kate rowland

Kate Rowland

Japanese Art Supplies!

JapanKate RowlandComment


Japan is famously a stationary hoarders heaven, but as well as kawaii paper tape and colourful erasers, you can also buy incredible, high quality art supplies. It's easy to get carried away because there is so much choice. Rather than shops stocking a couple of brands, Japanese stores sell a huge range. I'll definitely miss the choice on offer when I return home. Now that I've been here for six months, I've had a chance to test out lots of different materials, and there are a few that I'm going to be stockpiling before I return to the UK! 

  • Gekkoso sketchbooks

Sold only in the Gekkoso store in Ginza, these Japanese made, spiral-bound sketchbooks come in a range of colours, sizes and paper types. My favourite is the hot pressed watercolour paper, it's beautiful to work on in pencil, watercolour, ink and gouache. I really love the formats of the sketchbooks too, they're slightly squarer than standard A sizes. And they're so cheap! They also sell their own paints which I want to try out. Bring your own bag because they don't have plastic ones (horray!).

From 260 yen. Gekkoso, Ginza.

  • Kuratake Gansai Tambe watercolour pans 

I've been using these paints for years, the large pans are lovely for washes and the colour range is extensive. I'd only ever bought them online in sets in the UK, so to be able to go and pick up the odd pans I need in a shop is brilliant, not to mention they're cheaper. They come packaged in cardboard sleeves too, such a treat in Japan, land of plastic wrapping! Visit Sekaido in Shinjuku or Tokyo Hands for the best selection.

  • Pentel brush pen

I tried out a good few brands of brush pen before I found this one, in my opinion the best! It's waterproof, so you can add layers of watercolour over the top. The brush nib is beautifully fine, and it's great for large areas of black too. It's a good size, unlike some larger brush pens here, and the refills are pretty cheap. 

1000 yen. Sekaido, Shinjuku.

  • Mitsubishi red/blue coloured pencils

Before coming to Japan, I'd never invested much time in coloured pencils. However, I am fully on board with these double ended draughtsman's tools. They're great for city sketches and changing up from the usual grey tones. Mitsubishi make a large selection of varying quality that I've been trying out since, I'm a convert! 

  • Gekkoso 8B pencil

Another Gekkoso purchase, this fat 8B sketching pencil. There's not that much to say about a pencil. It feels nice to hold, and the lead is excellent quality.

  • Holbein Watercolour Tubes

More watercolours! I've never used tube watercolour before, so I thought I'd start with three colours used in traditional Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock printing) - prussian blue, carmine and a deep sap green. The colour is very rich and pigmented and they are lovely to paint with.

From 200 - 600 yen. Itoya, Ginza.

  • Super Gold High Class Eraser!

Okay, so this was an extravagance. I haven't even used it yet. But who could resist this little posh eraser in it's own box?! Not me!

500 yen. Tsutaya Bookstore, Daikanyama.

Do you have any favourite art materials I've missed out? Let me know in the comments, I'm always looking for quality recommendations!

Kate x

4 Days in Kyushu - Takachiho

JapanKate RowlandComment

After an eventful first day in Kagoshima, the first stop on my Kyushu trip, I was keen to make my way out of the dusty city and see some mountains! I picked up my rental car in the morning, a process that was surprisingly easy considering the language barrier. I found a rental company through Kayak, and it was pretty cheap, just £120 for three days. Fuel is cheap in Japan (well, cheaper than the UK) but it's worth considering the cost of the toll roads, too. But having a car gives you the luxury of deciding a schedule, and cramming as much as possible into a short trip! Plus, I like driving, it's much more fun than sitting on a bus. After 30 minutes spent trying to work the Japanese satnav (tip - search for places by phone number, it's infinitely easier than trying to type an address), I was off! 

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My first stop was a view point just around the bay from Kagoshima, Terayama Park. It had brilliant views over Kinko Bay and Sakurajima. The colour of the water below was an incredible turquoise blue, and on the horizon you could even spot Mount Kaimon, nicknamed the Fuji of the south! It was however, about 40 degrees and unbearable to stay for long. I wouldn't really advise travelling here in summer!

