Having an Underwater Picnic with APAK October 07 2019

APAK Studio is a collaborative project between Aaron Piland and Ayumi Kajikawa. They create artwork together as a way exploring the beauty, mystery, and magic of life. APAK paint rich and colorful gouache/acrylic artworks on wood featuring the utopian lives and adventures of curious little beings living harmoniously in lush fantastic environments surrounded by friendly little animals.

We recently interviewed Aaron and Ayumi about their upcoming show Underwater Picnic, as well as working together as partners in art and life, finding inspiration in the everyday, and their muse, Akira.

Interview by Viet-My Bui. Photos supplied by APAK.

How did the two of you meet?

We met in Grand Rapids, Michigan during our sophomore year in art school where we both majored in illustration. Ayumi was a foreign student from Japan and Aaron was a local boy. We randomly met twice before finding out we went to the same school. 

Early APAK artwork from 2006.

What are the origin stories of your art practice? How did each of you come to realise your craft?

Ayumi has always been interested in characters and their stories. Maybe because she grew up in Japan, Sanrio characters have been a major influence for her as a child. Aaron has always been interested in plants and nature, maybe because his parents were hippies. His mom was an art teacher and planted the artist seed at a young age.

Walk us through your creative process as a duo.

Aaron starts the pieces by painting the environments and passes the art over to Ayumi to explore with her characters. Ayumi passes it back to Aaron to add the finishing touches. Sometimes it goes back and forth 2-3 times until it's done. It's a good formula that works for us because we each get to do what we like, emphasising our strengths.

What is the most challenging aspect of collaboration?

Early on we had challenges stepping on each other’s toes. We were trying to figure out the balance of our happy place in collaboration. But as our experience grew over time, we learned to respect each other's boundaries.

How has APAK Studio evolved over the years?

In 2000 APAK Studio began as a web portfolio project in art college. We combined our initials together to form the name but we didn't start collaborating together on paintings until 2005 when we moved back to the states from Japan. When we settled in Portland, Oregon, we felt like we found our place and a welcoming creative community. In the beginning our work was very vivid, opaque, colorful, and graphic, but over the years it has become looser, more translucent with a darker color palette.

A collaboration with Aki.

How important is individual practice when you’re both working and parenting together?

Making space for each other to grow has been very important. We have always had our own projects and ideas, but as our collaboration evolved, our time for individual work became limited especially after becoming parents 8 years ago. Recently we have been living separately which has allowed our individual focus to change and grow in new directions. Aaron has started his own individual practice focused on exploring his inner world (@aaronpiland) and Ayumi has a whole new career separate from art.

What are your favourite things to do outside of making art?

Everything is art so it's hard to separate life from art, but Aaron spends much of his time admiring the magnificent creativity of nature, being in the moment, and exploring life with our son Aki. Ayumi enjoys yoga, cooking/eating/drinking, catching up with friends and Aki.


Tiny intrepid explorers and lush, otherwordly landscapes. What inspires the stories, environments and characters in your artworks?

Who knows where it all comes from! These worlds just happen when we sit down and move our hands around with brushes and paints. Maybe it comes from memories of the past or visions of the future? It's a mystery to us too!

There is a sense of magic and play in all your artworks. How do you cultivate this spirit in your work, and your personal lives?

Even before we met our son in person, he has been a great source of magic and play in our personal and artistic lives. He is our muse.


How do you involve your son Akira in your creative pursuits?

Aki has been collaborating with us since he was born. He is both our biggest art project and greatest teacher! He has been a constant source of inspiration for us and we involve him as much or as little as he wants. We have painted together, drawn together, and been in art shows together. He has seen what it's like making art for a living and the challenges that come with that lifestyle. Recently he painted an Extinction Rebellion sign.

What is the concept behind your pieces for your upcoming show at Outré Gallery?

Underwater Picnic is a theme that Aaron came up with. It comes from that story of the fish who can't appreciate water/life until they are removed from it. So it's a celebration of life and an appreciation of the flow of life that surrounds us at all times, even when we don’t notice it.

What individual or studio projects do you have in the pipeline?

We have been working on getting a children's book published. Aaron has started his own series of paintings and collaborations with other artists which can be seen online at aaronpiland.com . Ayumi is planning to take on her own art projects in the near future.

Thank you so much for your time, Aaron, Ayumi (and Aki!).

Feature Show
Outré Gallery Fitzroy
18 – 30 October 2019
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