Inbound Ambassador

Art as a Way to Live – Mika Horie

Mika Horie lives in the middle of the forest and spends her life making beautiful Washi paper from Gampi weeds and river water which she uses to print her landscape portraits on using sunshine.

In this talk with Mika I am reminded of the many other guests in the seeking sustainability live talkshow series who have followed their passion and moved to rural areas to have a more meaningful life close to nature. I find this dedication to living a simple, meaningful life close to nature so appealing.

Mika’s art informs her life and she embraces the process of making art from nature that goes back to nature as an important part of her daily routine. She describes herself as a farmer, doing different jobs, chores and work dependent on the weather.

I was so inspired by Mika’s philosophy and dedication to the process of her naturally-derived art, I hope you will too. You can listen to the podcast, watch the video, or read the transcript of the talk below. Find out more about Mika Horie on her website here.

JJ Walsh 00:01
Hi, everyone, thanks for joining this is seeking sustainability live. And I’m JJ Walsh in Hiroshima and today I am talking with Mika Horie, an artist who makes her own washi paper – Japanese traditional paper – from weeds that she picks from behind her house. So thank you so much for joining Mika.

Mika Horie 00:25
Ah, hi. Thank you so much for inviting me to your show.

JJ Walsh 00:32
I’m excited to have you. Hi, thanks for joining today. I hope you enjoy this episode. If you want to learn more about the work that I do, check out inbound Ambassador calm. And you can also find me on to get some bonus information and insights from the series. As people are joining the broadcast, I want to show your beautiful video that you sent me which introduces the kind of work that you’re doing. So is it okay to play your video now? Please enjoy and we will be right back.

Mika Horie 01:39
I am Mika Horie from Ishikawa, Japan. To me, art can be a way to live. Through art. I can explore the world and discover different viewpoints, concepts, colors, shapes, and textures from other artists.

JJ Walsh 01:59
(Describing the video) Now you can see the strands of Gampi weeds that she has gathered and taken apart. They are hanging in her house to dry. She’s now taking apart the strands, even more. Now there is a pile of finely layered strands in a basket. Then she collects water from the river next to her house, and puts it into a large pot. The pot is boiling the strands of gampi weeds that she has made into strings in the pot. Next she takes the boiled strands out to the river in a giant metal strainer. And places that in the river of water. Now it’s early morning and the streamed pieces of paper have been in the stream overnight.

Mika Horie 03:30
I spend most of my creative time outside. Drying the harvest of gampi trees from the mountain. papermaking. And Cyanotype printing. I notice the sound of the flowing water. Birds singing. The wind. The smells of trees and flowers in my garden and neighborhood. If I rip up and discard my artwork outside.. everything we return to nature. It is 100% sustainable.

JJ Walsh 04:22
All right with that video, perfect introduction to the wonderful work that you’re doing, Mika. I think the ending of your video is my favorite part, of course because I’m so passionate about sustainability. So I love when you say it’s 100% sustainable. So from picking the weeds that you make the paper from to the end process of putting the waste back into the ground. It’s all natural. There’s nothing bad going into the environment are going into you. So it’s like a perfect circular process. It’s wonderful.

Mika Horie 05:07
Thank you.

JJ Walsh 05:09
So let’s talk a little bit about your background. How did you get interested in art? as a as a child? Were you an artist as a child?

Mika Horie 05:20
Well, actually, I was that it’s hard to say how my career started. My interest started when I was around three, just three years old. I have two sisters, two older sisters, I’m a youngest. And my, both of my sisters enjoyed, like, illustration drawing, like reading manga, and drawing the part of their favorites- Like, beautiful girls of comic manga, and I was watching and how that looked. So interesting, fun. I just really wanted to try something like to draw on paper. And my mother was also conscious about like, recycling. My family reads newspaper every every day and buy newspaper every day, local newspaper, and this so many, like, advertisement like supermarket and architects like closing store, the shopping mall, and every day, my family get, like, dozens of like, advertisement, that’s all printed by paper and on track, it’s going to trash. Then my mother collected all paper that the front is our advertisement. And then the other side is a blank, then my mother pining in the same room, and they’re on the table, and then I found the paper blank paper, many blank papers, and then I started to do something I whatever, I had an interest in it. Like read the girl flowers and the like moments from manga.

