Yuji Sakuma - reclining model

Yuji Sakuma – Expressing A Model’s Heart And Soul

For ages now, on Instagram and Facebook, I’ve seen the bold, confident, colourful life drawings in soft pastel posted by Yuji Sakuma. Not only does this artist produce startling work, he produces A LOT of it! You can feel his passion for the medium and subject come blazing through. 🔥 

Recently, I also noticed that he’d posted some of his self-portraits, a subject I LOVE. (As you’ll see, Yuji Sakuma went deeply into this subject of his own face during this time of the pandemic when his was the only in-person model available!)

I just had to ask Yuji Sakuma to guest post. Knowing that Japanese is his first language, I also knew that he wrote his social media posts in English. (And I’m in awe of anyone who can communicate in a language not their own!) So I went ahead and invited him to be a guest and I was honoured with his positive response. Yay!

All I can say is, you’re in for a visual feast!

Yuji Sakuma - standing nude - back
Yuji Sakuma, Life Drawing – abstracting the figure, 2014, Rembrandt pastel on Muse paper, 54 x 38 cm. I drew this in only 15 minutes.

(I wrote about one of Yuji Sakuma’s pieces in a pastel roundup. You can read what I said here.)

[A note: I have edited Yuji Sakuma’s post but have been intentional about retaining his voice. As this artist is deep in preparation for a solo exhibition, I hesitated to bother him further about certain ideas. For this reason too, I’ve not gone back to him to ask for the data about his work – you’ll see his images are without detailed information. Also, I don’t have an introductory bio yet. I’m hoping to add all this later.]

And here’s the artist Yuji Sakuma to share his words and artwork with you!

Yuji Sakuma - model with long blonde hair
Yuji Sakuma, Katarina 2, 2019, Rembrandt pastels on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm.


Encounter with Pastel

When I was in junior high school, I spent every day practicing hard in the basketball club. However, just as if it was my own hideaway, when I saw the time, I enjoyed seeing the complete collection of world art at the municipal library, which was different from studying.

At first, I was overwhelmed by the paintings of Delacroix and Rubens. After that, I was naturally interested in Impressionist painters, and I still vividly remember being very interested in Degas’ dancers and nude women’s bathing paintings. At that time in Japan (when I was middle school boy, around 1962), book censorship existed. I later discovered the drawings of Degas and Lautrec and found that they were done on paper with dry soft pastel. This was my first encounter with a soft pastel painting.

Yuji Sakuma - figure - with line
Yuji Sakuma, Life drawing, 1995, soft pastel and conte on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38cm. Sold. I used line drawing mainly for this life drawing. Different coloured lines make some unique mixing colour effects. 

Soft Pastel Charms

There are many to talk about. The first thing I can say is that it is the most cost-effective painting material among various painting materials.

I mainly draw on paper. I draw with the technique of rubbing it on the surface of the paper or drawing a strong line but it is possible to overpaint like oil painting. Depending on the paper, about 4-6 layers can be overdrawn, so it is possible to express a deep and profound feeling. The layering has a great advantage over oil painting. It can be added instantly. It is impossible to draw with oil – you have to stop and wait until the next day or the day after to have a base dry enough to work over.

Yuji Sakuma- seated nude with knee up
Yuji Sakuma, Life drawing, 2019, Rembrandt on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm.

It is possible to finish a model in 2 to 3 hours with a pastel of 15F size, but oil painting usually takes 5 to 6 times more with the drying time and drawing time. While creating an oil painting of the same size, you can produce 5 to 6 times more drawings. It is possible to easily increase the number of drawings.

By the time I simply draw one model in oil, in pastel, I can draw 10 to 12 models.  (One sheet can be finished in 60 to 80 minutes!)

Yuji Sakuma- reclining nude
Yuji Sakuma, Life drawing – abstracting the figure, 2014, Rembrandt on Muse pastel paper, 38 x 54 cm. Sold.

