Interview with Keiko Suzuki – Self-Taught Hand-Torn Newspaper Collage Artist
By Mike Sullivan
Please introduce yourself and your background.
My name is Keiko Suzuki, and I am a self-taught hand-torn newspaper collage artist originally from Tokyo, and currently live in the USA.
Please tell us about your work.
My work is created with discarded newspapers. I collect color pieces from the advertisements and the photographs on the newspapers and form them into shapes by hand-tearing them after tracing their surfaces with a wet brush and my hand-made templates. The collage is completely eco-friendly and provides soft and warm impression.
How did the Bless Hue brand start?
It started in 2012, when I decided to open an online shop on Etsy.com to sell my art prints.
My target market is primarily within the United States so I decided to use an easy name for English speaking people so as to remember my shop site rather than using my real name. I waited for a while until the right name came up in my mind.
So one day somebody sneezed and the epiphany came to me- “Bless you”. “Hue” sounds like “you”, … “Bless Hue”! The name felt just perfect for my business because I recycle colors from newspapers, it represents my playful style, and it is easy to remember.
It seems that since childhood you were interested in origami and drawing, what particularly drew you to origami?
I always enjoyed creating anything rather than going outside to play in my childhood. For some reason, I always seemed to be attracted to beautiful colored paper. Japanese learn origami in kindergarten, and as a child I was fascinated by the creative possibilities that a simple square-shaped paper could be transformed into variety of things.
Can you explain a bit about the techniques you use to make your work? I understand that for collages the technique you use was developed in Tokyo?
The innovative newspaper technique was discovered by Masako Ogawa from Tokyo, and I learned the basics from one of her books first, and developed my own style. To make the collages you only need; a small brush to trace the template, a large brush to spread glue, starch glue, water, an awl(a needle point type tool), and a pair of tweezers. These simple items along with some colored paper from print and your base water color paper as the base for your creation of collage. I later discovered an eraser comes in handy to lighten up the colors.
Generally the process goes:
1. Create a template
2. trace the template on a chosen color piece with a wet small brush to soften the surface
3. re-trace the template with an awl
4. carefully tear the traced shape off the color piece by hands
5. spread a mixture of 1 portion of starch glue and 1 portion of water on a piece of watercolor paper
6. attach the torn shape
7. repeat the process in different colors. For more detailed work, you need to make layers of colors, lightly scratch the surfaces with an awl, and/or softly rub the surface with an eraser.
I have a 3 minute YouTube video that shows the process, so check it out!
Where do your ideas for your work come from? Where do you find the inspiration for your designs?
Most of the inspirations come when I see an instance of innocent cuteness from animals in my daily life. Traveling also gives me great inspirations.
How long does it take to design and make a particular work? Can you give a short summary of the processes that go into each one?
The duration depends on the size of papers and designs complications. The small size (5” x 7” / 12.7 cm x 17.8 cm) would take 5 to 8 hours, and the large size (8” x 10” / 20.3cm x 25.4 cm) would take 10 to 15 hours from sketch to finish.
What is your most popular item?
The most popular item so far is the puffer fish art. People seem to like it not only in print but on products such as cellphone cases, t-shirts, and totes.
For someone who wishes to take up this kind of career, what kind of advice would you give them?
I am not really in the position to give someone advice since I am still in the middle of developing my business, but I could say persistence is a key, and finding a good art marketing consultant in early stage would be helpful.
To what extent do you draw upon your Japanese heritage for your work?
The Japanese practice of making good use of things such as recycling or upcycling deeply influences my creative usage of discarded newspapers. I would also say that the persistence to the perfection and ability of performing detailed work are given from Japanese virtue.
What do traditional Japanese crafts mean to you?
They make me feel proud of my origin. The Japanese sense of beauty, thoughtfulness, precision, elaboration, and dignity are all condensed in each piece of the crafts.
Recently my mother sent me a Tenugui specially made for body and facial wash from Japan, and its simplicity and functionality has reassured me of the Japanese excellence. It deeply cleans and smooths my whole skin, drys quickly, and the thinness does not take spaces to store.
Do you have any exhibitions or events coming up?
I do not have events coming up at this point, but please stay connected with my official website if you wish to receive exhibitions / events update!
Finally, any last words for anyone interested in Japanese crafts?
I appreciate any people who respect the Japanese craftsmanship. Please enjoy experiencing Japanese culture and the craftworkers’ personality through their piece of work.