Many of you are probably familiar with the below video of Ume drawing, part of a series where Wacom lends Cintiqs to popular artists and records their drawing process.

There’s an accompanying interview. Let’s see what Ume has to say about digital art!

How did you get started as a manga artist?

In middle school I looked up to Ribon magazine (Shueisha). I’d draw manga in a notebook and show it to my friends. After that, I was drawn to size B6 comics like from Wings (Shinshokan). One time I saw something stacked in a bookstore display, and wondered what it was. It was Dragon Kishidan (Mineko Ohkami/Shinshokan). The first time I held such a large-size comic in my hands, the drawings felt a little different from shoujo manga and the fantasy genre felt vast. I couldn’t buy Wings every month, so I bought the quarterly magazine South. I would cut out and save any color pages by Yun Kouga.

At that time, I knew about doujinshi-related things through Comic Box Junior (Fusion Product) and read books sold by Animate. I went to an event in Harumi called Super Comics City in my first year of middle school. (laughs)

So you came into contact with doujin culture at a fairly young age, didn’t you?

It was a way to express myself. I was able to draw the pictures and make doujinshi all by myself. Around the time I was a third-year in middle school, I participated in a small event held on the second floor conference room of a training school. I made five copies of a Samurai Spirits Zankuro Musouken doujin, but sold only two to my friends. (laughs) There wasn’t really internet at the time, so I would get information from papers in manga specialty shops. Game centers also had them.

Later on I participated in a big event held in Ikebukuro. My first job  was from a friend who was starting out as a PC game dev. I was asked to illustrate the instruction manual, then I began working on 4koma for their website. An editor who saw my work in an Ohzora Publishing anthology book contacted me during my second year of college. And so, I ended up drawing Hidamari Sketch for Manga Time Kirara Carat beginning its April 2004 issue.

What was your debut in the magazine business like?

It was surprising, I thought I’d get cancelled after three chapters. (laughs) I didn’t get the feeling like, “I jumped that hurdle!” I never thought of becoming a 4koma manga artist, and it was my first time writing an original story, so I wondered if I could actually do it. At the time when there weren’t many moe 4koma manga, I browsed Kirara.

You started the serialization while enrolled in college. Were you thinking about attending art college and doing art-related work from the beginning?

At first I thought about enrolling in a technical school for manga. I even submitted the application form.  I thought it would narrow my own worldview if I were in an environment where everyone else also had their eyes set on manga. I spent one year as a ronin and later enrolled in the design informatics department of an art college. In my art prep class during that gap year, I was surrounded by others who were working hard, aiming to take art college entrance exams. It was my first time jumping into anything like that, so from the beginning it was very different and emotionally challenging.

Since you were in the design informatics department, that means you touched on digital media creation, didn’t you?

If nothing else I touched a Mac. I was taught from the very basics because there were still many people who had never owned a PC. There was a PC at my house. I don’t remember when I started using it, but the first thing I drew on it was Multi from ToHeart (Leaf, 1997). Those were the days. (laughs)

I used Paint Shop Pro on Windows 95 and colored with the mouse. There still weren’t many people who used pen tablets. When it was time to paint minute details into things like hair, I would draw lines to separate the colors by hand. I scanned them in and used the selection tool. It was difficult.

Why did you want to begin drawing with a PC?

PC games were getting really popular at that time. Many skilled artists had their illustrations published in the PC game magazine Puregirl (Japan Mix). I especially admired the front cover illustrations by CHOCO, seemingly done entirely in CG. Original pinups, amazing illustrations on home pages, and how-to guides on CG felt cool and totally cutting-edge. The matte cover made it seem really stylish too, so I wanted to try drawing art like in that magazine.

When did you first use a pen tablet?

I couldn’t stand coloring with a mouse while I was going to art prep school. “Hey, CG is no use without a pen tablet!” I thought, so I bought a first-generation Intuos for about 15,000 yen in a back street basement shop in Akihabara. I used it to color my doujinshi’s front covers and work on illustrations and a web manga for a game company. When I was first working on anthologies I recall inserting screen tones manually, but now that’s almost all digital.

What’s your workflow like when creating manga manuscripts?

I start by outlining the contents of each panel in detail. Using that I make a rough draft on copy paper, trace it, then ink on manuscript paper. Since I have the details planned out in advance, I don’t have to “storyboard” or move speech balloons around. For inking, once in a while I use a Signo 0.28mm, but nowadays I’ve returned to using a Tachikawa G Pen again. For the finishing touches I scan the manuscript and fill in the tone sections in grayscale in Photoshop. Finally, after combining the gray-only layers, I convert them into tones using freeware.

What’s it like with color illustrations?

From the rough draft to the inking stage, it’s the same manual process as with manga. When the roughs are way too rough I first import them to my PC and clean them up, then I print and ink them. For coloring, when I have time I use SAI. When I don’t have time, I use Photoshop because I’m more familiar with it. If it’s for work there are times where the resolution isn’t enough, so I draw in 600dpi, A4 size. But when I do that, I can’t use SAI as much as I want to…

How is your current work environment set up?

My OS is Windows XP and I use Photoshop 5.0. I also have Photoshop CS, but I don’t know my way around as well. I’ve stuck with 5 because I’d have to learn the new features and stuff. My PC’s CPU is a Core 2 Duo and its HDD is filling up. It has 2GB of RAM and Photoshop will suddenly close sometimes, so maybe it’s about time to replace it… I bought my monitor when I was a student. It’s a 19″ Nanao Flexscan, so a palette fills up the screen to the edges. I want to upgrade to a 24″. (laughs)

[As amusing as that was to read in the year 2013, she bought a new computer in September 2011, about a year after this interview.]