Encounter with Life Drawing and My Figure Drawing Practice

When I was a university student, I experienced the wonder of life drawing and was very interested in it!

I found the joy of drawing with oil and charcoal using other students as drawing models. I participated in the first nude oil painting study sessions.

Yuji Sakuma- nude with neck band
Yuji Sakuma, Flamenco Dancer, 1984, soft and hard pastel on pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm.

I started practicing to improve my drawing skills in parallel with human body drawing and human body quick drawing. 

I worked frequently and attended the “Croquis” sessions in Tokyo on weekends. “Croquis” is the french word we use for a quick sketch of a fashion model for short duration, which then was used for quick human body sketching in Japan. These are one to 15 minute poses.

Learn Colour Psychology and Practice in Pastel

I learned the psychology of colour from my wife, who was at the time was at the same university, and learned about the psychological effects and effects of various colours and became interested in it.

I have come to understand the emotional changes that I receive from colours, the colour preferences of a person’s clothes, and their background.

Yuji Sakuma - stripes
Yuji Sakuma, Portrait, 2019, Rembrandt on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm.

At that time, I couldn’t practice just by reading a book at my desk, so I spent four to five years learning by myself. In oil painting, I spent a lot of time learning to increase the amount of paint that I could master by studying colour, relying on intuition, and preferring bright colors as highlights.

Coloured paper for pastels has been around for a long time in Japan, and I often bought flashy coloured paper and tried to expand the range of pastel colours I used.

Yuki Sakuma - using orange-coloured paper
Yuki Sakuma, Life drawing, 2019, Rembrandt pastels on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm.

My Feelings About Participating in Life Drawing and Croquis!

The important thing in drawing a person is to have a well-trained eye. Apart from pastel, it is important to use techniques that can be drawn with charcoal or pencil in order to improve the skill of capturing the pose of the model. 

If I had time, I would increase the number of venues for life drawing studios. I encourage you to increase your chances of attending Life Drawing events. The discipline of drawing seems easy to say in words, but I am aware that it is a tough one that cannot be realized without unimaginable training. I will pursue it for the rest of my life.

I suggest:

  • Drawing a good balance between nude and clothed models!
  • Participating in long drawing and short drawing in a well-balanced manner!
  • Drawing and painting many portraits to improve facial depiction
  • Observing and sketching the people around you on a daily basis! Do this in places where people gather, such as cafés
  • Increasing your chances of sketching extraordinary person poses!  (Example: Draw a yoga model!)
Yuji Sakuma - model with flower on blue
Yuji Sakuma, Fantasy of Rose in Blue, 2019, Rembrandt pastel on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm.

Up until 10 years ago, I didn’t ever ask for a pose that I wanted. Instead, I left it to the model and the studio owner. But for the last 4-5 years, I have invited the model into my studio.  The pose is important for inviting and drawing, and I started requesting poses that are unusual. In particular, if a model is a yoga instructor or dancer, I ask them to take extraordinary poses.

Yuji Sakuma - standing nude with hands extended forward
Yuji Sakuma, Life drawing – abstracting the figure, 2017, Rembrandt pastels on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm. Sold. 15 minutes work.

How to Draw My Pastel Painting is Very Easy

I use the side stroke to draw – it is close to the flat and thick brush of oil painting. I spend a lot of time using Rembrandt pastels, but I break the pastel to a length of 2 to 3 cms, grab the pastel with my thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and draw with the side of the pastel. This is the technique I use.

Yuji Sakuma - male model against turquoise
Yuji Sakuma, Portrait, 2020, Rembrandt pastels on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm. This pastel work was selected for the Pastel Society of Eastern Canada online exhibition “Les Pastellistes”, PSEC’s international online exhibition in Dec 2020. 

Since I learned the technique of sketching and mixing warm and cold colours to produce skin colour, my colours have gradually changed over 37 years. The basics are the same – I use cool and warm colours  I intentionally arrange the complementary colour grey (which is also called dark grey, middle grey, and light grey) beside the colour to be emphasized in the picture. Learn the depth of colour by learning these techniques.