Every day I drew more than, like 500 illustration drawings. That I think was the beginning of something I wanted to express on paper. And then my dream was like, becoming clear. Like, I wanted to be something like maybe painter, or decorator or comic artist, like that. I had when I was at primary school, elementary school, primary school and junior high school, like I when I was teenager, I kept throwing something on paper. And then when I was a high school student, I took a class like part time class to get the technique of manga artists, comic artists. But I, through the process of like comic making process, I found that so many process I I have to stay inside room, and then thinking about idea of story and thinking about what character I need to draw, and then that’s the job but I have to stay inside and then there’s no time to go outside go work and then I thought I didnt want it to be my my job (inside). I wanted to go outside i wanted to go to see beautiful sunshine and go to the mountains, live in nature. I wanted to have activities outside, in daytime. So, I got back to like my like starting point when i was 17 years old and then i gave up to study about manga comic writing techniques and then i started to go for wide variation of a career about like paper based artists and then i decided to enter at university called Kyoto university of art and design.

I did information design calls does many like contents included like photography sculpture study and the restoration study the computer work and web design study Before i start talking about like my experience in the UK i just won’t do talk that the turning point of like when i got actually got interest about Washi paper during my study in Kyoto university art & design. There was a study of book-making- I took photography to make my own photo-book as an artist experience then i were thinking about materials the paper and then i visited many paper shops in Kyoto and Osaka near my house and the studied about paper.

Then I enjoyed studying many different textures with paper and one day I went to a Japanese Washi paper shop in Kyoto and I realized how beautiful the paper was and then they said it was possible for inkjet (printer) use Back then, i had no idea about Japanese paper and then I was surprised and i didn’t know that we can use Japanese paper for inkjet printing- so I got interest to use Japanese paper for my very first photo book. (Here it is) it’s hard to explain the texture inside something like the sound the cactus. Some parts are so soft and delicate which adds something special to a black and white image. There is not only black and white cars on the surface of paper there’s so many delicate gradations of light gray, gray and white, whitish. So i the moment i printed out my image on paper and i fell in love with the texture of Japanese paper and I really enjoyed bookmaking with Washi Japanese paper. That was the beginning of my career – started with an interest about “my paper.”

JJ Walsh 15:24
I love that story. And I love the story where you, you were asking about the paper at the paper shop. And you ask Who made it? Because nobody signs the washi paper. But it’s so beautifully made. And that really surprised you that the artists did not sign it. And no, you were thinking, maybe if I made that I would sign it, right?! Because it takes such a long time. And it’s so beautiful. That’s such a good point. I’ve never thought about that.

Mika Horie 16:02
Yeah. After I got the first interest about learning about Japanese paper. I visited so many Japanese paper shop in Kansai area, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, and then yeah, I, of course, I asked the shop staff, shop owner who made the paper? And well, they said only the region. For example, that Washi paper made in the Shikoku area and Hokuriku area, Ichizen village.. they didn’t tell me any, like, particular person, or the name of the artisans. So I was wondering, I, it’s so beautiful, and it has some sign. So I started to think about what the position (situation) of Japanese traditional paper in Japan.

JJ Walsh 17:28
And the value that often the artists has no credit. Isn’t that amazing? Right? Yeah, I’m, I’m showing some of your photos now of you collecting the gampi the gampi tree fibers? And it’s so difficult. Why did you choose the gampi material? Can you tell us the story?

Mika Horie 17:52
Sure. When I was visiting many paper shops. And also at the same time I started to visit many museums to see artists, artworks on Japanese paper. And then one of my favorite photographs He used Japanese paper very thin, like, extra thin Japanese paper. It’s easy to see-through the all beautiful in natural lighting- if you set the work near the window. And then the same time that is creation of an image of nature that’s we think in Shiga (prefecture) landscape and an icy land, with dynamic waves and mountain rocks.

