Life has a funny way of placing people in our lives just when they need them the most. In December 2019, while searching for locally made yarn, Kai Ayase of Kai's Creations PGH found Songbird Artistry. When they entered the shop, Ruthie Barker Ginsburg, the shop dog, welcomed them into the inviting space. Kai met Debbie, one of the shop's owners, and was encouraged by the time Debbie took to go through their portfolio and help select the art that would work best at Songbird Artistry. The framed original watercolor paintings that they featured sold really well, and so began a business alliance and friendship.
Art is an essential component of being human. From making our surroundings more beautiful to expressing and sharing ideas, art inspires both the artist and their audience. For Kai Ayase, art has also been a source of self-acceptance and empowerment, allowing them to embrace their identity and thrive in their own unique way. Kai is a Japanese American who identifies as queer and nonbinary. They have always had a strong passion for art. Growing up, they faced stereotypes and struggles due to their Japanese background, ADHD and depression. Despite not being a popular kid, their artistic skills earned them respect and admiration from others. Their artistic talents allowed them to connect with people on a deeper level, and Kai appreciated that their art spoke for them.
In high school, Kai created an Ice Cream Bird series inspired by a discussion about a friend's bisexuality. Encouraged by classmates, Kai decided to incorporate pride flag colors into their art, expressing support for gay rights. The Ice Cream Birds became a widespread favorite, appealing to a broad audience and offering a way for allies to show support.
Kai's original Ice Cream Bird designs are available on shirts, onesies, hoodies, stickers, stickers, and prints. Choose your bird and it can be placed on any color, size or design.
Blue, white, and pink duckling : transgender
Blue, purple, and pink birds : bisexual
Grey, purple and yellow birds : nonbinary
Rainbow : pride
Yellow and pink: pansexual
When Kai first stopped into Songbird Artistry, they were working a retail job In order to make ends meet. With the goal of being able to quit that job, Kai suggested Songbird Artistry do a fundraising event, "Dog Days of Summer". The event was a fundraiser for Animal Life of Pittsburgh, the organization that fostered Ruthie Barker Ginsburg, Songbird Artistry's shop dog. For the event, Kai created the award-winning selfie-wall mural featuring Ruthie the shop dog, a zine for advertising and painted pet caricatures on the spot.
Click below to watch Kai in action as they create the mesmerizing Ruthie wall in our video.
Many people tell Kai that their designs are unique and different from other pet caricatures and artworks that they have seen. It is very rewarding to Kai when the customer suggests adding props and inside jokes to further personalize their artwork.
The success of Dog Days gave Kai hope that there was a way to make a living doing things that they are good at and enjoy, plus getting recognition for their talent feels amazing The success with pet caricatures has often led to participation in art shows and pop-up events at nearby breweries.
Another significant order originated from Kai's relationship with Songbird Artistry. A customer, also named Ruth, commissioned Kai to create a painting for her mother's birthday.
Ruth's mother loves hiking with a group of friends in California. Kai incorporated the brilliant red-orange California poppies and ladybugs that her mother enjoyed with a poem created for Ruth's mother by her hiking club.
Inspiration for their art is drawn from impressionism, art nouveau and Japanese characters and they use vibrant colors, a fast pace for painting and intricate details to set their work apart from the more realistic styles of other pet artists. Kai creates custom work based on photos so each piece is unique and personalized. Before beginning, they communicate with the customer to see if they have any specific requests. It is very satisfying to them to bring animals, people, and nature to life as well as joy to their customers.
Kai appreciates the support of the local community which allowed them to quit their retail job and make a living creating art. They like to give back by supporting others who follow their dreams, as they do. Taking the money that they earned and putting it back into the local economy rather than a big company is important to Kai, as is meeting the makers and forging personal connections and stories for everything that they buy. Purchasing from small makers and businesses in the community means the more people can do what they love as well.
Artistic talent has not only shaped Kai's lifestyle but also allowed them to connect with people more easily. They want to share their knowledge and offer support to anyone else striving to reach their goals as well.
Art has been Kai's safe space, a realm without rules where they can embrace their quirks and are accepted for who they are. Kai is grateful for their artistic skills that now enable them to express themself freely, choose their own lifestyle and make a living from their unique qualities. Kai said, "I just keep working towards my goals and truly believe it's possible, it will happen."