Ayuko Sakurai

Good in Jewelry Design.

About Ayuko Sakurai

Ayuko Sakurai is a 2017 graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology with a MFA in Metals and Jewelry Design. She tends to combine multiple media and styles in her works, which allows her to explore different relationships among two- and three-dimensional arts, and simplicity and complexity. Her art-making process often starts from interpreting what she perceives and experiences.

  • Winner of Jewelry Design Award.
  • Specialized in Jewelry Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Jewelry
Secret Garden Bracelet

Secret Garden Bracelet

Jewelry Design


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Interview with Ayuko Sakurai

Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
I had never pictured myself as an artist. Even at university where I pursued a M.F.A., I was hesitant about stating that I was an artist. However, this hesitancy keeps making me question what art, design, or beauty is, which sometimes gives me a new perspective.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
I am trying to build my own studio at home. After graduation from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2017, I found a job in the same area, but ended up returning to Japan (my home country) because of a visa expiration. It had been 11 years since I left Japan at the age of 15, so I need a new setup with tools and knowledge I earned throughout years.
What is "design" for you?
Materialized values or the ways to materialize certain values. For example, the process of discovering designs of the world—how this world is built—is physics. When a design reveals as an artwork, its artist has figured out the way to materialize something meaningful to him/her.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
I cannot choose one from metal, fabric, wood, painting, etc. They are all playful in their own unique ways, so I tend to do mixed media works.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
When I line up images that caught my attention in a row, I often see multiple colors and patterns. High contrasts and fine details make the space visually rich.
What was the first thing you designed for a company?
I have never worked for a company. However at my first internship at a city arts center, I made a paper model of the new building to which the center was moving. It gave visitors ideas about what the new arts center would look like.
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
So far, my favorite material is metal—not only because it was my major, but also because it often gives me interesting ideas of designs. Metal gives me possibilities to be different from other people.
When do you feel the most creative?
When I jot down my ideas in my sketchbook or scrap paper. Planning is probably the most fun part because there is no problem to fix yet. It only needs imagination and ideas; I usually face problems as I work later.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
The balance. It includes how my work will look on a body (if it is a wearable piece), and the relationship among different elements of a design such as shapes, colors and media.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
I feel free since I often sketch by randomly recalling objects and/or scenes that I had seen before. My hand just keeps moving while a design is constructed in my mind. Sometimes I feel nothing and let my mind go wherever it wants. However, anger and excitement are also very common in my memories; sadness either stops me from sketching or gives me a melancholic feeling, which still inspires me to draw.
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
I almost always have a combination of rushing and spending time to include details. Which means, when I start to see the design coming out, I want to see the end because I already know it will not be the exact design pictured in my mind; however, I never know how it will turn out at the last minute. At the same time, when the project is getting closer to its end, I start to feel that I can do more and usually end up with putting details (sometimes they are unnecessary).
What makes a design successful?
Balance between how the design appears and my want to alter it. If the piece is already visually pleasing, I should not touch it even though I want to decorate more. I tend to overdecorate, so knowing this habit is the key to make something.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
Good. I usually do not choose a design which looks bad in my sketches. I believe in the good parts of the design and start the project; then I start to see bad parts as I proceed.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
To believe in the power of a design. With advanced technologies, people can express and share their feelings/opinions with others easily, and see objects/people/places without directly encountering them. By seeing them, many of us know the world cannot be judged in black and white; there will be events that cannot be stopped no matter how much we try. However, as well as other human intellectual activities such as science, an artwork can imply the good and/or honest aspects of us. I see values in them.
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
More varied and interactive with other fields(which do not have to be art-related). Because of the variety of art fields we have today and will have tomorrow, people will combine multiple techniques and media more easily. And this allows them to express their feelings/thoughts more freely. In addition, people realize that many academic or technological fields can intertwine each other even though they are considered totally separate subjects.
When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
Before the A’ Design Award ceremony in 2019, I displayed my works at the gallery at R.I.T. as a part of my thesis project. I am happy to present my works whenever and wherever, but I am focusing on building my studio now.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
The memories and feelings from my experiences often bring me ideas. Sometimes the ideas come out at random moments such as during sleeping, washing or waiting for a train. I cannot be creative in a deep depression, though (a little depression is still manageable).
How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
I tend to put a lot of details and end up being busy. Too much information and too many objects and people in this world. I sometimes feel an urge to render all of what I have seen and imaged into one work. And of course, it is impossible to include them all. I usually need to stay simple and after I start to see the whole shape, I will think about details.
Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
I left my home country, Japan when I was fifteen for high school. After that, I had spent 11 years staying/visiting 11 countries and came back to Japan last year. While being the only Japanese in the area or my school, I was very careful not to be influenced by any culture, especially Japanese culture. It may be impossible to ignore it completely, but I try to appreciate different cultures as fair as possible. I would like to discover favorite elements in whatever comes to me.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
Personality. I am sure these designers whom companies select have reasonable quantity and quality. When companies cannot select designers regarding their styles and media, personality will be something worthy of consideration.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
I usually start from concepts and images, then modify works as I proceed, and decide if they are worthy having photos taken. Also, I used to give my work a simple title like Work I, or did not even care about a title. Even though I have specific images of what my works will be at the end, I have not found a meaning in putting the idea or concept into words (as a title).
What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
I do not know yet. I am in the process of buying new tools and making a studio, so everything looks important to me.
Can you describe a day in your life?
No single day is the same. Or all days are the same, but I feel differently everyday.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
I am one of these young coming designers and do not know what to say. However, at least I know some of my characteristics have taken me to where I am now—being hardworking and stubborn.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
Positives and negatives depend on how I perceive the situation and which stage I am at. And not only a designer, the majority of jobs and life stages have both a positive and negative—I remember how hard my life was at an elementary school. So, I cannot tell the positive and negative parts at this point because I am still trying to find the meaning of being a designer.
What is your "golden rule" in design?
I do not personally use the word “create.” To me, creating means that something comes from nothing; and I do not think humans can do it. Humans can make something from what already exist, such as media and designs. Perhaps what/who humans call deities and gods can create. While making something, I sometimes wonder the meaning of this action; I believe this interpretation gives me a different perspective towards this world and human’s curiosity.
What skills are most important for a designer?
The ability/skill to handle a current situation. This situation can include finance, work or study environment, and even which life stage and level of skills a designer has. Of course this does not only apply to a designer, but I think designing can be easily changed depending on his/her position and situation.
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
A sketchbook, or scrap papers when I do not bring a sketchbook with me. When I have an image or idea, I need to put it down before I forget it. I often draw with texts to explain where/how I get the idea since a drawing can be interpreted in different ways and texts are confusing if these two exist solely.
Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
Time is especially important when I have another job. I do not complain when I have no time actually making something, because the stability of a full-time job means a lot to me (to make something as I want later). I try to get my priorities straight and learn as much as I can for the next time I am ready to use that knowledge (and make something). However, for the peace of my mind, I keep my sketchbook aside to jot down what I feel noteworthy in everyday life.
How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
It depends on the size and how familiar I am with the media. I tend to want to put more time in embellishing because by that, I start to see the end of a making process, plus decorating is a fun part.
What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
At my work, people do not ask me a question relating to a design. I left the U.S.A. where I studied art last year, and people I met recently in Japan do not know me as a designer.
What was your most important job experience?
I cannot pick one up because many of them gave me lessons. In design fields, I did several internships at a town art gallery, schools, private jewelry shop and metalsmith studio. Some of them taught me various techniques (which enriched my knowledge and skills) while some showed me life lessons which did not always mean pleasant experiences (for example, a skilled person in one field does not directly mean s/he has a good or at least moderate personality).
Who are some of your clients?
I do not have a specific group of clients. But I plan to add more categories to my website when I decide to sell my works, such as “Young Adults,” “Purposes(Necklace, Ring…)” and “Year the objects are made.”
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
I like works with intense details or in clean, simple styles that will not confuse me. In my own making process, I keep adding more elements, and I guess I am feeling as if I take control of something. This feeling is one of the values in the making/designing process because it is rare to be able to control something completely—all possibilities of how the design will look are in my hands.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
This is what I would like to know. This world is full of unexpected events. I do not even know what I will do tomorrow.
Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
My studio. I am currently working as a science communicator in Japan, and I have never expected that building my own workspace is this hard.
How can people contact you?
Through my website or they can directly email me. This is how A’ Design Award contacted me.
Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
I think I am not as successful as other artists that this question targets. Last year(yes I am writing this on December 31st, so I can still call it last year), I must have left the U.S.A and came back to Japan, which changed my life completely no matter what I want or think. Then I face the questions like “What is your plan with art in your life?” “Don’t you give up an art making?” So, I can say that I am still a young, coming artist who struggle a lot, but keep reminding myself of what I have earned in the world of art and design.

