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18 Years of Pokémon, Art & Me

Like swarms of kids in my generation, I fell in love with Pokémon when it hit our shores. I was 6. Pokémon joined dinosaurs and drawing as a small party of interests that would stay relevant for me through childhood, adolescence, till now — as a hairy adolescent with responsibilities. 

My hat modelled from Scraggy, a lizard-like type of Pokémon that wears its shed-skin like baggy clothes — travelling in gangs and headbutting other Scraggy.

My hat modelled from Scraggy, a lizard-like type of Pokémon that wears its shed-skin like baggy clothes — travelling in gangs and headbutting other Scraggy.

It's remained relevant for good reasons: The Pokémon premise itself is fun; the in-game world is exciting; the games are challenging and rewarding; the characters, dialogue, and settings place a heavy emphasis on the beauty of nature — for life and for the earth itself; the narrator of each game is some variety of biologist, and the player is essentially gathering data on their journey. 

In the 18 years since I played the first game, I have attempted a lot of crafts and creative pursuits. And over those 18 years I have played each new Pokémon game as it's come out (every 3–5 years). The Pokémon franchise has been a consistent source of inspiration and, strangely, a kind of safety net for trying new things. I can experiment with a new medium, brush, chemical, program, depicting a subject I know intimately. With all of my Pokémon-inspired art gathered on one page, I do seem like a bit of a Poké Maniac, but it's not really feasible to share the 18 years that filled the gaps between each project.


Timeline of Pokécreations

Developing my Drawing Skills

Almost as soon as I started playing Pokémon I got the Pokémon Handbook. It was a simple encyclopaedia with entries for each species. It described each species' features, habitat, statistics, and had a lovely picture for each one. I carried it everywhere and produced probably hundreds of drawings from its pages. It helped develop my comparison skills, memory, perspective, and countless other drawing traits including my confidence when I'd show them around the Poké-obsessed school yard.

Bass

I enjoy video games, and I also quite enjoy video game tunes — even the 8-bit tunes from the Game Boy. I also enjoy listening to people transpose these tunes on various instruments. There are a lot out there. Mario is a popular choice. Here are the two most memorable ones I first saw on the guitar and piano around 10 years ago. Here is my favourite video game musician, here.

I chose 'music' in my final two years of high school, and for my final exams I had to play 4 live songs. I played the bass and Pokémon, so it was a matter of time before I seriously combined them. I picked 8 tunes from the game's 8-bit soundtrack that roughly covered the story chronologically, got the MIDI score, took bits and pieces from each instrument, and transposed it onto the bass neck.

I am musically naive and struggled big time. I can't remember now, but I have a feeling that it was an arduous and defeating project that took many months. I remember giving up a number of times, but needing to complete it because I'd sunk so much time in.

I went well in that subject, so I guess it was worth it. I've still got my original printed transcript from the composition, which I'd like to relearn some time.

At 3:09 I play the 'battling a trainer' tune. Here's a vid to the original 8-bit version from the game →

Encyclopaedia

The 'Pokémon Encyclopaedia' is undoubtedly the most time and effort I've ever committed to not just Pokémon, but to any project. Eighty seven pages of text, diagrams, formatting, and interactive hyperlinks, dozens of 12-hour artworks, years of research and writing. It is quite the feat. I invested so many resources into it, because I was fully intending on getting it published...but now it's just sitting on my hard-drive, dormant.

The cover I mocked up to pitch to publishers. I'm not a designer, obviously. Unsurprisingly, it's not published. I've pitched around half a dozen times.

The cover I mocked up to pitch to publishers. I'm not a designer, obviously. Unsurprisingly, it's not published. I've pitched around half a dozen times.

Into it I poured years of science learnt from university, mostly biology — ecology, evolution, physiology, behaviour. Some sections included findings from first-hand research being done around my uni. I wrote out a 9-page interactive glossary, where I personally compiled definitions of scientific jargon from various sources. 

A sample of a newer edition I formatted can be found here.

I formatted the 2012 edition into a website and eBook on Amazon. My writing is completely incomprehensible on that website.

Here's a slideshow of the illustrations from the text. Some of them are quite large and took over ten hours.

I assigned each featured Pokémon with a binomial species name from my best attempts at Latin and Ancient Greek. The names can be found here. I'd forgotten what I was thinking, so I've just Googled some of their derivations:

Sableye. Art by Ken Sugimori

Sableye. Art by Ken Sugimori

The ghostly gem-eyed stalker on the right (and below) is named Sableye in the series. I gave the binomial name Phasmafusc gimmoculus, a mush-up of Latin and Greek terms 'phasma, fuscus, gemma/gimm, oculus' roughly equating to dark phantom with gems fo' eyes. The captions below have some other translations.

Zubat: Haemophag anophthalmos — Eyeless blood sucker.

