Inspiration in West LA

Limited Edition Mint Tins by Audrey Kawasaki, one of my favorite artists — purchased as set of 5 from GR2 // Giant Robot Gallery in West LA

Limited Edition Tins designed and signed by Audrey Kawasaki, one of my favorite artists — purchased as set of 5 from GR2 // Giant Robot Gallery

During a lazy Sunday afternoon of mundane errands, I had a serious “Ah ha!” moment.  (More like, “No duh!” moment.)  I was reminded that there is way more to my life than a 9-to-5 job and emails and agendas and deadlines and things to prove.  That everyday things can be works of art and that I am completely content simply spending time in a Japanese grocery store or Tokyo Outlet.  And it was all thanks to our old neighborhood, Little Osaka along Sawtelle Boulevard.

I decided to wander into GR2 and was immediately inspired by the current Stories group show.  Galleries and museums can often be so alienating but I love the shops on Sawtelle.  The art scene here in West LA feels authentic yet approachable and even fun.  Always inspirational.  I love checking out what other artists are trying.  Edwin Ushiro‘s graphite on vellum drawings are amazing.  And I am totally in love with Jeni Yang‘s paintings on wood with laser cut embellishments.  My favorite is her Nuke piece.  I couldn’t stop staring at it.

Just as I was about to leave, a little stack of  Audrey Kawasaki tins caught my eye.  I couldn’t resist.  Audrey Kawasaki is one of my favorite artists.  And just when I thought my modern Asian-American art adventure was coming to an end, who happened to be the cashier but none other than Eric Nakamura himself!  Founder of Giant Robot.  I was completely awestruck.  I tried desperately to think of something intelligent and thought-provoking to say as I paid for my tins.  Instead, all I could think of was, “Uh that’s a cool watch in the display case…  It’s on sale?  Can I take a look at it?”  I’ve bumped into famous people both in NYC and in LA and I usually have no problem chatting it up.  “Excuse me, are you Henry Thomas?… OMG, I loved your work in E.T.!  Wow!”

Oh well.  I was never a very good extemporaneous speaker.  Next time I run into Eric Nakamura, I’ll have my speech prepared about how inspirational his work has been — both in the art world and in the Asian-American community.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to say my somewhat silent thank you via this blog post.

Love is in the Air!

Danny + Arlene Yoo

Rather than re-use our excuse, “Why I Haven’t Blogged in a While,” I’m going to  say, “Love is in the Air!”  Valentine’s Day is around the corner and to top it off, my sister is pregnant!  Not only is she pregnant, but she is due to give birth in a matter of weeks!  Knowing my sister and brother-in-law, my hunch is that this baby girl is either going to arrive early OR right on time.  3-3-13 is coming up fast!

I am excited for Arlene and Danny.  It goes without saying that they are going to be wonderful parents.  My niece is going to grow up so loved.

In Honor of Filipino World War II Veterans

Our long overdue tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who fought side by side with American soldiers during World War II.  We also feature Mr. Greg Villanueva, a Filipino guerrilla fighter who is still awaiting the benefits promised to him by the US government 67 years later.  Special thanks to Mr. Villanueva for sharing his story with us and to his family for welcoming us into their home.

In Honor of Filipino World War II Vets from BARKADA(KO) ART + DESIGN on Vimeo.

Japan Day 2012 Art Contest Submission

© 2012, Original Art by Ardith Ibañez Nishii

Decided to interrupt my job search with an art contest submission for Japan Day 2012.

When I decided to create a piece commemorating the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to the US, I knew that I wanted to use a graphic style inspired by travel posters of the early 1900’s.  The first cherry trees were planted along the Potomac River in 1912 during the era of ocean liners and passenger railways.  I love the simplicity and elegance of the illustrated vintage posters of that time.  I thought this would be the perfect way to unify the four themes of “Cherry Blossom(s)”, “New York”, ”Japan”, and “Central Park”.

