池永康晟の筆 — 太晟・康尖 —

Yasunari Ikenaga’s Paint Brushes — Taisei & Kousen —

In May 2023, two types of fine Menso brushes named "Taisei" and "Kousen," produced by Mr. Yasunari Ikenaga, who remixes the techniques of Japanese and Western paintings to draw female portraits, were released through Namura Taiseido Co. 

We interviewed Mr. Ikenaga about the story and inspiration from development to completion of creating his ideal paint brushes, along with Hisaki Ishikawa who was a part of the planning and production of the brushes in Namura Taiseido Co.

Mr. Yasunari Ikenaga during the interview

— How did you come up with the idea of producing the brushes "Taisei" and "Kousen"?

Mr. Yasunari Ikenaga (hereafter, Ikenaga / titles omitted): I joined the event hosted by PIGMENT TOKYO in August 2017, where various artists and art material manufacturers gathered together. 

It was around the time when the production of Funaoka (*1), which had been indispensable to my painting method, had been discontinued. At the same time, the Sanzenbon animal glue that I used a lot was discontinued in 2011 and my favorite mineral pigment color was no longer available as well. Because of all these reasons, I realized it was time for me to change and find new painting materials. 

I’m a regular user of Namura Taiseido's paintbrushes, so we had a lot of conversations during the event.

They told me that it was difficult to obtain natural hair, the raw material for the brushes, and we agreed that it would be great if we could work together to create something together.

(*1 Funaoka Canvas: a Japanese canvas manufactured by Nippon Gazai Kogyo Co.)

— Is there any reason why you chose nylon hair? Is it related to the recent shortage of animal hair?

Ikenaga: I was using a nylon brush from another brand but they discontinued its production and I wanted a nylon brush that was more easy and comfortable to use.

Hisaki Ishikawa (hereafter, Ishikawa/titles omitted): Our original concept was whether we could make it affordable enough for young artists.

When we spoke with young artists introduced by Mr. Ikenaga, they were concerned about the price boost of weasel hair resulting in the unstable quality of brushes. Therefore, now we have a mission to produce nylon brushes with stable quality.

We also heard that Mr. Ikenaga would cut off the tips of the weasel hair to use the brushes for his paintings, so that was another reason.

Around the time we started discussing the project, our company released a new watercolor brush called Norme. 

We wondered if the nylon bristles used for Norme could be the substitute for weasel bristles and we started making some prototypes.

Brush Prototypes

— Were there any challenges or highlights that you went through to create these brushes?

Ishikawa: Since Mr. Ikenaga uses mineral pigments on canvas, the brushes require certain durability and this was another concern with nylon brushes.

When we asked the material supplier about the durability of brush hair, we were told that it would be difficult with nylon because the thin tip tends to bend easily. However, two or three months later, we received a call from the supplier saying, "We have created a good one," which later on became the white nylon hair for the Kousen brush. To be honest, the idea came to life a lot sooner than we expected. 

We made some brush samples using those hairs and asked for test drawings and feedback. We repeated this process and made about 20 or so prototypes.

The bristle of the Kousen brush

Ikenaga: Creating the bristle of the Kousen brush was the easy part but matching the compatibility with the handle was a tough one. 

From my experience with Menso brushes, the water tends to accumulate in the tube that connects the handle and the bristle. If the handle is made with bamboo, the paint would flow down while moderately replenishing the water to the tip, but if the combination of the hair and the handle isn’t good enough, the paint drips all at once. 

Moreover, the point of the tip (a thin hair coming out of the tip) is necessary when writing letters on paper, but for me, because of the lumps on canvases, having those tiny hairs might cause more problems than help because the paint on the tip might get caught on unintended spots.

Therefore, I wanted a paintbrush that keeps a sharp tip but still allows me to aim at the specific points on the canvas.

The bristle of the Taisei brush

Ikenaga: The brush hair that is used to make the Taisei brush (*2) was already established, so I wanted a type of stiff and sharp bristle that can drip paint in a mesh of canvas.

 (*2 Hair used: "EXCLUSIVE SYN. SABLE," a high-performance nylon fiber)

—  Is there a reason why you chose a metallic handle?

Ikenaga: I’ve heard that the materials shortage is not only happening in animal hair but also in bamboo used for brush handles.

One of the alternatives is plastic, but I don’t feel as motivated by holding the plastic handles because of their texture.

Although I tried using some other wooden handles as a substitute, they were not useful in terms of leaving stains and compatibility with the bristle.

Therefore, someone suggested that I try using an aluminum handle.

When I used to work as a stationery stockist, there was a time when aluminum mechanical pencils for drafting became so popular. 

