Interview of the Winners of the 2022 Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest

We asked the three illustrators who were nominated for top three awards at the Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022 to tell us about the most fun and difficult parts of creating illustrations for the Pokémon TCG from their perspectives.* We also asked them to share memorable anecdotes from when they applied to the contest.

*Employment at Creatures Inc. is not awarded to contest winners. While some winners of past contests have received additional opportunities to work with Creatures Inc., employment is not guaranteed.



Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022 Grand Prize winner.
They have been active since 2020, mainly on social media.
Their illustrations focus on the daily lives and charm of Pokémon.
They particularly like Rowlet for its nice, round shape.

Taiga Kasai

Illustrator and graphic designer.
Graduated from Tama Art University, Department of Graphic Design.

Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022 First Runner-Up (Japan) winner. Working as a freelancer, he draws Pokémon from all kinds of perspectives. His motto is “live with the Pokémon.”
His favorite Pokémon games are Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire, and his favorite Pokémon is Aggron for its hefty look and cool blue eyes.

Julie Hang

Visual development artist.
(Editor’s note: A visual development artist is an artist who handles the overall visual production of video works, including concept art and lighting.)

Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022 First Runner-Up (United States) winner.
Her artworks include storytelling elements, which she uses to try to make the world a happier place. Her favorite Pokémon first appeared in the Pokémon Ruby, Pokémon Sapphire, and Pokémon Emerald games. Her overall favorite Pokémon is Bulbasaur.


–First of all, could you tell us about your backgrounds?

REND: I am REND, an illustrator. I have been drawing since I was a child, and I learned illustration techniques at school. I recently started drawing digitally, too.

Taiga Kasai: I am Taiga Kasai, an illustrator. I first started drawing after seeing a Pokémon illustration made by my father, who is a skilled artist. I was really impressed by it, and I realized that being able to draw is cool.
At first, I just liked drawing Pokémon, and I didn’t consider myself to be a good artist. However, when it was time to take the entrance exams for university, I decided I wanted to go to art school, and that’s when I started studying how to draw. I started drawing illustrations seriously after getting accepted to the art school. When I heard the Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022 was being held, I thought that I absolutely had to apply. So, I got even more serious about illustrating.

Julie Hang: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, dreaming of one day being able to illustrate for animated films and TV shows. Eventually, this passion led me to pursue my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation. After graduating from art school, I went on to work as a motion designer for four years before making the transition to being a visual development artist working in the animation industry.

–What kinds of art supplies, equipment, and tools do you use to make your illustrations?

REND: My computer is a Mac. I use Photoshop and a pen tablet to draw on it. The best thing about the pen tablet is that you can see the whole screen.

Taiga: I do most of my illustration work on an iPad Pro. I use the digital illustration app Procreate for the whole process, from sketching to the finishing touches.

Julie: My favorite method of making digital art is with Procreate on the iPad Pro. I like to use Photoshop for finishing illustrations. Of course, there’s always pencil and paper, which is my favorite way to sketch and come up with new ideas.

Your Journey with Pokémon

–What was your first encounter with Pokémon? Please tell us how you came to know of Pokémon and what made you love the Pokémon world.

REND: It all started with the Pokémon games. I started with Ruby and Sapphire, then I moved onto Fire Red and Leaf Green, and…that’s what got me here (laughs). Pokémon is a part of my life.
In the summer of 2023, I visited the Pokémon World Championships 2023 held in Yokohama, Japan. Seeing people from other countries having fun holding their Pokémon plushies makes me feel that, even though we don’t know each other’s languages, we still have a connection: we both love Pokémon. That, to me, is one of Pokémon’s biggest appeals.