After a few hundred kilometres of highway and many a song sung at the top of my voice, I arrived in Takachiho town. I was here for the gorge. The weather was perfect, and it seemed unexpectedly quiet. This was a major tourist spot, and I'd heard the queues to hire a little boat and row down the gorge were often longer than two hours. I was so lucky! Alas. The boat hire was shut, due to the rainstorms the previous week causing the water levels to rise. I was upset, as this had been high on my list of things to do! It's hard to be upset for long in such gorgeous surroundings, though.

takachiho gorge

After wandering around for a couple of hours, I was thankful for the boat hire being shut. The water in the gorge was calm and blue, with no annoying, selfie taking boaters to ruin the view. It was so peaceful. Sun shone through the waterfalls cascading off of the gorges lush green walls, creating little rainbows. I'd seen this place a lot in photographs, and it does not disappoint. Honestly, it looks as heavenly as you'd imagine. It's a must see!

Takachiho Gorge.jpg

My accommodation that night was a guesthouse in Takachiho town, found through Air bnb. It was a cosy little house with a clean, modern tatami room and futon. If you've never stayed on a futon before, you should try it. I find them so comfortable, and I also love the straw smell of a tatami room! After a very well needed shower, I headed off to Takachiho shrine, at the recommendation of the guesthouse owner. Every night at 8pm they perform a traditional folk dance, and apparently it is not to be missed.

The dance was wonderful! There were four dances, performed in costume and masks, accompanied by some questionable flute playing from an old monk. Each story was full of feeling, and funny! I really would recommend it. The entrance ticket of 700 yen came with an explanation sheet in English.

Masks of characters from the traditional folk dance at Takachiho shrine.

Masks of characters from the traditional folk dance at Takachiho shrine.

Happy and sleepy, I wandered back through the town to an izakaya I had been told was excellent. As I sat down at the bar, a couple were coming in and asked if I was alone. I said yes, and they promptly asked if they could sit with me. What proceeded was one of my absolute favourite evenings in Japan! It's amazing how many language barriers can be hurdled by alcohol. They were locals, and were obviously so proud of their town. It was heartwarming how much kindness they showed me, and how welcome I felt. The izakaya owner was also brilliant, and kept popping back in different fancy dress and face paint. They could have served me the worst food on earth and I wouldn't have cared (but it was good!). At the end of a much later night than planned, with many photos taken and drinks consumed, and after my new friends flat out refused to let me pay, I made it back to my bed feeling like the luckiest person. It's moments like this that I hope I never forget.

My new friends! The pirate costume is inexplicable.

My new friends! The pirate costume is inexplicable.

At 4am my alarm went off, as I'd made the questionable decision to get up, drive 20 minutes into the hills and watch the sunrise over the mountains. It was worth it. The morning sun cast an oddly purple glow over a sea of clouds between the mountains. I then promptly went back and slept for another 3 hours!

Mountain Sunrise

After expressing my sadness that the boat hire in Takachiho gorge was shut, the izakaya owner from the previous night mentioned that if it was also closed the following day, I should instead pay a visit to a small sightseeing railway, Amaterasu, where he happened to be a driver! So, as the boats were still off limits, I headed to the railway in the morning. It was so much fun! The train is a single carriage, open topped with a glass bottom. It takes you on a picturesque journey through tunnels, over the town, and finally onto a large bridge that straddles the gorge. It's high, and the views were wonderful. For some reason they thought that the scenery required the addition of bubbles, with one of the drivers doubling as a professional bubble blower. Why not?

The views over Takachiho Gorge from Amaterasu Railway

The views over Takachiho Gorge from Amaterasu Railway

The open top train!

The open top train!

On return, I met the izakaya owner/train driver, who was very happy, and bought me an ice cream. Honestly, the people of Takachiho are THE BEST. The friendliest in Japan! It was with great reluctance that I had to leave for the next stop on my trip.

My costume loving izakaya owner / train driver friend!

My costume loving izakaya owner / train driver friend!

My next stop was Mount Aso, another active volcano.... to be continued!

Kate x

4 Days in Kyushu - Sakurajima

JapanKate RowlandComment

Kyushu is the most southwesterly of Japan's main islands, and has been high up on my list of places to visit, mostly for the following; volcanoes, hot springs and breathtaking scenery. I'd booked some super cheap flights from Tokyo to Kagoshima, a subtropical city that resides vulnerably next to a very active volcano, Sakurajima. One of my bucket list wishes is to see lava (from a safe distance...) and although the chances of that in Japan are thankfully low, I couldn't miss the chance to see an active volcano!