So, it’s that’s combination of natural lighting and the see-through (quality) of natural lighting and an image of nature that was really shocking (impactful) to see. And I studied about his work. And there is a caption like the introduction materials and it said that’s printed on gampi paper and then (I thought) ah okay, that’s what I want to try!. And then purely by chance I found a place that the photographer used that gampi paper, at Hippo gampi paper at paper shop in Osaka, central Osaka. And then I reached the shop the same shop by chance. And then I started to ask the shop owner about more about gampi paper. And then after that I confirmed with myself that – Okay, I want to learn more about gampi paper. My concentration is for gampi paper.

I love many paper- all Japanese paper is so beautiful- I like old all of them but for my artwork it’s the best. I have I been work as a photographer.So for photo printing, like I thought I would need to makemany gradations. And then after I felt assured of my direction for (using) gampi paper. I found a place at artisans place in Shiga called OTSU. It’s near the border of Kyoto and the Shiga Prefecture and so the designs are focused on just gampi paper making. So, that sounded very interesting to me. There are just so many different thicknesses of the different texture copy papers, also color differences.

And say, at the moment I was being like a child like so much treasure for like me and to learn so many things about only gampi papers, and then I was excited too excited. And then somehow still, I got the question. There’s no sign on the paper, though. And then we see like, if I see hundreds of copy paper, it looks the same. But it’s so beautiful. And then it’s all handmade and then in if it’s the same thickness and then each paper has slightly slightly different and subtle texture difference. So I got ideas as only maybe I can make my own company paper if I trained the skills and technique and then first I think I was brave the moment I just curious about it. And then I wondered it’s if it’s possible to study and learn the process of gumpy paper making and the artisan, he said oh yes and Okay, come to my studio tomorrow morning and then the next day I started to study about Gampi paper making.

JJ Walsh 25:01
How long did it take you to learn the process? Did it take a long time to learn how to do it?

Mika Horie 25:10
Yeah, it’s hard to say it’s long time was short time. For about first three months, I, I’ve practiced very basic skills about making very flat sheets that’s the most important technique to making beautiful paper. There’s so many processes. The final process, beautiful surface, making beautiful surface is very important.

JJ Walsh 25:52
I think it’s you or maybe in Hannah Kirschner’s book (who introduced Mika Horie), talking about you pound it out, you make the pulp, you want to make it smooth, but not too smooth. Because the little bits of bumpiness, or the little bit of fiber that you can see, makes the washi paper so unique and so beautiful. Right?

Mika Horie 26:14

JJ Walsh 26:14
It’s wonderful when you can see the variation in the paper.

Mika Horie 26:21
Yeah. The technique. Yeah, I’ve learned so many skills, like, like, for example, the first technique I got, like, how to scoop and how to put the fiber on the screen evenly. That’s the difficult part. And then the artist and I got many advices from our design idea, I appreciated that advice and teaching and then the process, most of the processes that of machine made (paper) nowadays. Like for example, like making pulp.

In Ancient times, people would pound on a very hard surface and crush the fiber by hand. But now, it’s I think, over 80% of our paper mills use a big machine, like chopping, cutting and pounding by electric, like machine. And then that, of course, is very quick and easy. And no energy. And, but the, when I see the fiber that must be made the fiber, it’s too smooth. And then that’s something I feel I hit the gap, something I wanted to reach, like, for my creation and the artisan made (differently) than using machines. So I started to learn what ancient people ancestor did for like, paper making in Nara, period, like Heian period and the Edo period. And then I discovered it’s all by hand. Because there’s no electric. And after I learnt about the old handmade process, I really wanted to try. And, and also I wanted to know how hard was it to do that, um, a long, long time ago, to connect to the very beginning of the history of Japanese paper.

JJ Walsh 29:19
I love that. I whenever I read your Instagram or your Facebook, or about your exhibition or about how you got started as an artist, one thing that comes up again and again is your curiosity. I love that curiosity that you have, which drives your passion, right is wonderful, like, even discovering how to make washi paper from gampi. Like how is that made? Who made it? Where did they make it? I want to learn how to do it right? That curiosity is is so important for sustainability but it also really important for a happy life so it’s so nice to hear someone who’s so curious and then goes and discovers how to do something and then teaches others so you’ve also done workshops right?