Yuji Sakuma - model, back, arms up on head
Yuji Sakuma, Life drawing, 2018, Rembrandt pastels on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm. 15 minutes work.

About My Figure Painting

I think that drawing a figure requires a lot of deep knowledge.

Personally, I think it’s one of the challenges in my life. When it comes to drawing figures, there is so much to know –  challenges such as colours and sketches, drawing lines and strokes, and the psychological effects of colours! I firmly believe that it takes a lifetime of effort to learn this skill.

And maintaining 45 years of hard study and artistic creation requires strong interest and action.

When faced with drawing a figure, I never care about the person’s appearance. Instead, I deeply feel the model’s heart, emotions, joy and worry, and express it as a painter!

In My Creative Process

Through my work, I think I can feel and then convey the emotions of the model clearly and accurately.

I am still motivated to take on various challenges to give myself a bold test every day.

Recently, I have been interested in poses related to the dynamic movements of extraordinary people, and have invited yoga instructors and performance dancers to pose.

Yuji Sakuma - blue dancer
Yuji Sakuma, Life drawing, 2019, Rembrandt pastels on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm. Sold. Selected for 6th Adirondack Pastel exhibition, 2020. 

In addition to the extraordinary poses, I am deeply interested in hand movements and spend time drawing them.

Yuji Sakuma - seated model with red cloth on chair
Yuji Sakuma, Costume drawing, 2019, Rembrandt pastels on Muse pastel paper, 54 x 38 cm.

In this year in COVID-19, I have been interested in the self-portrait. There’s an interesting effect and profound feeling that comes out using an old oil on canvas and drawing with pastel over it by trial and error.


Are you inspired to get out your pastels and paint perhaps your face? Or your loved ones? Or attend a life-drawing session?? I know I am!

Let us know your responses to Yuji Sakuma’s work! Do you have questions? Be sure to leave them for us. You can connect with him on his website.

Until next time!

~ Gail

*[Notes from the artist about his self-portrait over a used oil painting board]

Using a mirror. Done on an old oil painting board.  It is possible to draw multiple layers, maybe up to 10 layers which is different from paper! It’s a very stable surface….

I will try to use canvas also.

You can prepare any surface to achieve your goals image. 

By using pallet knife, rough surface and other… Try it….

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32 thoughts on “Yuji Sakuma – Expressing A Model’s Heart And Soul”

  1. Gail
    I am interested in, but could not really understand, His discussion of use of cool and
    Warm colors for skin tone and complementary grays. Wondering if you could address that in some context.

    1. Thanks for your great question Amy. Certainly I would say using cool and warm relates to being able to create a feeling of volume of say a limb, the cool receding, the warm advancing. Thus you can create roundness by temperature instead of necessarily changing the value. I will ask Yuji to explain his ideas further.

  2. I really enjoyed Yuji’s paintings and his explanations about his techniques. So interesting!! His marks and colorings are so unique and so very effective… Thanks Gail for featuring another fabulous artist!!

  3. Never come across his work before Gail, thanks for inviting him to be featured – just fabulous. I really like his technique which gives such an immediancy and presence to his work. I’m going to give it a try though I’m sure I’ll never be able to use it to such great effect. Very inspiring.

    1. Ohhh I’m always thrilled to be able to introduce an artist I admire to those who haven’t encountered that artist before. I love your description of the effect of his technique – immediacy and presence! I’m delighted you’re inspired to give it a go. Let us know what happens!

  4. Oh my gosh, I am almost speechless because of the power of color! Great tip here: I intentionally arrange the complementary colour grey… beside the colour to be emphasized in the picture.

  5. Thanks so much for this wonderful post. Yuji Sakuma’s work and his comments are inspiring me to think differently about pastel. Paired with your post about virtual life drawing, you’ve given me a kick in the artistic pants to return to the discipline of figure drawing. Thank you!

