Hayao Miyazaki's Drawing and Watercolor Technique | Fanboys Anonymous

Hayao Miyazaki's Drawing and Watercolor Technique

Posted by E. A. Santoli Thursday, January 15, 2015
Hayao Miyazaki has written, directed, and produced several powerful animated films for Studio Ghibli, such as Spirited Away (2001), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and most recently, The Wind Rises (2013). He is, in many ways, a complete artist. In his films, he has the ability to capture movement beautifully, but many people lose sight of the fact that these animations are almost entirely hand-drawn.

hayao miyazaki sketch watercolor image spirited away
Watercolor Sketch for Spirited Away.
Of course, Miyazaki does not draw them all on his own, but he does draw much of the key animation by himself. The key animation is the backbone to the entire movie, capturing the essential movement of the animation. This differs greatly from American animation as established by Disney, which is much more of a spread out process. Disney movies are not as much of a one-man operation as Studio Ghibli's are. So where do Miyazaki's ideas originate? The answer can be found long before the movie takes shape.

A true testament to his skill, Miyazaki draws entire storyboards and sketches to capture his vision, which is what I think is so fascinating about him and led me to study his process. His straight forward technique requires no special supplies or secret tools. Often times, he draws with a basic pencil and paints with any brushes that he can find in the studio. As an artist myself, I am often seduced by the prospect of a secret brush or pencil. It is true that some tools facilitate the process, but Miyazaki's imagination is the real fuel.

If you're a fan of drawing and Studio Ghibli, then you are probably always on the prowl for Studio Ghibli drawing wisdom. The truth is that it's actually difficult to find information on their process, but I have made it a priority to share what I find with you guys.

Below are some images that shed some light on Miyazaki's line quality and process. I will also provide some of my own interpretation, as an artist, further on.

hayao miyazaki watercolor advice drawing technique image manga
Hayao Miyazaki’s advice on how to use watercolors from the Ghibli Museum Sketching Set booklet.
The image above is fascinating, and for those who cannot read Japanese, here is a proper translation of the text found in this charming little watercolor demonstration via Nausicaa.net:
Title: My recommendation. Transparent watercolor is good.
Transparent watercolor has a strong habit, do not paint stickily and paint after wiping the extra paint and water off. Paint thinly the bright part, had better not use white, paint other color after under color has dried. Let’s mix the color and use it.
Wet the wool (brush hair) which protrudes on a new painting brush.
Anything is fine for a water vessel.
A retractable knife is enough for the pencil sharpener.
One 2B pencil is enough for the pencil.
Divide the palette into seven zones: Bright, Dark, Black, Green 1, Green 2, Blue 2, Blue 1. Do not use the eraser.
Do not draw a guideline for a picture.
Tthese painting materials are enough for a 2-week trip and preparations for a movie.

It's interesting that Miyazaki uses a 2B pencil, which gives his sketches a bold quality since it's a rather soft pencil. Boldness in sketches provides a good starting point for further work. It's difficult to regain the bold and loose quality of sketches later on in the process. Another good point that he raises is to "not paint stickily," which means to have a good balance of water to paint to allow the paint to flow. With watercolor, it's better to start out loosely and thinly. It's also interesting that he says to not use an eraser or draw guidelines. I agree completely to keep the spontaneity within the work. If you are working on a manga or comic, your sketches can always be drawn over with ink to make them less "sketchy," but there is a certain beauty to the sketchy lines.

For his storyboarding technique, Miyazaki also uses watercolors and a bold pencil. I have also seen his storyboards executed in pencil and colored pencil as well. Once again, I think his success relies on his ability to simplify lines and color.

He never uses extraneous lines to confuse the eye. This may be because these storyboards are created to serve a purpose. Like many great artists, Miyazaki is proud of his sketches, but these are not the final product.

If you're curious about buying copies of these storyboards, his untranslated storyboards can be bought on Amazon and sometimes on Ebay for fairly cheap.

Hayao Miyazaki watercolor drawing the wind rises storyboard technique image
Miyazaki's Storyboards for The Wind Rises.
His power of imagination is something to envy, but it's also something to strive for. I personally would love to spend time looking at his sketchbooks to see what he draws and imagines. Maybe one day Studio Ghibli with publish one of his sketchbooks.

The most important thing for a young artist to realize is that Miyazaki never draws without a purpose; he always has a story in mind. Drawing with a purpose guides your pencil to create better sketches. Also remember that these sketches and storyboards (although beautiful) were created as a process. Losing yourself in the process often results in a more beautiful sketch because you don't focus on creating a perfect sketch.

I enjoy Miyazaki's work because he is a real workaholic.  He draws all day and he has begun a new samurai manga, even after his recent retirement, .  This is why I respect him.  He is compelled to work even though he's not at Studio Ghibli anymore; as an artist, he is completely committed to his craft.

Although accomplished, Miyazaki humbly stated in an interview that he wishes he were better at art. "I love some of the great artists of the 19th century and, compared to them, I just felt I lack this technique that they had. They have so much skill."

What do you guys think of Miyazaki's sketches? Did you know that he worked so much with watercolor? Let us know by leaving a comment below or on the Fanboys Anonymous Facebook or Twitter!

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