Mika Horie 30:16
yeah like i’m the beginning of like for my workshop thinking what process i have to teach for guests with stores that i now i know all the process of paper making because i i harvest or gumpy treats these these materials by myself and do i know how the tree looks like and how to strip the bark and how to how to pump a bark and how to scoop the fibers and then use fresh spring water for only for my paper making. Lucky me that beautiful stream it is next to my studio and then behind my studio is just a mountain so it’s pure, clean natural water and includes natural minerals. Then i wanted to offer all the process, all the experience -the same as my everyday life and my everyday creation- then i started to plan like to show all the processes like and over all experiences in 90 minutes

JJ Walsh 32:12
90 minutes is quite fast right?

Mika Horie 32:16
yeah i really wanted to put on like like my feeling and the stay in nature and touching nature all the time during the workshop so it’s it’s busy i think it’s busy processes many guests always have lots of questions..

JJ Walsh 32:40
Does it does it help you understand the process better? Teaching sometimes helps us think about it in a new way maybe your guests had an interesting question and then it sparked a new idea, right?

Mika Horie 32:58
yeah it really is yeah most of my visitors from outside of japan and then they have own like imagination and experience about paper like any papers like handmade paper in like zero region and many questions i’ve got from them like how many papers can make from these old fivers how to harvest and how we should peel- strip the fibers and what the concept is. Every single questions is a way for thinking seriously about what I unconsciously do during the whole paper making process.

JJ Walsh 34:10
That’s great and of course you’re not only making paper you have another process after the paper is made can you tell us about your printing- what do you call it? Cyanotype?

Mika Horie 34:27
yeah that’s right I use a cyanotype technique that’s not a popular technique anymore. It’s originally discovered in England in 18th century. We are using the uv light to transfer the exposure that uv light means sunlight and so I use sunshine for printing. I took landscape photos mainly and i work shooting photos about landscape images because my current life is surrounded or beautiful nature. It’s a idea from my life in Yamanaka Onsen in Kaga Ishikawa prefecture.

Yamanaka means the middle of the mountain, and I’m surrounded by wildflowers, by the trees and beautiful areas every day i discover something new in nature and i go outside with my camera holding my camera and photo shooting do photo shooting and then if i got this many strong imagination and then decide what image i want to print as my artwork and then i make many sizes of negative image from my original image and then make contact print on my japanese paper gampi paper. The use natural sunlight only- how to do is prepare my gampi paper and then prepare negative black or white image and put together and then clip and then go outside my garden and then wait for about 30 minutes. It depends on the weather.

JJ Walsh 37:18
It is a very blue color – is it are you using indigo dye? It looks like Aizome (indigo) because it’s such a blue color but then the natural process is it?

Mika Horie 37:35
yeah really yeah many people think it’s indigo well it’s it’s not indigo it’s the traditional cyanotype printing. It’s a kind of chemicals but it’s very safe it’s non toxic it’s very safe – the safest chemicals in photographic world- it’s safe to touch and it’s easy. I have sometimes Cyanotype printing workshop with kids – it’s safe for everybody. and i forgot to tell you that i apply a kind of Iron salt on paper and then put my negative image and then go outside to help sunlight and then the sunlight transfers the images to the washi paper very slowly.

It’s a slow process but it make beautiful blue gradations then also i enjoy it like every day makes different gradation tones of blue goes every day sunlight the condition of sunlight changes and then also wintertime it’s in Ishikawa is very gloomy and so many snowy days rainy days that strongness of uv light is very different from summer strong summer sunshine so summertime it gets very deep strong beautiful indigo like blue and then wintertime i see dedicate gradiation like light blue tone. I really enjoyed to follow all the situation on everyday nature and conditional sunshine like farming. If it’s a sunny day i work very hard for printing also paper making and photo shooting. And then on rainy days, i work inside to do work like stripping the bark. like prepare for paper making or outdoor activities.

JJ Walsh 40:29
So yeah, like a farmer you decide what you’re going to do based on the weather and you always have something to do right inside or outside.

