Artist Feature - 杉本さなえ Sanae Sugimoto

春のピアニスト Pianist of Spring

杉本さなえ Sanae Sugimoto uses traditional Japanese pen and inks and draws her inspiration from authors such as Canadian Lucy Maud Montgomery to create beautifully narrative illustrations.

Growing up surrounded by sea and mountains, Sanae Sugimoto was born in Tottori, Japan in 1975. After studying oil painting at college in Kyoto, she now lives and works in Fukuoka. In addition to creating fine art that she exhibits extensively in Japan, Sanae also creates commercial work for packaging, logos and magazines. 

Recently, her interest has turned to using traditional Japanese black and orange inks. This process uses fine pen work to create beautifully detailed pieces. Sanae’s narrative illustrations are mainly inspired by authors and often include imagery of girls, flowers and animals.

Traditional black and orange Sumi inks used by Sanae Sugimoto

In 2018, Sanae released a book of work titled 耳をとじて Close Your Ears. This book contains 27 of her illustrations, mostly created in 2016 – 2017. The illustrations were risograph printed at Nakano Letterpress Studio, and a hand bookbinding company, Misuzudo, delicately bound each book.

耳をとじて Close Your Ears

We recently chatted with Sanae to ask her more about her work, her inspiration and what’s coming next.

What most interested you in collaborating with Parkside to turn your work into a jigsaw puzzle?

Their first puzzle, The Moon, seemed quite interesting, and Lindsay reached out to me for this collaboration more than once, so I knew she liked my work.

Are jigsaw puzzles a hobby of yours? 

My father loved jigsaw puzzles, so we used to do them together. I haven’t had as much opportunity to do puzzles since I’ve grown up.

Have you completed your Evening Kingdom puzzle? If so, what did you think?

I saw all of the pieces and closed the box quickly, because it looked so difficult!

Our 宵の国 Evening Kingdom puzzle is available in our online shop here.

あめふりとはなふり Rain and Flower Rain

How do you draw on traditional Japanese illustrations for your work?

Sumi, the traditional inks for calligraphy in Japan, are what I use for drawing, but I use them my own way. I use a dip pen, not a brush. Then I choose the colour and the texture of the paper to go with these two colours of black and orange. Actually the combination of dip pen and Sumi is difficult. I can’t draw smoothly, but it brings uniqueness to the lines.

Who are some other artists that inspire you?

First of all, the artists that inspire me the most are writers, not visual artists. I’ve repeatedly read the books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Charlotte Brontë and Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder since I was a child. I’ve created my own world of 1800s European lives with my imagination even though I didn’t know their customs at all. There was a world of those books inside of me. I feel close to those imagined worlds I created in my teenage years, not the real Prince Edward Island or Wetlands of England or their actual lifestyles. Unconsciously, I’m in those worlds when I’m drawing.  

My favourite visual artists are Jan van Eyck and Sandro Botticelli, from the Medieval Renaissance, as well as Edward Hopper, and Vilhelm Hammershoi. I like the artists who draw people impressively. 

You include imagery of pianos in a lot of your work. Do you play the piano? Do you have a pianist / composer that you particularly enjoy?

I’m fond of drawing people who are playing instruments, although I don’t play any. Their figure and movement is so beautiful. I usually listen to Rock music, but lately I’ve been listening a lot to Víkingur Ólafsson, an Icelandic pianist who I found a while ago. His play is minimal and quite unique, and I enjoy his music even though I’m not usually into classical music.

犬の物思い Melancholy of a Dog

You have the ability to convey an incredible range using only orange and black inks, but do you ever feel limited by this colour palette?

I like limiting things for myself, digging deep into a narrow place is my thing. I guess this is quite Japanesey.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or collaborations that we can share with our readers?

It’s still in the planning phase, but my drawings will be sold in an online shop based in NY. I’m also working on my second book called AGEHA (which hopefully will be sold overseas) and my first children’s book.

To see more of Sanae’s work, you can visit her website here or follow her work on Instagram here. 耳をとじて Close Your Ears is available in Japan through Sanae’s store here and in New York at Anzu (who ships internationally) here.