I first created a skyline of famous architectural landmarks from both Tokyo and NYC, including a silhouette of buildings overlooking Central Park — an oasis of trees and ponds.  In contrast to the heavy two-dimensional style of the city scene, I wanted the blossoms to have a light, translucent feel to capture the magical look of a cherry tree in full bloom.  Of the 12 varieties planted in 1912, I specifically used the Fugenzo blossom for its pale pink color and the fact that the original gift of 2,000 trees in 1910 were Fugenzo trees.  (Let’s ignore the fact that those trees had to be burned due to a massive bug infestation.)  The red sun shining on the cityscape represents Japan.  I added the brush stroke to create an organic, Zen-like feel while the overall craft paper texture also aims to add warmth and a tactile quality.  I knew from the get-go that I wanted my piece to be on craft paper to enable the whitest white to pop.  Hence, “JAPAN DAY 2012” is the only 100% white element on the page for better visibility.  To add playfulness and whimsy, the location and date of the event are written on banners derived from antique posters.

If I had given myself more than a day to do this, I would have tried to do an actual gouache painting on paper rather than use Illustrator and Photoshop.

Interview with Ardith on “The Art Directed Life”

© Photo and Art by Ardith Ibañez Nishii

I am proud to be featured this week on the art blog, “The Art Directed Life.”

(The story behind the photo: Here’s a collage that I created with one of my illustrations.  I felt weird submitting a picture without my son, Cedro, so I included his sippy cup.  (a) He is obsessed with Lightning McQueen right now, and (b) I have been known to drink the rest of his drinks at the end of the day straight from his cup.)

Tribute to Freda

© Photo by Ardith Ibañez Nishii

Cedro and Freda // October 2010 // San Francisco, CA

My good friend, Freda Koblick, passed away today.

If you know me well, you know how much she meant to me.  She was a great friend and mentor and huge inspiration.  For those of you who don’t know her, here’s a great article describing her life and her work.

I can’t believe she was 90 years old (almost 91)!  I’ve known her for 17 years.  I met her right after graduating from college in ’94.  It was a happy accident.  I was trying to figure out what to do with my life and it just so happened that a good friend wasn’t available to work as her apprentice so I took the position instead.  I always looked forward to visiting her at her space in the Mission District of San Francisco — half of an entire synagogue converted into a loft/gallery above and studio and machine shop down below.

She taught me so much about being an artist and living life to its fullest.  She was infinitely wise and elegant and charming, yet warm and approachable and hysterical at the same time.  I always felt smarter and a better person after hanging out with her.  We spent a lot of time chatting at her dining table over the years.  I smile at the memory of her casually sipping her chilled vodka from a beautiful pewter shot glass at meals. She always seemed so regal but at the core she was always so much fun and so funny.  I loved hearing her adventures from when she was younger.  For example, she would talk about those McCarthyism days when she was certain her phone was tapped.  She and her best friend, Henrietta, would call each other up and just read smut novels out loud to make fun of the FBI agents listening in!

And she continued to have adventures!  Despite all her serious physical ailments from the past 5 years, she was always so sharp and alive and gracious. She would always joke, “I’m gettin’ old!”  But she could recall details about our friendship just like that.  No problem.  No matter how much time had passed since we last spoke, she could always pick right back up from where we left off.

I’m so glad she was able to meet my husband, Brian, and was so supportive of his acting career.  The last time she saw him back in October of 2010, he played the shakuhachi (Japanese flute) for her in her living room and it sounded so amazing resonating through the loft space.  I know she enjoyed it… And I’m so glad that she was able to meet my baby boy, Cedro.  I was so pleased by how much she enjoyed his company and how much she would talk about him afterwards.  It’s a great feeling when important people in your life meet each other!

I’m so glad that I got the chance to know Freda Koblick.  She will always be an important part of my life and who I am.

I was able to visit her one last time a couple weeks ago.  We didn’t say any final good-byes then; more like “See you later…”

See you later, Freda.  I love you!

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham, 1945

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham, 1945

Mally + Manny

It’s quite a week for celebrity Filipinos!

A couple of nights ago was the debut of the Mally Beauty infomercial!  You can re-watch it online.  Don’t blink around minute-19!  You might catch a couple familiar faces.

Barkada(ko) Sisters' Debut on late-late-late-night TV... (

We are so excited for Mally!!!  This week also marks the re-launch of her website AND on Saturday, May 7th, there will be a huge Mally marathon on QVC starting at 12am ET until 10pm ET!  Can’t wait!

Speaking of Saturday, we also want to announce the launch of our latest Manny Pacquiao tshirt designs!!!  Order yours now in time for the Pacquiao vs. Mosley fight!

© Design + Illustration by Barkada(ko) Art + Design

© Design + Illustration by Barkada(ko) Art + Design