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INTERVIEW Vol.9 textile designer Ms. Sawako Ura


July 15th, 2014 Interview with Ms. Sawako Ura

Sawako Ura Exhibition Muistin maisema


First exhibition of textile designer Ms. Sawako Ura


This summer, an exhibition by Ms. Sawako Uta, who works mainly in Finland, was opened for the very first time in Japan.

Ms. Ura uses crayons to first create a background, and then creates designs upon the waxy surface using toothpicks. The delicate designs and color contrasts in Ms. Ura’s artworks distinctly reflect her exquisite artistic sense.

Besides her original artwork, this exhibition also displayed designs Ms. Ura created in collaboration with Finnish design company Marimekko. In a darkroom located in the corner of the exhibition, one was able to look at pictures of Finnish landscapes taken by Ms. Ura. It served as a reminder to the guests of just how much the country Finland influences Ms. Ura’s works of art.

During this exhibition, about sixty pieces of art where separated into three themes, which were then displayed at intervals throughout the event. When I went to interview Ms. Ura, the theme of the exhibition was “Invisible Powers like the Wind”. The artwork that was displayed at the exhibition was chosen by Ms. Ura in accordance to this theme.

In this interview, I was able to ask Ms. Ura about what she felt about her first exhibition here in Japan, about her experiences in Finland, and her feelings regarding her art.


Interview with Ms. Sawako Ura


―I would first like to ask about this exhibition itself. Why did you decide to open your first exhibition in Japan, when most of your artistic activities are centered in Finland?


The main reason why I opened my very first exhibition in Japan was because it is my homeland, and I wanted as many people in Japan to learn about my works. I also wanted to convey to the people of Japan the beauty of Finland’s scenery.


―I’m certainly glad you decided to do so. As a person living in Tokyo, I’m happy you made that decision, since a lot of us do not have the chance to visit Finland. I’m sure that most people do not have the opportunity to see your original artwork, and usually only see products created from your collaborations with different designers and companies. What do you want for people coming to this exhibition to feel after seeing your original artwork?


For me, my artwork is not a mere sketch of its’ complete version; it is a piece of art in itself. I want the people looking at my originals to understand the process of how my artwork transforms into textiles, or understand the connections between the cloth designs [that I created with my collaborators] and my original pieces of art.

―From here, I would like to ask some questions regarding your artwork. Ms. Ura, you use a type of art technique where you first create a background by shading different colors of crayons, and then creating designs on top of the waxy surface with toothpicks. Why do you use such a unique technique to create your artwork?


As an artist, I treasure subtle changes in color and texture. When I was experimenting with my artwork, I found out that using crayons was the best way for me to create my artwork. As for using toothpicks to make my designs, I find that it is the best way for me to depict sceneries that I find beautiful.

―As an artist, do you draw the first image that comes to your mind?


It depends. Sometimes I draw exactly what I image in my mind, and other times I am able to make pieces created purely by chance. Then again, there are times where I start by drawing what I’ve planned in my mind, only to find other shapes and designs that I’ve created without meaning to. I value such findings, so I try to keep an open mind when I’m creating my works of art.

―I’m sure you’ll have such findings regarding the texture of your pieces?


Yes. A lot of the time, art changes in accordance to texture, so I experiment with the textures of my pieces every day while I’m creating my art. For example, there are many different kinds of crayons out there in the world; from the crayons we use in preschool, to special oil pastels. Oil pastels do not mix at all, and you are able to almost paint it on a wall of canvas. It may seem kind of obsessive, but one crayon can change everything about a work of art.

―Do you have a piece of artwork that has left an impression on you as an artist?


Hmm…I put so much effort and thought into all of my pieces so it’s hard for me to pick one particular piece. When I’m creating my pieces, I go though a stage where I go back and try to remember the scenery I’m about to draw. Since all my memories are a little bit different from one another, even if I’m drawing the same scenery, no two pieces of art will come out looking the same. Since my art is created this way, every single one of them has left an impression on me as an artist.

―I see you’ve chosen three pieces as the DM visual for this exhibition. Do you have any thoughts on those three?


Yes, those three pieces are the most special to me. I divided my pieces into three groups; “Pieces that portray the movement of the wind and water”, “Invisible Powers like the Wind”, and “Pieces that emphasize the subtle differences between the shapes and colors that can be seen with our eyes”. Like I’ve explained before, this exhibition is divided into three groups, so the DM pieces all represent each theme. This picture of a forest is one that I drew while I was touring the country of Finland, so I have a lot of memories concerning this one. I’m selling a handkerchief with this design at this exhibition, and I drew this while remembering the beautiful scenery of Finland.

―So do you feel that you are able to gain a lot as an artist, living in Finland?


Yes, most definitely. I’ve been using this technique of art even before I visited Finland, but the reason why I was doing so was in order to expand the image of the product that I was going to create later on. Thus, it wasn’t a work of art in itself; it was just a practice piece.