Taiga: I first learned about Pokémon when I was in kindergarten. The Daiichi Pan I used to have came with Pokémon stickers. (Editor’s note: “Daiichi Pan” is a bread-like pastry that originated in Japan.) I learned about the whole franchise from those stickers. I soon fell in love with the games, the TV series, and the movies. Like REND, the first game I played was in the Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire generation. I got it as a present from my grandmother.
I think that Pokémon is a language. You can become friends with someone just by telling them that you like Pokémon. People communicate and build relationships through shared interests. I learned some important life lessons from Pokémon.

A Wailmer illustration drawn by Taiga Kasai as a child.

Julie: My cousins and I loved drawing Pokémon when we were young. I didn’t have money to buy real cards at the time, so I used to draw my own Pokémon cards on paper and play with them. When I was 9 years old, I was super excited to receive Pokémon Sapphire and a Game Boy Advance SP for Christmas—my very first video game and console! I have fond memories of traveling and battling alongside my team of Pokémon, which consisted of Azumarill, Delcatty, Latias, Roselia, Seadra, and Swampert. It sounds a bit cheesy, but I felt a real attachment to my Pokémon. I drew my Pokémon all the time in my school notebook, daydreaming about what it would be like to have them with me in real life.

Pokémon Sapphire: Julie Hang’s first adventure with Pokémon.

–Tell us about your first experience with the Pokémon Trading Card Game.

REND: I had it bought for me when I was little. That’s how I first learned about it, and I would often play against my siblings. Since I was still young, I didn’t fully comprehend the game, so I remember playing with the rules as I personally interpreted them (laughs).

Taiga: I first learned about the Pokémon TCG through the Pokémon Heroes movie. They had Pokémon TCG sets on sale at the theater, so I had one bought for me.

Julie: In third grade, one of my friends brought his binder full of Pokémon cards to school. I was amazed at all the different artworks for each Pokémon. In a way, it was like having a real-life Pokédex.

–How do you normally enjoy the Pokémon Trading Card Game?

REND: I like collecting cards. When a new card is released, you can see it in the announcements online, but they’re so much more beautiful when you’re actually holding them in your hands. The high-precision printing for the illustration and the surface treatment are so amazing that you can’t help but want to collect them.

Taiga: I like both collecting cards and playing with them! I usually carry my decks with me, and sometimes I’ll go and play at a card shop after work.
Rather than creating the strongest or most efficient decks, I am more interested in coming up with original combinations and seeing them in action. I particularly enjoy surprising my opponents (laughs). I’m so happy when they ask to see my decks or when they tell me they’ve never seen something like it in tournaments (laughs). As for my collection, I file the cards by illustrator for all my favorite ones.

Julie: I’m a casual collector. Once in a while, I’ll pick up a booster pack at a local card shop. It’s exciting because you never know what you’re going to get. What I enjoy most is cracking open my binder and marveling at the artwork. It’s a great source of inspiration!

–What is it about the Pokémon Trading Card Game that you find appealing?

REND: I like how you can get a feel about everything there is to know about a Pokémon just from a single card. Of course, you have the illustration, but you also get its Pokédex description and its height and weight, so you immediately get an idea of what that Pokémon is like.

Taiga: I like the illustrations. They are made by a lot of different illustrators, making for an incredible variety of styles and unique designs. I’m so happy whenever I see one of my favorite illustrators drawing a Pokémon I love!

Julie: I love that every artist has their own original take on drawing Pokémon. Each card is like a window into the way the artist feels about Pokémon. I especially enjoy cards with wacky art styles that really go outside the box.

The Challenge of the 2022 Pokémon TCG Illustration Contest

–Why did you enter the Pokémon TCG Illustration Contest 2022?

REND: Before that, I had applied to the 2nd Pokémon Card Game Illustration Grand Prix, but it didn’t go so well. So, I wanted to take another chance with the 2022 edition. In between, I was practicing hard.
I regret being so rash when I applied to the 2nd Pokémon Card Game Illustration Grand Prix. So, the second time around, I thoroughly reviewed everything I’d done wrong the first time and put all I had into my illustration.