The materiality of aluminum was very interesting, but in addition to that, they had some kinds of gimmicks like changeable grips or popping-out pen nibs that caught people’s eyes. And because of this, we decided to use aluminum for the handles.

When we decided to use aluminum for Taisei and Kousen brushes, we were worried that it would increase the prices, however, we also felt like it was necessary to create beautiful brushes that give people pleasure to hold.

ーDo you have any particular thoughts while picking the shape and thickness for these brushes?

Ikenaga: These handles are thinner and heavier compared to many other Menso brushes, and the shape is slightly uncomfortable to hold too. Even my artist friends said they are “thin and heavy,” so I assume we would receive similar feedback from customers who purchased the brushes too. 

I imagined someone would think of some gimmicks to get around it, such as wrapping a rubber band around the handle. So I decided on the design by aiming for a beautiful yet imperfect shape that makes users want to customize it for themselves.
Some people may think an aluminum handle would be slippery, but because of its high friction coefficient, it doesn't slip much. The weight of the aluminum reduces the shaking when drawing lines too.

I adjust the grip by wrapping the grip with curing tape.

By the way, I asked for the flier to be designed like a drafting pen.

Ishikawa: Since the nylon used for the Kousen brush is a new material, I took a positive approach to this new challenge of using aluminum. When we first made this brush, the handle was a little longer and the body was heavier, so we made it shorter.

Although in the first place, our idea was to make three sizes with S, M and L, the L turned out too heavy. Furthermore, someone requested an even thinner tip than size S, so we ended up creating XS, S and M.

— How do you use different brushes while creating your artwork?

Ikenaga:I don’t use too many different types of brushes, instead I prefer using one kind of brush for a long time.

I’m quite timid when it comes to painting, so I can’t do dramatic brush strokes or move paint around on the artwork like Rinpa style. I mostly draw with Menso brushes and I barely even use Saishiki (coloring) brushes.

In general, people would apply pressure and use the belly of the Saishiki brushes to color, but in my case, because of the texture of the canvas, I’d use only the tip of the brush by holding it straight against the painting surface.

Taisei is perfect for painting like cross-hatching and it can be used for the expression done by Saishiki brushes. I prefer coloring with the tip, because it is easy to control and the paint comes out well, which makes this brush my favorite.

— Since you just produced the Menso brushes, was there any moment that made you start using “lines” symbolically?

Ikenaga: I get this question quite often but I don't really see them as important, and I don’t want the lines to be the only thing that people focus on.

Since I don’t draw gestural lines when making a drawing and I cannot draw expressive lines using my physical movements too, in a sense I can only draw something that somehow appears to be a line. However, I believe those lines that I created, although they might not come with a specific meaning, the audience will still be able to acknowledge the beauty within them. 

Ikenaga's studio, organized in a fixed systematic way

— What was your journey in Nihonga painting and how did it lead you to your current art style?

Ikenaga: I originally came from an oil painting background and I wanted to try classical painting techniques back then, so I tried and put all my knowledge and techniques into one painting. However, by doing so, the painting process got so hard and tiring to the point that I realized that I needed to put everything I learned aside so I could start anew.

Because of my timid personality, I find the idea of having too much freedom is actually rather terrifying. Therefore, I became obsessed with Nihonga (Japanese painting) because it was the method I didn't know what to do with the most at that time. 

I was afraid of painting impulsively all at once and all of a sudden the artwork was completed. My current painting method with a combination of mineral pigments and canvas is the slowest and hard to get on in a rush.

I’m more comfortable with the concept of “do what you can do because that’s the only way to be done,” and also, the uncontrollable brush tip was another reason why I got into it.

Interviewing with Ikenaga

— Is that when you started painting portraits?

Ikenaga: I was too lazy to apply to an art school so I moved to Tokyo to attend a photography school.

However, you still need to go outside to take photographs and I found that was quite a hassle too. For example, you need to first climb a mountain to paint a mountain.I got into portraits because you can find people everywhere but humans being unpredictable was the real reason why I started drawing them.

— I can tell the texture of the canvas is very sophisticated and unique to you, do you prime or pre-treat your canvas?

Ikenaga: I use mud paint to prime the canvas. Therefore,  it is necessary to use deer glue that has enough jelly strength to fix mud paint on canvas. 

Funaoka’s canvas was made with dense weaves of strongly twisted hemp threads, so only a thin coat of mud paint was needed to apply mineral pigments beautifully.

Threads of the canvas I am using now are less twined and have a rough weave like a cheesecloth, so I have to put more paint on it than before. I’m still looking for ways to solve this issue since it is difficult to keep up with my current painting method.

— How did you achieve this dyed canvas expression?