So are you the type to continue using your beloved tools?

Beloved, or rather, ghosts are telling me not to waste them*… (laughs) I believe that if something’s not broken, I’ll use it. Until just recently I was using an A4 scanner. I had to split B4 manuscripts and scan them in twice, so it was awfully inefficient. I finally replaced it with a B4 scanner because it was getting in the way of my work. (laughs)

*Reference to “Mottainai Obake” a old TV PSA that warns children not to waste food.

Is there anything you’re fussy or selective about when it comes to pen tablets?

Right now I’m using an Intuos 3, but I don’t have any unusual preferences. I’m still using the standard pen nib and I use keyboard shortcuts. I don’t use the pen’s eraser; I have the up/down side switch set to right-click. Right-clicking using the side switch makes MineSweeper easy to play. (laughs) When setting flags in those tough spots, it’s faster than using the mouse!

Your debut publication “Hidamari Sketch” was made into an anime.

When I first heard that TBS contacted the editorial department I thought, “There’s a whole mountain to climb before it’s actually settled, so if it falls through after they’ve contacted me I’ll end up disappointed! The editor spoke too soon!!” and wasn’t really happy about it. 6 months later, TBS and Aniplex came and told me SHAFT wanted to make an anime adaptation. That was the first time I was contacted directly.

I think there are a lot of different fields. But I’m an amateur in the anime field, so I didn’t know how much my involvement would change according to the anime staff. In the early stages, they told me I could say whatever I wanted and participate proactively. It made me very happy that they let me get involved and be picky. Everyone from the anime staff is so kind and understanding.

Have you ever felt your own work being influenced by the anime adaptation?

When writing my own dialogue I’ve become able to hear their voices in my head because they stuck with me so well. The voice cast is so amazing and so perfect I can’t imagine anyone else in their places. (laughs) I feel that for Yoshinoya, her energy in the anime has had a little influence on the manga. I think I’ve got to draw the manga even more cutely because the anime’s drawings were cute too. In practical terms, since I wasn’t used to being so involved around season 1 of the anime, it had the effect of greatly reducing the number of pages in the manga. (laughs)

What are some responses that you hadn’t gotten before?

The number of people who knew my name from watching the anime greatly increased. When my father had his job transferred away from home, he went to a tavern and sitting near him were a parent and child talking about how they watched Hidamari Sketch. He told me, “I thought maybe I should get them your autograph.” (laughs) The feeling of having people I’ve never seen knowing who I am was a strange but pleasant one.

Special episodes getting made after seasons 1-3 ended on TV, the “Hidamatsuri” event being held… there’s a lot to look forward to, isn’t there?

I’m very thankful for it. The Hidamari Sketch x Hoshimittsu Specials are being released on DVD and Blu-ray at the end of this October. I drew one special illustration for the jacket and booklet each. Even now I’m still glad that I’ve become such good friends with the voice cast.

Then there’s the buzz over the label you made for “Ume Monogatari” plum sake.

At the same time as Comiket Special 5 in Mito, there was a town revitalization project looking to make something. The members of the Comiket planning community promoted it. The sake was made especially for the art, so it has a really cute color as well. The taste is light and it’s delicious. I recommend it to women too.

Do you have any work you’d like to try out or challenges that you want to take on?

I want time to study somewhere because every month I’m in a crunch at work. When it comes to drawing CG, I can’t try out different things if I don’t have the time. Because I end up doing work the short way, I’d like to try using the tools in the new Photoshop and change to newer equipment.

Are there any themes or genres of manga you’d like to try drawing?

Many different kinds. I want to try drawing fantastic stories, shoujo manga-like romance because boys don’t really appear in Hidamari Sketch, and a travel journal. Also something with battles, but I’d really have to study up because I don’t have the skills to draw that kind of thing.

You participate in events with your doujin circle “apricot+”. What is doujin activity to you?

Doujinshi is a breather and lets me try out things I can’t do in the business. I can really draw whatever I want at the time and genuinely try out things I want to do. I want to try designing some more because there are many times where I just make a book and insert pictures since I’m always pressed for time no matter what. On the other hand, what good would it be without plenty of art? I have to be careful not to put the cart before the horse when I’m trying something new.

Then I want to become more sociable. (laughs) Lately all I’ve been doing is staying indoors, and there are times I can’t make arrangements when invited to do something… And not just become sociable at event venues because I can get to know many different artists at doujinshi events. (laughs)

It’s definitely hard when having a serialized manga takes up so much of your time, isn’t it?

At times when manga material isn’t coming to me or something else because I’m bad at finding good solutions, I’ll go out for a bit and take a mental break. But later on as the deadline approaches and I’m at my wit’s end, I hate thinking, “If only I hadn’t taken a break at that time.” Either way seems inefficient and in hindsight I don’t understand it. As for Twitter, I look at it when I do, but at busy times I can’t keep up with my timeline for days. I’m scared that people will think I’m ignoring them when that happens. It’s convenient when I have free time, but I don’t really socialize that actively. (laughs)

Finally, what do pen tablets mean to you personally?

I’d be worried if I didn’t have one. If I didn’t have a pen tablet now, I don’t know what I’d do. (laughs)

Interview by Shinsuke Hiraiwa.