Born and raised in a small town in Russia, Ashiya Kisa’s passion for watercolor began when she was about 8 years old. She and her friend would create fan art and design their own characters based off of anime, mostly the popular series “Sailor Moon.”
This passion drove Kisa to attend and graduate from a design program in her university and subsequently work in a professional studio as a graphic designer and illustrator. But this position only lasted a few years before she decided to concentrate on her own thing and become a freelance illustrator.
Since then, she has been doing rather well for herself. Today, at 27 years old, Kisa has amassed a combined 700,000 followers across her Instagram, YouTube and Twitter accounts. She also owns a shop on Tictail, an online marketplace, where she sells zines filled with various watercolor prints and sketches. Instagram is Kisa’s primary social media platform, which she uses to post her most recent works of art.
A typical Kisa piece will show a cute girl doing commonplace activities, such as eating ramen, shopping at a mall or taking a selfie, against a Japanese-style backdrop — reflecting her anime roots — with gorgeously coordinated watercolors and meticulous detail.
She often uses real-life settings as her backgrounds, depicting even the most mundane moments, like buying bread at the store, as colorful reasons to be alive. Garlands of flowers appear frequently, providing fresh breath to an already vibrant piece, and muted neon hues, such as lilacs, shell pinks, turquoise and vermillion, dominate the color palette. Using watercolors allows Kisa to keep her style organic but still refined. Any geometrics are saved for simple backdrops, so that her almost ethereal girls stand out even more.
Although it was anime that initially spurred her interest in design, the Instagram artist now finds inspiration in a host of other mediums. “I can see a nice light, color or hear a song, or watch a movie, read a book or the picture can just randomly appear in my head,” she says. “[Making art] is like eating and sleeping for me. I just need to transfer the pictures I see in my head to a piece of paper.”
Currently, Kisa is taking her love of food and cooking and turning it into a series called “Hungry.” After you see her jaw-dropping, mouth-watering illustrations of different meals and beverages from around the world, you’ll understand why she titled it as such. From ice cream and pizza to bibimbap and samgyeopsal, each illustration is laden with the kind of micro-details that make it nearly indistinguishable from the real pictures of food on your Instagram feed. She even has plans to release the series as an illustration book with added recipes sometime in the future.
On her YouTube channel, you can watch her speed-paint each piece in the “Hungry” series, as well as other stunning watercolors and sketchbook tours. Her most popular video is “Sketchbook Tour,” which has over 800,000 views and was uploaded last February. In it, she showcases her first finished sketchbook ever to a cheerful soundtrack. The sketchbook includes a variety of illustrations, but the video became popular largely because it features multiple sketches of characters from the wildly successful anime “Yuri!!! on Ice.”
Kisa’s work even caught the attention of the Michael Kors’ advertising team, who sent her an email in July asking her to draw her interpretation of graffiti for the company as part of their Graffiti capsule collection campaign. Kisa felt inspired to draw something that matched the “strong and sketchy print” of the Graffiti collection, and because she is a big fan of black and white clothing as well, the pitch was a perfect opportunity for her to create another watercolor masterpiece.
Although she has dipped her brush into a number of other art mediums, especially during her university years, Kisa is committed to watercolors. “There’s no surprise,” she says. “I love watercolor. I love how it looks, how it behaves — literally anything about it.” In fact, even when she uses digital tools, she imitates the aesthetic of watercolor in those pieces as well.
On her personal Instagram account, you can see a different side of Kisa, a mellower, more relaxed version of the artist. Soft sketches of tiny boats on cool blue water, book recommendations, artfully arranged supplies and the occasional photo of her cat, aka her “furry princess,” adorn the page.
Although she makes personal account available, the Russian artist still values her privacy, which is why she has only posted a handful of selfies on the account and will not provide the name of the school she attended. Even “Ashiya” is a shortened version of her full name.
Mysterious or not, Kisa approaches her work and self-improvement with optimism. And she should — the 27-year-old artist is just getting started. At one point, I asked her which piece of hers she was most proud of. “It will be my next work,” she replied. “And then, the work after that.” Never stop improving.”