The Yumiverse - A Place of Zines, Feminine Power, and Self Love

 
Yumi at Giant Robot 2.

Yumi at Giant Robot 2.

Enter Yumi Sakugawa’s creative world where squishy creatures and cosmic wonder are abundant. While she was an undergrad at UCLA, Yumi came to Giant Robot and became exposed to indie comic artists. Almost a decade later and now her zines can be found in select indie bookstores throughout the country. She made her first comic zine in 2008 and has been immersed in the Do-It-Yourself culture ever since. In addition to whimsical self-published zines, she has four books the most recent being The Little Book of Life Hacks. Her books can be found at major chain bookstores and on best-of-the-year book lists, a huge shift from underground zine fests.

She is regarded as a role model and a trailblazer so it’s no wonder that her calendar is filled with speaking engagements and workshops. Her work has been featured in the Rumpus, NPR, Los Angeles Review of Books,  Buzzfeed, and more.  Yumi bravely talks about mental health and uses her creative prowess to help others lead happier, healthier lives through titles like There Is No Right Way to Meditate and Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe. Yumi sat down with us in the Giant Robot 2 gallery space to talk her growing opportunities as an interdisciplinary artist and girl power.

 

This video highlights Yumi's sparkling responses from the interview. Continue for the full interview.

 

By Riki Robinson
Video by George Ko

Photos by Eric Nakamura and George Ko

 

Yumi Sakugawa: Sorry my pasty fell out. It's getting unsticky.
GR: Do you have the kinds that have flowers on them?
YS: No, it's just like the basic ones that are just round and sticky.
GR: My mom sent me a link to a lacy bralette thing from Costco. I think it was her not very subtle way of telling me I should start wearing a bra again.
YS: I love that it's from Costco. That's very Asian mom. Like, oh it's cheap and you get many of them.
GR: Yeah, but my mom's white. But she's still very frugal.
YS: It's very mom, regardless of race.
Camera guy: Where is this going?
YS: It can be the supplemental material. Pasties and bras.
GR: Okay, let's get started.

 

Giant Robot filming Yumi's interview.

Giant Robot filming Yumi's interview.

 

GR: So Yumi, if you could be any sort of magical creature what would you be?

YS: Well, first I thought unicorn. But then I thought narwhal. So maybe a magical narwhal where out of my horn, rainbows would come out and I could heal the ocean and anyone who comes to visit me.

 

GR: How did you come into the zine scene and why do you choose to use zines as your medium?

YS: I made my first comic zine in 2008 when I was living in Japan. I was teaching English and I was fresh out of college. And I didn't even know what zines were, I just knew I wanted to turn a comic story into a booklet that I would print myself and sell at this art festival that I was tabling at in Tokyo. But it wasn't until maybe two years later that I met Alex Chiu and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Ann Matsushima. They were this awesome Chinese American and Japanese American couple who were really into zines and the underground DIY culture. So they were the ones that took me to my first zine festival in Sacramento. I think it was called Indy Euphoria and that was when I got introduced to the concept of a whole subculture of people making zines and selling and trading with each other. Since then I started tabling at more zine festivals and that was when I really started getting noticed more as an artist. Independent bookstores started carrying my zines, more people were discovering me on tumblr and ordering my zines online. Even now as a published author, I'll just always love making zines because I just love the instant gratification of having an idea, not waiting for an editor or publisher to approve it, and to just make it very quickly as soon as you get the inspiration. A lot of my books start as zines.

 

GR: So you started off with zines and now you have published books and have been featured in exhibitions. How has your creative expression journey changed and what opportunities have come up?

YS: I was an Art major at UCLA as an undergrad. I was also part of an Asian American theatre group called Lapu, the Coyote that Cares Theatre Company. So I was making paintings but I was also writing, directing, and acting in original one-act scenes that, as students, we wrote and produced every quarter. I was always so torn between doing just art or just writing. During that time at UCLA, I was also going to Giant Robot and looking at mini-comics and being introduced to indie artists like Hellen Jo or Kozyndan. So I had all these ideas swirling around and it wasn't until after college where I decided that comics were the best medium where I could write and draw my own stories.