Initially, my plan had been to visit Yakushima, a small circular island off the coast of Kagoshima, famous for it's ancient cedar forests. But, in the weeks before I left, extremely high levels of rain struck the southwesterly parts of Japan, causing devastating floods and landslides. There were weather warnings for high waves around Yakushima, and I decided it was best to stay on the main island. My plan was to pick up a rental car in Kagoshima, drive up to Takachiho and then on to Aso-Kuju National Park.


On arrival in Kagoshima, I caught a bus from the airport straight to the ferry port, and took the 15 minute ferry over to Sakurajima. I'd read beforehand that it's often clouded over, even on clear days, making it impossible to see the top. But I was lucky, and there sat the volcano in full view. It's intimidating! After leaving my backpack in a coin locker (one of the many useful things about Japan!) I walked around to the visitor centre to wait for the island bus. It was HOT. The air conditioned bus was a dream as it took me up the winding roads, stopping briefly at points of interest for passengers to hop off, have a look around, and hop back on. The main destination was Yunohira observatory, the highest accessible point on the volcano, where you can see the smoking volcano as close as possible. The roads, cars and trees were covered in ash. It's humid, but the air feels dry, and your skin dusty. It's amazing, but I regretted wearing white converse.

Sweaty and ashy but happy! You can see the ash coming out of the volcano on the right hand side.

Sweaty and ashy but happy! You can see the ash coming out of the volcano on the right hand side.

After returning to the ferry port area, I walked around to the Sakurajima Nature Dinosaur Park, a place I'd read about in a little guide on the ferry. I didn't really know what it was, but dinosaurs? Sold. After an incredibly sweaty hike up a steep, steep road, I turned a corner and was face to face with a T-Rex. There are 10 or so dinosaur models, some of which have slides emerging from their bums, or tunnels carved through their torsos. All in view of an active volcano. The whole place has seen better days, but even so... what sort of kid wouldn't approve?!


I headed back to the ferry port, ready for my return trip to Kagoshima city. There is so much more to see on Sakurajima, but I didn't have much time. I would recommend hiring a car and bringing it over on the ferry. It's not expensive to do so, and it means you can explore the island easily. I had really wanted to soak my feet in the free 100m long footbath that overlooks Kinko Bay, but it was 35 degrees outside, and immersing any part of my body in hot water seemed nightmarish.

Views over the turquoise Kinko Bay.

Views over the turquoise Kinko Bay.

It was on the return ferry that the most exciting thing happened. THE VOLCANO ERUPTED.


I sat next to an equally horrified Australian woman and looked out at the enormous mushroom cloud of grey ash ballooning into the sky. There was no noise, and somehow that made it scary. No one else on the boat seemed worried though, which was comforting. The ferry reached the dock and I walked out along the waterfront, keeping an eye on the ash cloud. It had been caught in the wind now, and was heading toward the city.

I was lucky I had an umbrella, as it had just started to rain.



Like filthy snow, everything was covered in grey, gritty, powdery dust. It was in my eyes and ears and stuck to my skin. Cars drove past with their windscreen wipers on, tyres flinging ash clouds out behind. My converse were now fully grey as I shuffled blindly to the hostel, thankfully close to the ferry port. It was one of the most incredible afternoons I've ever had!

The ash cloud spreading over Kagoshima.

The ash cloud spreading over Kagoshima.

The next morning I awoke at a ridiculous hour, maybe to do with the hostel bunk beds shaking as lorries drove past along the main road outside. I looked out and could see the sun rising over Sakurajima. All the ash had settled and the sky was clear and golden, so beautiful.

An incredible view of Sakurajima across Kinko Bay from Terayama Park, north of Kagoshima.

An incredible view of Sakurajima across Kinko Bay from Terayama Park, north of Kagoshima.

To be continued... !

Kate x

Weekly Sketchbook: Too Much Ramen

Japan, Weekly SketchbookKate RowlandComment

Tony has a favourite ramen place already, a tiny restaurant which he often visits, choosing from the menu and paying through the vending machine at the entrance. While I love ramen, and agree that this particular place serves wonderful bowls of hot, fresh noodly heaven, I can never finish the whole thing off. Two Japanese people will have come in, ordered, finished off their ramen (plus rice and gyoza), and I'll still be struggling through mine. I am terrified of offending the owners, and also irritated for wasting good food. Perhaps I should starve myself all day next time, in preparation.

