I want to be an artist who always expresses the truth that is in my heart.
What sets up-and-coming artist Keisuke Tsuchida apart from his contemporaries is his approach to his work, using delicate, vertical lines and a palette of 22 types of graphite. Although realism is in vogue when it comes to pencil drawings, Tsuchida has never abandoned his fanciful appeal. His works aim to evoke a personal journey of pure emotions, from joy and happiness to compassion and sadness.
In this interview, we talked about the origin of Tsuchida’s imagination, his divergence from mainstream realism, and the spirit of strength that underlies his style. This interview has been translated and lightly edited for length and clarity.
Creating something out of nothing
That was the moment when I decided I wanted to be an artist like him, because that was my childhood dream.
How did you discover yourself as an artist?
I have always been interested in creating something out of nothing, and drawing was a natural way to achieve this.
Video games were very popular when I was a child, and I was especially attracted to role-playing games and their stories. I also read the game-inspired fantasy novel Tales from Earthsea and the novel Ys, which was based on a popular video game.
One novel that remains vivid in my memory is Akira, a Japanese graphic novel I found in the school library; like Tales from Earthsea, I could not understand its intricacies, but that’s why I loved it because it was strangely interesting. I think this feeling, the excitement of mystery and complexity in a story, is at the root of my work.
After graduating from high school, I got a job at an ordinary company, but I felt that something was wrong with me and I often had doubts about my life. One day, I I saw an exhibition of Alphonse Mucha’s works. When I saw the works of Alphonse Mucha, I was astonished by his aesthetic sense, technique, and the way he conveyed his ideas. I wanted to be an artist like him, it was my dream since I was a child. Eventually, I decided to quit my job and become a full-fledged artist.
Why did you choose pencil drawing as your medium?
After I quit my job, I studied at an art school. During that time, I kept searching for my own style and tried different approaches. As I was experimenting with various art forms and techniques, I realized that I was getting too caught up in the concept of “art” and my own ideas. So I decided to go back to the simplest form of pencil and paper, keeping in mind that I was drawing what was in my heart.
What artists or works of art have influenced you the most in your life?
That would be Alphonse Mucha and Norman Rockwell. Both artists have a simple style with a strong underlying message. I aspire to be an artist like them one day.
Exploring a fantastic world in monochrome
… I try to express the depth of my emotions. You may find tenderness and joy in a melancholy expression….
While the realism of graphite pencil artists like Susumu Kinoshita is gaining popularity, Kinoshita’s works stand out for their fantasy worldview and stories. What do you aim for in your unique style?
In any novel, the reader is free to imagine the faces of the characters and the scenery through the text, but my work is the exact opposite of that. The viewer is able to imagine the story and emotions through the work.
I also hope that I can help the viewer in some way. I want to create art that does not insist on a strong message, or preach unnecessary sermons, but rather provide emotional support, like someone who is quietly by your side when you are grieving.
That is why I try to express the depth of my emotions. This is because I believe that one of the causes of grief is the loss of precious memories. I want to depict a world with such depth, where there are characters with kind hearts even in the midst of sadness, and scenes of joy even in the midst of whispers of loneliness and hardship.
What is the message you want to express through your art?
What I want to create is the spirit of things, but they are formless. That is why I am attracted to drawing, which is one of the simplest forms of expression, eliminating all extraneous matter and leaving only light and shadow. Pencil art implies light by drawing shadows. There are many different interpretations of simple art like mine. Rather than imposing my own ideas and thoughts, I want to express something core that everyone can relate to at some point.
Why did you focus on establishing your own style rather than following the recent trend of realism?
Realism has become the mainstream of pencil drawings. The details and shadows in this genre are very impressive, but I was never interested in drawing subjects from the real world. Rather, I prefer to draw from the inspiration that comes from within me. I think I just like the idea of creating something out of nothing.
What can pencil drawings express better than any other medium?
When you look at it up close, you can actually see each line, and the impression of the work changes depending on the angle from which you look at it. By observing the artist’s touch, you can feel the passion and spirit of the artist.
I think pencil art is very special in that the tools and materials are familiar, yet it has infinite possibilities to express anything you can think of. I also like the simplicity of it. It’s like having a pencil that you used as a child that still works later in life.
Besides drawing, where do you get your inspiration?
Games, anime, movies, graphic novels, fantasy novels, and music. I like the culture of the 80’s and 90’s more than now. I prefer pixelated games to smooth, high-resolution games, I prefer hand-drawn cel animation to CGI animation, I prefer cassette tapes with background noise. I like the warm feeling that these things from the past give me, and nostalgia is what fuels my creativity.
Expressing the intangible spirit in a physical form
… The spirit is at the core of what I am trying to express through my art.
In your work, there seems to be a strong contrast between the subject and the surrounding blank space, is this a conscious decision? Is this a conscious decision?
In some of my work I intentionally play with the dynamics of detail and surrounding space, but sometimes the result is unintended. I consciously incorporate elements of this design into my work because I want to “paint” the emptiness, or in other words, I paint to highlight the empty space.
The unintentional contrast in my work comes from my inspiration to paint the subject without a background. I don’t paint the background because I want to leave it to the viewer’s imagination. Some of my work may seem too simple, but I usually do not paint backgrounds unless the idea fits the subject perfectly. Most of my work has a background, and its inspiration is closely tied to the subject.
Your style seems to be more down-to-earth and laid-back than most of your contemporaries. What kind of emotions do you hope to evoke through your work?
Let me tell you about two people who have had a strong influence on my style of painting.
When I was in school, I had a friend who always smiled and never fought back, no matter how badly he was treated by his classmates. Interestingly, I was the one who was furious when it happened. I respected my friend for having the strength to follow her own rules and not fight, unlike those who were involved in bullying.
Another friend helped me when I was being ignored by the whole class, who treated me like a mute. He was the only one who talked to me normally, and he helped me get through the lonely times at school.
In these two friends, I felt that there was true strength in their spirit, not the strength that comes with authority or prominence. The same spirit is at the core of what I try to express through my art.
There was a time when I was obsessed with the idea that art had to be sophisticated, and I tried to create my own idea of “sophisticated art. However, as a result of pursuing this idea, I drifted away from what I wanted to express, which was the true strength of my spirit.
Sometimes, I use philosophical concepts such as life and death as my subject matter. For example, when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck Japan in 2011, I painted it as a memorial to the victims. But I don’t plan to make such themes my main focus in the future, because it feels unnatural. I want to depict emotions and thoughts in everyday life. I want to continue to be an artist who expresses what is true in my heart.
Where to buy Keisuke Tsuchida’s pencil drawings?
We are proud to say that you can buy Keisuke Tsuchida’s pencil artwork anywhere in the world. Please take a look at his work, as well as that of other Japanese contemporary artists.