Taiga: My dream was to become a Pokémon TCG Illustrator. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I could imagine how happy it would make me.
When I decided to apply to the Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022, I didn’t have much money, so I had to beg my parents, saying, “I’m going to be an illustrator for Pokémon cards, so please buy me an iPad Pro!”
I was studying graphic design at art school. But when I heard of the Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022, I remembered that what had gotten me into art in the first place was my dream of becoming a Pokémon card illustrator. I knew that if there was a chance to achieve this, I had to take it.

Julie: A friend of mine told me about this contest and encouraged me to apply. I’ll take any excuse to draw Pokémon, so I went for it.

–What subject Pokémon did you have in mind, and what kind of illustration did you decide to draw?

REND: The application guidelines said that you could submit up to three illustrations, and I definitely wanted to submit all three. In the 2nd Pokémon Card Game Illustration Grand Prix, I had only submitted one, but this time, I was set on giving it my all and getting an award. I thought that playing to my strengths would be better, so I started by analyzing my strong points.
The Arcanine which I won the award with focuses on the sunlight and how it makes its mane look beautiful, which is something I really love.

Taiga: The theme of the Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022 was “The daily life of Pokémon.” So, thinking of how Pokémon would spend their days in the wild, I came up with the idea of showing them as they trained.
I imagined that Greninja, being a ninja Pokémon, would be smart. So, I drew it as if it were planning some battle strategy.

Julie: Bulbasaur was my top pick since it’s my favorite Pokémon. To me, it seemed natural to depict Bulbasaur in a forest picking berries. Then I thought to myself, “any Pokémon can pick berries, but how would Bulbasaur pick berries?” Keeping this in mind, I decided to draw a particularly playful Bulbasaur using Vine Whip to shake the tree branches and make the berries fall down to the ground, to the delight of its friends.

–Do you have any memorable or interesting stories from when you were creating a submission for the contest?

REND: At first, I had drawn Cramorant, but right before finishing the illustration, I compared it to the winners of the previous contest and realized that it was still lacking. So, I started from scratch. I started drawing Galarian Rapidash, but I also scrapped that halfway through. In the end, I submitted my illustrations just before the deadline.

–It must be very difficult to change the subject after you’ve already started drawing.

REND: I feared that I might not make it in time, but I knew that I had no choice but to start over. I also knew that by overworking myself, I risked getting to the point where I couldn’t draw anymore, making all of my efforts pointless. So, I drew every day but also tried to take care of myself, which improved my illustration skills little by little.

–How do you check the quality of your illustrations? And how do you tell when you are finished improving it?

REND: I print the illustration to the size it would be if it were on a Pokémon card. I look at it both on paper and on screen, for example on my phone. Seeing the illustration in different formats makes your perspective more complete. I repeat that until I can’t find anything that I can improve on anymore. That’s when I call my illustration “complete.”

–What about you, Taiga? Do you have an anecdote on your winning illustration?

Taiga: I drew rough sketches of all the potential subjects included in the contest, trying to choose which one I’d go with. The one I ended up winning with, Greninja, was the only one for which I instantly got the idea for the composition. I could just hear the voice in my mind saying, “Yes! This is it!” I went onto draw the final illustration before that voice could falter or disappear.

–It’s amazing that you actually drew all of the Pokémon available for the contest.

Taiga: I knew from the start that I had to draw all of them. By doing this, I could understand the ones I was good at drawing and the ones that I was not so good at. Basically, I wanted to find my strong and weak points.

–And what about you, Julie? Do you have any stories?

Julie: Since this was the very first Pokémon TCG Illustration Contest to include entries from both Japan and the United States, I was excited for the opportunity to create Pokémon-related artwork alongside so many other longtime fans. I imagined there would be a ton of entries with a variety of different art styles. With this in mind, I felt more comfortable to draw Bulbasaur in my own personal style.

–What did you most struggle with in your submission to the contest?

