What is Kawaii?

“Kawaii’ is a Japanese word and concept that broadly translates to “cuteness” in English. It emerged in Japan in the 1970s expressing itself in many popular culture trends such as art, TV animation, lifestyle, music and fashion. It is an entire aesthetic that captures a spirit of childlike, playful innocence and adorability. Hello Kitty and Pokemon such as Pikachu are examples that epitomise Kawaii with their ability to elicit the kind of warm, happy, caring response that humans typically feel for cute baby animals. Whilst there is much cultural debate about what Kawaii actually is and its deeper cultural significance, Kawaii art is usually easily identified as simple black line-drawn characters with minimal facial features, in pastel colours and with rounded edges and a youthful appearance.  

I have always been a fan of super-simple ideas for craft and art that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike – so Kawaii had a natural appeal for us. Crafting and making, art and drawing has always been a kind of ‘happy place’ for us, so adding cute baby animals and Kawaii art into the mix offered an added level of fun, comfort and joy. I also love art and craft projects that are accessible, and more about the feeling they create than the finished product – whether that be because they provide an opportunity to connect, because the process was fulfilling and uplifting, or because of the sense of having accomplished something fun and lovely with relative ease. Hopefully this introduction to Kawaii drawing and sticker-making tutorial ticks a few of those boxes!  

How we discovered Kawaii

I used to draw cute little gnomes with Kawaii-style faces for story illustrations and this is probably where our interest in cute characters started. Once my daughter expressed an interest, we began to explore a little more. We found the book Kawaii Doodle Class by Zainab Khan/Pip Candle and not only did my daughter spend many hours practising from it (and it is still a firm favourite even now), we often used it as a family as well when, as an after-dinner family activity, the children would often ask to sit and draw together. We all have quite a lot of experience in our house of drawing, and it is something we all enjoy, yet even for us in the middle of a long and busy working week staring at a blank page and thinking up what to draw could just feel like having to dig a little too deep! It was at times like this that such a book came to our rescue! 

Positive impact on our confidence

Since using books like this, I have also been pleasantly surprised by the positive impact they have had on our levels of confidence in drawing. When it comes to drawing, I think there can be a common misconception that it is a kind of inborn skill or talent that people either do or don’t have. Add to that the notion that artists must naturally have an abundant supply of original ideas at their fingertips and putting pencil to paper can understandably feel quite daunting! Through our own experience, however, I’ve come to understand that whilst they can be prescriptive in the instructions they give on what to draw (and thereby perhaps limiting the need to use one’s own imagination to begin with) books like this can help to break down such myths and give more children and adults the tools to find a way in and to begin and enjoy drawing. It means that anyone who wants to learn to draw regardless of skill or perceived “talent” has an opportunity to do so (it is good to remember as well, that even the most accomplished artists have spent many, many hours practising and mastering their art, starting with the basics, just like this!). 

Connecting with friends

Simple drawing practices like this can also offer a beautifully accessible starting point as a way of connecting with friends through drawing together – a bit like the ease of sitting together and colouring-in. Our Kawaii drawing book has often proven useful for online meet-ups (even before lockdown), particularly with friends who have the same book. The children draw Kawaii characters alongside each other and as a child-friendly drawing technique, it proves to be a really fun thing to do as a way of connecting together online. Because it is a relatively simple activity, it leaves space to enjoy connecting rather than feeling any kind of pressure to produce a creative masterpiece! 

I have also found that with the emphasis on drawing faces and creating character using very simple marks – arguably an art form in itself – this has been a great way to explore expression and mood. It’s not dissimilar to using emojis in text messages – which we all know can convey plenty of meaning in a very simple and direct way. 

And starting with simple techniques doesn’t have to end there. After some time exploring Kawaii, my daughter has moved on to Anime/Manga style drawing, and developed her own artistic confidence, style and imagination through doing so. 

Useful resources

If you google “how to draw Kawaii characters” you will find that there are many, many tutorials (especially on YouTube) on how to draw specific Kawaii-style characters – have a look on there to choose what you would like to start with. 

We have used the book Kawaii Doodle Class for many years now and can really recommend it – it is a fun book that really breaks the line drawings down into very easy to follow step-by-step instructions. We also have the book Kawaii: How to Draw Really Cute Stuff by Angela Nguyen – the instructions in this book are ever so slightly more complicated, but still very accessible. 

And there are plenty of free printables such as this one out there for exploring Kawaii faces and expressions. In fact, the website kawaiidrawings.com is a great place to start.

Other ideas for using your Kawaii designs 

Why not make some bookmarks? Create some characters on slightly thicker paper or card, cut them out and glue onto strips of (decorated) card, or even use a hot glue gun to attach to the top of paper-clips and use as page markers. Perhaps make a collage and add some Kawaii characters, use them to decorate your workbooks, journals or notebooks.  Make a cartoon using your Kawaii characters – if you have access to online drawing apps, have a go at drawing using this style/technique. You can also incorporate Kawaii into other crafts – for example if you are creating with polymer clay, by using three small black dots for eyes and mouth it is easy to create 3D Kawaii characters. If you are junk-modelling – grab a black sharpie and use simple marks to bring your creations alive by adding Kawaii faces. 

Tips to get started with Kawaii drawing

Once you get going, plenty of ideas usually follow. The key thing is just to make a start. If you want to have a go at creating Kawaii characters before investing in materials such as the books mentioned above, start simple – think of anything that has the basic shape of a circle/sphere – an apple, orange, sun, egg, beach ball, tennis ball, golf ball… (you get it!) – add a Kawaii face = a cute drawing with instant character and charm! From there you can try other simple shapes – star, crescent moon, flower. Give each shape slightly rounded edges for added cuteness.

For other items to turn into characters think – food, animals (both real and imagined), nature, plants, stationery, vehicles, monsters, space (for extra clues have a look at the categories of emojis in a phone keypad!). 

Expressions don’t all have to be happy – feel free to explore plenty of expressions and create as many different types of character as you wish.  

As you practise, experiment with the spacing of your features (eyes and mouth, nose if you add one) – to see the different effects they create and to discover your Kawaii maximal cuteness. 

Once you have drawn a whole sheet of A4 paper (or as many shapes/characters as you like) – if you have a printer that can also work as a photocopier – photocopy your design a few times so that you can use them multiple times and for different projects. 

And most importantly – have a fun time creating your Kawaii friends!

Continue with: Tutorial – create your own D.I.Y. Kawaii stickers to decorate a hand-written letter and/or Printable Kawaii D.I.Y. stickers

© Abigail Cole 2020

For more creative ideas visit www.forgetfulfairyartstudio.com

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