Pictoplasma 2019: Talking character design with artists Philippa Rice, Luke Pearson and Yukai Du

The Pictoplasma 2019 Character Walk exhibition, which spans seven project spaces across Mitte, showcases the work of artists from around the world — from crocheted character art to leather masks and beyond. We caught up with featured artists Philippa Rice, Luke Pearson and Yukai Du to talk about what's they're showing this year.

Photo by Emma Krupp

A post for Omnified by Emma Krupp


Earlier this week, 10 artists set up their work in a string of galleries and exhibition spaces snaking across Mitte as part of Pictoplasma Berlin’s yearly Character Walk, a walking tour of character design from around the world.

Their work, ranging from framed illustrations to animation loops played on small TVs, will remain on display until Sunday. We caught up with three featured artists at the Verwalterhaus in the St. Marian und St. Nikolai Friedhof, the first stop on the walk.


PHILIPPA RICE is a U.K.-based comic artist, illustrator and animator. Her 2014 book “Soppy,” a collection of comics and illustrations about her life with partner Luke Pearson (also featured in Pictoplasma), was a New York Times bestseller. In 2018, she released a second book of comics and illustrations called “Sister BFFs,” loosely based on her relationship with her sister.


Your work often draws from your personal life. How did you get started with taking day-to-day minutiae and turning it into art?

I’ve been keeping notes and personal diary comics, like sketches and things about my life, for a long time before I started making it into comics I was sharing with people. It was kind of a way to get ideas for fictional comics, just always writing things down so I’d remember them, like a diary. That stuff was always there. With “Soppy,” when I started making those it was really because I wanted to try out drawing just with red and black inks, and my immediate thing to draw was just me and Luke. And then I just carried on with it.

That’s interesting that you had the idea for the comic’s aesthetic before you did for the comic itself. Is that typical for you?

With “Soppy,” it was the idea of the red and the black, and then just sort of choosing real life as almost an easy option. And sometimes I really have to think about it. I have the book “Sister BFFs” that came out last year, and with that one, I knew I wanted to write comics about me and my sister. And they’re not really real, they’re kind of fictional, but based on us. I had to come up with a style or way of drawing us that would work. At one point I probably would have thought about doing collage, but it’s quite rigid, and I really wanted to have a lot of movement and a lot of rounded shapes for me and my sister. I just draw us looking really, like, fat and bouncy. I ended up using pencil and coloring it digitally, but not using any ink at all so that the lines would be kind of stretchy.

You work with so many different styles and materials — crocheting, ink, pencil, the list goes on. Why do you feel drawn to exploring a variety of mediums?

I did quite an unusual first comic with a collage web comic called “My Cardboard Life,” in a way that opened up the door to using lots of different things. With that, I mainly did 2-D but I sometimes used three dimensions with it and used all kinds of different things, like old paper and different things for the story. So it was always kind of worthwhile trying out different kinds of craft material and stuff. I tend to juggle lots of different personal projects alongside everything I do, so I’m definitely always inspired by new things I haven’t tried. Anything I like I actually carry on with, and that’s why I’ve got all these branches of different things.

Do you find that different types of material lend themselves to different types of storytelling?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. They have their own character. Certainly with the comics, even the pacing can feel different because of the texture of the lines and things like that. When you’re using 3-D it’s the same. Like, what moves more? What gives you more freedom? The finished thing can look so different, the personality can come across so differently, just because of what it’s made out of.

Tell me a little bit about what you’re showing here.

I haven’t done many exhibitions in general, so it’s interesting to show it. The things that I’m showing, it’s a lot of crochet characters from my animations who are just in my house all the time. They’re just there kind of on a shelf or something, and now they’re going to be here. I feel like — I mean, I know they’re not real, but I feel like it’s exciting for them [laughs].


LUKE PEARSON is a U.K.-based cartoonist and illustrator. He created the “Hilda” comic book series, a mystical adventure story centering on a young girl living in modern Scandinavia that was recently adapted into a Netflix series. His newest book, “Hilda and the Mountain King,” will be released in September.

“Hilda” is heavily influenced by Scandinavian folklore, with these sort of magical creatures and monsters. How did you decide to incorporate those influences into Hilda’s world?

It kind of came from a lot of folklore and fairytales, and partially from researching Iceland for a project I was doing in university. Also playing into it was a family trip to Norway we took when I was a teenager. Some of the landscape really stuck with me, and some of the elements kind of started to take form.

Are those influences something you continually research? Are you still reading folktales?