I think it took a long time for me to realize it was a false binary that I made in my head. Like, either I have to do comics or I have to do something else. I can't do both. So it wasn't until the last two years maybe where I gave myself permission to be a more interdisciplinary artist. Very serendipitously, I had the opportunity to do an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum with the Giant Robot Biennale. I was invited by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center to do two installations. I feel like I'm at the stage now where it's not so much about the medium, but about a specific vision I have for healing and inspiring mindfulness. So, with that intention, it doesn't matter if it ends up as a book or a zine or an installation or a workshop, so long as people feel healed and mindful and inspired.

“I’m at the stage now where it’s not so much about the medium, but about a specific vision I have for healing and inspiring mindfulness.
— Yumi Sakugawa

GR: I think you're definitely accomplishing that goal! Can you talk about your journey with mindfulness and meditation?

YS: I was really depressed throughout middle school, high school, college. I've always been really interested in the self-help genre. It was very serendipitous that when I was at a really low point with my mental health, after college when I was living in Japan, that a friend introduced me to a book called A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, who is this very famous self-help author who speaks about mindfulness and living in the present moment. I also came across an audiobook that the film director David Lynch wrote, which is called Catching the Big Fish. He spoke about how mindfulness and meditation really transformed his creative process and also made him a much happier person. I was at such a low point in my life that I was just willing to fully dive myself into this meditation thing. And so I committed to meditating every morning 20 minutes. A few years later, I think it just became so integral to my own creative process that it made sense to make comics about it. Now I just see it as a very integral part of my cosmology. Even if I'm not explicitly speaking about meditation and mindfulness it's always there in everything that I write and draw about.

 

An illustrated meditation guide. Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

An illustrated meditation guide. Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

 

GR: What has been your experiences being very public about having depression as a second generation Japanese American woman? How has that been received by your family and the wider public?

YS: I think every time I'm really vocal about my mental health issues, people are really grateful. Even though I've spoken about it a lot of times, I get messages from random college or high school friends just letting me know that they're thankful that I gave voice to an issue that they themselves or a family member have gone through. It just keeps reminding me again and again that it's still a stigma. It's still very difficult for people to talk about. And it's still a conversation that really needs to be had. I don't really talk about it with my parents as much as I'm vocal about it with the rest of the world. So I think that's something I still struggle with, even as a public artist who speaks about mental health issues very candidly

 

GR: Have you had a lot of Asian American Pacific Islanders come forward to you and talk about their difficulties with mental health?

YS: Oh, yeah, definitely. I feel like a lot of the people who write to me are young Asian American Pacific Islander women. The people who ask me speak or do workshops, they usually are Asian American Pacific Islander student organizations or Asian American Studies college classes.

 

GR: What’s that been like for you? Were there programs for Asian Americans when you were a student?

YS: I was really fortunate insofar that there is a very active and vocal Asian American Pacific Islander student organization community in UCLA. There's also a very big Asian American Studies department. That being said, there weren’t resources specifically for Asian Americans going through mental health issues. I sort of seek that therapy through creative expression, through being part of the theatre group. But that wasn't explicitly about mental health issues. So I sort of had to make my own mental health self care through the student orgs and friends and counseling services that were available.

 

Yumi's third book encourages readers to practice mindfulness. Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

Yumi's third book encourages readers to practice mindfulness. Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

 

GR: What communities and people ground and support you?

YS: I definitely have a lot of other Asian American artist women friends. So I feel like that is definitely very grounding. Specifically I have two Asian American women friends in particular who have similar backgrounds as me. They both grew up in Southern California, they both had a lot of pressure by their parents — me not so much. They both were very pressured to go to med school. But they both decided to be artists and they're both total self-help nerds. Just knowing other Asian American creative women, that in itself is so grounding. Because there are a lot of specific things you face as a woman artist. And also on top of that, there are also very specific family dynamics you face as an Asian American daughter of immigrants who has gone through mental health issues. And it makes me feel like I'm not making things up in my head when I'm going through certain racial microaggressions. Or very specific doubts that come from being cultured where you're taught not to stand out, or speak out, or to march to the beat of your own drum. There are a lot of amazing people just doing work in different Asian American organizations and institutions. Like, I have friends who work for the Japanese American National Museum. Just knowing Eric of Giant Robot who supports my zines and books.

