Interview | The Japanese Touch with Atelier Sentô
Journey to a Fantastic Land
It was when I came across their book Onibi that I became more and more interested in the work of Atelier Sentô. Behind this name, in reference to the Japanese public bath that they would rehabilitate as a workshop or bookstore, hides Cecile and Oliver, both artists inspired by Japanese culture. They were kind enough to take their time to answer all our questions about their work, their inspirations and many other things. It’s time to push the door of their workshop and discover the backstage with us.
Hello Cécile and Olivier. Can you tell us a little about yourselves, your background and what made you choose art as a career?
As far back as we can remember we have always wanted to tell stories and our very first comic books or illustrated stories go back to our childhood. We grew up in a world of books, movies, and video games so it was natural that we became familiar with these media and tamed them in our own way. Olivier has a DEA in visual arts and I have a degree in Japanese from the University of Bordeaux.
Could you tell us a little more about the history of your duo?
We met in a small festival of Japanese culture, in a small room of a small city with a very family atmosphere. We were each participating in a fanzine. Our common interest for Japan and for comics gave us very early the desire to work together. During a university exchange in master’s, we were able to spend a year in Niigata, in the Japanese countryside. When we came back, we decided to realize 4 hands projects inspired by our different stays in Japan.
How would you describe yourself as an artist? What is your philosophy on art?
We don’t have any big philosophical ideas about art but as far as we are concerned, we try to follow 2 rules:
– make things that we really like
– to do our best to share that with the public
So, we only work on projects that are close to our hearts, we rarely accept commissions, and we are constantly looking for how we can best convey the emotions and stories we want to tell. If a reader is moved by reading one of our comic pages, it’s a big win for us.
You work in many different mediums, doing illustrations, video games, book covers, and of course comics. And yet, it gives the impression that all your creations are part of the same universe. Is this intentional on your part?
Yes and no. We do not impose any limit in the creation of our universe. However, we will never launch into a story that does not correspond to us. This is perhaps what gives unity to everything we produce.
Working with four hands is something that I find fascinating when it is as well-executed as you do. Do you have a particular way of working?
It depends on the project. For our video games, Olivier does the programming, sets, and script while I do the character animations and music. In comics, Olivier writes the story, I do the storyboard and the pencils, then he does the inking and the coloring. It’s a back-and-forth process that allows us to mix our two drawing styles and gives a result that we like to think is unique and specific to Atelier Sentô. There is no fixed rule, when we start a project, we think about what each of us can bring with his skills and we naturally share the tasks.
You have a rather unique technique, mixing watercolors, etching, and colored pencils. What is your relationship with the use of these techniques and materials?
We are curious about all existing techniques but we naturally go for the less expensive ones. This is probably what pushes us to lean towards manual mediums and less towards digital which requires a greater investment. We also like to be able to easily carry our equipment when we travel and draw whenever we want, which is why we particularly like watercolor. We always slip our box and our brushes in the bag before a walk.
Your last comic book publication, “The Festival of Shadows” takes place in Japan. We will discover wandering souls guided by the living during a popular ceremony. You put forward the relationship between the dead, the spirits and the world of the living in this story in a masterly way. Can you tell us about the genesis of this project?
When Issekinicho Editions proposed us to work with them on a new book (they had published our first comic Onibi in 2016), we wanted a romantic story in which we could once again play on the tenuous boundary between the every day and the supernatural. Japan was a natural setting because it’s the only place we know where that line is so blurred. This is how the character of Naoko, a young woman with a dreamy disposition, and the mysterious shadow in her care, the ghost of a man who has forgotten everything about his past life, were born. Over the seasons, they will get to know each other.
With this work, as well as with the previous one “Onibi”, you show a Japan that is balanced between two worlds. What speaks to you about this mixture of modernity and tradition and how does it influence your art?
I don’t know if we can talk about tradition and modernity. It’s more about the feeling that the fantastic and the mysterious can intervene at any moment in the everyday life. They are even an integral part of everyday life. We like the way these stories tint the surrounding world with fantasy when you are in Japan and add a little thrill to it. Some of the stories are funny, others are bloodcurdling.
Which artists inspire you the most?
We mainly draw our inspiration from the memories of our stays in Japan. But of course, we are influenced by all the cultural products we have always consumed. So, it is difficult for us to know from which author we draw the most inspiration… We draw while listening to music that will sometimes accompany the atmosphere of our stories. Some of the albums we regularly listen to while drawing or writing: Kveikur by Sigur Rós, Ghost in the Shell by Kenji Kawai, Coule by tAk, Atlantique by Fatima Al Qadiri, Twin Peaks by Angelo Badalamenti, Voices by Vangelis, Cluster & Eno and other albums with bewitching sounds… A lot of film music.
What are your current projects… And future projects?
We are currently working on volume 2 of La Fête des Ombres which will conclude this diptych, to be released next October. We have also written a graphic novel, Le Songe du Corbeau, with the Spanish artist Alberto M.C. on the drawing. A psychological thriller in contemporary Japan with watercolor pages and a very dark story. In parallel to our comic book projects, we have been working for several years on The Coral Cave, a watercolor adventure video game that takes place on an imaginary island in Okinawa.
Finally, would you have any advice for young artists wishing to follow your path?
I don’t know if it’s good advice, but this is the path we try to follow: only work on projects that we really like, move forward without asking ourselves too many questions and without comparing ourselves to others, and finally, be inspired by the reality that surrounds us rather than being inspired by other existing works to achieve a result that really corresponds to us.
In a nutshell:
Your favorite animated film?
Ghost In The Shell
Your favorite manga?
Children of the sea
Your favorite video game?
Again, a huge thank you to Cécile and Olivier for giving us time for all our questions! There is only one thing left to do now, dive into their different social networks to discover their talent!