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Crafting Happiness with ‘Cutecore’ Art – An Exclusive Interview with Maple May

Maple May, the creative force behind Maple May Studio, is an emerging artist known for her enchanting ‘cutecore’ aesthetic that seamlessly blends nostalgia with contemporary charm. As a recent university graduate with a degree in art, Maple’s journey into the world of hand-painting and crafting has been marked by her unwavering passion for all things cute and whimsical. Her vibrant canvases, adorned with beloved characters (such as Sony Cat and Rilakkuma) and delightful pastel palettes, have captivated audiences and earned her a dedicated following on social media.

In this exclusive G.URL interview, Maple May shares insights into her artistic process, the challenges she’s faced as a small business owner, and her aspirations for the future of Maple May Studio.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind starting Maple May Studio and your journey into hand-painting and crafting? 

I started my art brand, Maple May Studio, a few months after I graduated college in 2023! Having an art business of my very own has always been a childhood dream of mine; ever since the end of high school, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. In my heart I felt an instinctive pull to pursue this dream of making myself and other people happy through my artwork! I attempted to start my shop back in highschool, but I still had much to learn about social media, website design, and specifying my art style. Overall, I lacked a clear vision and audience, my work was not genuine to me, my personality, nor my true self interests; I wasn’t ready just yet. It wasn’t until years later that the timing of everything was perfect- I graduated college with an art degree, so I had more time to focus on developing my brand. I had fresh knowledge in art and improved upon my technical skills, and I learned valuable techniques and gained helpful insight from my professors and classmates. 

Everything that I learned in art school and from my past business experiences was integrated into my skill set, and propelled Maple May Studio into what it is today. In school, I discovered my art style as I progressed as an art major. I was given lots of creative freedom and the artistic space to explore different mediums and truly experiment as an artist. During my last 2 years of college I remember one painting assignment was to paint ANYTHING as long as it surpassed the life-size dimensions requirement. I was baffled because I grew accustomed to making small pieces under specific creative instruction. So when it came to this life-size, sprawling blank canvas, I was stuck! My immediate first thought was to paint what I know and love: my friends. I looked through my phone and chose a photo I took, featuring a cute shop with my friend sitting amongst a crowded corner of plushies. I quickly got to painting, and discovered in the details, that I really enjoyed the process of painting all the individual toys onto the canvas. I found so much fun in rendering the little tiny faces of each and every little soft plush toy. In the next few assignments, I continued on this theme of painting what I enjoy. I ventured into painting a self-portrait, where I surrounded myself with objects that appeal to childhood nostalgia- a mixture of game consoles, characters, figurines, and plushies that I grew up with. 

Due to my learning experiences in school, college pushed me to discover my very own distinctive Maple May Studio art style! I found my passion in representing my own cute-core aesthetic with painting different collections of toys and brands, video

games and characters, snacks and foods, all wonderfully swirled together on a single canvas. After graduation, I then took my discovered style and started up my own art brand at full force, directing all of my effort into its development and consistently making new large paintings and social media content. I was, and remain incredibly driven in making art and content as an artist. By showing up as my true authentic self, and painting what I love, I was able to reach audiences of the same nature with shared interests of cute-core culture. As I grow as an artist and brand, I wish to continue to reach audiences that resonate with the very same beloved, aesthetic interests together! 

Having an art business of my very own has always been a childhood dream of mine; ever since the end of high school, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

How did you first get into the ‘cutecore’ aesthetic, and how has it influenced your artistic style? 

I’ve been ingrained into the “cute-core” aesthetic ever since I was a little girl. I had always surrounded myself with the cutest toys and plushies, anything pretty or adorable I was simply drawn to! During childhood, my parents would prioritise our happiness and often bring us to Toys R Us to buy us stuffed animals and Littlest Pet Shop (LPS) playsets. My sister and I have a really close bond, we used to play pretend with our shared LPS toys. Together, we created whole entire worlds by conjoining all of our playsets together. We bought LPS in giant packs, named each and every one of the pets, gave them unique personalities, elaborate story plots, and friendship dynamics. My sister and I were obsessed with playing with them, and marvelled at how we breathed life into these little figures through simple, pure imagination. From childhood into young adulthood, this creative childlike wonder and magic remains alive within my paintings. Pure imagination will be forever ingrained in me and my work. I like to honour the blissful wonder of nostalgia in each piece. With every artwork, I paint individual elements that keep this spark alive, whether it be a LPS kitten, Calico Critter otter, or Animal Crossing character, each of these cute and unique toys remains a bright and present memory on the canvas. 

