Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Beautiful 97 Year Old Botanical Artist

97 Year Old Botanical Art Maestro

Botanical art is the name for professional drawings of plants. Originally, botanical artists used to team up with botanists to make drawings of medicinal herbs in order to create a record to help people identify different plants. Chikabo Kumada has made countless book illustrations and picture books with his botanical illustrations. He’s been drawing the insects, animals, and plants which live in his garden and neighboring woodlands for seventy-one years. He’s ninety-seven years old now! Mr. Kumada is known in Japan as a pioneer of botanical art, and he continues his busy career to this day. We spoke to him this week about his thoughts and experiences.

Interview by Takafumi Suzuki
Translation by Claire Tanaka

Mr. Kumada, when did you start drawing illustrations of plants and insects?

I started to do it for work when I was twenty-six. I quit the graphic design company I’d been working at and switched careers without talking to my wife about it first. At that time, all the books had been burned in the war, and bunches of shoddy picture books had started coming in from the Kansai area and I thought, “This won’t do! I’ve got to draw some good picture books.” I love children. That’s why I started doing it. That was where my years of impoverishment began. (laughs)

You were a graphic designer before you started your career as a professional illustrator?

Back then, we didn’t use the English word “designer;” we called what I did a “zuan-ka.” At that time (the 1930s) even the modern idea of “advertising” was new. The firm I worked at, Nihon Kobo, was a groundbreaking company in Japan’s graphic design world. Ayao Yamana, who I considered a mentor, was of course very famous, but there were a lot of other very skilled people who came from there. People like Ken Domon and Yusaku Kamekura started there after me. I was particularly good friends with Domon. We were so busy, we worked every day from morning until the last train at night. We made good money too. (laughs)

Read the whole interview Here


conniewonnie13 said...

Hi Andrew:)
This is a great post and I enjoyed reading it as well as Suzuki on Sound - thanks:) I'd like to share one of my favorite quotes with you, which has been in my thoughts often these last few weeks. It's from Hokusai, the Japanese printmaker:

"At seventy-three I began to understand the true construction of animals, plants, trees, insects, birds and fishes (he omits men). At ninety I will enter into the secret of things. At a hundred I shall certainly have reached a magnificent level; and when I am a hundred and ten, everything - every dot, every dash will live.

May you have many good feelings in your body:))

Cosmic Monkey said...


"When I turned seventy, my works received recognition at an international picture book exhibition in Bologna, I got a lot of press and requests to speak publicly, and I got more work. When Italians and French people see my work, they say, “Mr. Kumada’s pictures are alive. The esprit is like that of Fabre.” Isn’t that nice? So my 80s were really like the bloom of youth for me. But when you reach such an age, you could really die at any moment. So I felt that it was important that I didn’t miss anything, and I took another close look around my garden. And that was when I realized I was able to see things in flowers and leaves that I hadn’t been able to see before, and my work got more detailed. Now when I look at the work I did when I was younger, it’s so amateurish that it embarrasses me. Most people rest on their laurels once they get into their seventies, but that was when life really started for me. (laughs)"

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