Limosine has a question from youtube thanks for joining- cool do you do school workshops in your area?

So the photos i’m putting up now (on screen) it looks like you’re doing workshops with kids and families and then maybe not with the camera not with the negatives but putting vegetables or leaves or different things on..

Mika Horie 41:04
yeah is that the workshop for kids you would do different vegetables or leaves. Every summer this obon season. Especially that 22nd of August it’s Obon for kids on holiday do pray for kids and sisters and temple and then i tried to teach cyanotype printing workshop with a familia motif. We used parts of vegetable scraps and the purpose is to try to create something by hand without smartphones digital cameras.

For example we all interest in shooting photos to shoot shooting photo for like delicious meals food like bento boxes but for like the we say like he documents for appreciation for food but before that like we all prepare smartphones and camera to do like foot work to get a beautiful photo shoot i think i can teach something different from like taking photo by smartphones and this style to instead of using the disavow tools put like these scraps on Japanese paper and then use the cyanotype technique. As a result we see that beautiful silhouette of these veggie scraps, tomatoes shapes – the beautiful circle shapes at all like a part of nature. yes

JJ Walsh 43:56
And then it looked like you also did a workshop at the seaside so incorporating using the ocean as a theme then also look really nice thank you that’s for like for open to everybody not for only for kids that

Mika Horie 44:19
I was invited to miyazaki prefecture and for workshop my workshop and then i my original problem was doing something the same thing as like like picking some vegetables or flowers in the garden or park. But when I saw the location it’s on the southern point. Like, oceans, pure blue, and the blue sky and I got inspiration from the sea. And then I changed my mind. And I started to thinking about we can do something the workshop using the beautiful sea water.

JJ Walsh 45:28
It looks beautiful, great idea. Limosine says, oh, right there on holiday great initiative. I like it. It’s great to avoid the digital form refreshing. And I showed a picture as well with you in your camera. So even when you use the camera, you’re using such an old style camera. It’s, it’s not like you can see it right away. It’s not like a smartphone. Right? So you’re using the very long more creative process and something very different from what we normally use now. I love that you’ve also got such beautiful collaboration work that you’ve been doing. I’m showing now the lanterns that you made and different collaborative projects. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Mika Horie 46:22
Sure. I got many collaborations and I really enjoyed them all. For example, I did one with local Ryokan it’s a Japanese style Inn. A very small family Ryokan and they asked me to make partitions with my artwork because as I explained the Japanese gampi paper is see-through to enjoy natural lighting. The combination of like surface printing surface and I made square shaped kind of I was direct print for think of a connection to nature- It’s a feeling of being peaceful and meditative. It’s very quiet inside the Ryokan. That place is surrounded by deep forest and gosh and I was thinking about what image I again print to collaborate collaborate with them.

Mika Horie 48:30
Another collaboration is at with tea factory in local tea factory called Kagabocha- they make beautiful Hojicha- a delicate process and they wanted to make a Hojicha tearoom specialized only Hojicha cafe free and roasted. So, they asked me to help like to connect the very beginning of their history of the factory location. The factory location is near a River and the near mountain that the first-generation owner really enjoyed watching only mountains from the factory.

JJ Walsh 49:50
So did you use the tea leaves as your motif in your design? because everything’s about hoji Cha about the tea so did you use the tea leaf?

Mika Horie 50:05
No i was thinking that using tea leaves but i when i had meeting with the owner, he is 4th generation now and wanted to show their visitors about the philosophy of the first generation owner -very beginning of a very strong passionate about the building factories in local mountains called Kurakakeyama mountain. So i decided to take photos of the mountain from the same location as the first generation owner saw long long time ago and then connect to that current location and current view. The view from long long time ago and i print it on the mountain and with like few crowd to make like only gradations of mountain and the sky and then i showed my sample to the current owner and all the staff loved it. So, i decided to use image of that local mountain landscape.

