That's a great question! Obviously, it's the Japanese word most closely meaning 'cute face'. When we think of it, we often think of characters like Hello Kitty, or anyone by Sanrio, really. You may also think of Pokémon such as Pikachu, or even popular 'chibi' characters (like Sailor Chibi Moon).
In addition, you might start thinking of 'cutesy' things, like 'Pastel Goth' or 'Lolita' outfits, etc. with excessive bows and pastel pinks. But did you know that the popular art style of Kawaii, has specific principles? I know, right?
So to be truly considered Kawaii, it has to meet the majority of these:
- Pastel color scheme; mostly cotton candy pink, cream/off-white, mint green, lemon yellow, coffee brown (for cute animals), sky blue, orange cream, or lavender (light purple).
- Often light-colored or softened lines, though a thick line around the outside is okay too.
- Always based on round, oval, circular or oblong shapes; rarely any corners and if there are, they are often rounded to look gentle and non-threatening.
- Body is often pudgy and round, like a chubby toddler, and with most kawaii cuties, a neck is rarely seen (though there are exceptions).
- The head is usually as big as or bigger than the entire body. An exception to this rule is Rilakkuma.
- Style is almost always feminine, and even when it's not, it is still youthful and toddler-like.
- Face: eyes are low to denote a large forehead, as far apart as possible, and the mouth is right between the eyes, or at least very close to them. Eyes are black dots, usually large. They can also be simple lines to denote sleeping or winking. Note that kawaii characters have NO nose and NO eyebrows, to make their faces simple and non-threatening. An exception to this rule is Hello Kitty, who has a nose but no mouth. Maybe her rebellious ways are part of her popularity?
- On the subject of eyebrows: It's not uncommon for kawaii artists to manipulate the shape of the eyes, to imply eyebrows. It helps keep the face simple.
- Though not mandatory, cheeks are often defined with pink ovals, again to show a youthful, fresh & healthy face. Also helps when showing love or excitement.
- "Weird is Welcome" when it comes to true kawaii style. It is not uncommon to see half-food, half-animal characters, like a smiling ice cream cone with cat ears.
- In fact, "anthro" characters are extremely popular, like a kitty-girl with real cat ears, paws and fangs, but then otherwise human features.
- In addition to cats, other popular animals in this style include: Pandas, teddy bears, hamsters, bunnies, puppies, unicorns, and even sea creatures like an octopus or narwhal.
- There are some 'styles' that are gaining popularity in kawaii art, such as: Cute 'evil dolls', Baddies and Goths (with cuteness), and bizarre fantasy creatures/monsters. But when they're made cute with innocent, child-like faces, for some reason they no longer seem scary.
Whew! The above was already a LOT of information about this cute genre. But there is more, too. For instance, have you already noticed some of the most common inanimate objects used?
- Stuff from the sky, such as: rainbows, crescent moons, stars, clouds... well, basically all the marshmallows from a box of Lucky Charms!
- Girly symbols, like lace, hair bows, hearts, and sometimes glitter (implied in 2D).
- Sweet food, such as: ice cream, candy, pastries, bread, and even lots of fruit!
- Or Japanese style food, such as smiling sushi or winking rice dumplings. Or that enticingly adorable bowl of Ramen waiting for you to dig into it's cuteness!
- And my personal favorite because it's so odd and hilarious - poop & toilet paper have become popular kawaii characters. Everything from emoji 'stickers' to polymer clay charms.
- When you see words written in kawaii style (in any language!), the letters or characters are always chubby and round, just like the character. They're also just as colorful!
To help illustrate some of the above points, I took the liberty of creating an image with a lot of the above-mentioned:
Surprise! This is also my October 20 #Kawaii365 cutie for you to enjoy. And yes, it's soon going to be available as a Tshirt decal at www.darylartdigital.etsy.com (even at my age of 28, I would totally rock 'cute' in public).
Thank you for reading, and thank you for being a fan of cute stuff! xoxox