 

GR: Yeah, it's so important to know that we're not alone and that we have community support. We can create our own spaces. Can you talk about showing your work in explicitly Asian American art spaces?

YS: I'm really thankful that there are Asian American art institutions because I definitely am more conscious of how I curate and present myself. For Tuesday Night Project I recently did a performance ritual installation with my illustrator animator friend Angie Wang. The theme of the show was about food ghosts and food memories. I felt like I got to speak candidly about certain relationships that Asian people have with food. Very specific things like feeling ashamed when you mess up making rice. Or getting the Trader Joe's version of dried seaweed because you're too lazy to go to the Asian supermarket. Or feeling guilty because you don't know how to cook your mom's recipes or your grandmother's recipes. And using Pocky as a tool for cleaning your aura. So I got to do these very weird, Asian food specific things that I don't think I would have done to a mainstream audience where I feel like I would have been more conscious of the fact that I was giving people an exotified culture that's fetishized. Whereas, I felt like with a space like Tuesday Night Cafe, it was really speaking to my own community. And also with the Smithsonian, I was really lucky insofar that it was the Asian American Pacific Islander branch of the greater Smithsonian Institution. So the curators and organizers I was working with were all Asian American peers who also worked in the Arts or nonprofit organizations. That being said, I feel like it's still important to embrace your identity and not self-censor, even in spaces that aren't specifically Asian American. So I think it's just this ongoing, fluid, balancing act that you have to figure out for yourself that never ends.

“It’s still important to embrace your identity and not self-censor.
— Yumi Sakugawa

GR: Yeah, I really like what you said about catering to the different audiences because I think that's so true. When you know that it's within your community you can sort of feel like you don’t have to look over your shoulder and think, "Oh did they understand what that means?" I saw a couple weeks ago that you posted on Instagram that you went on a pilgrimage to Manzanar. Can you talk about that experience?

YS: So I went to my first Manzanar pilgrimage as a senior at UCLA with the Nikkei Student Union. This year, was the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. It was also happening in a time with so much political community anxiety about the rise of xenophobia and different immigrant communities being targeted. I think just seeing that so many peers and colleagues were going out of their way to go to this pilgrimage on my Facebook feed, I think for myself as a Japanese American artist who has been thinking a lot about community and the importance of this physical gathering in addition to digital spaces, it just seemed like a no brainer that I had to be there. So I made a last minute decision to drive myself to the pilgrimage. It was just a really amazing event I saw so many friends and colleagues from Los Angeles. I also made new friends. It was actually at the pilgrimage where I met, in person for the first time, the two Giant Robot artists Rob Sato and Ako Castuera. We just instantly became friends.

I think revisiting the site ten years later, I feel like I just have a much more tangible understanding of how shameful and painful it must have been for all the Japanese and Japanese Americans who experienced this very humiliating, dehumanizing process of being imprisoned. I think just the greater appreciation for all the children of internees who had to break the silence and who took the time to visit the Manzanar site before it became a historical site and really galvanized a community to address this historical atrocity. So I feel like just hearing the different speakers and the different camp survivors, it was such a visceral understanding of how we can't take historical memory for granted. It took decades of community dialogue and outreach and activism work for it to become this tradition where people can gather and reflect on civil liberties and pass on the knowledge and the history to younger generations. Even though I don't have family members who were affected by the [internment] camps, I feel like just going to the pilgrimage it gives me this greater, more tangible context of just how important it is to keep remembering those experiences and to keep talking about it.

 

GR: Do you use art to bring those stories to life?

