Hiroko Shimizu headshot

Hiroko Shimizu

When was the first time you picked up a calligraphy pen?

It was the summer of 1994 when I was living in Boston. I didn’t even know the word “calligraphy” until then.

What is the best advice you ever received (lettering or otherwise)?

It was not really advice but a comment I got from the instructor after a workshop I took. However, it has the same meaning as advice for me. That is “You took a great leap of faith.” I signed up for that workshop just out of my curiosity and intuition, even though I couldn’t clearly understand the class description. The class was fabulous, and I had a precious experience. I talked with the instructor afterwards and told her what lead me to join the class. Then what she said was the words above. She made me realized the meaning and worth of my action by those words. “Taking a leap of faith” has been my guiding words since then.

Why do you letter? What keeps you coming back every day?

I think it is because the letters are what stimulate my curiosity, and the actions of writing, drawing and carving letters invigorate my body and soul. I also realize that one of the reasons is that as I continue calligraphy for a longer period of time, the world I see through calligraphy expands and the relationship with friends I meet deepens, which leads to the joy of writing and enriches my life.

What is your dream project?

I’m not sure if it’s a proper answer but conducting an interesting class in this conference IS my present dream project. My solo exhibition being held now in Bruges is getting closer to the end. After it finishes, I need to make a good balance of tension and relaxation. For taking a steady step to the future, I would like to concentrate on the things around my feet, by aiming for a successful class in WOTE. After all, this is my debut of teaching abroad!

Large calligraphy installation by Hiroko Shimizu

Large calligraphy installation by Hiroko Shimizu

What research do you do when learning or starting something new? i.e. a new style or new project.

I like to do the research. In this spring, I made three pieces using sumi ink on Japanese paper. Since I had to stretch those finished work over a wooden panel, I looked through some referential articles and videos about the detailed process of stretching Japanese paper on a panel and a nature of sumi on the Internet. I also visited a professional mounter to ask some questions and did some rehearsals. It was a rather difficult challenge, but I could have a very satisfying result. 

One of the things where I especially feel the importance of research is in making large sized work and installation work. When creating such work, I begin by researching the size of the venue where the work will be exhibited, the color, texture and material of the walls and floor, and other details. Then, I begin to create the work while envisioning the specific installation method. Grasping the impression of the size of the work when exhibited beforehand is important both for the work itself and for the exhibition as a whole. I often use a computer to superimpose the image of the draft and the venue and check an impression. 

Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you.

Other than lettering artists, Antoni Gaudí, the Japanese dye artist Samiro Yunoki, and the Japanese architect Yusuke Koshima come to mind. I am particularly inspired by Yunoki’s bold compositions that make fascinating use of form and space, and by Koshima’s fanciful drawings depicted with fine texture.

What do you aim to say with your work? 

This is a tough but interesting question. What do I aim to say with my work? I wonder if I ever aim to say something. I recalled the time I made some pieces this spring and asked to myself this question, but nothing came to my mind. I like to find or encounter something in my work, during the process, that I didn’t expect in the beginning. However, even if I don’t aim to say something consciously with my work, the finished piece would convey something beyond my imagination, I guess.

Why do you teach? What is your teaching ethos/style?

It is my great pleasure that I can share what I have learned and experienced with my students, and that I can learn by teaching. Whether if it my regular classes or workshops, those are the reasons why I teach. 

As for my teaching style, I will focus on the case of workshops here. Learning in a workshop is a new challenge for the participants. I make sure to fully inform them of the purpose of the workshop at the beginning so that they don’t feel anxious when the topic suddenly starts. I also try to explain each exercise, including its purpose. This is because it is more effective for students to understand the purpose of the exercise before they start working on it. In terms of guidance, I give students suggestions to enhance originality of each person as much as possible, even though it’s for a limited period of time. Most importantly, I try to pay close attention to the students to see if they are not lost and if they are enjoying themselves.

What is your favorite pastime when not in your studio?

I enjoy watching the recorded TV programs of my favorite comedy entertainers and YouTube channels showing the Big Island of Hawaii, my favorite place, for a change. I think it should also be good for maintaining my immune system under the current circumstances.

Your work has influence from Japanese calligraphy, and yet you choose to work mostly in English. How does working in your non-native language affect your work? 

I try to spend enough time to digest the meaning of the text. I often check not only words and idioms I don’t know, but also those what seem simple, as they may have slightly different multiple meanings that I didn’t know before. Sometimes I research on the cultural background. This way, I can digest the text well and let it penetrate my body, not my head. To work without feeling the language barrier in the creative process, I need to take the time to research well in the beginning.

How do you have to think differently while carving letters than drawing them? 

I am not aware of trying to think differently. I guess I subconsciously switch my mind between when I am carving letters and when I am drawing them. In addition to carving letters and drawing them, I also write them. I feel that the sensations of making letters in different ways are sometimes mix together to create a synergistic effect on my creativity.