Ai Higaki currently lives and works from a small village in Spain, under a stork’s nest – read on to explore a little more of the wonderful world behind her artwork.
Was there an illustrated book which you really sunk into the pages of as a child?
I really loved a book called “Guri and Gura”, a classic Japanese children book. It’s not a gorgeous fairly tale about magnificent dragons and princesses, but a simple and friendly story of two food-loving field mice. Guri and Gura go acorn-gathering in a forest to make a preserve but find a huge egg, They decide to make a massive cake, which they share with their animal friends including an elephant, a lion, and a crocodile… It’s not a complex story, but I was fascinated by how Guri and Gura enjoy life; ideal for me! They live in me still.
Do you think the changing of the seasons comes through in your work, for example in use of palette or choice of subjects?
I draw from nature a lot, so naturally my work is influenced by the seasons. It’s getting warm these days, so I draw spring flowers and colourful birds a lot now instead of fluffy squirrels or plump robins. I grew up in Japan where cherry blossom trees have a very special meaning, so I find myself at the moment making designs which remind me of these frothy pink flowers. I do have some favourite themes though, whatever the weather.
Can you unpick where on your life’s journey the motifs, techniques or styles in your work were found?
I grew up surrounded by classic Japanese cartoons, which form a kind of creative foundation for me. Since my first visit to England I have been captivated by the wonderful tradition of British illustration – Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, E.H.Shepard and Raymond Briggs. One of my heroes is William Morris who I first experienced, many years ago, when I visited Kelmscott Manor. I admire his work, of course, but also his character, his principles and his love of English nature. I think I first fell in love with the wildlife of England when I did The Cumbria Way on foot with my husband, camping in the fells; such an inspiration!
What’s caught your imagination recently?
Currently I’m living in West Spain which is a bird paradise!!! After the winter rains finally ended, swallows and house martins arrived, right on time, and we wake up now with a blue thrush singing in our terrace, white storks busying around us preparing and fixing their nests and a black redstart that comes to our ’bird café’ for lunch. A few days ago we went for a walk, and I saw the newborn jumpy happy lambs. The cheerful spring atmosphere always inspires me to draw something colourful and vivid!
What would be your perfect brief?
I enjoy mushrooming and bird-watching nowadays. I wish I could have done these things in my youth! I would love to show people how enjoyable these activities are. When you go mushrooming or birding you also study trees, insects, animals; not just how they look, but how they smell and feel. I would love to be involved with a natural guidebook for children, which you could take with you on trips, and which would wear out gradually as you read more and more. I’m always thinking of children. I would love to entertain them with my work, make them giggle when they see my illustrations.
To see samples of Ai’s artwork, click here.