JJ Walsh 52:22
All of your work is so beautiful and it’s amazingly subtle like it’s a photograph but you sometimes don’t see the photograph because you just see the beautiful paper and you see the texture and then it’s very subtle you notice is it a painting is it it’s too detailed for a painting is it a photograph it makes you ask as many questions as the viewer it’s it’s wonderful you’re so talented i love it

Mika Horie 52:58
thank you so much

JJ Walsh 53:00
Fantastic I also love the lanterns the paper lanterns and collaboration that you did is so beautiful and so delicate

Mika Horie 53:14
thank you! That was a collaboration with a Japanese paper shop in Kyoto that they wanted to have like my image on their own paper – they have many of their own beautiful Japanese papers and I was actually dreaming to collaborate on something with that paper shop, so i was very honored that they asked me. When we are brainstorming in a meeting about what motif is suitable to put on their paper, to make into a lantern. My ideas was because I am curious about Japanese preserved food such as dried (persimmons) or something like we have in Japan. We have many preserving ways of food. So, (that’s why) we decided to use dried food for the motif. It was fun to think about- we used designs of kombu, seaweed, the dried mini shrimps. And FU, a doughnut shaped like dried gluten ingredient for miso soup. I tried to make like, composition on the surface with many preserved dried food – that was a very interesting experience.

JJ Walsh 55:50
Fantastic! And talking about the future, you have had exhibit options in Belgium and other countries before in the future. Would you like to travel more and do more international exhibitions? Is that right?

Mika Horie 56:09
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I ideally, having fun to go outside to do many cultural exchanges to talk to many people (who) have different backgrounds. To discover and photograph (collaborate) with people who have different philosophies and different (styles) using different techniques. It’s all very encouraging my creations and that’s every time I go abroad and see my exhibitions, or my friends exhibitions. outside of Japan. (Whenever I travel), I get so many inspirations. It’s all (such a) wonderful and magical experience. And then after that, when I get back to Yamanaka, I have more energy to go think about what to print what to do as a photo shoot, and that helps me think about my paper making in the future.

JJ Walsh 57:33
So, an inspiration from other artists as well as different perspective from people viewing your work, and their feedback or comments. Maybe also helps you think about what you want to do next, right.?

Mika Horie 57:53
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah. I really enjoyed that. Like, exchanging different thought, different ideas and make new friends outside of Japan. And share my philosophy and my thinking and my process of creations.

JJ Walsh 58:20
That’s wonderful. Well, I hope you have a chance to travel again sometime soon after Coronavirus and have those wonderful experiences, and be able to share your artwork because it’s so valuable and so wonderful. I’m sure there’s a lot of people around Japan and around the world who would love to see your artwork and take your workshop. They look so fun.

Mika Horie 58:45
Yeah, thank you. Yeah,

JJ Walsh 58:46
we’d love to try it myself from harvesting the gampi weeds and peeling them. And you said it takes about eight months. You have to dry that gampy is that right?

Mika Horie 59:00
Oh, well, it depends. That humidity. So it’s hard to tell how long we need to dry or any like, but yeah, and yeah, I’m happy to invite you anytime to try. Yeah,

JJ Walsh 59:16
but but then maybe I can do the 90 minute process with you after you prepare everything?! HAHA Actually, my dream is to come and live with you for two months and learn the process. Learn how to do everything. That would be great as well.

Mika Horie 59:34
Yeah, that sounds wonderful. Yeah, anytime. Yeah. you’re always Welcome.

JJ Walsh 59:39
Thank you so much. And I want to show the video that we showed at the beginning I want to show at the end to give people the idea of the process once again. It’s such a beautiful circular process which does not harm the environment, and everything can start from nature. Go back to nature. it’s so beautiful so i’d like to leave our audience with that wonderful video thank you so much mika for joining today and sharing all of your insights and keep up the good work!

Mika Horie 1:00:12
So much pleasure talking with you! I really enjoyed this conversation very much!

JJ Walsh 1:00:19
Thank you all thank you so much thank you i hope you enjoyed the episode today if you want to learn more about the work that I do have a look at inbound you can also sponsor the work that I’m doing on the youtube channel, on patreon, or buy-me-a-coffee, Ko-Fi, or HAPPS – Take care + have a great day!