Akihiko Sugita applying lacquer to a vessel in his workshop.

Feature on Japanese Lacquer Artist Akihiko Sugita

About Akihiko Sugita

Each of Akihiko Sugita’s works are crafted by hand at his studio in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.

His training under fellow Japanese craftsman Akira Noboru of Wajima for approximately 7 years helped cement his current skill set. Now he works as an independent artist in his workshop. With the help of his wife, Mihoko Sugita, who carves some of the woodwork and polishes the pieces, they’re able to produce stunning works of art that are not only beautiful but also functional.

Sugita has a fantastic eye for form, with these pieces fitting gently in the hand making them easy to use and nonintrusive. He’s also able to make different textures and make the best of the wood underneath the lacquer surface, which gives them a mystical and rustic sensibility.

Photography: Kenji Arata

Introduction

Surrounded by the sea and mountains, Akihiko Sugita’s workshop in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture is where he crafts his beautiful lacquer vessels by hand. This area is well-known for its regional handicrafts and is said to be home to around 36 different traditional arts and crafts, from pottery, to traditional toys, and lacquerware. Although the separate crafts could be considered art in itself, they are mostly functional works that have been, and still can be, used in daily life.

Here resides Akihiko Sugita, a young maker who is continuing to carry the torch of promoting the functional use of lacquer in everyday living. He apprenticed under well established craftsman Akira Noboru for over 7 years. Noboru works in the city of Wajima in Ishikawa, Wajima lacquer is known as being one of the most ancient lacquer crafts in Japan and is where lacquer of the highest quality is applied to a core in a process of 8 coatings. This protects the wood and gives it high durability. After completion of his training, in 2013 Akihiko became an independent maker and has since gone on to exhibit at various galleries in Japan.

The process of applying the lacquer is painstaking, first they paint the urushi on to the wooden object, it’s then dried and repeated many times over, finally finished with a special coat to help protect the previous layers. These works are so delicate in the making process that a specific drying cupboard is made where the vessels and plates sit inside, they are rotated so that lacquer does not run, and the cupboards environment means the lacquer does not come in to contact with dust and can adjust to the humidity slowly.

Akihiko is attracted to the fact that these are long lasting pieces of design that can stand the test of time. Not only that, they can be used on a daily basis and become one with the user. We hope you like this small feature from inside his workshop and home, we’re also really proud to present a selection we have on offer at OEN Shop.

A look inside the workshop of Japanese lacquer artist Akihiko Sugita in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.
Akihiko Sugita and his wife, Mihoko Sugita, at their workshop in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.
Akihiko's wife is patiently carving the corner of their wooden boards, which will later be lacquered.
Akihiko’s wife, Mihoko Sugita, is patiently carving the corner of their wooden boards, which will later be lacquered.
Akihiko places some urushi and pigment on the table, this will then be mixed to create the desired thickness and colour.
Akihiko places some urushi and pigment on the table, this will then be mixed to create the desired thickness and colour.
Lacquer is about to be mixed by Akihiko Sugita.
Akihiko rolls and pushes the lacquer across the table, making sure all of it is mixed together.
The mixing of the lacquer is careful and precise, it needs exactly the right ingredients to get the colour and texture just right.
The materials used to make the lacquer.Akihiko Sugita stays applying the lacquer to the inside of a small bowl.
Akihiko Sugita stays applying the lacquer to the inside of a small bowl.
He mixes the lacquer to generate a new batch of urushi, this will be used to coat his works.
The lacquer is applied thinly and in stages.Akihiko works in a circular motion, coating the inside of the bowl, making sure he gets even coverage.
Akihiko works in a circular motion, coating the inside of the bowl, making sure he gets even coverage.
Urushi on the table at Akihiko Sugita's studio.
Taking the lacquer from the table and adding it to the bowl.Akihiko Sugita places the bowl on a mechanical wheel that spins the bowl, meaning that he can apply the lacquer without touching the bowl.
Akihiko Sugita places the bowl on a mechanical wheel that spins the bowl, meaning he can apply the lacquer without touching the bowl.
Later he applies lacquer to the inside of some smaller bowls, a different colour to the exterior.
Later he applies lacquer to the inside of some smaller bowls, a different colour to the exterior.
Making sure the bowl runs true on the mechanical wheel, applying the lacquer from the bottom to the top
Slowly applying the lacquer with a Hake, or brush in Japanese.
Applying the lacquer thickly and then smoothing it out.The lacquer has to be applied evenly to make sure it has the proper protection.
The bowl is sanded from the foot downwards, they repeat this each time to make sure the surface is perfectly smooth.
The bowl is sanded from the foot downwards, they repeat this each time to make sure the surface is perfectly smooth.
A selection of black lacquer works sitting on the shelf in Akihiko's studio.
A selection of black lacquer works sitting on the shelf in Akihiko's studio.
A selection of black lacquer works sitting on the shelf in Akihiko’s studio.
Oval Bowls by Akihiko Sugita, notice the textured surface on these vessels.
Oval Bowls by Akihiko Sugita, notice the textured surface on these vessels.
A selection of brushes inside his studio.
Small lacquer dishes by Akihiko Sugita.Oval bowls by Akihiko Sugita.
Small lacquer dishes and oval bowls by Akihiko Sugita.
Red lacquer bowl by Akihiko Sugita.
Black lacquer bowl, oval black bowl, and red bowl by Akihiko Sugita.Antique cup by Akihiko Sugita.
Black lacquer bowl, oval black bowl, and red bowl by Akihiko Sugita.
Black lacquer dish by Akihiko Sugita
Black lacquer dish by Akihiko Sugita
Small black lacquer dishes, perfect for fruit, and the large oval dish bowl by Akihiko Sugita.
Small black lacquer dishes, perfect for fruit, and the Tetsu Hachi bowl by Akihiko Sugita.
Black lacquer dish and large oval bowl by Akihiko Sugita.
Large Slate Dish and large oval bowl by Akihiko Sugita.
Inside the opening of their townhouse, beautiful wooden interior and furniture.
Inside the opening of their townhouse, beautiful wooden interior and furniture.
A birthday card given to Akihiko by his kids, also some tools that he uses in his workshop.
A birthday card given to Akihiko by his kids, also some tools that he uses in his workshop.
Walking Akihiko's child to school with his wife Mihoko Sugita.Ceramics that Akihiko has collected.
Akihiko and Mihoko walking their child to school, also some ceramics that he has collected.
Akihiko's family at their house in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.
Akihiko Sugita at his studio, using his lacquerware and drink out of a chawan.