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Monday, February 7, 2011

Keiko Tanabe. Interview.

Keiko Tanabe is an award-winning watercolor artist.  Her paintings have been juried into many exhibitions across North America and in Asia.  Her work has been purchased by private collectors from all around the world.

It was not long ago when you become a full time artist. What made you to give up a settled job to devote yourself to Art fully?
- I always worked hard to realize the choices I had made whether it was my study or my work, so I didn't quite feel like I "gave up" anything when I made a career change.  Throughout my life I enjoyed creative activities and I was aware of my desire to become a painter growing stronger over the years.  I practiced painting in my spare time and decided to do it full-time when I felt the time was right.

Keiko Tanabe. Waiting For Spring. 21,5x29 cm

Did you always know that watercolor is your medium?
- When I started making art, I tried watercolor and also other mediums such as acrylic and pastel (I avoided oil because of health concerns).  The elusive nature of watercolor intrigued and frustrated me more than the others and I had to understand why it was so difficult to control it.  That was my initial reaction and luckily it was more of an attraction than a deterrence to me.  The more I worked in watercolor, the more I was convinced that this must be the best medium to express my emotions.

Keiko Tanabe. Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto. 21,5x29

You have been travelling so much, living in Asia, Europe, America. Is there any influence of Japanese culture in your works? Do you feel any cultural connection?
- I was born and grew up in Japan, and am now living in the U.S.A.  I have traveled extensively all over Europe but never lived there for an extended period of time.  No matter where I am, my cultural identity is deeply rooted in Japan and I believe that is reflected in the work I do and in some of the techniques I use.
Keiko Tanabe. River Cruise, Kyoto, 21,5x29 cm

You paint a lot of architectural objects. Is it your favorite motive?
- Architecture is a form of human ingenuity that reveals so much about people's lifestyles and traditions in each culture.  I find it very fascinating.  I am not trained as an architect but I do appreciate the beauty it creates and take advantage of its technical aspects somewhat.  It gives my paintings a sense of place and a sense of perspective.
Keiko Tanabe. Gokonomiya Shrine, Kyoto, 29x21,5 cm

Most of your works look almost monochrome. Have you got your favorite colors or color relationships?
 - I use colors from the wide range of spectrum but I prefer mixing them rather than applying pure colors to my painting. I am particularly fond of mixing colors to create a range of warm and cool grays.  When mixed well, they create a beautiful atmosphere and subtle nuances of the mood in my painting.

Keiko Tanabe. Marseille, Port, 21,5x29 cm

Your paintings look very well organized. They all seem to combine rationalism of drawing and atmospheric touch of watercolor medium. How far can you go with spontaneity of water? Do you let some coincidence happen in your work?
- Laying down my first wash, I like working largely wet-in-wet.  Dropping in colors on the moist paper and letting them blend can be the most exciting moment.  I may also experiment new techniques and try different color combinations.  I do all this according to the plan I made at the outset, but as you know with watercolor, things don't always work the way you plan, so I have also learned to be flexible and go with the flow.
Keiko Tanabe. Asakusa, Tokio, 29x21,5 cm

You are graduated from non-artistic Institute. Some people have a gift for painting. But how did you get your drawing skills which seem to be the basis of your painting?
- Drawing was one of my favorite pastimes when I was growing up.  A good thing for me was that I never had anyone say anything negative about my drawing, which was a huge encouragement and had a lasting effect on me as a child.  I never learned how to draw or paint but won many awards in children's art contests.  As a grown-up, I took one drawing class to learn basic technical skills in 2004 before starting painting.

Do you sometimes finish your painting right on location or the work in the open is merely a study for a bigger work finished in studio?
- I usually do small paintings on location and try to finish whenever possible.  Some of them provide a basis for larger works I do later in my studio.  But when I work outdoors, I just treasure the experience for my own learning and don't really think about turning it into a larger studio piece.

Keiko Tanabe. San-Diego, Rainy Day, 21,5x29 cm

Do you paint daily?
- Yes, I do. It's my job.
Keiko Tanabe. Torino, 29x21,5 cm

What is your attitude to the statement that watercolor should be only transparent? Have you ever used any additional material like masking or white paint?
- The reward for working in transparent watercolor is immense as there are certain effects that can be attained only by this approach, and I admire those who have mastered  this challenging method.  As a watercolorist, I believe in making efforts to follow the basic principles of traditional watercolor painting as long as it doesn't compromise one's artistic expression.  I just don't like worrying too much about rules and not having fun when I paint, so yes, if I lose the white of paper, I may resort to using white paint at the end, in very small amounts.  I also mix white to another color sometimes for small areas in my paintings.  I don't use masking tools.

Keiko Tanabe. Tea House, Shanghai, 21,5x29 cm

What are your professional materials priorities: colors, paper, brushes?
- I cannot paint the way I want without my favorite brushes, so that's number one.  Then, paper, and paints.  I use the best tools that I can afford.

Keiko Tanabe. Roma. 29x21,5 cm
What would be your advise to the art lovers who hesitate to make a step from amateur to professional art?
- It's a big step, and I know it doesn't happen overnight.  There are a lot of things to consider and a lot of obstacles to overcome.  Once you realize making art is your calling and you want to paint as a professional, start making plans and work on them, one by one.  The process could take months or years.  During the process, I think it is important that you believe you are a professional artist and act like one.  People will gradually recognize and support you as such, which really helps you make the transition.
February, 7, 2011
 Keiko Tanabe. Duomo, Milano, 29x21,5 cm


  1. Keiko...great interview! Very informative and inspiring. Beautiful paintings as always.

  2. Hi Keiko - thank you for these calm and realistic sentiments - I love your work and am inspired by your approach - Stephen

  3. I feel very close to your choices of life and you artistic language...thank you to your clear soul...I will reach you in Bandouille - Tullia

  4. I have a set of paintings of sail boats signed by Keiko. On the back of each painting is a gold seal "An Original American Art created by American Art Industries Miami Florida. Would these be some of your earlier art?

  5. Kathy, Stephen, Tullia, I'm glad you enjoyed my interview - the questions Konstantin asked were really good and important. I owe him a lot for helping me think and talk about the truth in me. Tullia, I enjoyed meeting you at Bandouille, and hope to see you again soon. LSW, unfortunately it doesn't sound like the paintings you own are mine. I'd contact American Art Industries in Miami and go from there.

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