I think it’s important to maintain that childlike, inner wonder within you as the years pass. I see absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to keep on collecting cute toys and figurines as an adult. If surrounding yourself with cute things is what makes you happy, then so be it! (I’m literally just a girl LOL). My art takes inspiration from all the things I find happiness in! Whether it be soft plushies, games, asian snacks, or just about everything in between, I encapsulate everything I love and recreate them into cute original art. Through my art, I continue to develop my warm and cosy little art world that I create. Each and every painting is filled with pure joy and childlike wonder, owning a Maple May Studio canvas or print becomes a constant reminder to find joy in the small things in life, and to always do what makes you happy!

What is your creative process like from concept to completion, especially when integrating iconic characters into your artwork? 

My creative process is different each time. For some works, I like to think of a colour palette first and build up the elements based upon that. Whereas for other pieces, I’m inspired by a cute character that I enjoy and want to create art based around the character’s colours. For example, in my latest painting, I thought of a collection of pink characters and objects across several games and IP. Some include Cookie from Animal Crossing, Sanrio’s My Melody, and Kirby. The characters I choose ultimately depend on what I’m liking at the moment, whether they’re cosy games, niche, nostalgic characters, or popular, beloved favourites. Everything I choose then gets organised into different colour schemes. I particularly admire having distinctive colour themed paintings because it maintains a certain visual cohesion and creates a smooth, creamy aesthetic that’s easy on the eyes. 

After deciding on the colours, I continue to think of characters or objects I’d like to include, a thought process which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I make a big list of all my ideas, then search Pinterest and Google for reference images of each element. While selecting photos, I ensure the images have nice lighting and clear resolution with no pixelated blur. The next step is to import all of the reference images into Photoshop, which could sometimes be 50+ images depending on the amount I’ve collected! After I filter out some selections, I place each image onto one digital file; I start resizing, rotating, and moving them around to make a visually dynamic composition. Sometimes I will overlap characters and objects, have them hold food, or place them next to those who I think would get along! The placement of everything is really an intuitive thought process, I simply go with what feels and looks right to me. Composition of the painting is super important, so this step can take hours due to how nit-picky I am with the organisation of elements. Simply put, it is like trying to somehow neatly organise a cute chaotic mess onto one paper! 

I’ve received a lot of comments on my videos, of people saying “they want to eat my painting!” That’s exactly how I want my paintings to look: creamy, yummy, smooth and delicious.

After I’m finally happy and satisfied with how everything looks, I save the digital file, build the canvas, and start painting! On the canvas, I start with the background which is usually a soft mixture of lights and pastel colours. I then block in the general blobs and shapes of each element, making sure I use the correct base colours to build details upon later. After everything is blocked in, I add in more contrast with some darks and light colours. Next is a waiting period for the paint to dry… oil paint dries quite slowly. Afterwards, I then start the most fun part: rendering details! To me, this part is what I enjoy the most because I can really fine-tune the vividness of colours and tiny details; the lighting and details are what really brings the painting to life! I paint in all of the cute faces and patterned clothes, the creamy desserts and crunchy snacks, I paint in where the soft light graces the characters and where shadows fall on objects. Even though this is the most fun part, it is the most time consuming, especially. Paintings of such large canvas size and intricate detail can take me anywhere from 1-3 months! 

Ultimately it is all worth it in the end, it is very satisfying to thoroughly see a project from concept to completion. Through consistency and hard work, it is incredibly gratifying to be able to start and end a painting project, and to have all of the characters live happily together, finished on one canvas! 

Which mediums and materials do you prefer to work with, and how do you choose the colour palettes for your creations? 

I primarily use oil paint on my canvases! In the past, I have dabbled in numerous other mediums such as acrylic paint, drawing, sculpture, photography, and have picked up on embroidery, sewing, and jewellery making. I really like learning new artistic mediums and experimenting with different forms; creating anything with my hands is a rewarding learning curve to me. Despite exploring different mediums and materials, I still resonate with oil paint due to its smooth and creamy texture. I’ve received a lot of comments on my videos, of people saying “they want to eat my painting!” That’s exactly how I want my paintings to look: creamy, yummy, smooth and delicious. Oil paint is a medium that helps me attain exactly this look. In my experience, it is best to work with this type of paint because it’s quite easy to seamlessly blend and transition large sweeps of colours while simultaneously rendering tight details. Oil paint also produces bright and vivid colours, something I found to be unmatched with any other kind of paint. 

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For my creations, I choose colour palettes purely based on aesthetic instinct. I would buy or build a canvas, stare at the blank space for a little while, then decide to paint swirls of pastel whites and pinks, pale blues and light creams, a mixture of softly glowing and luminous gradients. When beginning a new work, I sometimes let the background’s colour palette guide the direction of the piece, and see which characters and elements manifest on the canvas. On other occasions, I would already have an idea of which iconic characters to integrate into my piece, and find a common theme of colours to coordinate amongst the cute collection of elements! 

