Meisan Mui - Manga with a twist

A degree in architecture isn’t the most obvious qualification for a manga artist to have on her CV, but that’s what Thai-Chinese artist Meisan Mui has. Actually, ‘manga artist’ isn’t a fair description of Meisan’s enigmatic works: as she puts it: “My style is watercolour-based illustrations, combining Japanese manga-like characters with motifs inspired by traditional Thai art.” 

It’s an intriguing blend: wide-eyed, triangular-faced characters are surrounded by semi-abstract curlicues and striking, arabesque-shaped clouds, all rendered in jewel-bright colours straight from Thai art, or noisy candy shades sampled from manga. She often works by layering washes of watercolour for a splotchy, tactile backdrop, and then painting over the top.

“I was already using watercolours and markers as an architecture student, but I was looking at a lot of manga online, and saw that they used a Wacom to create their work,” she says. This inspired her to try her hand at digital painting, which soon lured her away from architecture completely.

Now an established digital painter, Meisan can see both pros and cons to the medium: she points out that it makes it easy to knock off works that are samey – either to other pieces of your own art or, more dangerously, other people’s: “I see a lot of artists getting trapped by style – including me sometimes,” she cautions. “With some artists’ work, you can tell who
or what was inspiring them at that point, so the artist lacks a unique style of their own.”

For her, the key is endless exploration: “I get bored easily and experiment a lot,” she says. Her advice? Stay true to yourself: “Draw what you want to draw,” she recommends. “Don’t try to satisfy everybody in the world – because you can’t.”

 meisanmui.com

Step by step: how Meisan Mui composes a painting

1. Meisan started by roughly sketching the character in black and white on her computer, with a basic brush.

2. Filling in more details as she went, Meisan also added layers of scanned-in watercolour blotches, setting each one to an Overlay bleeding mode.

3. Meisan adjusted the colour until she was happy with the tone and painted in some highlights, such as the belt buckles.

4. Meisan then flatened the layers and painted over the top, adding everything from creases on the shirt to details in the background.

Master the art

Paintings tips by Sam Gilbey 

• Stay focused: “You have so many options available to you that it can be tempting to introduce too many styles into a piece.”

Even within a style, limit yourself to a few techniques for each piece.

• “It’s essential to work with a pen and tablet. A mouse click [provides] no pressure sensitivity to make more subtle marks,” says Sam.

Explore different software: “I use Painter because it offers convincing ‘real media’ effects, but all pieces are taken through Photoshop at the end.”