Sean “Raiko” Tay is a Singapore-based artist who currently works as the illustration art lead for Legends of Runterra at Riot Games. In his spare time, Raiko likes to create fan art for games and anime.
We had the opportunity to ask Raiko about his artistic journey and his inspirations while at SMASH! 2022 in Sydney, Australia. This interview was held alongside fellow artist Yue.
When did you start taking drawing seriously? Did you draw much during childhood?
I was always drawing as a kid. Making things that are good is one of my passions. Even when I wasn’t drawing, for example, I had cooking class during elementary school. My priority wasn’t making the food taste good, it was making the food look good. I would decorate it, and I would buy a nice plate just to dress it nicely. That’s what I was always passionate about — making stuff look good.
I always drew for fun as a kid. This wasn’t a realistic career choice anyway. I’m a bit older than you guys, so people around me were a bit more traditional. I didn’t have access to the internet early on. 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 even movies got popular (the Marvel movies).
Video games and comics inspired me and I always drew them for fun. Then I sort of gave up because people (around me) are always like, “It’s not a realistic career choice.” Later on in life, I went to the army, then after that I didn’t know what to do, so I went to university. After a year in business university, I felt like I couldn’t do this. I wanted to do something I enjoy doing for a living. That’s when I dropped out to do art.
I was quite arrogant because people always told me I was really talented. But the truth is, I couldn’t find a job, I couldn’t do anything. That was a struggle. I did some part-time jobs, and I met someone who’s drawing was way better than mine. This humbled me, I realized I’m not that good and that I needed to study. That’s how I ended up at art school and that sort of kickstarted my art career. I started taking art very seriously because I realized there is this whole community of people who draw for a living. I had never even heard of DeviantArt before that.
When you went to art school, you met your mentor, Artgerm. In what ways did you take after him? Did you adopt any of his attitudes or philosophies? What effect did this mentorship have on your art?
I think he has been very important in my life. I have learned a lot of art skills from him. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his philosophies and all. We are different people after all. We have our own beliefs on what we think is better, but I’m really grateful to him for everything I have learned in art — how I do lighting, how I think about compositions, and how I pose characters. I think it was mostly him in the beginning, then I started to branch out and other people. It allowed me to cross-check what other people I look up to say and see what resonates with me and what doesn’t. I would say like 60% of what my art is came from him.
Going just a few years back, there was a lot of stigma against anime and anime-styled art. Was this something you had to deal with when you were learning art? Was there much anime in your art at the time when you were in school?
When I went to school, everyone there wanted to do anime art. I honestly didn’t interact with people outside of the internet that much, so for me I never faced that pressure. I knew for me what I was doing was relevant. When I started taking art seriously, video games were already around, they were popular, so people were saying you can draw concept art for video games and that it was a realistic career. So I never really faced 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 actually an illustrator for Riot right now. I have illustrated for them before, but my current position is art lead. What I do is manage about 30 artists and I give them feedback and manage their schedules. Now I’m in the mentor position where my job is to mentor and make sure these artists can improve on their work and deliver the quality that Riot expects.
During my downtime is when I would do my own drawing, if I feel like it.
Have you been traveling much for conventions this year?
Not as much as Yue (other interviewee). I would like to. This year I’m only going to three and two of those have already passed and the next one is in September. Hopefully, if I get in, I’ll 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. That was unfortunate.
How do you feel about the whole convention experience: getting to travel, meeting other artists, and interacting with your fans?
I feel really excited about it. So I’m going to echo what Yue said: you get to meet people who not just inspire you, but are inspired by you. They go up to you and say nice things and that gives you confidence in your own work.
Being on the internet, you look at so many other good artists. It can hit your confidence about your own work, things about how other people are better and such. If you go to conventions and people are inspired by you and go 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 else is really nice as well. The people you meet online and your peers, the people you look up to. In general, it’s just one big gathering to celebrate anime. Everyone at anime conventions likes anime. It’s not the same in the outside world where maybe 1 out of 10 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 looking at incorporating into your style and designs?
So, for the past few years, my art has been in the style of my mentor Artgerm, which I have 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 little, for a lack of a better word, jaded about it.
When a lot of artists try to do something realistic or semi-realistic and they get there (to the skill level) they start to prefer something simpler. That’s usually how it goes. I feel like I’m going through that phase right now where I’m figuring out 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’m looking at this style of art at work every day and I just want to do something different.
Are there any particular styles you would like to pull inspiration from?
It’s still up in the air. I have grown an attraction towards anime. A lot of the work I do is realistic, but anime has more stylized shapes and body language. It is also flattering. All these charms are starting to look more appealing to me than what I’m currently doing.
Going back to one of the earlier questions. When you did discover the world of online art, were there any artists of art styles you discovered that you pulled inspiration from?
Not really. I was one of the ignorant people when I looked at games. I didn’t think there was someone drawing those things. I just thought they were computer graphics.
When I got into it, there was a whole barrage of artists and I think I just took a bit from everyone. There was no one in particular that inspired me.
Are there any anime or manga that you’re following right now? Do you have any personal favorites?
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 and depression and all that. When I consume media, I look for a deeper meaning rather than just like 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 watching Devilman Crybaby, and The Great Pretender, and whatever else is on Netflix.
Oh, and Spy X Family. Everyone is watching that. As for reading, I’m not really much of a manga reader, so I can’t really answer that.