by Frank Bach
Tell us a little bit about yourself – what’s your story?
I am Yumi Sakugawa, a second-generation Okinawan-Japanese-American interdisciplinary artist based in Tongva land (Los Angeles). I am the author of several books including I THINK I AM IN FRIEND-LOVE WITH YOU, YOUR ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO BECOMING ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE, FASHION FORECASTS, and THE LITTLE BOOK OF LIFE HACKS. Sagittarius sun, Aquarius rising, Virgo moon. I’ve always been into drawing, reading, and creative writing since I was a child (and I was also a painfully shy introvert), and so it always made sense to me that I would eventually grow up and do something creative as a grown-up.
What led you into the world of wellness?
I’ve always been a lover of self-help books, advice columns, and pretty much most material relating to mental health. I think I’ve suspected since I was about 12 that I had symptoms of depression but I did not fully pursue mental health resources in the form of regular talk therapy and prescribed medication until I was a very depressed freshman in college. I think before that, I don’t think I had the space or the articulated language or the sense of self-advocacy to really seek out those resources while I was living at home with my parents.
Then I really got into meditation my first year living abroad after college graduation when I was working as a (very terrible) conversational English language teacher at an afterschool program in Japan. All the valuable resources I had for my somewhat stabilized mental wellbeing (therapy, prescribed medication, support network, community) were suddenly gone, and I was in a very, very low place. Reading Eckhart Tolle’s book a NEW EARTH and listening to the audiobook version of David Lynch’s meditation creativity book CATCHING THE BIG FISH gave me the inspiration to start a meditation practice. Or rather, I really didn’t know what else to do with my abysmal horrible feeling of hating myself and hating my life and since I had never tried meditation before, it was like ok sure why not?
I don’t want to prescribe meditation as a panacea for all your mental ills, but having meditation really helped me shift myself slowly out of that very dark place to a slightly less dark place. And then moving back to Los Angeles and away from the job that was not very well-matched for me and then reintegrating medication and therapy eventually–that definitely helped me, too.
I read a lot of self-help books on money and healing subconscious, scarcity-based money stories inherited from family, society, cultural programming, and the daily messages received from living in capitalism.
Then in my early 30s, through a series of synchronicities (isn’t that always the case? lol) I got more into astrology, the occult, the witchy, and the divine feminine and I think that started to give me a sense of wholeness and community that meditation practice alone couldn’t give me. After all, one single practice is not meant to be the cure-all for everything– I think most of us need multiple healing modalities and relational support all working together and always evolving, fluctuating in an ecosystem of healing to move towards wholeness and aliveness.
You’re based in LA. Have you always lived there? What do you like about it? Dislike about it?
I was born and raised in Orange County, and then I started attending UCLA as a college student. Ever since then, I have more or less spent most of my adult life living in various neighbourhoods throughout Los Angeles. Though I have toyed with the idea of living in other cities, ultimately Los Angeles is the best city for me. I hate cold weather, and I need close proximity to delicious Asian food and Asian supermarkets in order to live. I also love the many incredible, diverse, creative communities that exist in Los Angeles that I am a part of or am inspired by. There is always something cool and new and weird and interesting going on to check out whether it is a live punk show or an art opening or a sound bath in someone’s backyard with goats or an interactive sound piece in Little Tokyo or what-have-you. Plus, if it all gets too overwhelming, a nature retreat is only an hour or two drive away.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Most days, I start my day with a 20 minute morning meditation. I also do my morning pages, too–three pages of stream of conscious writing. Lately, taking advantage of this possibly brief window of time when businesses are open in this ongoing pandemic, I like to drive myself to a cafe and get a chunk of work done brainstorming on long term projects with a matcha latte. (I very sadly can no longer handle the caffeine of coffee). I usually eat lunch at home, and then will probably do a few more hours of work in the afternoon. Maybe I will go for a walk. Dinner at home (I like to eat mostly home cooked meals on weekdays), followed by watching streaming shows with my boyfriend. Some late mornings I work out. Some evenings I go out to meet with friends. Some days, taking advantage of the fact that I mostly work from home and myself, I indulge in a lazy weekday afternoon browsing a bookstore or walking around in a different neighborhood.
What projects or work are you most proud of?
