We have a special treat for you today! Pour your favorite beverage and tuck in to our interview with author of Sewing Happiness and Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl, blogger, and illustrator extraordinaire – Sanae Ishida!
After years of drowning in stress, Sanae received a serious autoimmune disease diagnosis. She decided then and there to take her health and happiness into her own hands. Sanae is a dear friend to both Tristan and I and her creative talents and sheer determination never fail to amaze us. We find Sanae’s story hugely inspiring, and hope you do too!
Sewing Happiness is the most personal sewing project book we’ve ever come across! Were you nervous to tell the world about the events surrounding your autoimmune disease diagnosis?
Yes!! I had actually written a little about my experience on my blog here and there, but let’s just say that my readership — though wonderful and very interactive — is not what you’d call “massive”. I discovered that there is a palpable difference between writing something for the interwebs which feels weirdly anonymous as well as ephemeral (and easily deletable) and writing for print publication which has a sense of permanence. In my mind, writing a book felt so big, so brimming with gravitas, so…scary. It didn’t help that while writing, I relived that rather sad and embarrassing time in my life, but you know, I’m so glad I did it. There was that satisfaction of making it through difficult memories and coming out better and healthier on the other side, for sure, but I’m just very proud of the book as a whole: its atypical memoir + craft book hybrid, the simple, uncluttered aesthetics, the running theme of wabi-sabi (the Japanese concept of finding beauty in imperfection).
How would you describe your sewing skill level before you began your year long project?
Oh, completely beginner!
Somewhere between beginner and intermediate, maybe?
It’s been a few years since you decided to take your health and life into your own hands. How are you feeling today? What do you do when you get off-track?
It’s been four years, and I’m world’s better now than I was in May of 2012. That’s not to say that I don’t have Graves’ Disease anymore. My immune system is still compromised, so I do get sick easily if I’m not careful. Stress is the big trigger for me, and I’m like a stress management vigilante! Over the last few years I’ve experimented with all sorts of health-boosting activities, and whenever I found something that seemed to work, I stuck with it. I’ve been meditating daily for a couple of years now, and it really helps me control my stress levels. I have this crazy daily regimen that also includes: exercise, green juice, and (you’re free to roll your eyes) snuggles with my family. Until they became habits, I actually wrote them down as list items every single day in my calendar. I called it my daily GEMS (Green juice, Exercise, Meditation, Snuggles) so I could remember them easily. I know that it’s totally annoying to read that, but it took me a very long time for me to figure out that this combination worked for me, and I’m still experimenting. I do get off-track sometimes because I’m a workaholic by nature and it’s super hard for me to reign in the “I want to do more more MORE” mentality. My body is my automatic alarm system, however, and it’ll start shutting down as soon as I try to do too much. When the coughing begins, I slam on the proverbial brakes and just rest.
Your blog is delightful and you have such supportive readers! How has blogging helped you through your adventure?
Blogging has been a game changer! I had no idea that there were so many kind, lovely people in the world. I started the blog because I wanted to build an illustration portfolio at first, because I knew I didn’t want to go back to corporate work. And then when I realized that sewing was rocking my world, I wanted to share my projects with my mom (who lives in Los Angeles; I’m in Seattle). I had admired so many sewing and illustration and design blogs for many years, and I knew what kind of blog I wanted to form. I find that if I stay true to creating what I wanted to see in blogs, things seem to fall into place and I’ve been blown away by the people who have become a regular part of this little community I’m lucky enough to have discovered. And hey, blogging is how I met you and Tristan!
Congratulations on your watercolor show this month at Drygoods! How did you get started in illustration?
Thank you! My mom is an artist and my two brothers and I have been drawing all our lives. I was designing t-shirts in elementary school, and I somehow always got roped into projects that involved illustrations or drawing in the 25+ jobs I’ve had. One of my favorite examples: when I was in high school and worked as a stock girl at Nordstrom during a holiday season, a sales woman came into the stockroom in a panic. She asked if anyone knew how to puffy paint because there was a monogram event going on but the monogrammer was a no-show (this was the late eighties, keep in mind). I tentatively raised my hand. Word spread quickly that an Asian girl could draw anything with puffy paint and people were smuggling in t-shirts from JC Penney’s and tea towels from other stores in the mall for me to customize. I had a line out the door!! One man slyly handed me a onesie from somewhere decidedly not Nordstrom and asked me to draw a penguin playing a piano. So fun.
Anyway, my point is that I got started early and drawing is something I equate with breathing, so I figured I might as well try to pursue it more seriously. My first foray into professional illustrations (I use the term “professional” very loosely here) was when my daughter was still a newborn, and I was lucky enough to get a couple of fashion clients right away. I made mostly digital drawings and some pen sketches. Unfortunately, my little girl never slept so I was incredibly delirious that first year and decided to focus on child-rearing.
Watercolor is a fairly new medium for me. I’ve always loved its beautiful fluidity even though I kept putting off trying it out. Back in 2012, when I was determined to get an illustration portfolio going as I mentioned previously, I picked up an affordable set of gouache and watercolors and started practicing. Keli, who owns Drygoods Design, saw one of my practice watercolor illustrations on my blog and commissioned me for a sewing machine drawing. That was the initiation of the second phase of my “professional” illustration career.
What are some of your favorite art supplies? (please be specific name products, paper, ink, paints, etc.)
Confession: I’m an art supplies addict. I’ve tried them all from bargain basement to ridiculously high end. I mix and match a lot of different brands and these are my go-to supplies:
Daniel Smith (I own about 10 tubes in various shades of indigo and neutrals)
Li’l Watercolor Paint Pods (a startlingly cheap set meant for kids that I picked up at a friend’s store – great colors!)
PAPER – Paper is where the magic sauce is for me (after the paint, of course). I prefer cold press (textured) vs. hot press (smooth)
Fabriano Studio Cold Press – I usually get the 50-sheet at the local University Book Store
BRUSHES – I’m not very choosy when it comes to brushes because I go through so many. I usually get the cheaper synthetic brushes
Any classes or books you could recommend for someone interested in sewing or watercolor painting?
I’m entirely self-taught with watercolor. As a matter of fact, I don’t have much formal training in art — my mom didn’t actually sit us kids down and methodically explain the technicalities. I learned to draw and paint with acrylic by watching her, and I took one art class in high school and another one at a local community college when I was in my thirties. I learned more from YouTube and the videos on Geninne Zlatkis’ site.
Can you name some of your inspirations? ( it could be anything, art, books, music, K, etc.)
My daughter K, always. She’s just a walking, talking inspiration. Books are also a huge source for ideas (my collection rivals that of art supplies) and I just find a lot of amazingness online: Pinterest, blogs, instagram, etc. I also love to people watch. I go to a lot of cafes, and often spend time simply observing.
Name one random talent you have that people may not know.
I’m ambidextrous. I prefer using my left hand, but I can do pretty much everything (write, play sports, etc.) with my right hand too.