Satsuki Shibuya is not your average watercolorist: she's a trained singer, boasts the best email signature around ("With heart, Satsuki"), and is one of those rare people who can hear color (neuroscientists refer to the phenomenon as synesthesia). And although she's only been painting for a year and a half, she's already captivating the design world with her work on everything from tea towels to calendars.
Shibuya studied music at the University of Southern California with the intention of being a singer and songwriter—but after a few years of working for a record label, she knew that, whatever path she was on, it wasn't the one for her. "My boss actually told me to quit, and pursue what I really wanted," she recalls. "So I went back to school for art and graphic design and started a company, but I was still looking for something that clicked, that felt fulfilling." Graphic design quickly morphed into product design—handmade homegoods, such as tea towels and aprons—which opened up a host of mass-production opportunities she wasn't quite already sure she wanted. "I was creating each product from start to finish," she explains. "If I had gone into full production, nothing would have been hands-on." So she switched gears and started making high-end, one-of-a-kind goods.
But then she hit a wall. "I started getting really stressed out and was physically just not feeling well," Shibuya recalls. "When I got sick, I wasn't able to work at all, and it put a lot of things into perspective." Through regular meditation and a conscious practice of mindfulness, Shibuya endeavored to become more balanced and in touch with herself. Then she began to hear a voice, one telling her to paint. She couldn't believe it. "I actually tried to ignore it for about five months," she says. But when she finally relented and gave painting a try, it turned out to be the very thing she'd been looking for.
Shibuya's paintings definitely have a certain zen quality to them, perhaps due to the spiritual preparation that goes into each and every one. "Every day I go through the rituals of meditation, and then I do some sort of yoga or exercise, and journal or read, if I can. I notice that if I don't, and then I try to paint, it just doesn't work." As you can see from her art, when it works, it works beautifully.
Shibuya has a few shows coming up, the most exciting being a solo exhibition in Tokyo in March. For the first time ever, she will be bringing her songwriting pedigree into her visual process—which, at first, felt a bit daunting. "I see colors when I hear sounds," she explains, "so I thought, What if I were to approach this differently? What if I were to build a song based on the colors I'm seeing, which directly relate to certain notes or sounds?" Given her success over the last eighteen months, Shibuya should have no qualms about trusting her artistic instincts.
You can check out Satsuki Shibuya's work at satsukishibuya.com.