from sketch. It was my first time knitting; I was able to achieve a mouth and half of the body. Sadly I injured my hand and was not able to complete during my mentorship. Dolroffo completed the design while teaching me the steps and approach. 

Tadayoshi Ichimiya

Sofubi creation from sketch to final product

Guidance in developing new sofubi works through each stage of production. Sculpting, silicone casting, wax production, sofubi factory tour, assembly and painting. New character work Suity-chan and Kowaiila were both created under Sunguts mentorship. 

Yoshihiko Makino


Technique and approach


Discourse of personal approach and techniques used in creating master sculpts and wax casts. Many examples were given and I left with a wider view of what is possible and achievable in sofubi production that will aid me in future sofubi development.

Friday, January 25, 2013


After coming home from day 2, I continued working on my sculpts. First off, I needed to create the body for the koala/drop bear figure. The face design had already changed from my initial sketch but I wanted to keep the proportions similar.

Initial design concept

Basic form sculpt of body with head.

Clip koala style body

I also started another body in the style of the 'clip koalas' you would find in an Australian souvenir store. Simple and a little cheesy, they are fun gifts for all ages. I didn't continue through with this body but I might complete it for a resin extra in the future.

By now, my mermaid head was dry enough to continue working on. The bar heater at Sunguts studio works perfectly to dry the clay, yet working from home, it takes much longer. If you are planing to work with air dry clay, I would highly recommend purchasing a bar heater.

Smoothed basic form body and head.

Day 3 was here and once again I was joined by Teresa to assist in translation. We were also accompanied by artist friend Benicco! One of the fantastic things of my adventures in Japan is being introduced to lots of talented and kind people! Today, both Teresa and Benicco started a sculpt, with all of us working in the workshop, it was lots of fun.

Teresa getting ready to sculpt

 Cheeeeese~~ Myself, Sunguts and Benicco pose for a photo.

Today I was focusing on the symmetry of my sculpts, something that is quite hard to achieve. Thankfully, Sunguts gave me a sculpting tip that drastically helped. Personally Sunguts doesn't use this technique himself but demonstrated how looking at the reflection of your sculpt in a mirror, you can see mistakes in the symmetry. It really works! It must have something to do with visual perception but once you see the mirrored reflection, it is really obvious where the are mistakes are in the symmetry.

Using a mirror to check symmetry

The bar heater is perfect for quick drying Fando. 

As my sculpts were reaching the next stage and moving beyond 'basic form' sculpts, Sunguts and I discussed the aesthetics direction I wanted to go. Sunguts thought his guidance might focus towards his own aesthetic too much and wanted to know if I was happy with the direction. I wanted to represent my mentors (Sunguts) style in my work but I still wanted the design to be of my own vision. From here, we decided Sunguts would continue to guide me on the form but at times I would go my own direction.

Continuing on, Sunguts pointed out that the body needed to be extended, I agreed. I was attempting to make my character slightly chibi/SD but she was still too compressed.

Poor girl, we cut her in half!

This is where working with Fando really shines; it is easy to drastically change the form with ease. Fando is quite soft so it is easy to saw; spread on some water to the connecting surfaces and add the extra clay and you are good to go. I wouldn't work with Fando for a customs but it is perfect for sculpting original work used for casts.

Sunguts inspecting the new extended form. I got it spot on this time.

I continued on the form, cleaning up the hair and smoothing the hips. The day was wrapping and I asked Sunguts for some advice on creating the arms. I wanted the arms to be folded over each other, covering her breasts; it would be the only asymmetrical part of the sculpt and I wasn't too sure about the best way to approach it. At this point, we had a bit of a laugh as Sunguts female characters are all bare. I demonstrated on myself how I wanted the hands to be placed - no photos - and Sunguts advised and sketched on my sculpt the best place to add and remove clay. 

Simple addition of lines by Sunguts to assist my sculpting

As mentioned before, Teresa and Benicco were also working away on their own sculpts. Sunguts would give them advice and discuss toy work with them too. This was great, as their sculpts, questions and answers were different to my own and the discussions extended my understanding beyond my own sculpts.

 Stage 1 sculpt by Benicco

Benicco's sculpt next to another sculpt with a similar cheeky form.

