Hello Kitty is Amabie!

The pandemic continues, starting two years ago already with little signs of full recovery even this year, I’m afraid. But let’s not lose hope! I’ve been getting creative with my Amabie Project to lift our spirits up and help fight it off. And what is an Amabie, you may be asking. This mysterious character, to recap, is a legendary amulet in the form of a mermaid that emerged in the 1840s to protect Japanese citizens against the plague. Copying her image and sharing it is said to help ward the disease. With the onset of COVID more than a century later, the image of the Amabie naturally reemerged with popularity. More details are outlined in a previous blog Little Amabie if you like to know more. After having painted one with my Copic markers and colored pencils, and then months later with gouache, I was in the mood for another! How about watercolor this time? And what a better opportunity to do this at my Friday afternoonI Japanese painting class!

The Background

Otherwise known as Nihonga, the traditional Japanese watercolor painting entails natural dyes and pigments. Best results come from starting with powder pigments and blending with an animal based gelatin binding material called nikawa and a few drops of hot water. Click here for more about it. For this painting came the momigami method in which the first layer of color is applied thickly on a sheet of special washi paper. Another color is then piled on top once dry. Here I firstly went for emerald green and let it dry before covering it with a thick layer of cobalt blue. Then when completely dry, the paper gets crumpled up; the more the better! The result is a stunning marble appearance as below.

Let’s Draw Hello Kitty!

The past two Amabie paintings entailed a little girl (Little One) which was wonderful but this time I wanted to do something different. Whilst on the subject of Japan, I thought why not introduce my favorite character, Hello Kitty? It’ll be an interesting combination of traditional and modern. I then set about searching on the internet about Hello Kitty dressed as Amabie and sure enough I found a very cute one! Her printed image was then transferred on the paper with some tracing paper, then further outlined over with a permanent black felt pen. Isn’t she adorable?

Coloring Kitty In

And now the fun part… filling Kitty in with some pretty colors! Emulating the original drawing of her, I found some bright vivid shades of pink, violet, yellow and blue. One of the unique features about Nihonga painting is that you cannot mix the colors of the pigments. This is because the particles of the powders differ from one color to another makimg it impossible to blend together. Hence you need to search through the piles of bags until you come up with the exact color you like. The secret of getting the colors strong is to apply a reasonably thick consistency, let it dry before layering on a second coat. Once I got all the colors on, I then went over the outlines with a fine brush dipped in black paint. Et voilà!

I am very happy with this cute little Nihonga painting of my Amabie Hello Kitty! Having done this traditional japanese watercolor quite a number of times before, I knew what to expect. This may be sadly the last Nihonga piece for a while though. Our instructor got a new day-job which will take him away from teaching for a few months. I hope he’ll be back soon so we can resume doing more fun classes together. Meanwhile, I shall be continuing with my Amabie project and finding other mediums to create my next piece!

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