One lazy summer evening in 2015, motion designer and illustrator Karolin Gu doodled out a small, chubby blue reptile with a plant bulb on its back. It was rolled over on its side with a content grin, small eyes, and canine teeth protruding over its lips. It was meant to be just a fun way to unwind while paying homage to some fictional monsters she had loved for years; she didn’t necessarily expect that this Bulbasaur would send her on a journey through all 720 Pokémon — but somehow, it did.
Before long, she created an Instagram account, @thetinymonsters, to house that first Bulbasaur and a number of other pocket monsters she had drawn. By now, she’s posted over 430 cute and colorful Pokémon illustrations in a style not unlike what you might see in a Miyazaki film or fun-loving children’s book. When asked to describe the style herself, Gu said, “Flat. Quite colorful. Touches of watercolor. And … minimalistic!”
Karolin Gu has been a fan of Pokémon since the original anime kicked off around 1998, and of the original starters, Squirtle is her favorite: “I think he is the coolest, especially in the anime,” she said. Who wouldn’t love the Squirtle Squad? “Sapphire was my first game. Ever since then I’ve always loved Pokémon. I think it was really the first series I started liking as a kid, and the only game I always go back to is Pokémon.” But there’s the obvious follow-up here: What was her starter in Sapphire?
“Torchic. C’mon! It’s got to be Torchic.”
Some of her illustrations are straightforward representations of the Pokémon, usually proceeding directly through the Pokédex; recently, she skipped up to the brand new Alolan Pokémon from Sun and Moon. But many of her Tiny Monsters have a bit of unique flair or fun details paying homage to other media properties, including the Pokémon anime, like what is certainly Ash’s Pikachu wearing his trainer’s legendary hat:
The process of creating a Tiny Monster begins with a sketch: “The first thing I do is develop a finished sketch. I warm up and get the hands going with different sketches before settling on one.” But it’s not just about doodling a common sketch of the creature. It’s a labor of love that needs inspiration: “I read a little bit about the Pokémon to find some inspiration. I also look at references of similar animals, especially animated ones. I’ve looked to the Ninja Turtles a lot.”
The entire process can take anywhere from 20 or 30 minutes to a few hours, depending on how inspired Gu might be by any particular Pokémon and, of course, the level of complexity she settles on. Some of the larger, more formidable Pokémon tend to demand greater detail. Groudon is one such example:
When she’s not doodling Pokémon for the enjoyment of Instagram, Gu works in Stockholm, Sweden with House of Radon, a full-service creative agency. She produces “mostly motion design and a bit of illustration in motion; it’s everything from graphics to documentaries and infographics.” These various skills lend themselves well to the Tiny Monsters project which sometimes includes animated versions of Pokémon, like this writer’s personal favorite, Farfetch’d, twirling its leek.
“It has everything to do with a moment of inspiration with passion for the Pokémon,” she said. With Eevee, her all-time favorite Pokémon, the pressure was on to do it justice. Gu admitted, “I drew Eevee three or four times before I settled on the final one.” That final product was an adorable, short animated loop featuring Eevee bouncing with tiny versions of its many evolutions:
The rest of the Tiny Monsters illustrations run across a wide range of silly and fun, like the smiling Mudbray:
… to surprisingly cute, like Mightyena:
… to appropriately badass, like Blaziken, who’s “ready to (blaze)kick some ass”:
… and sometimes incorporating funny props like Tyranitar stomping a city, Kaiju-style:
There’s also homages to other Nintendo properties, namely a Goomba from Mario hanging out with Shroomish:
… and also an Aron staring lovingly at an Iron Man mask:
Karolin Gu is well past the halfway mark on her journey through the Pokédex, but still has a long way to go. After having been at it for so long already, could the experience come to feel more like work than fun, especially when some weeks have her publishing one illustration per day?
“I could spend my free time doing other things, but it’s much more fun to draw Pokémon than watch Netflix,” she said. “It’s still really fun, especially with all the support from my followers!” Her 4,426 followers on Instagram “Like” each of her drawings anywhere between 300 and 500 times per post on average, with glowing comments like “your illustrations are always one of the highlights of my day,” “Brilliant 😊,” and “probs my favorite pokemon artist.”
While the future of Tiny Monsters is uncertain in a post-Pokédex world, it’s inevitable that Karolin Gu will have an illustration for each of the 720 Pokémon before long. Afterwards, perhaps we’ll see more self portraits like this one, animated versions of Pokémon, group shots, or celebrations for holidays and other anniversaries.
Karolin Gu sells memorabilia for Tiny Monsters on her Society6 page, where you can buy things like phone cases, art prints, or tote bags with designs that feature depictions like a Gyarados cradling a cruise ship, or you can opt for the Squirtle evolutions hanging out on a shower curtain.
You can always find Karolin Gu’s Pokémon fan art on her Instagram account, @thetinymonsters where she’ll be illustrating more pocket monsters as long as Nintendo keeps publishing new ones, and beyond.Photos via Karolin Gu, KarolinGu.com