Pokemon Illustration Contest (2022)
2 Months  |  Solo  |  Illustration  |  Personal Project

That’s a Cramorant with a Pikachu in its mouth. The Cramorant is surfing, it probably "borrowed" the Pikachu’s surfboard.

(hold on, we're going deep – like Poké Maniac deep – on this project)

This post contains my two submissions to the official 2022 Pokemon Illustration Contest #pokemonillustrationcontest2022 as well as a few of many many doodles that led to my final submissions. They were part of a joyful effort to tell the story of an unlikely encounter between Cramorant and Pikachu, my attempt at envisioning "the daily life of Pokemon," the 2022 contest theme.
More than 10,000 submissions were received, just three were printed on a real-life Pokemon card! (See below, image credit). Sadly, mine didn’t make the cut :(

However, I honestly enjoyed illustrating my chosen subjects, Cramorant and Pikachu; it's rare for me to find time to be creative just for fun. Plus I got some time to practice using Sketchbook on the iPad. And crayons. And washable marker. You know, things the “littles” around the house use.
There were several options would-be illustration contestants could select as their subject. I chose Cramorant, a flying/water "gulp" type Pokemon with an "insatiable" appetite hailing from the 8th Generation of Pokemon.
After electing Cramorant as the subject of my illustration, I hunted for material to inspire my "daily life" narrative. Not surprisingly, "Cramorant" looks an awful lot like a cormorant, a sea bird with a knack for swallowing its prey whole! See if you can spot where these photos (below) inspired sketches later on...
To be sure my illustrations didn't replicate existing art, I also spent some time gathering Pokemon TCG cards featuring Cramorant (below). One card in particular (below, far right), a Japanese S-P promo card available during the 2021 Japanese Stamp Championship, hinted at the contest's daily life theme while also incorporating a style less typical to the TCG or manga.
And so I started doodling! Early sketches (below) not only explore a variety of daily life narratives but also served as exercises in learning Cramorant's unique proportions and ways of affording expression. The following thumbnails imagine Cramorant as, well, a cormorant, often chasing after its preferred Pokemon prey, Arrokuda.
The next two thumbnail sketches (below) imagine Cramorant using Pikachu as a tool.
After a round of quick thumbnail sketches (above), I expanded the narratives and compositions of three ideas: 

"Day's Catch" depicts two Cramorant perched on a pier, one showing off its particularly impressive catch (i.e., a wriggling, sparking Pikachu, surfboard still nearby).

"Fishing" is a close-up of Cramorant just under the water's surface, hot on the trail of an Arrokuda, with other Cramorant diving into the water in the background.

"The Chase" or "Surfing" shows a Cramorant, perhaps slightly distressed, pitted in a capsizing wave, following – or chasing – a surfing Pikachu as it leaves the frame.
At this point, I felt there was something special about seeing the underwater world of a bird Pokemon, so the next round of sketches explored what Cramorant might encounter when it dips its head beneath the waves. Both compositions (below) imagine the viewer beneath a floating colony of Cramorant, swimming alongside it's usual prey, Arrokuda. In one case (left), the viewer may actually be Cramorant's next meal! In the other (right), a Cramorant peers beneath a floating surfboard (with Pikachu on top?) to spot two hiding Arrokuda.
The following sketches further explore and refine the above compositions along a similar narrative vein; I played around with the expression on Cramorant's leering underwater gaze from curious to hungry, derpy to surprised.
At one point, while playing with Cramorant on Pokemon Unite (below), I was reminded of a fact I had only touched on earlier in my exploration: Pikachu can sometimes wind up in Cramorant's mouth! ...I continued wondering how this might happen, whether my illustrations might provide a daily life context for this peculiar interaction.
I also wondered why none of the existing Pokemon trading cards depicted Pikachu in Cramorant's mouth. Then, I learned there was, in fact, a trading card featuring Pikachu in Cramorant's mouth... but it's actually a Japanese Pikachu card and not a Cramorant card, "Swallowed-up Pikachu" (below, left). This reminded me of yet another Pikachu card, one that provides a hint as to why Pikachu might be near the water, "Surfing Pikachu" (below, right).
Ironically, two Pikachu trading cards wound up serving as primary inspiration for a narrative about my main subject, Cramorant; both of my final submissions offer a daily life interpretation of Cramorant's "Gorging form" – the less typical of its two alternate forms appearing in the Pokemon manga, TCG (Swallowed-up Pikachu), and video games – depicting a Pikachu inside Cramorant's mouth.

This brought me back to an early concept featuring a Cramorant chasing a surfing Pikachu, only this time I flipped the narrative around and put Cramorant on Pikachu's surfboard (below)!
However, unlike the way Pokemon lore suggests Pikachu may be Cramorant's accidental prey, my illustrations hint at another, more leisurely piece of Pokemon lore – Pikachu likes to surf – to provide an answer for how these two Pokemon might come to encounter one another in the wild. My illustrations suggest a new scenario: perhaps Cramorant caught up with a Surfing Pikachu and scooped it up to join in the fun? 

This narrative twist, the idea the Cramorant and Surfing Pikachu not only coexist but may run into one another on purpose, felt like it had the right complexity to satisfy diehard Pokemon fans while providing a humorous – even shocking – image to draw in new fans as well. I refined the above compositions into two final submissions (below).
My first submission (above) portrays the questionable ethics of Cramorant's Gorging form; the viewer cannot tell whether Pikachu is okay with its situation, despite Cramorant riding a wave on what is presumably Pikachu's surfboard. Did Cramorant intend to scoop up the nearby Arrokuda – its typical prey – silhouetted in the wave when, unexpectedly, Pikachu shot by on its board and into Cramorant's mouth? Or was this only meant to look like an accident, giving Cramorant plausible deniability? Perhaps all three Pokemon in this composition are enjoying a wave together? This submission made use of a paper-like texture and storybook-like styling without outlines.
My second entry (above) offers a more lighthearted interpretation; Pikachu is quite pleased about its entanglement with Cramorant, smiling from its vantage point inside Cramorant’s mouth as Cramorant gets some airtime on Pikachu's surfboard. Accidental encounter or not, the duo is clearly having some consensual fun! The style of this submission imitates that of the original Surfing Pikachu trading card.
Neither of my Cramorant submissions made the cut in the 2022 Pokemon Illustration Contest, so I decided to transform each into a retro-style Pokemon card to match the stuff I collected as a kid. In one final twist of fate, I decided to make card a "Surfing Pikachu," and the other a "Cramorant" card.
Shoutout to Tesha Merkel (link to Tesha's amazing work, including Pokemon fan art) @teshamerkel who shares my love of Pokémon, swapped illustration ideas, and submitted two of their own phenomenal illustrations – a dozing Arcanine (below, left) and gardening Bulbasaur (below, right)! Also shoutout to my partner, Kayla, who doesn’t share my love for Pokémon, but listened to every single idea I shared anyway… that’s #truelove
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