It was one of those afternoons where New York feels like an oven. On this unusual hot day, I meet Ayumi Takahashi who greets me at the entrance of a huge Greenpoint building known by the name “Pencil Factory”. In it, Brooklyn artists, techs and musicians rent studio space for the development of each of their unique craft. During this abhorrent heatwave, and in the month of May, Takahashi is one of the artists that comes out of this curiously large building. She steps out seemingly having seen a different weather forecast than the rest of us. She sports a look that is both neat and crisp; her billowy printed dress and chunky necklace compliment her lick of red lip in the upmost effortlessly way. She glides with her striking outfit and leads my talented photographer Julia and I upstairs and gracefully offers us a cup of cold water. We accepted it unequivocally. After pleasantries were exchanged, we relaxed and the ambiance became a much more welcoming place to talk undisturbed.
Color is the first thing that floods my vision as soon as we sit down on her wide wooden table. Although the place is surrounded by clean, white walls, I still get this feeling of vitality. Three or four wide and small paintings lie before me which immediately make me think, ha – this is Ayumi! A warm and friendly citizen of the world who now stumbles upon the grounds of Brooklyn. Her sense of style in art and fashion is how she refreshingly perceives the world.
“All drawings are probably parts of me,” she says.
Her illustrations are what you would describe as someone who is both positive and open-minded, something her personality has gained throughout the years. As I look around at all the tasteful memorabilia she has collected through her years of traveling I can’t help but think that each of these trinkets and pictures has a story only she can convey.
“I went through very emotional stages while living in Japan and China,” she recounts. “Both these places were different from one another, and I was moody in both.”
Her reminiscing made me notice a vulnerable side of her but in noticing her dismay I also found that Ayumi was still able to find enthusiasm within herself. Looking at the world through fashion lenses she found an escape. Her own original sense of style enabled her to express emotions on paper by creating distinct shapes and forms only someone like her can visualize and create. As a keen advocate of the latest runway collections, her close observations have developed an impactful technique in her abilities. Ayumi gets inspired particularly through fashion designers such as Alessandro Michele from Gucci and Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccoli’s from Valentino. She finds their work to be a fun way to play around and maybe even cope with whatever is on her mind. Although the color of her go-to palate may contain bright hues of blues and yellows, along with unique beiges and greys, it’s her beliefs and sets of observations that set her apart from the pack.
The diverse stoked up bookshelf by the wall of her shared studio says a lot about her personality. Being a global citizen Takahashi has been influenced incredibly by her travels, as her stories from Thailand and her time exploring London lead her curiosity to be interested in a wide variety of subjects. Philosophy and music are an example of what she believes have led her to have strong character. She unapologetically shares stories with us of times when she bartended in Thailand. We learn she also studied architecture, got into textile design and even took a path in animation by working in Paramount Pictures.
As she remembers all these phases of her life she smiles at me; she sits, wonders and says, “it’s the wrong steps that lead you somewhere.”
She confidently continues telling me her story by saying how London really changed her. “It was after seeing all these art museums, all this contemporary art,” she says. “It made me want to do something other than illustration.”
It truly made her the artist she is today. She is an artist who creates stylish figures of women you would see at art openings or independent book shops. The ultimate hand drawn representation of women you’d like to meet.
The forms and shapes surrounded by intricate patterns and beautiful flowers interpret excitement and strong emotions. She discusses the influence of having been influenced by a lot of Japanese wood cuts, the way they draw a woman which is both feminine and soft. It didn’t take long for us to recognize these strong facial expressions that denote a certain nostalgia about her childhood years in China.
As an only child, Takahashi always wanted to get out of her comfort zone. While her parents offered her piano classes, she defected and joined a rock band. She wanted to rebel. As time passed she eventually became rebellious enough to have no regrets and be the full-time illustrator and artist she is today. On the contrary, she still has a good relationship with her parents although she decided to blaze her own path. The exchange of ideas between both Takahashi and her father has managed to emerge and influence her in unexpected ways.
As an oil painter, her dad originally started working in industrial design by drawing and sketching cars and buildings. What she didn’t know is that her dad’s writing skills would lead them both to collaborate on a book. While he does the writing, she’ll do the visuals. The perfect combination.
“We have been discussing this idea since forever,” she tells me. “Every year you grow a little and think that old ideas aren’t good anymore, so you’re kind of restarting. I guess in this case, we’ll just have to jump in and finish the idea.”
Most importantly, if you have the opportunity to do a book with your dad, jump right ahead – you never known if life will give you another chance.
Ayumi maintains positivity throughout the rest of our interview. Truthfully, I was tired before coming over, but she’s kept me alert and excited during our whole entire conversation. She shares with us that one of the secrets to start a day right is to write on a journal every morning, just before anyone’s up.
“Mornings just seem calmer.”
The physical feeling of owning and writing on a notebook where she can swirl her pen through blank spaces is calming in itself. Perhaps with a little help of some caffeine she’ll be able to maintain her momentum for the rest of the morning, where she will continue doing work.
As a fashion image maker, she owns determination and focus, but as a soft-spoken individual, she says she’ll try not to go out too much.
“I guess when you’re young, you really don’t realize how precious time is,” she says. “I want to spend quality time doing work, cooking. I want to still make weird songs and write poems.”
The melody of it sounds sweet, just as the one playing on this particular day. Although it may be somewhat bittersweet, I kind of like it. The bitterness of it leads me outside again, where heat and humidity await me. It is not a big deal though, I’m left optimistic and that’s all that matters now.
It’s never a bad time to talk about how random or adventurous life can be, especially with an artist who has been able to navigate it well. It reminds me of how nice it is to know we’re not the only ones outside the ‘Pencil Factory’ studio, dreading the heat as we head towards our next ‘happy place’.