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Kitsune Shini Yokai

Updated: May 4, 2023

Let's start with a quick prologue:

For the past three or so years my job as a designer at Night Agency was the main reason why my painting production had slowed to a trickle. However, I've since found myself without that responsibility (Night Agency and I parted ways – very amicably – in March) and am thrilled to say I've returned to my freelance/art roots. As such I will be doing my best to create as much work as I can. I will also be attempting to do the kind of blog post you see here with all future works as they are made – big and small. Each blog post will talk a little about the work, the process of making it, the series it will become a part of, etc. That way I can better keep people up to date on the work I'm doing!

So without further ado: KITSUNE SHINI YOKAI!

I know the words are not a direct translation (my brother informs me things seldom are when converting Japanese to English) - but I've decided to take the phrases he helped translate for me and make them the names of the creatures in my Forest Spirit Series (which will hence-forth be referred to as my Kami Series).

So a quick explainer: from a very early age my brother and I have been fascinated by Japanese culture, art, video games and animation. My brother channeled his love for Japan into making their language one of his majors in college and subsequently living there teaching English and later programming/designing at a smaller video game company. I, on the other hand, chose to channel my love for the culture and art by (mostly subconsciously) letting it influence my own artwork and, often, the subject matter I chose to depict.

Recently I had become fascinated with the basic ideas behind Shinto. I'm not really a spiritual person (and I am fairly vocally anti-organized-religion) – however, that didn't stop me from being fascinated with the mythology and lore that comes from the world's various religions. I see them more as fantasy akin to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter- worlds that are interesting, often wish were real, and sometimes sculpt my views through but are ultimately works of fiction. With all that said I love the basic ideas behind (my very narrow interpretation of) Shinto. I know that what I'm about to describe is likely FAR from an accurate reading of the religion- but taking some basic snippets I decided to craft a world and lore for a series of paintings I'm quickly becoming emotionally attached to.

It all started with my Kusa Kami (Grass Spirits):

I initially created this piece to be a one-off little painting depicting tiny kusa kami collecting broken blades and encountering some falling seeds. It wasn't until I was finished that I found myself inspired to take the idea further. So I got to work fleshing out the lore:

In this world everything has a spirit and every living creature has a soul. Spirits (or kami) differ from the soul in the sense that kami are distinct in mind and separate in body from the object/place/thing they represent. Souls, on the other hand, inhabit living creatures/plants and serves as the source of their life-force. I see kami as (often) tiny, free-thinking guardians that have manifest from the same energy that created its corresponding physical object/idea. They live in the spirit realm - a plane of existence that shares the exact same space as our world but cannot be seen by those inhabiting it. They can interact/affect objects and creatures in the physical plane, but tend to be invisible otherwise. The only exception to this is when living creatures are near spiritual nodes- but that is an idea I'll go into when the time comes. For now the most important thing is that there are countless kami wandering/living in our world: grass spirits, rock spirits, river spirits, air spirits, tree spirits, sign spirits, mushroom spirits, glass spirits, cloud spirits, fern spirits, car spirits, cactus spirits . . . the list is endless and diverse.

When it came time to depict my second spirit in the series I chose one of the more fascinating and mystifying: shini yokai (Death Spirits):

These little guys are special. They neither represent the living nor the spiritual- but the universal experience of death. They are quiet and separate from all other kami. If I were to use an analogy it would be like the kusa kami and various other plant-based kami speak English while the shini-yokai speak in binary. As such they are a source of fascination and mystery to the other various kami.

No one knows their motivations or why they do what they do. They look like tendrils of shadow with pebbles for heads, each with a mask-like face seemingly carved into stone. Arms reach out composed of the same void of their bodies. They appear from nowhere, attracted to the dead or dying- searching for souls. What they do with the souls they collect is unclear. Do they consume them? Act as guides to usher them into the next phase of existence? Derive strength from them? Or are they simply collecting the accumulated experience and individuality contained inside? Who knows.

My first shini-yokai painting depicted a dead field mouse with a cluster of shini-yokai hovering over the already-decomposing body. Some gaze down on the mouse in seeming prayer (I wanted to give the appearance of a wake) while a few have found the tiny soul of the creature hovering just above them. The first one to spot it has begun reaching for its prize - about to take hold of it.

I was so enamored with these mysterious yokai I decided a single tiny painting of them was not enough. I wanted to flesh them out and create an entire scene- and possibly an entire mini-series concentrating just on them. As such my third painting in the Kami Series became Kitsune Shini Yokai:

I wanted the painting to be to scale with whatever dead creature they were attracted to- so the painting ultimately ended up being 20"x40". I was also curious how I would go about translating a decomposing fox into my style so chose that as the subject matter. I'm fairly proud how it turned out:

So yes- Kitsune Shini-Yokai is my most recent addition to the Kami Series. There are MANY more to come (including more focusing on shini-yokai) so stay tuned for more lore and finished works!

And if you have any questions about the process or the world of my yokai feel free to comment here or shoot me an email. Always happy to flesh things out!


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