Ai and Aiko's Peter Draw Talks the GIPHY Awards and the Power of Love

MOBILE 2021 12 14T144401.251
Peter Draw

Before the explosion of NFTs this year—which brought with it a newfound appreciation for PNGs and other static images, one of the most recognizable forms of digital media was the humble .gif. NFT technology is essentially just a way to record transactions of digital files, so the proliferation of virtual asset trading this year was a boon to the entire world of digital media.

Peter Draw is the man behind Ai and Aiko, which has long been one of the biggest names in gifs. Even if you don't recognize the name, odds are you recognize his work. This year alone, Ai and Aiko generated 20 billion views on their artwork. You read that right.

The Ai and Aiko Journey

In my conversation with Peter, he sent me this helpful graphic, tracking the trajectory of what is now the biggest creator brand in all of gifs.

In their first day verified on Giphy (in 2018), they hit between 10 and 20 million views. By the end of their first month verified, they hit a billion. Fast forward to the present. They average between 40 and 80 million views a day—with days as high as 200 million.

GIPHY Artist of the Year

In the brand's year-end GIPHY Awards, Ai and Aiko won both the Artist of the Year and Sticker of the Year award. There's a reason Draw's beloved characters resonate with such a wide audience.

Ai and Aiko

The Ai and Aiko Ethos

Draw explained to me some info about the genesis of his brand—outside of the context of a timeline and specific projects. "It was first created by my 16 year old self after I lost my grandfather," he tells me, adding, "It was first created to comfort myself, but now I use [Ai and Aiko] to put smiles on children’s faces.” When we turn to discussing the ethos behind the project, Draw is grinning widely the whole time, overflowing with the emotional reasoning behind his now-ubiquitous brand.

He shares with me an interesting translation aspect of his chosen name and how it relates to the genesis of the project. "In both Japanese and Mandarin, 'ai' means love, but in Mandarin it can also mean sorrow." This juxtaposed translation made perfect sense for the project he produced in response to a tragedy. The swirling intricacies of two seemingly disparate—but actually linked—emotions created the brand behind the most-viewed digital artwork in the world.

While the upward curve of his brand's increasing exposure is surely incredible, Draw believes that the most beautiful curves in the world are children's smiles.

This through-line of love in his process of creation is tantamount to the entirety of Peter's catalogue. It's what has made him successful so far and continues to drive him to this day.

In our conversation, I find out that Peter is the only artist in the world who has broken 4 Guinness World Records in art, including completing the largest caricature drawing in the world, teaching the largest art lesson in the world, drawing the longest drawing in the world (individual) and leading a group of children to draw the longest drawing in the world (group). Peter has also devoted the whole of his adult life drawing to making children smile in different cities, including the children who survived earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, China, Indonesia, Taiwan and Costa Rica.

Near the end of our conversation, Peter puts the ethos behind the brand more eloquently than an outsider like myself ever could: "Ai and Aiko exists to remind people that Love Can Happen Anywhere. With the pandemic and a world where hurt shouts, it is becoming increasingly important and urgent to remind young people that everything is still going to be okay. That there's always hope around us because there's always love around us."

The Future of Ai and Aiko

These metrics are extraordinary. And in a new world of digital assets, traffic like this has the potential to lead to some incredible monetization.

A friend of his in the investment space recently told him upon seeing the graph of the brand's growing distribution worldwide: "Any IP with this kind of growth curve is going to be super successful."

As for the future, he has yet to mint any NFTs but if he does, it is very likely it will be another record-breaking feat. Indeed, Peter has shared with me privately that he is considering releasing his first NFT in early 2022. When asked what's next after the GIPHY awards, Peter reveals that Ai & Aiko's Digital Art will be taking over Flannels' building in Oxford Street, London in collaboration with W1Curates, the first Asian Artist to do so. For context, right now, the Gagosian is showing their artists with W1Curates. Peter will also be releasing his 2nd Christmas Animation Film some time next week; this will be the sequel to the simultaneously heart-wrenching and endearing film of his from a few years back.

A lot of what Ai and Aiko has planned for next year is under wraps, but we can at least reveal that 2022 is going to be positively massive for the brand. His success at the GIPHY awards has led to interest from a vast array of agencies and collectors, who all see the immense potential in an already successful digital art brand as we approach another year of increasingly valuable digital art.

"Next year will be more interesting," Peter smiles to me, after unpacking what is—on paper—an exceptionally interesting 2021. "I think things are gonna escalate very quickly."

Peter's Advice for Young Creators

Throughout our entire chat, Peter is teeming with golden nuggets of advice for fledgling creators: “I like to tell children to forget about being number one. It’s stressful, it’s dramatic, it’s tiring—not only to yourself, but also to people around you. I prefer the idea of being the only one.”

He also drops this dime: “Some people don’t spend their time being bothered that they can’t change the world because there’s a part of them that thinks it's impossible. I choose to be bothered by that.”

And finally, his emphasis on love remains paramount.

Everything is hard, but how difficult can hard be when you love someone or something enough? Unconditional love is impossible to ignore, and I believe unconditional love will change the world.

- Peter Draw

The culmination of an incredible mindset, already successful brand and what could be the biggest year for digital art ever means that 2022 will certainly be the biggest year yet for Ai and Aiko—and for Peter.

"I think love can quietly transform," Peter tells me. After our conversation, it's clear that he's absolutely right.

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