I was born in born in China, raised in Japan, and studied illustration in Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. My multicultural background has deeply influenced me as an artist growing up. After I also lived in Bangkok and London, now I live and work between Tokyo, New York, and Berlin, continuing making art that is “borderless” and can spread love and joyfulness. Besides my illustration career, I am also the co-founder of Three Gems Tea and the founder of Box Museum. I have worked with Google, Starbucks, Coca Cola, Loccitane, The New York Times, Vogue and many others.
(I want to mainly talk about my life in Tokyo here because I think there are still a lot untold stories and hopefully can help people who wants to come settle here!)
I am living in Tokyo at the moment. It’s the perfect mix of the west and east, which fits my personality very much and I can find familiarities from both worlds. Besides the accessibilities to great shops, restaurants, art galleries and music events, I find it very easy to make connections. People are friendly, although I think knowing different cultures helps telling better stories, and being able to speak all the languages helps communicating with more people. But I just love the energy and the vibes of the city.
My multicultural background has deeply influenced me as an artist growing up. After I also lived in Bangkok and London, now I live and work between Tokyo, New York, and Berlin, continuing making art that is “borderless” and can spread love and joyfulness.
Being able to make friends from different background in Tokyo is the thing I love the most, I think people are very openminded and humble here. When I first moved to Tokyo, I started from a Co-working space for creatives. People working in different fields of art, new members come in and go. My former studio in NY was full of great illustrators, so we talk a lot about illustrations. But it’s very different here. I work with architects, graphic designers, filmmakers and sometimes tea makers! It’s very eye-opening and I get inspired constantly! But I do miss talking and critiquing each other’s work with illustrator friends like what we did in New York.
The worst, is that I miss Thanksgiving and the holidays in the US!!! The holiday season feels lonely here, I miss all the Christmas decorations and big house parties!
But the very worst is that you can’t hang artwork on the wall if you don’t own the place…
WORK – LIFE BALANCE
Illustration feels like a different filed here. A lot of people ask me what my “real job” is after I tell them I am an illustrator. The budget is much lower in Japan, although they do have more frequent commercial jobs since they make so many new products all the times, a lot of people still struggle to make a great living by just doing illustration especially when you first start up. (In Berlin, the living cost is much lower, and there are many benefits given to the artist or student, so they can afford to start their career slowly.) In Tokyo, people work way too much here, always working overtime and even on weekends. I even have clients replying to my email at 3 am. So I always have to remind myself to balance my life and not to overwork myself.
After I got my degree, I moved to Portland, Oregon because I was very into hand made ceramics and textiles back then and Portland seems a perfect place. But as a newly graduated creative, it was hard to make a voice. So I started a personal project, making one small painting a day using Instagram to promote myself. Then I got featured on Instagram’s homepage and then stated getting show inquiries! After that, I was making lots of paintings and showing in galleries mainly on the west coast before I moved to New York and shifted my career direction more towards illustration.
As a newly graduated creative, it was hard to make a voice. So I started a personal project, making one small painting a day using Instagram to promote myself.
Yes. Ever since a child, I have made 99% of the decisions myself. So I will say my family and friends are supportive and trust me as a person, so the decisions I make. And my parents are artists themselves too, so they understand the pain and the beauty of it.
Besides making art, I started to do curation.This year, I founded an art gallery in China, it’s called Box Museum, because the exterior is a shape of a giant shipping box. It’s an interactive art gallery in between the fine art installation and Instagramable place. Besides the main permanent location, we will also do a lot of pop up shows in China. The concept is to make art accessible in the way people of all ages are interested. The art education is relatively being seen as less important in school, but I strongly believe in the power of beauty in art so I want people to have more chances of seeing and spreading it. I want to “deliver” art into people’s lives.
I want to “deliver” art into people’s lives.
I want to collaborate with Einstein, make a work that is the perfect mix of art and science.
In contrast to most of my US friends who are more independent, strong and very confident, my Asian friends are more womanly I would say. Being loved by man is still seeing as a positive thing in Asia, and women work hard on their womanly-quality as well as having an independent mind. It’s less about the individuality and more about balancing between themselves and people around them.
It’s less about the individuality and more about balancing between themselves and people around them.
Not local, but I have always loved Frida growing up. She is talented, independent and strong. But, still, she cherishes and embraces being a woman. And I want to also have both qualities.
Being an Asian woman myself, and living abroad since 13 years old, I have learnt to take care of everything myself, holding all negative emotions within, reminding myself every day that I have to be so strong… but I wasn’t happy. Now I think differently, yes I want to be confident and strong, but I have no interest in becoming a woman who is as strong as a man. I want to occasionally depend on family, friends and my boyfriend, I feel no shame in showing my weakness sometimes. I celebrate my ability to cook, clean and taking good care of my family because most of the times, I am better at it than my boyfriend or my dad. And I see those as positive womanly-quality and I want to embrace them.
I personally have never encountered any challenging or negative experiences being a female illustrator. But one thing I am starting to worry about is how women can manage to have kids and still keep themselves relevant in this field. Especially I travel a lot and having three careers at the same time, I already have no time for myself. I have a deep respect for women who can manage both.
I think the only way you can change the world is to have a vision, have a voice!
I would say it’s more like a lifestyle rather than a job. I appreciate the flexibility of time and building something for yourself under your name. I think the only way you can change the world is to have a vision, have a voice! And I’d rather regret something that I have done rather than I say “wish” I have done.
Photos courtesy of Ayumi Takahashi and Hiroyuki Seo (Profile Image).
January 17, 2020