Artist and Entrepreneur Keiko Hayner

Keiko Hayner came from Osaka, Japan to the US in 2004 for school and now finds herself happily at home in Austin, TX with her two adorable children. She puts the "K" in AJ and K Co and wears multiple hats while she curates our art offerings and creates her own unique illustrations and paintings. Always mommy, part-time student and full-time entrepreneur, Keiko reminds me to keep my heart and my eyes open for inspiration during even the simplest interactions every day. Enjoy this interview with AJ and K Co Co-owner and Art Director, Keiko Hayner!

What is your background in art? 
Since I was a little girl I’ve always loved drawing. I remember I loved drawing people and animals even back then, and I started exploring using different mediums such as color pencils, oil pastel, watercolors, and even collage. After high school I went to art college in Japan to study visual communication as a BA. Throughout my life I was always doodling something on paper. 

When you first went to art school where did you think that would lead?

Although my major was graphic design I think I truly wanted to be an artist or illustrator. I always had the question in the back of my mind if I was a "designer" or an "artist." In the bottom of my heart I knew I always loved drawing, so this big question remained throughout my college years... But now I feel like I don’t have to define myself in any specific categories. I can be an artist, illustrator, or designer.

How would you describe your artistic/design style?

Colorful, optimistic, delicate, feminine, warm... I always keep in mind that I have some kind of message, even a simple message like “happy” from my colors and shapes when I create a new piece. Hopefully whoever sees my art feels a bit of my message.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I like creating my art from nature - flowers, leaves, animals, insects. I’m not particularly an outdoor person, but I’m always amazed by how Mother Nature creates such unique shapes, colors, and textures. Also, I love anything colorful from pastries to clothing. I feel like my inspirations are always floating right in front of me in magazines, people’s outfits, and the floral section at the grocery store and literally everywhere in my everyday life. Also, this is a big one-- I love listening to people’s life stories. They spark my imagination and I translate those stories to my images on paper.

What is your favorite medium- what is one thing you haven’t tried yet that you would like to?

I love using watercolors. Regular watercolors to gauche which is opaque watercolor paint. It’s interesting how I ended up choosing watercolors. When I was younger I didn’t like it. Probably I should say I was afraid of using watercolors because colors would bleed into other colors and I felt like I didn’t have control over it. But now I enjoy its unexpected result with my intentions. One thing I haven’t tried yet that I would like to use is acrylic paintings on a large canvas. I would like to paint a big bouquet as my first one!

What is your favorite part of the artistic process?

I have two favorites. One is a moment when an inspiration coming to me. When I get the inspiration I feel goosebumps and some kind of a soft electric shock in my body- and actual physical reaction. Then after that the process from drawing a sketch to finishing up painting is really fast. I forget the time and my mind is into the momentum completely literally nonstop. The other favorite is when I see my art living in people’s lives. Several friends have shown me pictures of my original or art prints in frames, that’s one of my happiest moments of my life. I feel very lucky that I can feel that way several times, not just once in life! I'm such a lucky girl!

What does art mean to you?

This is a deep one. To me art is my growth as a person. As I mentioned earlier I felt fear toward watercolors when I was younger. In other words, I was afraid of not being in control. But I learned I needed to let go some of the controlling thoughts and let it be as watercolors bleed and blend into other colors.

There was a long time period that I was away from art. I changed my direction for awhile to a different career in child development, and I was also busy being a mother to my babies. My life started shifting with a personal matter in 2018 and I was in a pretty deep bottom emotionally in 2019. I started searching for something that could maybe heal my emotional wound and I started grabbing paint brushes with watercolors which I felt fearful of before. I started painting whatever came to my mind. I started carrying around a sketchbook to work and drawing during my break time almost everyday.

Since then my art has changed completely from “design” in art college to expressions of what’s inside of me - hope, desire, happiness, beauty, and love. I always feel funny and sort of ironic that my creative passion came back after taking a long detour. Art to me is something that I was born with and I have had in my whole life, but it changed its expressions as I grew as a person, became a mother, and learned more about myself if that makes sense.


Who are your biggest influences? 

My biggest influences are my two children. They are 6 and 3.5 years old as I'm writing this. They have made me smile, laugh, cry, see my true self, and become more resilient. Up until I had my first baby I was continuously building myself with the notion of how I was supposed to be as an adult. But watching them every moment of their growth, sharing precious moments, prioritizing their needs, and dealing with their issues made me realize that we are all growing together from making countless mistakes and experiencing being off of a track that we thought we always would be on. Again, it’s a matter of how to deal with my own controlling thoughts and how to be flexible in life. I tell my children that they can be anything they dream of by finding their passions and putting in effort along with that. I want to be an example to them, so they can follow along and watch those elements through my life and hopefully they learn that their dreams and passions can lead their happiness when they grow up.

Do you have a favorite artist?

I love Carolyn Gavin who is a Canadian artist and paints flowers with watercolors and abstract landscape paintings with gauche or acrylic paints. Her colors are just so amazing to me. Also, I have to add Maira Kalman who is an American illustrator and children’s book author. I fell in love with her work when I watched a documentary series called “The New Yorkers” on TV in Japan. I believe I was only 17 or 18 years old. They were talking about how she worked for cover pages for the New Yorker magazines and specifically talked about a cover after 9-11. My dad and I recorded this whole TV series and I watched Maira Kalman’s story over and over. I didn’t only fall in love with her portraits of people who she observed and drew in NYC, but also I had never seen any more realness from any other artists at that time. Although the whole world was shaken hard by 9-11, I knew I would be flying to the U.S. at some point of my life. I felt the strength coming out of such an earthshaking event and also sorrow. Over the years I’ve collected the majority of her children’s books and other books for adults. Recently I ran into her unexpectedly online and enjoyed reading about the process of her art. I reassured my love toward her work even after 20 years. 


What’s next for you? 

This is actually something that I’ve always dreamed of, but I would love to do illustrations for children’s books! I have collected many children’s book over the years especially during the time I was working in a field of child development and since I had my babies. Some of the books don’t even have good stories, but I just bought them because the pictures were simply beautiful. I would love to show my art to those very young readers’ eyes.

When you reflect on your body of work over the past year how do you think you have changed?

I have been more adventurous using different materials mediums, and motifs. I only drew and painted flowers before, but  in the past year I have used cardboard, color pencils, pens and etc, and expanded my motifs to people and animals, cakes and plates along with flowers and leaves.

How are you managing the quarantine and all of these stressful times?

I actually feel lucky that I have art as my passion during the hard times of quarantine. I never feel stressful about creating art. I forget time while I’m in a creative mode. But this quarantine has been pretty difficult that I miss my friends and family very much. Especially all my family is in Japan. One thankful thing that I noticed art has been a bridge between myself and them to stay connected or even reconnected. So, the connections with people through my art has been such positive fuel for me to keep creating my art.

Thank you so much Keiko for answering these questions and sharing your art and life with us!


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