Ikenaga: The first time I created this skin-tone shade was by accident. 

I was stuck on creating new artwork and did not know what to do, so I tried various methods, such as painting on paper or board, or even a golden background.

At that time, I happened to smudge some mud on the canvas, and when I washed it, the animal glue was washed off and the color came out like this. However, since the color was created by accident, I didn't know how to make it again. It took me about 10 years to figure it out.

Actually, I should have been able to reproduce it sooner, but I was too obsessed with reproducing the same color perfectly.

Just like how people save the printing data so they can have the same result, I keep all the recipes of how I made my colors. After repeating the process and finalizing the recipe, I started to make paintings with it. The results were quite messy, but by allowing it to happen naturally, I was finally becoming more comfortable to draw.

Now, rather than forcing myself to follow the routine or idea of what I should do before painting, I would just follow the same recipe but allow the result to surprise me.

I still try to create it the same way every time while making fine adjustments but the color will be slightly different each time depending on the art piece.

I stop comparing the difference between the colors that come out now and then because if I judge it by myself, I won't be able to move on.

I just measure the weight of the mineral pigments and have faith in my recipe that they should work out fine.

— What process do you have after dying the canvas?

Ikenaga: It takes half a day to draw outlines. 

I mostly use gray paints but also use mud paints. Like drawing on a blackboard with chalk, I create a dark background with mud paints then paint with light colors. 

If I started with a white base, I would not be able to achieve this kind of result.

My hobby is to look at the floor plans and I like to think of modules and recipes, for example, "How can modules be stacked to make a livable apartment complex or city?"

Furthermore, I use masking tapes to mark colors on Taisei and Kousen brushes which I made to manage the time of when to replace them. 

My studio is also designed to be like a darkroom and I think my aesthetic for modules and recipes has a strong influence on my production too.

Brushes used by Ikenaga

Although the project of creating these brushes was started for Nihonga artists in the first place, they are now popular among watercolor artists, modelers and oil painters too.

Taisei brush can hold a lot of paint and can paint fine details, lines and coloring, while the Kousen brush has a firm bristle with high flexibility and resiliency, allowing it to create delicate expression.

Unlike any other brushes, we hope you will enjoy the simple and stylish handle by customizing a gimmick that suits you.

Last but not least, PIGMENT TOKYO sells original pigment sets with colors selected by Ikenaga Yasunari.

This set includes 12 or 24 colors of natural mineral pigments and artificial mineral pigments.

These boxes come with small portion bottles of fine particle pigments, so it is easy to use for first-time mineral pigment users.

Feel free to try these pigment sets along with Taisen and Kousei brushes.


Born in 1965 in Oita Prefecture.

Graduated from Midorigaoka High School annexed to Oita Prefectural College of Arts and Culture.

Known for his Bijin-ga, portraits of beautiful women which he paints with mineral pigments and self-dyed linen give off a sophisticated texture and atmosphere.

Ikenaga is also known for his stationery and book cover designs from overseas.

His book "Kimi Omou Byakuya no Koufuku" published in 2014 has been a long seller.

You can find his work on book-cover designs in Spain, America and Italy; lambda prints in Germany; and stationery designs in Russia.

In Japan, he has collaborated with AKB 48's Yui Yokoyama for her photo book, ukiyo-e prints and love dolls, and is a leading figure in the contemporary Bijin-ga scene.

Website: https://ikenaga-yasunari.com/index.html

Namura Taiseido Corporation

Website: https://www.namura-tsd.co.jp/en/

Namura Taisei https://www.namura-tsd.co.jp/en/taisei-2/

Namura Kousen https://www.namura-tsd.co.jp/en/kousen-2/

Translated by Atsumi Okano

PIGMENT TOKYO Art Materials Expert


白石 奈都子

Art Materials Expert at PIGMENT TOKYO


Art Materials Expert at PIGMENT TOKYO Graduated from the Textile Design at Tama Art University. While she works as an art material expert at PIGMENT, she also continues her career as an artist of original paper, Japanese paper and calligraphy.

Art Materials Expert at PIGMENT TOKYO Graduated from the Textile Design at Tama Art University. While she works as an art material expert at PIGMENT, she also continues her career as an artist of original paper, Japanese paper and calligraphy.

大矢 享

Art Materials Expert at PIGMENT TOKYO


Born in 1989 in Tokyo. Master of Fine Art and Design at Nihon University College of Art. While working at PIGMENT TOKYO as an Art Materials Expert, he also continues his career as a visual artist.

Born in 1989 in Tokyo. Master of Fine Art and Design at Nihon University College of Art. While working at PIGMENT TOKYO as an Art Materials Expert, he also continues his career as a visual artist.