If you’ve dismissed purikura apps as a way to besmirch photos with blingies and other cheesy graphics, then Chiizu will blow your mind. Created by a media artist, an illustrator and a designer, the photo-decoration app for iOS offers themed sets by an outstanding roster of artists, including Linda Gavin, the original creator of Twitter’s logo; Dyna Moe, the woman behind the “Mad Men Yourself” avatar maker; painter Juka Araikawa; and former Sub Pop Records art director Jesse LeDoux.
Co-founder Stella Lai says Chiizu’s goal is to encourage users to make visual art and design part of their daily lives. You can use Chiizu to turn photos of friends into Dada-like collages or start with a blank canvas and create a phantasmagoric landscapes populated with surreal creatures.
“We wanted to create an app where people like us (and our friends) could get content out to the world,” Lai said in an email. “Photography seemed like a natural fit, so we started publishing artist ‘singles’ or themes, each encapsulating an artist’s creative vision for people to download or buy.”
The app just launched its second version, which focuses on making Chiizu more social (it is integrated with social networks such as Sina Weibo and RenRen as a nod to Chiizu’s large userbase in Asia). Features include an in-app camera, filters and face recognition. Six themed sets are currently available for free, while the others cost 99 cents each. Chiizu follows a gallery model for paid themes, splitting earnings from each download with its creator.
Other artists in Chiizu’s current lineup include November Club, Brian Butler, Muxxi, Mr. Chiizu, Junko Mizuno, Tomi Monstre, Ayako Akazawa, Aya Kato, Michelle Romo, Martinez & Trees, Stella Lai, Jessica Lopez and Popglory.
The app’s goal is to release three to four new themes each month. Sets by suero-studio, Christal Sih and Andres Guzman are coming soon. Chiizu is also working with artist Aaron Noble on a theme that will launch alongside an exhibition and mural he is creating for a youth center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Our selection process is based on quality, uniqueness and if an artist’s work makes sense with the medium,” says co-founder Lai. “We don’t dictate style. Rather, we encourage artists to express themselves freely while at the same time considering how they want people to interact with their work.”
Most users are women aged 18 to 35, but Chiizu hopes to draw in male users by offering more gender-neutral content in the future, including text-oriented themes and sets by street artists. An upcoming version of the app will give users more information about the person who created each theme.