YS: In a very indirect way. I usually don't speak about historical events. For example, I'm making a comic for an anthology honoring George Takei's life. It's about these two Japanese American college-age students who live in the year 3000-something. They download this app to make a virtual pilgrimage of Manzanar. I like to use past historical events but in this weird, futuristic sci-fi way to put context to what happened in the past. I'm always thinking of new ways to visit history without making it a very straightforward historical comic. If I did it in a very straightforward way, it would be boring to me and probably be boring to other people. But if I do it in my own weird, sci-fi way then it gives me fresh perspective, which then hopefully gives fresh perspective to readers who've never thought about said historical event.

 

GR: I admire how you use the fantastical and cosmic and intergalactic in your art. What's the motivation to use more amorphous characters and the fantastical in your art?

YS: I feel like if I were to tell a story very directly using very realistic or mundane reality, it would be too obvious and boring. When I use fantastical situations or non-human characters, it's like this perfect Trojan horse to disorient the readers. It just creates this opening where they're going to reflect on something mundane. Like falling in love or remembering a past memory or remembering a historical event. I feel like when it's surreal or off-kilter then people are just going to see things from a different angle. Even if it's the same things they've been thinking about over and over for a very long time. And for myself, I think I'm drawn to the weird and fantastical stories because I feel like it gives me this fresh perspective on age-old themes on life and death and memory and love and friendship.

 

Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

 

GR: What's your favorite sort of creature to draw?

YS: I've been drawing a lot of bunny people. I just like drawing really asexual, genderfluid, human figures where they're bald and they don't have clothes on. But they're really stretchy and squishy looking. They don't have proper human anatomy so they're just amorphous and can stretch and shrink to different shapes. So just stretchy human figures.

 

GR: Do you ever see yourself in your characters?

YS: Oh yeah, all the time. I always think of that Bruce Lee quote of being like water, where you just take the shape of whatever direction or form that you're in. That's always a personal goal of mine, to always be flexible and adaptive and evolving to different shapes and forms and directions and to always not resist constrictions, but to go with the flow of whatever is happening in the moment.

 

GR: In your newest book, The Little Book of Life Hacks, I notice that you draw a lot of different women characters with all different skin colors and body shapes. What was it like drawing people that look different from you?

YS: It was really fun! It was definitely a conscious decision I made to make the book as diverse as possible, in terms of ethnic backgrounds and body shapes. And so I feel like it was fun because it's celebrating the body and womanhood and creating this alternate reality where there isn't one beauty standard that everyone has to aspire to. The beauty standard is more horizontal than vertical so no matter where you are in life, you are beautiful and perfect and amazing and stylish and adorable.

 

Yumi's latest book. Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

Yumi's latest book. Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

Illustrations from The Little Book of Life Hacks. Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

Illustrations from The Little Book of Life Hacks. Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

 

GR: When I was reading it, I got a lot of feelings of feminine empowerment. Can you talk about embracing a feminine aesthetic?

YS: That's just been part of my journey for the last year and a half. I'm just really conscious of being a person in a woman's body and really thinking about what that means on a personal, spiritual, political level. I think femininity and soft power is looked down upon. I think there are just so much negative association with being girly, where it's seen as frivolous or useless or indulgent or weak. I've been thinking a lot about more feminine based threads of spirituality. I've been exploring the cult subculture. The whole witchy art culture that's emerging where more people around me are interested in astrology and tarot and rituals. This has led me to more ideas of how in ancient history the default absolute divine figure was a goddess, not a god. So a divine woman was seen as powerful, absolute, having warrior qualities, being able to create and destroy. Giving birth was seen as this amazing miraculous thing. I think that people who worshipped goddesses would have been so shocked to see that centuries later women were seen as lesser, who were seen as a source of sin and shame. What would a world look like if the feminine, divine principle was the default? And how that would change our perspective on everything? These things are all really important to think about because even in this very mainstream practical lifestyle book, I want to use that as a Trojan horse to make people proud of being a woman.