However, I was influenced greatly by the beauty of nature in Finland. My pieces are created only by my memories of nature in Finland, so had I chosen another country to visit, my pieces would probably have been completely different from what I am drawing now.

―As of now, do you have any plans to live in other countries?


I do want to, but it’s tough. I do go on trips to other countries, but I usually just go as tourist, rather than an artist. When I do go for artistic motives, I prefer to “look, then understand it within myself, and then draw”, so I don’t draw during the trip, and commence drawing after I return to Finland.

―What motivated you to first live in Finland?


I studied there during graduate school. After I graduated from Musashino Art University, I studied abroad at the Helsinki School of Arts, Design and Architecture (now Aalto University). I had wanted to study abroad from when I was in graduate school. In graduate school, I studied textile design, which closely resembles the art that I create today. At graduate school, I was able to find what I truly wanted to do in my life, but I was unable to learn how to communicate my passion for textile design with other people, such as by creating products for sale. I wanted to learn how to do so, and during my third year of college I went to go look at schools in Finland and decided to study at the Helsinki School of Arts, Design and Architecture for graduate school.


―Did you find anything interesting during your stay there?


Finland isn’t a very stimulating place, and it is very rural compared to Tokyo. However, it was a very nice place to live in because everything was all centered on one spot. There was also a lot of nature, and the atmosphere was very cozy and easy going.

―My impression of Finland is one from the movie Kamome shokudo (“Gull Diner”)*, but is it that kind of easygoingness that can be seen in the movie?


That movie gives a good portrayal of Finnish people and the city of Helsinki. Of course, in reality, there are times where the city can be tiring. But all in all, Finland in the movie is very similar to the Finland that I am experiencing.


*A Japanese movie released in March 2006 based on the novels of the same name. In this film, a group of three unique women form close friendships during their stay in Helsinki.



―Next, I would like to ask some questions about you, Ms. Ura. What kind of student were you while you were studying in Musashino Art University?


While I was at university, all I did was create art. Before I entered university, I didn’t know a single thing about textile art, and embarrassingly enough, I didn’t even know what the word “textile” meant. During high school, I was ignorant enough to think that textiles were a type of typography art*. I guess I knew what textile art was, but I couldn’t connect that to the word “textile” in my head. There was one time where a Tama Art University professor specializing in textiles came to our school and I thought “how cool would it be to study typography in freshman year”. Needless to say, I had gotten it completely wrong. That is how much I was ignorant I was about textile art.


―I see. When and why did you become interested in textile art?


Well, I did choose it for my college degree. I’d always loved drawing things, but I knew I couldn’t make a living out of just drawing. However, I wasn’t that good at graphic design, and besides, I wanted to do something that required the use of my hands. I was also interested in artistic and industrial handicraft, but I really wanted to make something that had to do with lifestyles in general. My upperclassman also advised me to major in textile when I told them that I had loved drawing from a young age. That is why I first thought of majoring in ceramic art. That was when I found out about textile art. I was amazed to find that such world existed, and

*The art of creating design from words or letters


―When did you really get in to textile art?

I guess that would be when I made the decision to major in it. I became more engrossed in it as time went by. I was also inspired by the works of designers Marimekko and Mina Perhonen. I really feel that their works are not just fashion, and that every single one of their pieces has a story behind it.

―Who is your favorite artist or piece of art?


The artist that has inspired me most is textile designer Mr. Fujio Ishimoto. I was able to collaborate with designing company Marimekko thanks to his support. There are even some pieces by Mr. Ishimoto that I’ve liked even before I found out that they were his. Yes, my favorite artist in the textile art industry will have to be Mr. Ishimoto.


―This is my last question. Is there something that you’ll like to challenge after this exhibition?


I opened this exhibition mainly to show my original works of art, but I also opened it in order to search for ways to exhibit my original work in the future. So in the future, I’d like to spread my art not just through print, but with other ways [such as exhibitions]. “How to change a simple cloth with my textiles.” I’d like to keep this constantly in mind while creating my art in the future.

Sawako Ura Exhibition Muistin maisema

Textile designer Sawaji Ura First Exhibition

Open from July 12th, 2014 to July 29th, 2014


About Sawako Ura


Sawako Ura was born in 1986, and is a textile designer from Tokyo. She graduated from Musashino University of Art in 2008, and moved her artistic activities to Finland, where in 2011 she obtained a master’s degree at Aalto University. She has worked as a freelance artist, and her art mainly consists of depictions of nature and her memories of Finnish scenery. She has also participated in group exhibitions and competitions, and in 2010, she received a prize at the cocca-sponsored Textile Print Festival 2010. In 2012, she collaborated with the Marimekko 20122S/S Collection, and is still provides them her works from time to time.