Extended Interview with Ayuko Sakurai

Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
I had never pictured myself as an artist. Even at university where I pursued a M.F.A., I was hesitant about stating that I was an artist. However, this hesitancy keeps making me question what art, design, or beauty is, which sometimes gives me a new perspective.
What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
I am trying to build my own studio at home. After graduation from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2017, I found a job in the same area, but ended up returning to Japan (my home country) because of a visa expiration. It had been 11 years since I left Japan at the age of 15, so I need a new setup with tools and knowledge I earned throughout years.
Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
Materialized values or the ways to materialize certain values. For example, the process of discovering designs of the world—how this world is built—is physics. When a design reveals as an artwork, its artist has figured out the way to materialize something meaningful to him/her.
What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
I cannot choose one from metal, fabric, wood, painting, etc. They are all playful in their own unique ways, so I tend to do mixed media works.
What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
When I line up images that caught my attention in a row, I often see multiple colors and patterns. High contrasts and fine details make the space visually rich.
What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
I have never worked for a company. However at my first internship at a city arts center, I made a paper model of the new building to which the center was moving. It gave visitors ideas about what the new arts center would look like.
What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
So far, my favorite material is metal—not only because it was my major, but also because it often gives me interesting ideas of designs. Metal gives me possibilities to be different from other people.
What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
When I jot down my ideas in my sketchbook or scrap paper. Planning is probably the most fun part because there is no problem to fix yet. It only needs imagination and ideas; I usually face problems as I work later.
What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
The balance. It includes how my work will look on a body (if it is a wearable piece), and the relationship among different elements of a design such as shapes, colors and media.
What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
I feel free since I often sketch by randomly recalling objects and/or scenes that I had seen before. My hand just keeps moving while a design is constructed in my mind. Sometimes I feel nothing and let my mind go wherever it wants. However, anger and excitement are also very common in my memories; sadness either stops me from sketching or gives me a melancholic feeling, which still inspires me to draw.
What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
I almost always have a combination of rushing and spending time to include details. Which means, when I start to see the design coming out, I want to see the end because I already know it will not be the exact design pictured in my mind; however, I never know how it will turn out at the last minute. At the same time, when the project is getting closer to its end, I start to feel that I can do more and usually end up with putting details (sometimes they are unnecessary).
Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
Balance between how the design appears and my want to alter it. If the piece is already visually pleasing, I should not touch it even though I want to decorate more. I tend to overdecorate, so knowing this habit is the key to make something.
What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
Good. I usually do not choose a design which looks bad in my sketches. I believe in the good parts of the design and start the project; then I start to see bad parts as I proceed.
What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
To believe in the power of a design. With advanced technologies, people can express and share their feelings/opinions with others easily, and see objects/people/places without directly encountering them. By seeing them, many of us know the world cannot be judged in black and white; there will be events that cannot be stopped no matter how much we try. However, as well as other human intellectual activities such as science, an artwork can imply the good and/or honest aspects of us. I see values in them.
How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
More varied and interactive with other fields(which do not have to be art-related). Because of the variety of art fields we have today and will have tomorrow, people will combine multiple techniques and media more easily. And this allows them to express their feelings/thoughts more freely. In addition, people realize that many academic or technological fields can intertwine each other even though they are considered totally separate subjects.
If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
Before the A’ Design Award ceremony in 2019, I displayed my works at the gallery at R.I.T. as a part of my thesis project. I am happy to present my works whenever and wherever, but I am focusing on building my studio now.
How do you define design, what is design for you?
The memories and feelings from my experiences often bring me ideas. Sometimes the ideas come out at random moments such as during sleeping, washing or waiting for a train. I cannot be creative in a deep depression, though (a little depression is still manageable).
Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
I tend to put a lot of details and end up being busy. Too much information and too many objects and people in this world. I sometimes feel an urge to render all of what I have seen and imaged into one work. And of course, it is impossible to include them all. I usually need to stay simple and after I start to see the whole shape, I will think about details.
What helped you to become a great designer?
I left my home country, Japan when I was fifteen for high school. After that, I had spent 11 years staying/visiting 11 countries and came back to Japan last year. While being the only Japanese in the area or my school, I was very careful not to be influenced by any culture, especially Japanese culture. It may be impossible to ignore it completely, but I try to appreciate different cultures as fair as possible. I would like to discover favorite elements in whatever comes to me.