 Final basic forum sculpt by Benicco.

Teresa's basic from sculpt - still very wet clay.

Teresa's kimono sculpt next to Sunguts yukata sofubi body.

I was very excited by their sculpts! Both Teresa and Benicco are interested in continuing through with their sculpts but as resin only. It might not be their normal artistic field but I highly encourage them to follow through; I am waiting to add them to my collection!

Totally two different characters but they look really neat together.

This was my last session before the Xmas/new years break. Before the next session, I need to smooth the surface ready to start detailing on my return. I packed everything up and we headed to the train station. To wrap the day up, we grabbed some Taiyaki and then all headed home.

Teresa and Benicco had strawberry and I had chocolate! It was delicious!

If you haven't already clicked and checked out their work from the hyperlinks, here is Benicco's and Teresa's web pages for your viewing pleasure:

Teresa -
Benicco -

Till next time~

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Before the start of day 2, I had the hard decision of selecting the designs I was going to develop into sofubi. I have many designs floating around but I wanted to generate new ideas from my Japanese experience.

As mentioned in my last post, Sunguts has allowed me to use his master spouts, that way I can create heads and bodies that are interchangeable with majority of his character work. With this in mind, I wanted to design a character that can fit well within the Sunguts 'family' while also being my own design.

I sat down and sketches for a few hours. Normally it takes me a very long time before I feel comfortable with a design concept, even more so if I am going to produce a toy from it. However, this time there was one design that felt really natural, that design was of a Mermaid!

Sketch of mermaid concept

I never though I would be creating a Mermaid figure but after being surrounded by Sunguts designs and seeing his reference material it made me think of mythological creatures out there. I have always enjoyed the mythos of mermaids and find them intriguing. There are many beliefs of what mermaids 'are' but I prefer to believe they are creatures that seduce you into the water, drown you and then feast on your tasty tasty human flesh.

While I am on the subject of reference material, I had a few requests to see Sunguts library of reference material. So with permission, I took a few pictures. I was told this isn't all of it either!

 Lots of books and manga by Mizuki Shigeru

A vast collection of yokai, kaijin and kaiju books

Lots of really cool toys in the mix

One book Sunguts showed me was 'Phantom Beast World Encyclopedia of Shigeru Mizuki', I have tried looking for it myself as it's an awesome reference book. It was released in 1994, so it is hard to find new. I will keep an eye out for a good quality second hand copy. If you are keen on one, the ISBN is: 4022585722

I want to keep one as a pet.

Bug monkey!

 Fish upper torso with bear legs!

For my second design, I wanted to extend the ideology of the grant and blend some 'Australiana' into the mix. Like most of the world, when Japan thinks of Australia, they think of our animals. In my experiences, the number 1 animal Japanese people mention is the koala. It tends to be within the first few sentences of meeting me.

Japan: Where are you from?
Shane: Australia!
Japan: Oh Australia..... Koala! Kawaii!!
Shane: No Kowai
Japan: Eh??? Kowai?!
Shane: Yeah big claws and teeth that bite!

'Kawaii' being 'cute' in Japanese and 'kowai' being 'scary'. Just a little play on words, with a whole lot of truth. Koalas are scary, they have huge claws, beady little eyes and sharp teeth. With that in mind, I decided on a koala with a 'drop bear' vibe. I have wanted to do something really Australian for some time and drop bears are perfect!  

Random sketches of a humanoid koala

Humanoid koala/dropbear

Happy with my two concepts, I started on my two basic form sculpts. My plan was to create a koala head that would be interchangeable and a full mermaid figure with head and body.  

Koala head and Mermaid body - basic form sculpts

The second day is here and was excited to be moving forward with my basic form sculpts. Teresa wasn't going to accompany me on day 2, so I was ready to listen carefully and watch intensely. In the end, the language barrier wasn't an issue at all! It was lots of fun!

Now that the basic form sculpts are dry, I am able to carve, sand and easily add extra clay if required. I spent majority of my time working on the mermaid body making it symmetrical and cleaning up the form. When I arrived at Sunguts studio, I prepared my area and got to work right away.

