Hearing Echoes with Shoko Ishida July 30 2020

Shoko Ishida is a Japanese artist and illustrator currently residing in Michigan, United States. Inspired by the idea of transience, nature, fashion, the nostalgic culture of Japan, she strives to create works that sparks a story. The coffee and tea enthusiast creates her mixed media works mainly using acrylics, watercolour, colour pencil, ink, gouache, and pastel in her studio with her golden retriever sleeping by the desk.

Interview by Viet-My Bui. Photos supplied by Shoko Ishida.

What were your earliest memories of being creative? 

I loved drawing and writing, ever since I was young. From kindergarten, my favourite homework was picture diaries. During my elementary school years, I would fold papers and draw my own manga in them, sharing them with my classmates. I was inspired by my mother, too. Even though my mother didn’t pursue art as a career, she was always an artist at heart. Besides drawing, she did things like tole paintings, stained glass, beaded accessories and such. Her hands are magical, as they always create something beautiful. I don’t think I can ever colour a picture book better than her.

Tell us your journey of becoming a practising artist. Do you work as an artist full time?

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. The summer after graduation, I also attended the Illustration Academy located in Kansas City for five weeks. Currently I work as a fine artist, freelance illustrator, and part-time instructor at a nearby art workshop.

I’ve always loved to draw and write since I was young, but I only saw it as a hobby. The summer before my last year in high school, I had an opportunity to learn about art careers, and thought it could possibly be the path I wanted to take. I was really late in the game, but decided to work towards getting into art college and started making portfolios while taking the necessary art class. I was very fortunate to get into College for Creative Studies as an Illustration major. 

Throughout my years there, I took many different classes, met inspiring people, and remembered my passion for storytelling that I'd had ever since I was young. I decided to pursue this as my career as much as I can.

Your characters are often enmeshed with and wrapped in organic forms. What is the inspiration behind this?

I initially liked the image and became fond of the idea when I created Nocturne I and Nocturne II pieces in 2016, which were inspired by one of Alexander McQueen’s iconic works in his exhibition, Savage Beauty. While making tons of thumbnails for them, I had a lot of shape variations, which I wanted to explore more afterwards. The idea has lots of possibilities and it’s fun to think of the designs. In my series I did for the 3-person show at Nucleus Portland in 2019, I got a lot of comments and messages from people saying they felt synced with the emotions in the pieces. In some images the figure is hiding behind the shapes, while in others the figure is exposed as the shapes bloom open. I think I’m unconsciously expressing myself in them as well, as I like to hide and keep things to myself, but also try to breathe, reveal, and let go a little at a time.

There is a sense of peacefulness and quietness in your work, with a beautiful balance of negative space. Can you tell us more about this approach? How do you access your own sense of peace in these strange and uncertain times?

Thank you for the kind words! I think the visual contrast of the rendered figure and the shapes brings interest to the viewers eyes, which I usually keep in mind to have in my works. I also try to keep the textures interesting when there’s a large shape or area of negative space to add to that. I find peace in my work when I begin to translate my initial thumbnails into drawings, and when rendering faces and hands. In contrast, to keep a sense of mystery and challenge for myself, I use the negative space in my artwork to experiment with different materials and methods. Sometimes making marks like scraping with utility knives, sanding with sandpaper, rolling and flicking paint. Of course I wouldn’t like the result 100% of the time, but it’s also fun to think about how to make it better from there and it's very satisfying when it all works in the end. It’s very rewarding.

I guess the quietness comes from my personality, as I’m a quiet person myself, and more than likely this could be reflected in my works. I also live in a city that is calm and friendly, just north of Detroit. It is situated further away from the community, but I feel at peace around here.

How do you make art when facing a shortage of inspiration or motivation?

For me, inspiration comes easier than motivation. Battling with my own mind with its negative thoughts and self-doubt often gets in the way of creating, and sometimes kills my motivation and gives me a hard time focusing on my work. During those moments, if time allows, I will go and do something else that I can enjoy without thinking too much  like watching a movie, rereading my favourite books, or going outside for a walk with my dog. I believe it’s important to take care of your mental health as it can affect motivation, approach and vision towards your creations   so I’m always working towards that.

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

I have three pieces for this group show so while I don’t have a specific title for my works overall, there is a feeling behind it. When the pandemic hit, I think a lot of people took it differently. For some, it was and still is a long, dark, and quiet time on their own. Hearing echoes of only your voice, feeling like daydreaming at night. I wanted to bring forth an everlasting dawn in their heart.

What are you listening/reading/watching/playing right now?

The last song I was listening to was Spirits of the Sea by Kenshi Yonezu, reread GOTH by Otsuichi, watching a stream on Twitch, and have been playing Animal Crossing New Horizon.

What are some projects you'd like to work on in the future?

Working on cover illustrations for long series of books, art directing and creating illustrations for CD albums and music merchandise, getting involved in animation, collaborating with fashion designers and publishing my own book.

Thank you so much for your time, Shoko!