November 22, 17 | Yuki Konishi
Handmade crayon studio “Tuna-Kai” connects colors from nature and smiles
There is a woman who creates crayons from 100% natural ingredients.
I had been dying to visit the studio, listen to the stories, and see the colors in my eyes since I heard about it. At the end of the summer in this year, my wish came true. I visited the handmade crayon studio “Tuna-Kai” to meet the founder Akiko Ito.
“Handmade crayon studio Tuna-Kai” is located on the outskirts of Shibecha Town in eastern Hokkaido. Mrs. Ito has started selling crayons from 2011 and opened the shop in 2012.
▲The founder of handmade crayon studio Tuna-Kai, Akiko Ito. She is from Okayama Prefecture.
There are twenty kinds of crayons line up, and people can try drawing with each color. All the crayons are created with 100% natural ingredients. She creates crayons mixes pigments from trees, flowers, roots, soils, etc., and beeswax. All the colors look natural and rustic, different from colorful crayons we usually find.
▲The name “Tuna-Kai” is an Ainu language. Tuna means “carrying things” and Kai means “domestic animal”.
The trigger to create crayons for Mrs. Ito was the encounter with a boy who had chemical sensitivity.
“He was a six-year-old boy who had never drawn a picture before. He had chemical sensitivity and was not able to use paints we normally find at stores because they include oil chemicals. At that time, I had been practicing plant dyeing and came up with the thought to use that skill to create natural paints for children like him.”
However, it was not easy as she thought at first. She found old crayon recipe used in Europe, but she had to create pigments as a basis of colors, had to figure out how to shape them, etc. She found obstacles one after another. She went through the process of try and error in between work and raising her children, and she took ten years to finish these cute crayons.
▲She needs two months to gather ingredients, create pigments, mix beeswax and wait for the shape to fix.
It’s not merely “a tool for drawing”,
The most significant attraction of Tuna-Kai’s crayons is that it uses natural ingredients. All the colors are taken from natures in her neighborhood; Korin dandelion and Ezo wormwood which bloom around the studio in spring, Onigurumi and acorn from mountains in autumn, shell from scallops caught in the Sea of Okhotsk, black soil, and loess, etc.
the natural colors of crayons heal people’s mind
Another unique thing is that they do not use standard color names, they use ingredients as the color names.
“I received an e-mail from a mother who has a color-blind child. Usual crayons use names such as red, blue, yellow, but the child cannot relate the actual color and names. The child colored people’s hair in purple at the kindergarten and the teacher scolded the child. The teacher even doubted mental illness. The child stopped drawing since then.
However, that child could use our crayons because we don’t use color names. The mother told me that the child drew first time in 10 years using our crayons. Also, I am often told by grownups that people feel healed from mild colors of natural ingredients.
I received various responses about the crayon I started creating from the encounter with a chemical sensitive boy, and I felt it was not merely ‘a tool to draw’ which changed me the way to involve this project a lot.”
She displays drawings used Tuna-Kai’s crayons sent from all over Japan with thoughts in the shop. Those drawings make people feel warm and kind.
▲A part of drawings displayed inside the shop. Mrs. Ito hosts workshops for children besides creating crayons.
A color from dungs!
I had one question came up in my mind. In Hokkaido, there are many colorful plants such as lavender flowers, sunflowers, and Hamanasu, so why are there not many color variations?
The exciting part of the work extracting color from nature
“The color we see and the color when it’s processed to pigments are not the same, actually. When it’s made into crayons, more of them change colors. For example, the purple color of lupine flowers becomes green when it’s processed to pigments and turns to lemon yellow when it becomes a crayon. Isn’t it interesting?”
Wow! I never knew about that!
“I have tried 50 to 60 ingredients and could finalize only 20 colors for sale. There is a tendency to have yellow, brown, and ocher when I use Hokkaido plants. I keep experimenting every day.”
“Green is very difficult to produce with a single ingredient. I usually mix yellow from Enju and blue from azure. However, I finally discovered an ingredient that turns out into green and stays its color even when it’s turned out to crayons!” Mrs. Ito told me and grinned.
There was a beautiful green pigment inside the case with the label “grazing”. Wait, grazing makes me imagine about…
“Yes, it is made from dungs of cows. Grass does not turn into green, but when a cow digests it, dungs turn out to green pigments. Adding to that, it has to be ‘fresh’ dungs. When I make pigments, I need to boil down, so it smells pretty bad (lol), but it doesn’t smell at all when it becomes pigments.”
The dung crayon is a part of “Tokachi-iro Crayon” activity (an activity to create crayons with ingredients from Tokachi region) which Mrs. Ito is involved. It was created from a curiosity of a farmer “what color do dungs turn out?” *colon bacilli are tested, and the result was negative.
Neighbors who heard about the story asks her to create crayons with dungs they have. Also, she has another dream to create crayons from bear dungs. However, “since it has to be ‘fresh’, someone has to dedicate their lives to collect dungs. It’s my longtime dream but very difficult to make it true. (lol)”
Mrs. Ito describes her work as “the work to get colors from nature”. “Tona-Kai’s crayons are not the main character in people’s lives, but I consider they are not merely a tool to draw, but they are presents to deliver smiles.”
The shop is open from Golden Week until early November usually, but she sells the crayons at the online shop throughout the year. How about getting one for Christmas presents?
* Tona-Kai’s crayons are thought to be used children over three years old. “If children under two years old use the crayons, adults must keep an eye on not to put crayons in their month.” Mrs. Ito told me.
▲There are also solid paints put into walnut shells and hat of acorns.
Text / Hokkaido Likers photo writer Yuki Konishi
Photo / Hokkaido Likers photo writer Minako Takada