 

YS: My other pasty fell off. I need to get new ones.
GR: Why do we even have to wear bras?
YS: It's because nipples are looked down upon! Which is so stupid.
Camera guy: Who does that?
YS: People! It makes me so mad.
GR: Yeah that's so true! Now that I’m back home and in public places, I feel like it’s taboo to go braless.
YS: Right?!
GR: It's really looked down upon. My friends sometimes question why I don’t wear a bra anymore. When you're a woman too, you don't have to police my body because I'm not policing yours.
YS: I want to live in a post-pasties world!
GR: Even those aren't that comfortable! They loose their stick!
YS: Exactly!
GR: Maybe you could maybe design some pasties that are really beautiful and have bunnies on them.
YS: I was thinking that after I made my fashion forecast zine, the next thing I want to draw is nipples being exalted in the future. So people buy nipple extensions and they have pasties or they exaggerate the nipples and areolae so people actually want to show them off. So it's not this thing of "Ew, nipples. It's weird."
GR: You know how in most places women (not limited to cis-women) are not allowed to go topless at beaches?
YS: Right!
GR: There are bikini tops that have nipples as the design so if we can't go topless at least there's a bikini that looks like you're topless.
YS: Oh that's amazing! Like if you were to wear a whole body suit but just your nipples were showing. Like there were little holes that showed just the nipples, people would think that's so obscene, even though you can wear dental floss that covers just your nipples. That doesn't make any sense.

 

GR: How do you call upon your feminine power? Did you do that before when you were younger?

YS: It's a new thing. I'm really thankful that I just know a lot of women in my life that embody that really well. I have a friend who took me to a pole dancing class. Just last weekend I went to the Björk virtual reality exhibit that's been going on where you enter Björk’s reality, putting on these VR goggles. I really think there is this growing collective interest in women wanting to reclaim spirituality for themselves that isn't defined or looked down by more patriarchal institutions. I feel like in self-help, in spiritual circles, there are a lot of great role models. Artists, too. Björk is a great example where she just sort of claims being this fantastical, cosmic woman who can turn something as mundane as a breakup into this very intense rebirth where she becomes this cosmic goddess who's bringing light and color into the world. I feel like just being conscious of the fact that the feminine principle can be this divine, powerful thing. Just being conscious of that just infuses my artwork and my day-to-day with more meaning and power.  

 

GR: How does the feminine power interact with your mindfulness practices?

YS: I've been thinking a lot about the physical body more and more. Really celebrating the physical body, really taking care of the body as a temple. Really thinking about desires, whether it's physical, mental, sexual, spiritual, and not self-censoring. Just really giving myself permission to enjoy and desire things without placing a value judgement or self-inflicted inhibitions on wanting and having these feelings in the first place.

 

GR: What sort of things have you been yearning for?

YS: That's a loaded question! I'm glad you're asking that. For example, my friend Krista Suh, who founded the Pussyhat Project, she taught me this exercise called the Holy Trinity. You sit with a friend, or you can do this by yourself, and you share a brag, a gratitude, and a desire. Just in this simple exercise you're sharing something that you're proud of, something that you're really thankful for, and something that you really desire in the moment. There's a lot of things I yearn for right now. For example, I feel like there's a lot of weird taboos surrounding success and money. So even giving myself permission to want to be more financially successful and to live this really joyful, creative life as an artist where it's not just all hard work. But also full of adventures and relationships and connections and really indulgent, relaxing periods of just doing nothing. Even just having that desire feels felt scary to have. I just want to keep having really challenging and exciting adventures, whether it's traveling to countries I've never gone to or doing more ambitious and large scale projects.

“In this simple exercise you’re sharing something that you’re proud of, something that you’re really thankful for, and something that you really desire in the moment.
— Yumi Sakugawa

GR: What was the last adventure you went on?

YS: I went on this artist retreat in the desert in 29 Palms. It was through an organization called The Golden Dome School, which is founded by an intuitive named Eliza Swann. And so I was out in the desert with maybe 10 or 12 other women artists from all over the country. And within that week we learned about different movement exercises, how to do tarot and reiki healing. I feel like that was a really big adventure, both externally and internally. There were all ideas I wanted to explore but haven't fully dived into such as the intersection of art and performance and activism and magic. So it was this really magical week where I did a lot of things that made me really uncomfortable, like doing movement and performance in front of people, living in a house with complete strangers. Just being far from my familiar surroundings and pushing myself to be brave in my own artistic practice and my own spiritual development.

