Sean “Raiko” Tay is a Singapore-based artist currently working as the Legends of Runterra Art Lead at Riot Games. In his spare time, Raiko enjoys creating fan art for games and anime.
We had the opportunity to ask Raiko about his artistic journey and his inspirations at SMASH! 2022 in Sydney, Australia. This interview took place alongside fellow artist Yue.
When did you start taking drawing seriously? Did you draw a lot during your childhood?
I always drew when I was a child. Doing things that are good is one of my passions. Even when I wasn’t drawing, for example, I had cooking lessons in primary school. My priority wasn’t to make the food taste good, it was to make the food look good. I would decorate it, and buy a nice plate just to dress it up nicely. That’s what I’ve always been passionate about — making things beautiful.
I always drew for fun when I was a kid. It wasn’t a realistic career choice anyway. I’m a little older than you guys, so people around me were a little more traditional. I didn’t have internet access at first. I didn’t grow up with League of Legends or stuff like that. For me, it was comics, like Marvel comics, and that was before movies even became popular (Marvel movies).
Video games and comics have inspired me and I’ve always drawn them for fun. Then I kind of gave up because people (around me) always say, “That’s not a realistic career choice. Later in life I went to the army, then after I didn’t know what to do, so I went to college. After a year at business college, I felt like I couldn’t do this. I wanted to do something that I love to do in life. That’s when I gave up to make art.
I was quite arrogant because people always told me that I was really talented. But the truth is that I couldn’t find a job, I couldn’t do anything. It was a struggle. I did a few part-time jobs, and I met someone who drew a lot better than mine. It humbled me, I realized that I was not very good and needed to study. That’s how I ended up in art school and kind of launched my art career. I started to take art very seriously because I realized there was this whole community of people drawing for a living. I had never even heard of DeviantArt before this.
When you went to art school, you met your mentator, Artgerm. How did you take after it? Did you adopt any of his attitudes or philosophies? What effect has this mentorship had on your art?
I think he was very important in my life. I learned a lot of artistic skills from him. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his philosophies and stuff. We are different people after all. We have our own beliefs about what we think is best, but I’m really grateful to him for everything I’ve learned in art – how I do lighting, how I think about compositions and how I pose. characters. I think it was mostly him at first, then I started branching out to other people. It allowed me to cross-check what other people I’m looking to say and see what resonates with me and what doesn’t. I would say 60% of my art comes from him.
Just a few years ago, there was a lot of stigma against anime and anime-style art. Was it something you had to deal with when you were learning the art? Was there a lot of anime in your art when you were in school?
When I was in school, everyone wanted to do anime art. Honestly, I haven’t interacted much with people outside of the internet, so for me, I’ve never faced that pressure. I knew that for me what I was doing was relevant. When I started taking art seriously, video games already existed, they were popular, so people said you could draw concepts for video games and that was a realistic career. So I never really felt any real pressure after I started taking art seriously.
You have a professional job as an illustrator for Riot, but you also do a lot of fanart. How do you balance that as an artist?
To clarify, I’m not currently an illustrator for Riot. I’ve illustrated for them before, but my current position is as art lead. What I do is manage about thirty artists and I give them feedback and manage their schedules. Now I’m in the role of mentor where my job is to mentor and make sure these artists can improve their work and deliver the quality that Riot expects.
In my free time, I did my own drawing, if I felt like it.
Have you traveled a lot for conventions this year?
Not as much as Yue (another interviewee). I would like. This year I’m only going to three and two of them have already passed and the next one is in September. I hope that if I enter, I will go to Melbourne (Crunchyroll Expo).
The last one I went to was Anime Expo in Los Angeles, and while I was there I couldn’t go because I had COVID. It was unfortunate.
What do you think of the whole convention experience: traveling, meeting other artists and interacting with your fans?
I feel really excited about this. So I’m going to echo what Yue said: you meet people who not only inspire you, but are inspired by you. They come up to you and say nice things to you and that gives you confidence in your own work.
Being on the internet, you look at so many other good artists. It can affect your confidence in your own work, things about how others are better and so on. If you go to conventions and people are inspired by you and come up to you and say, “Omg, I’m inspired by you, I love your work so much. This is my favorite piece for this character. Something like that. It gives me confidence to keep believing in myself.
Meeting everyone is also very pleasant. The people you meet online and your peers, the people you look up to. Usually it’s just a big gathering to celebrate anime. Everyone at anime conventions loves anime. It’s not the same in the outside world where maybe 1 out of 10 people or 2 out of 10 people like it, I’m not sure.
With anime, everyone has similar interests, so meeting like-minded people is awesome.
What are your inspirations right now? Is there anything you are currently planning to incorporate into your style and designs?
So in recent years my art has been in the style of my mentor Artgerm, which I’ve combined with my work with video games like League of Legends. To be honest, I kind of want to explore new directions now since I’m used to this art style. I’m a bit, for lack of a better word, jaded about it.
When a lot of artists try to do something realistic or semi-realistic and they succeed (at the skill level), they start to prefer something simpler. That’s usually how it goes. I feel like I’m going through this phase right now where I’m wondering what I want from art. I want my personal art to be different from what I do for work, just to have a more individual sense of identity. I watch this style of art at work every day and just want to do something different.
Are there any particular styles you would like to draw inspiration from?
It’s still up in the air. I developed an attraction to anime. Much of the work I do is realistic, but anime has more stylized shapes and body language. It’s also flattering. All of these charms are starting to look more appealing to me than what I’m currently doing.
Let’s go back to one of the previous questions. When you discovered the art world online, were there any artists of art styles you discovered and drew inspiration from?
Not really. I was one of the ignorant when watching the games. I didn’t think anyone drew these things. I just thought it was infographics.
When I got into it, there was a whole barrage of artists and I think I just took a bit of everyone. There was no one in particular who inspired me.
Are there any anime or manga you are following right now? Do you have any personal favourites?
So my favorite anime is a very popular choice. It’s Evangelion. It’s my all-time favorite.
It’s my favorite because it deals with mental health issues, depression and all that. When I consume media, I seek deeper meaning rather than mere entertainment. So for me, as someone who has some of these issues, Evangelion really resonates with me.
I watched a lot of anime recently because I was stuck at home with COVID. Just binging Netflix. I was looking Devilman Crybaby, and The great pretender, and everything on Netflix.
Oh and Spy X Family. Everyone is watching this. As for reading, I’m not really a manga reader, so I can’t really answer that.