Satsuki Shibuya Shares How to Learn the Art of Self Expression

I’ve been deeply drawn to Satsuki Shibuya’s work for quite a long time now. Like, have yet to take down her 2016 watercolor calendar from my wall long (going on my third year of rotating it monthly). Her work seems to speak the same language that a cliff-lined coast does; as light, airy, and refreshing as it is powerful, reverent, and grand. I had the honor of getting to hear from Satsuki herself on the voice fueling her art, her advice on integrating your passions into your work, and the influences that have shaped who she is not just as an artist, but a person.

1. What first drew you to expressing yourself through painting?

Painting as a profession never crossed my mind. The sudden path shift happened during an illness-induced, year-and-a-half hiatus.

“You must paint,” is what I heard, and after confirming its non-correlation to insanity, I began to explore the idea.

The experience was and continues to be the most freeing and direct expression of creation — letting go of ego and any preconceived ideas of what should be, allowing the practice itself to unfold, reveal, in its own time.

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2. You describe the mission of your work by saying each piece is meant to, “take us on a unique and personal journey into our own soul in hopes that we emerge — not only inspired to cultivate peace and harmony — but also with an enlightened appreciation for this world we all share.” How did you discover this to be the purpose of what you do?

With the message to paint correlating with my own spiritual reconnection came a knowing, and through this, I began pondering how to channel this into the realm of creation. I realized the act was not only crucial in expressing my own inner thoughts, but a way of direct conversation, without the need of translation with another, to share glimpses of the unknown, in hopes of being a catalyst for awakening and peace.

3. Tell us a bit about the journey it has been to becoming a full-time artist and doing work that is aligned with who you are. Was there previously a disconnect between your work and who you are as a person?

Before, the approach to work would be based upon control — concise movement, placement, and in some instances, I still believe it is necessary, but I discovered through painting, the beauty of unexpected moments, ushering in magic, openness, perfectly imperfect happenings, all of which connects us to one another. I find this coloring not only my work, but business approach and life, where syncing with the flow, many times, reveals better solutions rather than force through one’s own volition.

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4. At Yellow, we believe that work isn’t just a career, but how you find and make meaning in this world. What are your views on how to live a holistic, integrated life that blends who we are as individuals with the work we do?

Seek an underlying thread between what is meaningful in life and weaving this into work. Also a two-way street, finding things which make the blood rush through work and incorporating these elements into the every day is just as important for seamless integration.

For anyone to capture meaning and fulfillment, pinpointing and understanding what we are doing and why is crucial.

The root which holds all together is consciousness of what we do with our time, minds, energies, spirit, physical being — to constantly question, connect, re-connect with ourselves to see whether we are still on target. As we evolve, mature, and grow, so too will our visions of fulfillment.

5. What is one book or resource that has influenced your story?

The book which began my current journey was The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. I’m not sure if it was the book itself which ignited the hunger and need to find the essence of my soul, but it definitely was the gateway into expanding my understanding about the magnificence of others’ perspectives, especially those wiser and aware. I truly believe that reading is a key component in keeping our minds and hearts connected to the continuum of time.

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6. You also write beautiful verses that often go along with your art, usually written in both English and Japanese. How does using different mediums and languages to express your thoughts and experiences allow you to connect with others?

The Japanese language connects not only to my ancestry, but also, in a more practical sense, supports the ability to keep communicating with two distinctly different cultures.

Speaking and writing various languages creates layers within context, meaning, and expression, allowing for new approaches and perspectives to emerge.

By writing in both, I am able to share multiple facets of my being and through this, appreciate the beauty of each and combined.

7. You released a collection of watercolors and verse called Moment about a year and a half ago. What did you want to evoke in your readers through this work specifically?

This book was purely to invoke the idea of being in the moment, whether with ourselves, an experience, with others, or life. To live not in the past or the future, but fully be where we can only be, in the present. By living in each moment with awareness, we are able to harness answers we ponder upon, and be a part of the continuum of life without missing a second. Beauty, peace, harmony are unlocked when we find ourselves in the moment.

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8. In addition to being an artist, you call yourself a Spiritual Thinker. How does this aspect of who you are influence your work and daily life?

Spiritual thinker is part of my core, connected directly to spirit and from this place, extends into other aspects of my existence, whether painting, writing, cooking, or interacting. Without this spiritual understanding of myself, I would not be able to function freely within this World. Of course, no one is perfect, including myself, and there are times when I am not in this place of knowing, but understand, especially with creative work, due to its revealing nature, my requirement to approach it with openness and honesty. Simply put, it is a part of my core being.

9. This month at Yellow, we’re focusing on Voice; looking at how by uncovering and embracing our unique character, we can use our individual voice to impact others for good. What advice would you give to a woman who is struggling to define her voice, or finding a medium to use it meaningfully?

Give yourself grace and the space to explore who you are as an individual, the meaning behind what you do or why something is important to you. What draws you towards expressing yourself in this way?

Have the patience to understand that finding oneself is a journey, not an equivalent of becoming an overnight sensation.

Perhaps it is starting out with listening to the quiet voices within, brought to fruition through writing, singing, or any other way of self-expression, collecting bits and pieces of precious hint-nuggets along the way because we can only find ourselves through ourselves. As we collect, it begins to form a story, one uniquely our own, created by exploration of the internal and external. Sign posts and answers are abound, we just need to tune our antennas to hear the whispers. Before realizing, something has begun and through this, can bring into the world a vision which aligns the self with others.

Images courtesy of Satsuki Shibuya

Hanna Snyder

Communications Director at Yellow Co.

Hanna is a graphic designer and writer in Los Angeles, and the Communications Director at Yellow Co. Any story well told - whether through design, words, art, or food stirs her. As a romantic about nearly everything, she believes what we bring to our world deserves to be beautiful. Her love is endlessly exploring new ways to express our truest self, and has been trying to figure out her curls since birth.