I am really proud of the many self-published comic zines I have made over the years during my early to late twenties. They were really a labour of love that gave me a lot of incredible experiences when I was just starting out as an artist – tabling at different zine conventions and indie comic festivals in different cities, making a lot of awesome friends, and really honing my practice as an artist and storyteller.
How do you make space for creativity in your work?
I really love boring routine, habits, and predictable structure to give space to be wild and free in creative expression. Daily meditation helps. Carving out an hour or two in the morning at a cafe helps. Having specific windows of time in the day dedicated to creative work helps. Breaks help. Financial stability DEFINITELY helps. Living with someone who splits chores with you – gamechanger. Also, I think the only reason I get the majority of my work done is because I have an external deadline from an agent or a publisher and I don’t want to disappoint people. That is the real secret of my productivity.
Can you talk about some of the common themes, symbols and meanings found in your work?
Bunnies, portals, the universe, the Milky Way, Earth, anthropomorphic blobs, tea with demons, shadow, nostalgia as time travel, ancestral trauma, ancestral joy, healing, silence, space, sacred space, divine feminine, the moon, lotus, roots, seeds, Japanese heritage, Okinwan heritage, animism, ecosystems, rituals, rest as radical resistance to capitalism, softness and tenderness, sparkles, gentleness, weird fashion. Basically, my art is my way of contributing to a vision for a collective future of healing and interconnected joy and abundance and beautiful possibilities which I truly believe is possible with all my heart the more I articulate it with my words and drawings.
Where do you find inspiration?
My most uncomfortable emotions and deepest shame (lol), the incredible new art I experience in Los Angeles, childhood memories, the specific trials and tribulations of being a second-generation Asian American woman living in the 21st century, internet anxieties, an ongoing desire of wanting to give my younger self what I wish I could have had when I needed it the most, the mysterious pull of wanting to distill a specific, unnameable emotion into something tangible and real, things that annoy me or make me mad, anime, friendship magic, the ocean, mood lighting, expensive candles, sexy lipstick shades, amazing fashion and sick outfits, witchy rituals, alchemizing old wounds, divination decks.
How do you balance being an artist and making a living?
I read a lot of self-help books on money and healing subconscious, scarcity-based money stories inherited from family, society, cultural programming, and the daily messages received from living in capitalism. (Some favorites are YOU ARE A BADASS AT MAKING MONEY BY JEN SINCERO and WE SHOULD ALL BE MILLIONAIRES by Rachel Rodgers and MONEY MAGIC by THE MONEY WITCH). Honestly, I was not really on top of my finances until my let’s-trust-the-universe-and-not-look-at-my-checking-account-too-hard approach to money finally and inevitably lead to a dead end, and I was cornered in a situation where I had to figure out how to make money and be responsible with money FAST. For me, reaching a low point with my finances was my best way to learn how to become responsible and abundant with money. I don’t necessarily recommend that path (ideally, you want to preemptively be good with money before you are in a dire place!), but that was really the only way I truly learned. I also believe it is also important to have trusted artist friends where you can speak to one another candidly about money, share financial resources, and help each other generate ideas and be financially responsible while honoring your creative practice, since there is no clear roadmap for many artists who do not have a more traditional day job and likely work freelance, project by project.
What’s been your most profound spiritual experience?
Learning how to meditate and commit to a daily meditation practice when I was deep in my depression was an incredibly humbling spiritual experience that really unfolded an incredible pathway of healing and creative empowerment.
What’s an opinion you used to have that you’ve changed your mind about?
I used to think air fryers were overrated (like okay? Just use an oven?) until I was gifted one, and now I cannot imagine life without it and air fryer cooking has officially become my all-encompassing identity and personality.
What does the sun represent to you?
Vitality, courage, strength, creativity, unabashed joy, divine visibility, life source, abundance, power, unafraid to be seen.
If you could change one thing about the world we live in, what would that be?
In my ideal world, everyone would know how to meditate and sit with their uncomfortable feelings and emotions. And therapy would be free for everyone.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
I have a mindful coloring book that comes out in July 2022! Please buy them for yourself and all your stressed out friends and family, which will be available at Simon and Schuster.
Find Yumi on Instagram and check out their eBook Notes on Self-Care for Creative Humans as well as merch collection at Sunshine Shop.