How do you balance artistic creativity with the business aspects of running Maple May Studio?

Knowing how to balance artistic creativity with the business aspects of Maple May Studio is definitely a learning process. I am still currently learning how to properly balance creative flow with business flow. Some days, I get so caught up with

single-handedly running the shop: making and shipping prints, responding to emails, DM’s, working on commissions, and filming and editing social media content, that I will sometimes neglect my own paintings and lose out on creative flow time. Recently, I found my workflow to be the most time-efficient and organised when I dedicate specific days for certain tasks. For example, Monday: Art business day, respond to emails and DM’s, plan the weekly schedule, print and ship orders; Tuesday: Film, edit, and post social media content; Wednesday: Painting day, make progress on various projects and commissions; Thursday: edit videos; Friday: Painting and creative free day to rest, journal, and sketch. Creating a consistent day to day routine with a structured schedule each week helps keep all my tasks organised. With increasingly busy art days, It helps keep my mind and everything in order. Finding balance amongst it all is definitely a struggle I’ve faced at the start of this business, simply because I get so caught up in either the creative or business flow. However, I am confident I will eventually get the hang of managing this balance over time; creativity and business in art are able to coexist and live in harmony. I am so blessed to be able to live this life as an artist. Work may be increasingly busy as I continue to both expand as a business and grow as an artist, but this is my dream job, I am incredibly grateful to live this little artist life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! 

Ever since 2017, Filipina-American artist, Alythuh, has been a huge artistic inspiration of mine. I have been following her ever since she made art prints, expanded into self defence weapons, and now she’s developed Tinyprotectors, the cutest brand made from her own game-inspired unique characters!

How do you feel about the new age of artists having to combine both jobs as social media manager and full time artist? 

Personally, I found that juggling the roles of social media manager and being a full time artist is getting increasingly difficult. Some days, I would be so dedicated to painting that I would neglect my social media, or vice versa. This is why finding a good creative and workflow balance is necessary. Sustainability requires consistency, so making sure to stay on top of work and content while also tending to one’s creativity is essential. I laud those artists who are able to smoothly operate as their own social media manager and also work as an artist. On one hand, I like having full creative control and direction over my social media marketing and content, but at the same time, it is a little difficult to properly fulfil both artist and manager roles. It truly feels like there’s not enough hours in the day. Personally, I think the strongest artists work best in a team: marketing, brand management, website developer, etc. I firmly believe that no one person can be truly great on their own, oftentimes they always have a strong and supportive team behind them. As I continue to grow, I wish to someday build a strong team who can alleviate the business side of tasks and help smoothly operate the business, as well as contribute to the growth and sustained happiness of the Maple May Studio brand.

What is your favourite project that combines gaming elements with cutecore art? 

A favourite project of mine that combines gaming elements with cutecore art is a life-size oil painting, Childhood Nostalgia. This piece is a massive 5 foot self portrait canvas that I painted in my last quarter of college. It exhibits my portrait falling through a floating mass of familiar childhood games, characters and toys that I enjoyed from the past into the present. Some of the featured gaming elements include a blue Nintendo 2DS and a modern Nintendo Switch, a representation of the old and new, and how both remain relevant and associated in today’s culture. Other elements on the canvas include my favourite toys I owned as a child versus my beloved figures now: a small orange kitten from Littlest Pet Shop, and a Popmart Skull Panda art figure. Representing the influence of cutecore aesthetic in both the old and new in this life-size piece marked the beginning of unravelling my true art style today: a wonderful mixture of beloved brands, figures, foods, and characters wrapped altogether on one canvas! 

What are your top three favourite video games? If you love gaming, how have they inspired your work? 

My top 3 favourite video games are 1) Maplestory, 2) Animal Crossing, and for 3, I can’t decide between Cooking Mama or Overcooked! The genre of games I enjoy range from either cute and cosy to chaotic cooking adventures (LOL). Visual aesthetics are a huge factor in whether I like a game or not. If the game isn’t cute or aesthetic, I cannot possibly imagine laying my eyes on it for hours. This concept directly applies to my artwork; when I am painting for hours on end, I want to be staring at something incredibly cute and joyful on my canvas! 