 

GR: That's so exciting! What sort of other things do you do to get out of your comfort zone and to push the boundaries of what you're used to?

YS: What really liberated me was just giving myself permission to be bad at something. So when I'm taking up a new skill, to really embrace the fact that I'm going to be terrible at it. And there's gonna be that very uncomfortable process where I'm just gonna be laughably terrible at it before I incrementally get better. Now, I sort of revel in the fact that I'm so bad at it. I'm terrible at anything that involves coordination and choreography, but it's fun to learn something that is so beyond my usual skill set.

I was not comfortable with public speaking for the longest time but I made a conscious decision last year to just really embrace public speaking, public performance. Because if I want to see more Asian American women artists be visible figures, I have to be a part of that change. So I have a personal responsibility to really be seen on stage for other younger Asian American women, other younger women of color, and women in general. To see that you can be a minority who is in a creative field and be really vocal and outspoken and opinionated and passionate about doing the things that you love to do. If I'm presented with a project that feels beyond my skill set, then I see that as a challenge of like "Oh I have to dive into it and figure it out as I go along with it” because that's the only way I'm going to grow and evolve as a person.

“If I want to see more Asian American women artists be visible figures, I have to be a part of that change.
— Yumi Sakugawa
Source: Yumi Sakugawa.
Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

 

GR: What does it feel like to be specifically an Asian American women in these spaces? How do you negotiate stereotypes about Asian American women?

YS: I feel like no matter what situation I'm in, it's giving myself permission to be whatever I feel in the moment. So if I'm feeling shy and uncomfortable, I don't want to punish myself for not being more outspoken and vocal. If I'm feeling out of my element, then I want to be more mindful about it as opposed to pressuring myself to be a certain role model buster, because I am pretty introverted and not such an alpha person in most social situations. That is ultimate freedom. That whether you are a shy person or an outgoing person, regardless of race, you just get to be yourself. No matter what social context it is. I think it's useful to notice how different you act whether you're in an Asian American centered space or a non Asian American centered space. And to reflect on why you act different in certain ways. I feel like that's useful for self inquiry. But at the same time to not be so hard on yourself, either. So I feel like it's always an ongoing negotiation. But no matter what conclusion you reach, I think it's always important for me to have that rooted in self-love and self-acceptance rather than feeling bad for not acting a certain way.

 

GR: You've mentioned giving yourself permission to have these feelings and to just feel whatever's coming through yourself. Have you always given yourself permission to do and feel whatever you're feeling?

YS: Oh, definitely not. It's definitely an ongoing journey. I feel like especially as a college student, when I felt out of place at a party or a social situation, I felt really terrible. And I felt really self-punitive where I would be really unkind to myself. So I feel like as a way to undo all that self-programming, I just want to go in the complete opposite direction. Where if I'm not feeling social or if I'm not feeling particularly friendly or sociable or agreeable or likable, even, that it's okay that I'm feeling what I'm feeling. And at the end of the day it's my own self happiness that matters the most.

 

GR: What kind of advice would you to young girls about coming to a place of self-acceptance and self-love?

YS: I think I want to tell women that it's a lifelong process. You don't reach this milestone of that journey of self-love and self-acceptance. It's like exercise. It's something you always have to do. It's not like you stop thinking about self-love once everything in your life is going well and you have everything that you want. There's always room for more self-love and self-acceptance. It certainly can be a painful journey, especially if you're going through mental health issues, you've lived a life of low self-esteem, or family or community trauma. But it can also be a really joyful journey where as you become a more self-loving and self-accepting person, it inevitably opens up the relationship that you have with the immediate people around you, the community, and the world at large. So it's this never-ending, unfolding process where new forms of joy and happiness and love are always going to be revealed as you evolve and grow as a person and discover new things about yourself, which inevitably is going to lead you to new and unexpected places in your life.

