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Olympia calligrapher paints with feeling

Even if you can't read Japanese, Chiyo Sanada's art tells a story. #k5evening

OLYMPIA, Wash. — When Japanese calligraphy artist Chiyo Sanada paints, there's more going onto the canvas than ink. She expresses herself when she creates — each brush stroke is a feeling.

"You can feel it, yes, from the color, from the texture yes that's my goal,” Sanada said.

So even if you don't know the Japanese character for 'wind' — you can tell by the way Sanada moves her brush that the character with the thick strokes represents a powerful storm. And the thin, airy version of the same character is a light spring breeze.

"It depends on how you use your brushstrokes, and then you express different types of wind."

Sanada started studying calligraphy at the age of seven, then teaching it herself, in her hometown of Hiroshima, Japan.

A city known for making calligraphy brushes. And known for being largely destroyed by a U.S. nuclear weapon.

Her grandmother was an atomic bomb survivor.

“She loved my calligraphy. I always made art for her and she would hang it in her room."

Sanada moved to America in 2000 after meeting and marrying a fellow teacher from the U.S. And she found inspiration here.

“It used to be I only did the black and white Japanese calligraphy but since I moved to here, I met so many different people, ethnicities, and backgrounds and that inspires me a lot and then I started using more colors,” Sanada said.

A pink canvas covered with blossoms and filled with the Japanese character for spring communicates the season in universal language. Another canvas has the characters for ‘hope’ but shows her feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic with splashes of orange in the background.

“I was kind of half angry, half upset and that was more background, with my frustration. But you cannot lose the hope. You need to face the situation and then you can keep going,” she said, reflecting with her art the same feelings many had about the pandemic.

When she first came to America, she couldn't get galleries to show her work because of the language barrier. But she didn't lose hope. She kept painting. Perfecting the art of quickly putting her feelings on canvas. 

“It takes a while to get that perfect match with my emotion delivered to the hand to the brush and then ink and make a good piece.”

Today, this artist and mom teaches Japanese at a high school in Tenino and is a well-known fixture of the Olympia arts scene, where she teaches workshops and does live calligraphy performances.

Proving with each painting that art connects and communicates in all languages.

“I want to keep going I don't know what kind of art I'm going to make in the future, but I just want to keep continuing, never give up, never lose the hope."

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