How do you think designers should present their work?
Personality. I am sure these designers whom companies select have reasonable quantity and quality. When companies cannot select designers regarding their styles and media, personality will be something worthy of consideration.
What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
I usually start from concepts and images, then modify works as I proceed, and decide if they are worthy having photos taken. Also, I used to give my work a simple title like Work I, or did not even care about a title. Even though I have specific images of what my works will be at the end, I have not found a meaning in putting the idea or concept into words (as a title).
What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
I do not know yet. I am in the process of buying new tools and making a studio, so everything looks important to me.
What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
No single day is the same. Or all days are the same, but I feel differently everyday.
How does design help create a better society?
I am one of these young coming designers and do not know what to say. However, at least I know some of my characteristics have taken me to where I am now—being hardworking and stubborn.
What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
Positives and negatives depend on how I perceive the situation and which stage I am at. And not only a designer, the majority of jobs and life stages have both a positive and negative—I remember how hard my life was at an elementary school. So, I cannot tell the positive and negative parts at this point because I am still trying to find the meaning of being a designer.
Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
I do not personally use the word “create.” To me, creating means that something comes from nothing; and I do not think humans can do it. Humans can make something from what already exist, such as media and designs. Perhaps what/who humans call deities and gods can create. While making something, I sometimes wonder the meaning of this action; I believe this interpretation gives me a different perspective towards this world and human’s curiosity.
What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
The ability/skill to handle a current situation. This situation can include finance, work or study environment, and even which life stage and level of skills a designer has. Of course this does not only apply to a designer, but I think designing can be easily changed depending on his/her position and situation.
Where do you think the design field is headed next?
A sketchbook, or scrap papers when I do not bring a sketchbook with me. When I have an image or idea, I need to put it down before I forget it. I often draw with texts to explain where/how I get the idea since a drawing can be interpreted in different ways and texts are confusing if these two exist solely.
How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
Time is especially important when I have another job. I do not complain when I have no time actually making something, because the stability of a full-time job means a lot to me (to make something as I want later). I try to get my priorities straight and learn as much as I can for the next time I am ready to use that knowledge (and make something). However, for the peace of my mind, I keep my sketchbook aside to jot down what I feel noteworthy in everyday life.
When you have a new design project, where do you start?
It depends on the size and how familiar I am with the media. I tend to want to put more time in embellishing because by that, I start to see the end of a making process, plus decorating is a fun part.
What is your life motto as a designer?
At my work, people do not ask me a question relating to a design. I left the U.S.A. where I studied art last year, and people I met recently in Japan do not know me as a designer.
Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
I cannot pick one up because many of them gave me lessons. In design fields, I did several internships at a town art gallery, schools, private jewelry shop and metalsmith studio. Some of them taught me various techniques (which enriched my knowledge and skills) while some showed me life lessons which did not always mean pleasant experiences (for example, a skilled person in one field does not directly mean s/he has a good or at least moderate personality).
What is the role of technology when you design?
I do not have a specific group of clients. But I plan to add more categories to my website when I decide to sell my works, such as “Young Adults,” “Purposes(Necklace, Ring…)” and “Year the objects are made.”
What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
I like works with intense details or in clean, simple styles that will not confuse me. In my own making process, I keep adding more elements, and I guess I am feeling as if I take control of something. This feeling is one of the values in the making/designing process because it is rare to be able to control something completely—all possibilities of how the design will look are in my hands.
What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
This is what I would like to know. This world is full of unexpected events. I do not even know what I will do tomorrow.
When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
My studio. I am currently working as a science communicator in Japan, and I have never expected that building my own workspace is this hard.
Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
Through my website or they can directly email me. This is how A’ Design Award contacted me.
Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
I think I am not as successful as other artists that this question targets. Last year(yes I am writing this on December 31st, so I can still call it last year), I must have left the U.S.A and came back to Japan, which changed my life completely no matter what I want or think. Then I face the questions like “What is your plan with art in your life?” “Don’t you give up an art making?” So, I can say that I am still a young, coming artist who struggle a lot, but keep reminding myself of what I have earned in the world of art and design.

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