 

"Seven Simple Ways To Promote Peace." Source:  Yumi Sakugawa.

"Seven Simple Ways To Promote Peace." Source:  Yumi Sakugawa.

 

YS: I'm going to run real quick to my meter; I have to refill some coins. I'm going to just throw away these pasties. They're not doing anything.

 

GR: What's it like to sell your books at both chain bookstores and independent bookstores?

YS: I think it's great. I'm excited just to see my books everywhere. It just means that my books are seen by people in communities and cities that I never would be able to go to on my own. Whether it's in a really big city or a very rural town somewhere that I'll never visit ever in my lifetime, I'm just glad that my books are out there for people to discover. And maybe for different people who otherwise wouldn't come across meditation practice. Or the idea that women of different ethnic backgrounds and body types can be happy in their own skin. I'm glad that that message is being delivered out there all over different places.

 

Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

Source: Yumi Sakugawa.

 

GR: You created a poster that says "Sometimes it's okay if the only thing you did today was breathe." How do you balance feeling okay doing nothing with the pressure to be productive?

YS: They are just two sides of the same coin. You need a period of rest and doing nothing to be able to do a lot of creation and action and being very busy. Once you have this creative output, you need to rest before you can start that cycle again. I used to put so much pressure on myself to work certain hours of the day, or to have this really prolific output in a very rigorous timed schedule. I realized that just doesn't work for me. It may work for some people but it doesn't work for me. What helps for me is to really see things in a project by project based schedule. If there is a deadline, even if I'm not super productive, it'll get done no matter what. It doesn't mean that I need to live this hermetic life of just working at my desk all day long. I also need to see friends to fuel my ideas, I need to go to museums, or go to the ocean, or check out a cool art event. They're not indulgent things that are separate from my art practice, getting influences and inspirations and being exposed to different creative expressions that I otherwise wouldn't discover on my own. That's all a part of living the artist life. I have a more holistic view of my life now where it's not just artistic output and the product. 

Everything in my life informs the art that I make. One friend framed it: Your most important art is actually who you are as a person and what life you live. And maybe it was Leonard Cohen who said something along the lines of: If your life is on fire, then the poetry is the ashes. So I feel like it's not so much about making the book but being the kind of inspired and disciplined person who can write the book, but also have this rich and fulfilling life where you have family and friends. You're making a difference and you're really happy with who you are as a person. When I frame it as that, then having a day where you're just hanging out with your friends all day is just as good as having a really productive day where you're really excited about the project that you're working on. Once the paradigm is shifted to that, then I don't feel self-punitive if I don't work all day, or if I have a few days of not working. Ultimately, it doesn't matter because I know that art will get done and it will happen in a way that feels fun and intuitive to me.

“Everything in my life informs the art that I make.
— yumi sakugawa

GR: I was hoping we could do this activity called thorn, rose and bud. A thorn is something that's been bothering you, or a negative thing that's been happening. A rose is something that's more positive. And a bud is something that you're looking forward to.

YS: Oh my god this is an amazing exercise! Wow! I'm going to use this on all my friends.

 

GR: Yeah, when we talked about the Holy Trinity, I instantly thought of this.

YS: Oh my gosh I love that. A thorn is that I actually feel a bit overwhelmed with all the things that I have to get done. I have just a lot of deadlines. And I feel like it's this constant struggle that I'm still learning where it's hard for me to say no to things. A rose for me right now, is just I have a lot of amazing friends right now. I've just been seeing a lot of really great friends who are within my vicinity and who also live far away. The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center is doing a final pop-up art event in Honolulu. I'm not a part of it, but I have quite a few friends and colleagues who are a part of this event. I'm actually planning on making a trip out of going to this art event in Hawai'i and supporting friends and having this indulgent week of hanging out at the beach and doing fun things and eating delicious Hawaiian food. So that's a bud that I'm really looking forward to. And also I'm working on a new book that is about Asian American identity, the divine feminine, and mental health. And it takes place in space.

Yumi at Giant Robot 2.

Yumi at Giant Robot 2.

 

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