Zubat: Haemophag anophthalmos — Eyeless blood sucker.

Eelektross: Electromorsus ferocis — Ferocious electric biter. Simipour: Hydrocercopes lax — Watery mythological monkey creature that's relaxed.

Eelektross: Electromorsus ferocis — Ferocious electric biter. Simipour: Hydrocercopes lax — Watery mythological monkey creature that's relaxed.

Painting

After drawing Pokémon with pens and pencils for years, it was inevitable that when I picked up a paintbrush, they were going to be some of the first things I did. The first two images below were some of the first things I painted with acrylic and oil, respectively. The rest are my experimenting with water and different brush strokes.

Fiction Writing

I'm sorry to say it, but a few years ago I explored fiction writing with some Pokémon fan fiction. There, I said it. Fan fiction. It's fan fiction, in that I'm a fan and it's fiction, but it's a novelisation, not creepy fantasy fan fiction like Fifty Shades of Grey or Taken by the T-Rex. I did two short novelisations that cover the (i) first ten minutes, and (ii) next ~40 minutes of game-play from one of the second games: Pokémon Crystal ('99). The dialogue was kept as-is wherever possible.

I sold these books on Amazon, too. I intended on putting them up for free, but 0.99c was the cheapest option available. The second one was quite well received, especially in the UK. Once I'd finished that one, I combined the two. (Un)fortunately for you, you can read them for free.

Again, a disclaimer: these were written years ago. I can't bear to read a few lines without wincing at the writing. Cut the adverbs at the very least! The covers were painted with gouache.

Sculpturing: Plastimake

As mentioned in another blog, I had some neat sculpting material and almost like I had no control in the matter, I sculpted some Pokémon on my first sitting. In this case, I did a sculpture of the electric cat-like monster: Electabuzz (which is featured in the paintings above). I also did a door-stop with Poliwhirl, a water-typed Pokémon locked in stasis between metamorphosing from a tadpole to a frog.

Animation

I've done a few animations with this app (Animation Desk). And yes, it was one of the first things I did with the animation program. Left: Scraggy evolution/mashup of other animation snippets. Right: It's also of a tadpole–frog family.

Digital Art

I have done a number of digital Pokéworks. Most recently these three:

They were certainly a good chance to develop some new techniques with the iPad. The three individuals at the beginning, middle, and end of the lines are real Pokémon to scale. The two in-between those are made up by me, using characteristics of the sandwich. It was a fun little exercise. 

The piece went down well with fellow Pokégeeks, and got >800 likes.

Welcome to the art graveyard...

I have hundreds of projects and artworks in the art graveyard, and here are two of them. They started off with such promise. The one on the left is of Scraggy — the same Pokémon as my hat (top). I've still got my reference images of various sloughing lizards. The image on the right is a fight between a yeti Pokémon, Abomasnow, and a prehistoric pterodactyl like Pokémon, Aerodactyl. I selected those two as they roughly came first alphabetically. I spent a lot of time experimenting with tree shapes in the background, but soon gave up. I'm happy with his wool-like fur.


CLOSING

Looking back, I have committed hundreds of hours to Pokémon-inspired artworks. Separately, these projects might seem like nuts, inconsequential expressions of enthusiasm for another franchise, but for me they're time-capsules, the stepping stones that led to the skill-sets and experience I have now.

Re-imagining two-dimensional caricatures into believable three-dimensional creatures was a great skill that made it easier to get into paleo-art and other forms of imagined art works.

Not only did this franchise provide a scaffold for my artistic expression, but it also paved the way for my passion in lots of other areas. The names themselves kick-started my interest in etymology and word-origins from a young age, e.g. 'Metapod', the chrysalis Pokémon. The Pokémon species exposed me to a world of animals, concepts, folk-lore, and more; there are ammonite, anomalocaris, embryonic, and hypnotic tapir Pokémon, all new concepts for young minds.

The Pokémon games are social. They were the first games to have a cable that connected two Game Boys with friends. When the last game came out in 2013, I finished work and was waiting at the bus stop playing. A guy sitting next to me pulled out his copy and we traded Pokémon and talked about how awesome the newest iteration was. That happened half a dozen times afterwards on trains in the CBD.

Most of my best friends played Pokémon, and we still play it now. A new game comes out, and we get together and battle and trade, and share stories. One of the first times I was invited over to the house of my first long-term girlfriend, she showed me her Pokémon Handbook from when she was 6. She opened it up to have a look and as she did, bits of paper fell from it. I bent to pick them up — drawings with unsure lines and heavy-handed colourings that looked very familiar.

I haven't played Pokémon for a while now, perhaps for the longest time yet.

18 years and the series has remained special, provocative, and worth my time and attention. I hope it continues to evolve with me still.