REND: Managing my schedule. Since I was planning to submit three works, figuring out how much time to spend on each one was really difficult.
However, in the end, I ended up finishing in time, completing three works in a month. I think I applied right before the deadline. By that point, I was just…whew (laughs)!

Taiga: Drawing the background was the most difficult part for me. I had been drawing Pokémon, but I’d never put them together with a background.
So, my first concern in drawing the background was how to make the subject stand out and pop. I looked hard for a way to do that. Creating the backgrounds took a lot of trial and error before I could figure them out. They were really difficult.

Julie: When submissions for the Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2022 had first opened up, I had been going through a bit of an art block. The contest gave me a chance to draw something with a prompt that I was highly interested in, which helped bring back my motivation. I submitted the artwork thinking that I probably wouldn’t win (I mean, this is Pokémon we’re talking about!), but at least I could come away from it feeling a bit more inspired to draw again.

Stories about Winning the Contest

–What was your reaction when you became a winner?

REND: Even after hearing that I had won the award, I was skeptical. I thought that it was too good to be true (laughs). Seeing my dream come true made me so happy that I couldn’t believe it had actually happened (laughs).

Taiga: I felt exactly the same as REND. I just couldn’t comprehend what had happened (laughs). When I received the email notifying me of the award, I was so confused that I couldn’t believe it was real (laughs). It only started feeling real once I received the printed Greninja card.

Julie: Knowing how many wonderfully talented Pokémon fans are out there, I was not expecting to make it to the top 300, let alone place first runner-up. I was completely taken aback when I got the news, followed by lots of screaming and jumping for joy.

–How did your acquaintances react when you became a winner?

REND: I didn’t tell my family until the awards were announced. When I could finally tell them, they were really surprised to hear it.

Taiga: While I was torn between happiness and confusion, the friends and family congratulating me were simply excited. I was glad to see so many people I love being happy for me. Even on X (formerly Twitter), famous Pokémon card game illustrators liked my illustration and sent me their congratulations. The people I looked up to were looking at my own art, and I couldn’t be happier!

Julie: My family and friends were really happy for me. Many of them later went on to obtain their own copy of my Bulbasaur card to show support. I thought that was incredibly sweet of them.

–Did the contest change your perspective on illustration work in general and/or inspire you to change your art style?

REND: Before, I didn’t have confidence in my art, but now I feel that some confidence wouldn’t be out of place (laughs). “My effort paid off.” That thought helped my confidence and made me feel at ease.
At the same time, I feel the weight of winning the overall best work. The sense of responsibility I get from being an award-winner will always keep me focused when drawing.

Taiga: My goal was to have my illustrations turned into real Pokémon cards, so I asked my parents to let me live with them for three more years while I worked on that. I had promised them that if I didn’t achieve my goal in three years, I would get a job. But I achieved that in just one year, as my illustration was used for a promo card.

Julie: Reading the judges’ comments on each winning artwork, I was reminded how important the element of storytelling is when it comes to creating an illustration. It’s one thing to be skilled in terms of draftsmanship; however, I’ve realized that the innately human ability to communicate a story or evoke a feeling is the reason people feel drawn to art.

In Conclusion

–Can you share some words of encouragement for those who are entering the Pokémon Trading Card Game Illustration Contest 2024?

REND: Please give yourself enough time to draw so that you don’t end up having to submit an illustration that you still aren’t satisfied with. Also, keep fine-tuning the details up to the very end. And of course, be careful with time management (laughs).

Taiga: Even if you think it’s impossible, as long as you keep your goal in mind, you’ll get closer to achieving it, step-by-step. Receiving the award made me understand this. Chasing your dreams until the end is crucial.

Julie: I would say don’t think too hard about it. In my experience, the best drawings come out when you can let loose and have fun.

Composition and text: Shusuke Motomiya (One-up) Photos: Kayoko Yamamoto

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