Gaming has partially influenced my artwork because I spent a lot of time creating art from cute games, movies, and shows that I watched when I was younger that I still enjoy today. As a child, the MMORPG, Maplestory, was a second home to me, a place where I grew up virtually, made online friends, and played events that became some of my precious core memories for years. My sister introduced me to the game when I was 5 years old, a time when I could barely even read the players’ chats! Despite my young age, I was adamant on battling monsters and keeping up with other player’s interactions. I would get so excited to come home after school to level up, battle monsters with my friends, play in party quests, and customise my characters with Nexon cash. Maplestory had such a deep impact on my art today that it even directly inspired my brand name. Maple May Studio, was born out of the combination of the game, (Maple)story, with my first name Larisa (May)! Since most

of my art is made up of everything nostalgic and cute that I grew up obsessing over, it only made sense for my official art brand name to reflect my profound love for this nostalgic and iconic childhood game as well! 

Who are some of your favourite artists or designers, and how have they influenced your work? 

Ever since 2017, Filipina-American artist, Alythuh, has been a huge artistic inspiration of mine. I have been following her ever since she made art prints, expanded into self defence weapons, and now she’s developed Tinyprotectors, the cutest brand made from her own game-inspired unique characters! Her design collections range from gaming accessories and heatable plushies, to lifestyle, furniture and yoga products. Alythuh is a big inspiration to me because she’s also an artist of Filipina ethnicity who creates whole, intricate worlds out of her very own character art designs. I look up to her as both a creative director and a businesswoman, and greatly admire the cute and lovely work she’s putting out into the world that’s designed to elevate people’s lifestyles and most of all, add to their happiness. 

Some other designers that I deeply admire include So Youn Lee, the creator of the most beautiful pastel painted dreamscapes, adorned with soft portraits and animals. I also look up to Japanese artist, Yoshitomo Nara, for his big-eyed dreamy character portraits that seem both simultaneously menacing and cute. In addition, Tomoko Nagai is an artist who creates intricately layered worlds of bears in a child-like art style that’s both whimsical and magical. 

The biggest advice I can give to artists looking to turn their passion into profits is: to simply start!

All of these talented artists have individually inspired my work through their colours, aesthetics, and distinctively cute art styles. I resonate with each of these artists in different ways. Alythuh inspires my work through the lens of an art business and creative director lifestyle. I’ve loved witnessing her growth as an artist, and through the years I remain in awe of her creative process within product testing, development, and collection launches with her collaborative team. So Youn Lee’s artistic colour palettes’ with its distinct softness, light, and pearly iridescence in her work, is an inspiration to my own canvas backgrounds and choice of colour palettes. Yoshitomo Nara and Tomoko Nagai are artists whose work I admire and draw inspiration from time to time. I particularly like Nara’s childlike wonder, innately captured in each of his canvas works, as well as Nagai’s unique and adorable, fantasy world-building style and sketch-like quality of her art pieces.

What advice would you give to artists looking to utilise their passion and start their own business? 

The biggest advice I can give to artists looking to turn their passion into profits is: to simply start! As both an artist and business, you are bound to learn more skills along the way, which will lead to continued growth and improvement in both a creative and business sense. You can prepare as much as you want, but regardless of how much you prepare, there is still something new to learn every day. Whether it’s fixing a glitch on your art website, calculating shipping costs, or working with new commission clients, every day is different, and you are guaranteed to resolve the bumps found along this creative path. 

Personally, I endured lots of trial and error in past business ventures and was heavily pushed to grow beyond my artistic comfort zone in college. It was in this very frustration and struggle that inevitably led me to learn the most from my mistakes, and increased my capacity for growth as both an artist and business-woman. With everything I learned, in building a brand and running an art business, I was able to finally properly channel it into Maple May Studio. The moment I levelled up my skill-set, gained a healthier mindset, and consistently dedicated my all into my passion, I witnessed much success and positive growth. 

There is definitely something new to learn and improve upon every day, but nonetheless, having your very own art business, and witnessing it grow from the ground up is incredibly rewarding and gratifying on its own. As an artist, remember to stay true to your real, authentic and genuine self, for your passion and authenticity to your craft is the most transparent to those around you. By being wholeheartedly yourself and maintaining perfect self-expression, you can find your target audience that highly resonates with your unique interests and passion. With passion and dedication, creating a career in art by doing what you love is an achievable dream that can become your reality, just as it has thankfully become mine! 🙂

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Jenny O'Connor

Jenny O'Connor is the Editor in Chief of G.URL Magazine. She acts as the lead writer and sole designer of the magazine. She is a first class BA (Hons) Fashion Journalism graduate from the University for the Creative Arts. Her work has been featured in publications such as GameRant and Echo Magazine. Jenny's passion for gaming centers around the early 2000s era, and her favourite game is Gamecube classic Chibi Robo. Additionally she loves stylistic games, like Okami. Instagram / Twitter / LinkedIn