I still read a lot of folktales, but I don’t focus so specifically on Scandinavian folktales, necessarily. That was a strong direct influence to begin with, but I started to feel a little bit uncomfortable with it, just because I have no real connection to the place. It’s an interest, but it’s not more than that. I’m interested in folklore in general. “Hilda” from the start was always kind of a strange mix of Scandinavian folklore and stuff that was just fictional. It’s always been kind of 50 percent its own world.

“Hilda” is now a Netflix show. Has that changed your audience at all?

It doesn’t feel like a huge change, there are just more people talking about it. Generally speaking, people seem to be interested in both [the comic books and the series]. And luckily, both fit together quite nicely. It’s really just a case of more. There are more people talking about it, which is nice. There’s also a sense that there’s something of a fan base. Like, there are “Hilda” fans now, whereas previously it always felt like my fans were kids whose parents had given them the book, and their parents would often be people who were illustrators or very inclined to be reading comics.

Tell me a little bit about the work you’re displaying here.

Well, it’s quite a small exhibition. I’ve got some original “Hilda” pages from across the series. For my talk [as part of the conference on Friday], I’m going to be focusing on Hilda as a character design and how she’s evolved and grown as a character. I wanted to have some pages from each book next to each other, because I’ve always been aware that the artwork in the “Hilda” books is quite inconsistent from book to book. She’s something that was kind of a flaw to start with. Like, it wasn’t on purpose, necessarily, it was me just having not fully developed my style yet and not quite fully developed what I wanted things to look like. I kind of embraced it a little bit. In my head there’s always different designs of Hilda that shifted a little bit based on where the story was and where I was at different points in my life or career. And they’ve all kind of built toward Hilda in the show, basically, and I wanted to track that line.

Is that still an evolving process?

She doesn’t necessarily age, but she’s developing, and it’s been interesting thinking about that alongside the show as well. That’s something that we have to be aware of, a sense that she’s going somewhere. So it kind of is changing. And that goes along as well. In the last couple of books she physically changes because I turned her into a troll at the end of the previous book. In the book I’m working on at the moment, she spends most of the time in a new body. That kind of feels like some kind of metaphor for change.


YUKAI DU is a London-based illustrator and animator. Originally from China, she studied animation as a university student and now creates commissioned work for companies like Apple and Lush, as well as media outlets like The New York Times.

You’ve described your work as being consciously influenced by both Impressionism and Brutalism. Can you talk a little more about that?

I just take elements from each style. You can see little dashed lines in my work — I use different-colored dashed lines to make water impressions, which is really what I got from Impressionism. There are all these brushstrokes, they use different colors to create one surface. So that’s what I got from Impressionism. But I think with Brutalism, it’s more about the shapes of buildings and architecture. It’s probably not all of my work, but some of my work, just has these cubes and bulky, chunky shapes.

You went to school for animation. How has that influenced your career as an illustrator?

It’s quite interesting, because when I studied as an animation student, I didn’t think about becoming an illustrator. I just learned all the animation skills that I needed. But before I went to uni, I was actually in an arts high school. I think it gave me a lot of drawing techniques, and it made me really know about drawing and art. I guess that even when I was older and an animation student, I always had this feeling that I’m into drawing a bit more. And that’s actually how I got into illustrating, because I thought, ‘What if I can animate my drawings?’

It seems like you often work with abstract ideas — tech, for instance, or even math. How do you visualize concepts like that?

It’s more like, think about all the elements that can be represented by symbols. I guess it’s just trying to find how to visualize them. Math, for instance, can be represented by an equation, but with some other elements — maybe shapes, and then you combine them all together and it becomes an image. But I just find geometric shapes, abstract shapes, they can be quite flexible in representing all different subjects.

Can you recall a commission that involved a concept that stands out as being particularly tricky to draw?

[There was] an article from an Oxford university professor — he’s a math professor. He wrote about prime numbers and how people use prime numbers to crack online privacy. It’s a project with The Guardian where he was doing a talk at one of The Guardian’s events, and I just needed to visualize his speech in six different parts. It was quite difficult, actually. I needed to come up with elements that could represent prime numbers, but I just used squares. The equation was quite complicated, so I just used diagrams, wavy lines, grids.

As both an illustrator and animator, your work often incorporates movement. Is it ever difficult to translate that into printed images?

For me, I always start with the still image — even when I’m doing animation. So actually, the other way around is often more difficult. I’m quite comfortable showing prints. This series I’m showing is especially designed for print.

What series are you showing?

It’s not a story or a narrative, but it’s different artworks that relate to where I’ve been based on my traveling, but also with a bit of imagination.

Do you have a favorite piece?

It’s this lighthouse, actually the very first of this set. I saw it in Iceland while I was hiking. It’s just a very interesting color combination. I always get inspired by the places I’ve been to, places I’ve traveled to, so I just took that lighthouse and then created one out of imagination.