Sketched a centre line to help with symmetry

At first I used a pen to add the line but Sunguts quickly pointed out a pencil is better as it doesn't bleed into the clay.

Sunguts has a very keen eye for detail and form. This is already clear from is work but seeing it 'on the fly' makes you respect his skills so much more. While I was sanding and sculpting away, Sunguts would give me suggestions and examples of how to fix and develop a form. Some times he would sketch a little drawing on a piece of paper, sketch on the sculpt itself or give me a little demonstration. Each time it would improve my sculpting and understanding of form immensely.

Removing clay. Sunguts sketch in the background.

Sanded down and made symmetrical.

Add clay to each circled area.

Sunguts demonstration

Adding a wider hip

Sexy hip added, I would add the other side.

Each time I added more clay, it had to sit and dry. Sunguts had a bar heater setup to keep us warm and for fast drying. As I only added little bits, it would dry within 10 minutes or so. While waiting for it to dry, I would work on the koala head and vice versa but I mostly worked on the Mermaid sculpt, focusing on its tail. 

Koala head in the 'quick dry zone'

Carved form
Smoothed form by sanding

 Sunguts adding lots of clay to the tail. Seems simple enough but I had trouble adding large amounts of clay to the body. Turned out I wasn't adding enough water to the dried clay.

While waiting for the tail to dry, I started on the head sculpt for the Mermaid. It was actually interesting to notice my new 'skills' were already at work. I had a better understanding of the material and was able to hold it and mould a basic shape without warping the form.

The 'fishy' head of the Mermaid.

For me, having hands on mentorship is the best way to learn. Even within two days, I feel I have learnt so much. Even the 'simple' things help me improve, such as arrangement of workshop spaces, sanding techniques, carving techniques and something as simple as cleaning sandpaper. Yes, it might seem obvious to many readers but I didn't know you can use a metal brush to clean off sandpaper. Personally I have tried to washing with mixed results but a metal brush works perfectly. 

Cleaning the sandpaper to reuse.

Only sculpting the Koala head was originally planned but Sunguts and I both agreed it would be best to make a koala body too. The day was coming to an end, so I was to sculpt the body at home. We were wrapping up early as Sunguts was going to take me supply shopping. There was no need to pick up more clay as Sunguts had a few in supply. I love seeing artists supplies, I don't know why, I just find it neat.

Impressive supply of clay.

Studio TV with a serious Japanese drama on. Good background entertainment.

I packed up my sculpts safely to continue working on them at home. We drove to the train station, where the local hobby store was, I got some supplies and we checked out the toys in the hobby store too. It is really enjoyable browsing toy stores with toy fans, I don't have many chances to share my passion of toys

The day came to an end, I said my thanks and headed on my way home to start working on the koala body; which will be covered in my next post. Thank you for reading, commenting and sharing my adventure with other like minded people. Once again, if you have any questions please post in the comments section! 

Till next time


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Project Mentor: TOUMA

Touma wearing his Knuckle Bear mask

Another mentor introduction and another big player, I would like to introduce you to Touma. Touma is an illustrator that has been involved in character design for over 20 years.

I first came aware of Touma in 2008 through his Ultraman collaboration. As a fan of Ultra Daikaiju,  his stylised versions made me interested to discover who the artist was, once again, it turned out I had already known his iconic work for a few years.

Ultra Seven Gashapon for a 2009 Gashapon project.

Knuckle Bear by Touma

Bold and full of energy, Touma has a strong style that is easily recognisable. Something that I would like to develop in my own work. I highly respect the work of Touma and to spend any time with him is an incredible opportunity, I will take all his lessons seriously and apply it to my work instantly.
TOUMA worked as a character designer for a major video game company for 10, leaving in 2001 to become a freelance illustrator and character designer. In 2003 he released his most famous character 'Knuckle Bear' at Design Festa #14. In 2005, he established his company TOUMART Inc. Since then he has designed various original designer toys and collaborated on licensed property designs from Ultraman, Godzilla, Star Wars, Alien vs Predator, Transformers, Powerpuff Girls, and countless others. 
3 daily sessions have been scheduled with Touma. In our short time, I hope to focus on my artistic methodology and further develop myself as an artist.