A 73-year-old grandfather may seem like an unlikely social media sensation, but Japan’s Harumichi Shibasaki is defying stereotypes.
The painter’s YouTube channel, Watercolor by Shibasaki, features a series of how-to art videos and has amassed more than 700,000 subscribers. His most popular video, a tree painting tutorial, has been watched more than five million times.
“When it comes to drawing a tree, people generally focus on the fact that there are many leaves. But I advise them to observe not individual leaves but the bigger silhouette of the tree,” Shibasaki tells CNN.
Shibasaki, who previously worked as an artist and teacher, says he first turned to YouTube in 2016 as a new medium to teach people painting, but the outbreak of Covid-19 has brought new meaning to the channel.
“I realized that there are more people who say their hearts were healed, [or] they were energized by watching my video, than those who just desire to be good at painting,” says Shibasaki.
“Therefore, my mind has changed. I hope to play a role not only in making these videos to improve people’s watercolor skills but in healing people’s hearts through painting too,” he adds.
Shibasaki’s soothing and encouraging tone has helped to support people during these tough times. Comments under his videos include: “You gave me the power to live today” and “You helped me forget my pain.”
Japan’s Bob Ross
More than half of Shibasaki’s followers have joined since the pandemic began. With people stuck at home around the world, many have been looking online to find new skills. YouTube has seen a boom in tutorial type videos, from baking sourdough to raising chickens.
Bob Ross, the late American painter and host of TV program “The Joy of Painting” that began airing in the 1980s, has also seen a resurgence during the Covid-19 era, with his archive videos attracting more than four million YouTube subscribers.
Shibasaki, sometimes referred to as the “Bob Ross of Japan,” watched Ross on TV when he was younger. “I respect him very much as a pioneer,” he says.
But while Ross typically painted the mountain and river landscapes of North America, Shibasaki is inspired by his own surroundings of the Chiba countryside in eastern Japan.
Shibasaki’s most watched tutorial is a simple watercolor of a tree. Courtesy Harumichi Shibasaki.
“I wake up in the morning and open my window, feel the blowing of the wind, the smell of the greenery, the sound of the birds, and the movement of the clouds – it all embraces me,” says Shibasaki. “I guess that’s the basis of my painting and the value of my work.”
Born to a family of rice farmers, Shibasaki has always been a passionate painter, and as a young adult started teaching small groups and exhibiting his work locally. Now, social media has allowed him to reach people all around the world.
“I believe that pictures have no borders, and I suppose my success on YouTube proved it,” he says.
Learning tech at 70
It was as his 70th birthday approached that Shibasaki decided to unleash his talents on social media and launch a YouTube channel. With the help of his son, he learned how to use camera equipment and other technical skills. He says he now does 90% of the video production himself.
When his son told him about TikTok, Shibasaki – never afraid to try a new social medium – looked at the platform and realized it presented a younger generation of people he could reach with his art.
With more than 300,000 followers on TikTok, he has clearly succeeded in connecting with them. But he says the comments he receives there differ from those on YouTube. Overwhelmingly, they are responses such as, “Be my grandpa.”
As a proud grandfather, Shibasaki isn’t offended. But he is determined to keep with the times and stay young.
“There is a fighting spirit surging up within me to do creative things – in order not to be left behind (by) young people,” he says.