We had the good fortune of connecting with Nina Harada and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nina, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
I love affirmations. I find them to be helpful guiding posts throughout this funny thing called life. Before I knew what affirmations or mantras were, there were several sayings that made their way to me and stuck. “This too shall pass,” my dad would often say in times of hurt or sadness. “Make a mess and clean it up later,” my therapist told me once in an effort to get my rising sign Capricorn self to shake things up a little. But the one that consistently speaks to me through every phase of life is: “There is no such thing as a mistake in art.” This is what my beloved elementary school art teacher told us, to give us little ones permission to color outside the lines. This mantra continues to guide me through my art practice, and it also guides me through life decisions (I’ve adapted it to: “There’s no such thing as a mistake.”) My rising sign might be Capricorn, but my sun is in Gemini. This means I’ll have a million ideas and have trouble following through with one. It means there’s a million ways I could go about something, but can’t decide which route to take. When I find myself at these crossroads, big or small, I try to remember, “there is no such thing as a mistake.” I take moment to ground myself, make a decision–any decision!–and move on. I can’t go wrong.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
At this point of my life I am realizing it’s okay to go at our own pace. With the onslaught of social media, it’s easy to feel like we’re falling behind, not productive enough, not accomplished enough, not fill-in-the-blank enough. I do believe social media can be a great tool for creatives, in finding other artists or clients or just as an accountability mechanism for yourself. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a love/hate relationship with it. When I’m able to tune out the noise, I feel proud of myself for building an art and writing practice that may not be consistent day to day, but is certainly consistent throughout my adult life. Creating, whether for public consumption or not, whether the medium is the page or the canvas or even Instagram, has been my through line.
My art today is reflective of my current restrictions– limited time due to my job and being a mom and limited access to materials due to my toddler’s curiosity (oil paint takes forever to dry but there’s nowhere to keep it away from my kid)– so what did I do? Get creative, of course! I went from oils to watercolor because they’re fast drying and easy to clean up. I also returned to my love of collage– something I used to do all the time in high school. Whether it’s collage or paint, I’m drawn to my home state California’s palate of faded pink sunsets and dusty blue skies which evoke warm summer nights, countless dips into the Pacific, road trips along palm tree lined freeways. Like my writing, my visual art is full of nostalgia. Sometimes that nostalgia is for true memories of a 90s L.A. and sometimes it’s nostalgia for memories that are not my own but what I imagine my second generation Angeleno father’s and my first generation Japanese mother’s memories to be. My writing and art will always reflect, sometimes subtly or overtly, this intersection of deep roots in California soil and even deeper roots that go back centuries in a land half way across the globe. I am at once two halves, incomplete, and two wholes, overflowing, and navigating how it all adds up through my art and writing.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
There are a few L.A. rituals I’ve developed over the last 20 years and a couple go like this:
Get an Iced Spanish Latte and Urth Salad to go from Urth Caffe on Main St. on your way to Parking Lot 9 just off the California Incline and walk down the boardwalk to pick your spot for the next few hours. Soak in the sun as you enjoy your ice coffee and salad, people watch, take a dip, read a book, and then maybe doze off for a few. Once you’re ready for a change of scenery, hop in the car and take a ride up the coast to Topanga Canyon. Spend the rest of the afternoon browsing the boutiques including famous Hidden Treasures thrift shop before ending the evening with some Shakespeare al fresco at Theatricum Botanicum. Or, after thrifting hit up Malibu Seafood Company just in time to watch the sunset over the ocean while sipping on your BYO Prosecco and munching on a crab and shrimp salad, some fish and chips and a clam chowder.
Start your morning off with a latte and donut or breakfast sandwich reminiscent of my childhood in Japan from Cafe Dulce in Little Tokyo. Browse the shops in Japanese Village Plaza and Weller Court across the street. Get a cool pen or journal from Kinokuniya. Take a good walk up to The Broad and MOCA to get inspired. Then walk over to Grand Central Market for lunch from Sticky Rice or Wexler or any other of the delicious vendors. Or if you get decision fatigue like me, walk a little further east to Sonoratown for the best tacos. Then get lost in the maze of books at The Last Bookstore. Regroup with a little yoga from One Down Dog. Go for an early evening hike in Elysian Park and catch the sunset against the backdrop of Dodger Stadium and DTLA. End with drinks and oysters at L&E Oyster Bar or izakaya and a cold beer from Izkaya Bizan.
I love making these itineraries. But to get to the point, here are other places I would take an out of town friend:
Coffee and bagels from Maury’s
Tacos and quesadilla from Mexicali Taco & Co
Classic Italian sub from Eastside Italian Deli
Ramen from Shin-sen-gumi
Matzo ball soup from Canter’s Deli in West Hollywood
Brunch from Millie’s in Silverlake
Lunch from Caffe Roma in Beverly Hills
Sandwiches from Wax Paper
Pizza from The Luggage Room
Dim Sum from Ocean Seafood in Chinatown
Sunday catch the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, the dollar sale at Jet Rag, and Melrose Trading Post.
Hike or picnic at Vista Hermosa Park
Walk along the L.A. River followed by lunch at Spoke Cafe or beers at Frogtown Brewery
Hike Debs Regional Park and maybe catch an art installation
Outdoor movie or concert at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Admire all the flowers at Descanso Gardens, L.A. Arboretum, or The Huntington
As if it’s not obvious– I LOVE L.A.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I attribute so many of the elements that make me who I am (love of writing, art, ritual, introspection, community– even my long hair) to the same elementary school art teacher who gave me my favorite mantra, “There’s no such thing as a mistake in art.” We began each class writing in a notepad reflecting on the moment, our day, what we did or how we felt. Through this practice she taught us the sacredness of ritual and the power of journaling. We then moved on to painting and the rule was we had to paint abstract before we could paint naturalistic. She taught us how to break convention, see things differently, and find our own style through abstract expressionism. She ended each class with hugs, informal chatting, sharing what we made including her own art piece, and through this she showed us community and connection. I’m talking about a bunch of 9-year-olds, here! I don’t know about the rest of these kids, of course, but for me she was instrumental in planting many of the seeds that grew into my core beliefs and values. To this day I journal, write, paint, seek community, ritual, and reflection. I am so grateful to have had such an inspiring teacher– inspiring because she was just being herself and letting that shine through. I’m sure she didn’t connect to everyone. I’m certain I don’t either. But hopefully, by being ourselves, we all find our people and our passions and can admire others for doing the same.