Unmasking the Art and Discipline of Local Illustrator and Printmaker, Mariko Ando

Meet Mariko Ando, a Vancouver-via-Japan illustrator with a signature slightly sinister storybook style and an admirable dedication to using old-school print-making processes.


If you missed her at Strange Fellows Brewing and OH Studio’s inaugural ‘Harvst Markt’ earlier this month, then be sure to mark December 3-5th on your calendar, when she’ll be participating in their annual Krampusmarkt. In the meantime, satisfy your curiosity about Mariko’s discipline and story by reading our recent interview with the artist below…

You have been working with very old techniques for many years now. What first attracted you to these processes?

I did Intaglio / Etching printmaking in class when I was an art college student in Japan. It gave me goosebumps. I etched and created grooves on the copper plate. It was so beautiful and magical and, printed on paper, it was so rich and deep. I was excited because that was what I was looking for!

Why, when so many people are using new technologies to replicate old styles, do you continue to do them the old-fashioned way, by hand?

Yes, even 25 years ago, digital printer technologies were amazing, high level quality. However, they were never able to print like hand pulled prints. There is a beautiful embossing and depth of the ink on the paper… Well, the new technologies are probably getting closer in fact. Even so, I respect the old style and someone should keep doing and creating in the old style but with new works. Pretty much the same way and same tools we used in the 15th century, which is amazing. That’s another reason I continue with the old printing style.

I imagine that the process of completing a piece of art is very labour-intensive, but also very rewarding. How long does it take you to complete one print? How does it feel when you are finished?

For creating a plate, it takes 3-7 days for one small 4”x6” plate. Then, the inking and printing for one print takes about 30 minutes. A larger plate will be over 1 hour. It feels so good when I lift up the paper from the plate on the press machine and see if I get what I expected or more! And off course if it went wrong, I’m sad and mad, I feel like a falling down in silence. But I go back to inking the plate again right away. I want to erase my embarrassment quickly.

What was your favourite story or storybook growing up?

“Bedtime For Frances” by Russell Hoban. It’s almost all black and white illustration and it is a little bit spooky, but I loved it. And it was a big, booming “MANGA” comic magazine era when I was elementary school kid in Japan. In “Candy Candy” by Yumiko Igarashi, the heroine loves tree climbing, and it showed forest areas in North America. Also, I loved watching “Little House on the Prairie” on TV. My father gave me the book as well. The beautiful nature and big trees were in my mind always since I was little and it makes me comfortable and calm inside. So now I’m here in beautiful green Vancouver. As a teenager, I respected ‘Osamu Tezuka’ and ‘Luis Bunuel’, ‘Brothers Quay’, and ‘Jan Svankmajer’. I was inspired by these dark side fantasies from amazing film legends. I especially loved their awkward worlds in the stop-motion animations. Many people gave me comments that my work reminds them of “Alice in Wonderland”, illustrated by John Tenniel. However, I was more inspired by Svankmajer’s ‘Alice’.

What role did art play in your early life?

When I was a little, I preferred to stay home alone and drawing forever. My parents were very worried, but I was just a happy girl when I was drawing pictures and living in my imagination. I wasn’t good at sports, studies, and was (maybe still am) shy, but was good at art creation and writing a story. My drawing tells me who I am and I can draw it. I feel I’m lucky because written language is unnecessary. Art is the perfect language.

When and why did you decide to pursue it seriously, as a career?

I don’t believe in prophecy usually but I agreed that Nostradamus said the world will end in 15 years. Then I thought I should be what I want to be, what I can do best. I decided to go to the art college when I was 17.

It looks like you’ve been very productive during 2021, so far! How have the past couple of years during the Covid pandemic affected your inspiration and/or artistic practice?

Most art events have been cancelled or postponed, sadly, but actually my life hasn’t changed much. I feel it was busier than normal because I had a deadline for my book illustration and making props for a movie and preparing for our exhibition. It’s all I can do at home without seeing anybody. It’s a good part about being an artist.

To me, your art is playful, mysterious and slightly sinister! Tell me the story of your latest series of etchings. (Who are the characters? Why are they wearing masks? What games are they playing?)

Thank you. ‘The Mask Girl’ in my new work was born during the pandemic. She is very fragile and shy because she hasn’t seen anybody and lives alone, but she has a strong heart. The bunnies are alway there and supporting her quietly, warmly. I hope she will take off her mask someday in the near future.

What was the last unusual or unexpected source of inspiration that you encountered? How did it influence your art?

I painted a 8’ x 30’ mural recently which was organized by VMF (Vancouver Mural Festival). It was a bit challenging because of the large scale and the hot weather. I had to think about how to transfer my fine line image on to the large wall in the limited time. A needle metal pen vs. a big paint brush = 1:100,0000? I’m not sure how many hairs in the paint brush, but it was no problem! It was a bit hard physically but I really enjoyed painting a giant bunny that was bigger than me. I also had great chats with all the wonderful pedestrians passing by.

Are there any other processes or skills that you would like to learn in the future?

I’ve been wanting to do large oil or acrylic painting these days and the mural was a good experience for finding a new style. I have to finish up my new print editions and meanwhile I would love to try to do more painting and more etching printmaking. I’m looking forward to showing my new work in public!


  • BoxGirl
  • CurtainGirl
  • DayDreamer300
  • GraciousInsomnia_300
  • JumpingBook
  • RedCage
  • Rhubarbpie
  • SmallLifeSky
  • ThreeBluebird
  • TwoWindow
  • PastedGraphic-3
  • PastedGraphic-2
  • IMG_0007
  • #7_RainWindow

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