Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Art & History Feature - Interview with Watercolor Painter Keiko Tanabe

Flamenco Dancer II
As you know, I love discovering artists who inspire and fascinate me. A few months ago, I discovered one such artist, watercolor painter Keiko Tanabe. I paint with watercolors (also spelled watercolours) and this medium is especially near and dear to my heart, so it's always a pleasure to discover painters who have a wonderful proficiency with watercolors. I contacted Keiko and asked if I can do an interview with her, and she graciously agreed. Enjoy her art throughout the post, and check out her bio and contact information below.

*Please note, all images in this post are the property of Keiko Tanabe and cannot be reproduced without permission.

Interview Q&A  with Keiko Tanabe

Why are watercolours your favorite medium to paint with? Have you painted using any other media?

I tried other painting mediums when I started out back in 2005, just to see which would suit me better.  It was watercolor that I found more challenging but immensely captivating.  A practical reason may be that I thought watercolor would be easier to travel with.  Since I wanted to travel and paint en plein air, the portability was somewhat important.

Eiffel Tower, Paris III

How did being a world traveler affect your art?

I have been fortunate to be able to travel both for my previous and for my current jobs, and for my own pleasure sometimes.  Travel is just another passion of mine besides painting.  I can say that traveling over the years has made me humble, more tolerant of differences and appreciative of the world we live in.  I think this sentiment is reflected in my artwork and subject choices.   That said, as a plein-air painter, I would be quite happy at home because I live in San Diego that offers a variety of subjects for landscapes.

Laguna Beach, California, I

What are your favorite places to paint?

I get inspired to paint when I see an intriguing story developing or when I see beautiful light and atmosphere.  It could be a view outside my studio window or a spectacular view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower or anywhere.  Out of many places where I previously painted, some of my favorites were: San Diego, Brittany and Aquitaine (France), Costa Brava (Spain), Venice (Italy) and villages in China.

Shirakawa-Go Gifu, Japan, XIII

You said that you are mostly self-taught. What is your advice for beginner artists?

Practice often, on a daily basis if possible, and make it a priority.  Nothing is more important than this, I believe.  I always tell my students to paint a lot, make a lot of mistakes and learn from them.  Other things I can advise are: hone basic skills such as drawing, study with someone you respect, find a supportive mentor and like-minded painter friends.  Learning enriches our life but it is a journey with many ups and downs.  We just have to persevere to achieve our goal.

Chateau de Bord de Mer, Dinard, France

I love the fluidity and the looseness of your watercolours. How do you achieve it.

Occasionally, I have people comment on my work by saying “Your painting looks just like a photo.”  But seen up close, it is far from it because I do not put in a lot of details in my painting.  I like to simplify a complex subject into basic shapes, which I freely re-arrange to make more visual sense.  To me, to come up with a good composition also means that it is simpler than the reality thus will allow me to paint loosely.  Technically speaking, I utilize wet-in-wet or dry-in-wet for softer edges that create an atmospheric effect.

Street, Florence, Italy

Who are your favorite artists - past and/or present? Who's your inspiration?

When I started painting, I didn’t know any watercolor artists until I discovered a little later works of John Singer Sargent, Trevor Chamberlain, Robert Wade,  Alvaro Castagnet to name a few.  I liked their subject choices and painting approach, which I wanted to learn for my travel journaling.  As a woman and someone who would like to do more figurative work in the future, I also admire Mary Whyte.

San Pasqual Valley, San Diego, California

Bio and Contact Info

Keiko doing an outdoor demo in France
Keiko was born in Kyoto, Japan.  As a child growing up in an art-loving family, she always enjoyed drawing and painting and won many awards in children's art contests.  However, art was not her chosen field of study later on.  She earned a B.A. in intercultural communication (International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan) and an M.A. in international education (UCLA, California).  She then worked in international relations positions in a Japanese government trade organization in Tokyo, at a large law firm in San Francisco and at a private consulting firm in San Diego.  In the last 25 years, she has traveled extensively, mainly in European countries, Asia and North America.

Through all these years, Keiko knew there was in her heart the growing desire to someday become an artist.  That, fueled by her love of travel and strong interest in other cultures, eventually found its way out in 2003.  After learning basic drawing and watercolor painting skills at a local community school in San Diego, she took on her first project as an artist together with her father, a renowned scholar of French literature in Japan.  Through the Azure Sea and Sky of Provence: A Tribute to Her Joie de Vivre (Kosei Publishing, Osaka, Japan) was published in August, 2003, authored by her father and illustrated by Keiko.  From then on, she intensely taught herself to be fluent in watercolor painting, just as one would do to master a foreign language.

Mostly self-taught, Keiko embarked on a professional art career in 2005 and started exhibiting publicly.  In the same year she took a workshop from Alvaro Castagnet and discovered the joy of plein-air painting.  Since that year her paintings have been juried into many exhibitions across Americas and in Asia and Europe.  Her work has been purchased by private and corporate collectors from all around the world.  She also had her paintings published in leading art magazines in the U.S., France and Japan.  Additionally, she self-publishes her art books and six books have been completed by 2014.  She's also a sought-after workshop instructor.  Since 2011, she has been invited to and completed successfully more than 70 workshops around the world.  Keiko currently lives in San Diego, California.
To find out more about Keiko and see her work, visit her website:

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