    1. I’ll answer for me Patricia, ideally from a mirror. But I’ve also used a photo. I have a sneaking suspicion that Yuji works from a mirror but I’ll let him answer 😁

  6. I have been admiring Yuji’s work as posted on Facebook and wish I could go see his show in person. I’m blown away by his skill in capturing the model even in short poses and the dynamic and inspiring use of color. Thank you both for sharing this. It’s a real gift!

    1. Jymme, “blown away” is my reward!! And YES it would be incredible to stand, in person, in front of this artist’s work. I will be sure to attach a link to his show if I there is one.

  7. I’ve admired his work for quite a while and it’s nice to see this collection all in one place. His use of color draws me in and the casualness of his technique keeps me exploring his style. Nice choice Gail, thanks!

    1. Gailen, I can always trust you to so beautifully describe our encounter with an artist’s work – thank you!
      And yes, I’m delighted to host a collection of Yuji Sakuma’s work here on HowToPastel!

  8. Mr. Sakuma’s work is beautiful and intriguing. I’m quite attracted to his use of color and technique to indicate contour. I am inspired!
    It’s a fulltime job, really, isn’t it to be an artist. It seems a luxury to have the time to go sit in a cafe or physician’s waiting room to draw, but it really amounts to a commitment to the art and making the time a priority. Oompf.
    Thank you, Gail, for introducing me to Yuji Sakuma and his work, and thank you Mr. Sakuma for sharing your process and beautiful, beautiful paintings with us.

    1. I’m happy to know you are inspired Liz!! And delighted to introduce you to this Mt Sakuma and his work.

      And yes, being an artist, creating art, is a commitment. Making sure that your art and its creation is a priority goes a long way towards making it happen!

  9. I love Yuji’s work! I have been admiring it ever since he started posting on Facebook. His work is dynamic, thoughtful, interesting, new and fresh. I am not a life drawer or one who does portraits. However, I do agree with his philosophy of always draw … don’t stop no matter how good you are. I have to make myself do that and just seeing this blog has inspired me again! His use of colour is just so right on and really speaks to the image and the viewers.

    Thanks Gail for asking him to contribute to your blog.

    1. Thank you Gloria for your enthusiastic and descriptive response!
      And yes, draw everyday. Always draw. I’m glad this post has re-inspired you to get at it!

  10. I’ve followed Yuji on a life drawing facebook page for sometime now, & his work never ceases to amaze me!
    His drawings are so expressive & colourful & I can only dream of creating such beautiful work!
    I am life drawing on zoom , & while I find it a bit challenging with strange angles, it’s all good practice.
    Very interesting to read more from this fabulous artist, thankyou!

    1. Hi Sonia, I’m happy to know you are doing life drawing on zoom. AND that you’re being inspired by Yuji’s fabulous work. As you say, his pieces are so expressive!

  11. Hi Gail
    It’s so good to be back to getting your blogs. And this artist is very interesting. I love his figures and use of colour.
    I am specially intrigued by his use of an old oil painting to paint with pastel over it. I have some and would love to finish them off with pastel as I no longer use oils. How would you ‘fix’ them in this case to protect the pastel?

    1. Hello Raewyn! I’m happy you’re getting my blogs again too!
      I too was fascinated by Yuji Sakuma’s use of old oil paintings to work over. I would imagine, like any pastel, you would eventually need to put it behind glass…

  12. So glad I finally went back and found this artist feature. Initially was grabbed by the color and not having time bypassed it. Magnetic figures. Color alchemy. So pleading with God to end this damn pandemic so we can attend classes again. The few figure drawing ones I had many years ago were uplifting. I hope to see this artist more and desire to view his yoga and dancers positions. Thanks so very much for introducing me to Mr. Yuji Gail

    1. Ahhhh Brenda, I’m so glad you returned to see this artist’s work – they are indeed inspiring!!
      And yup, bring on the end of the pandemic! Happily we have vaccines being distributed and most people being aware of what to do to contain the pandemic. Slowly we will get there. And just imagine the exquisite joy of being in an in-person workshop?!

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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