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Aeroplane Factory; A Designing & Making Process

Making & ManufactureKate RowlandComment

Earlier this year I was commissioned by the V&A to design a piece of jewellery to go alongside their upcoming exhibition, Plywood: Material of the Modern World. The design was to be based on an exhibit, a plywood aeroplane built in 1912 called the Deperdussin Monocoque. It was a revolutionary plane, breaking the aircraft speed record thanks to the lightweight, strong plywood fuselage. Also, it looks super cute, like a toy!

I thought I'd share my design process for the brooch, now available in the V&A shop, as it was quite a journey, experimenting with a few new materials and techniques.

I started out with some rough sketches of the plane. I always start with a pencil, it helps me work through and make sense of the things floating around my head! I quickly realised that the design was going to be pretty fragile, especially the wings and propeller. 

Designing this piece, I really wanted to show off the plywood and make the material a focal point. Instead of simply engraving the design into a flat piece of wood, layering up super thin layers of ply would show depth, strengthen the design and add visual interest. This is an ink drawing of one of the viewpoints we were most happy with. I just love the toy-like shape of the plane!

Here's an exploded view of how the plywood layering would work. I create all these vector files for laser cutting on Illustrator. The cloud is made from transparent blue acrylic, and will help support the thinner areas of wood, as well as creating that flying illusion! Now the samples are ready to be laser cut. I had to adjust the design many times during this process, as it was clear that some parts were too small or fragile. I made roughly 8 samples before a final design was realised.

Below are the stacks of different laser cut plywood parts for the final aeroplane design, after being stained and sanded. The smallest pieces are just 2mm wide!

kate rowland laser cut planes

Many hours later, there is a fleet of assembled aeroplane brooches, complete with blue acrylic clouds. The side view shows off the multiple layers of 3.2mm and 0.8mm plywood used. All the plywood I use is sustainably sourced, and is made of either poplar or birch.

kate rowland aeroplane brooch v&a
kate rowland aeroplane v&a
kate rowland aeroplane brooch

I hope this has been an interesting insight into how my work is designed and made! I'm always trying to develop my skills as well as the materials and processes I use to create new, exciting jewellery. This project was challenging, but I'm happy with the final piece, and I'm so excited to see it in the V&A!

The exhibition opens on 15th July, in the Porter Gallery, and it's totally FREE to enter! A must if you're into design, or just a complete nerd about all things wooden like me. The Deperdussin aeroplane brooch will be available to purchase from the V&A store when the exhibition opens.





Japan Diary - Yokohama + Kamakura

JapanKate Rowland2 Comments

Konnichiwa! At the moment I am in Japan, spending a couple of weeks with my boyfriend Tony, who moved here in April. He's had a few days off work and we've been exploring Yokohama and Kamakura, about an hour outside Tokyo. It's an exhilarating, overwhelming country, and I'm not really sure where to start in describing it!

A Mt. Fuji themed miniature garden in Yokohama!

A Mt. Fuji themed miniature garden in Yokohama!

We visited Yokohama on Sunday, thinking it would be a good idea to go for a run, and then walk around Yamashita Park on the waterfront. It was almost 30 degrees, so the run was very hard work! We rewarded ourselves afterwards with some interesting food from a street food market, a kind of deep fried creamy crab paste with tomato sauce. Sounds weird. It was weird.


Throughout the Yokohama bay area at the moment is the Yokohama Garden Necklace, a festival of flowers and colour, and it is completely stunning. Blooms everywhere you look! It smells wonderful too.

On Monday we visited Kamakura, a former capital of Japan. In the 12th - 14th centuries it was the home to the Shogunate and the centre of political Japan. It's a complete contrast to the crowded, concrete jungle of Yokohama and Tokyo! There were trees, yay, and wooden buildings, wowee! We travelled there on the Enoshima Electric Railway, which may just be the cutest train I've ever seen.

enoshima electric railway
The entrance to Hase-dera Buddhist temple.

The entrance to Hase-dera Buddhist temple.

The giant Buddha at Kotoku-in

The giant Buddha at Kotoku-in

This buddha at Kotoku-in temple was cast in the 13th century (how!?), and has survived the building it was housed in, as well as numerous major earthquakes and tsunamis. It's an incredibly imposing statue, just imagine how impressive that would be in 1252! There are countless other temples in Kamakura city, and we'll definitely be making a return trip some time to see more.

Have you been to Yokohama or Kamakura, or anywhere else wonderful in Japan? If you have any travel tips, I'd love to hear them!

Kate x

It's happening again...

Jewellery, Shop, New InKate RowlandComment

The very first brooch I ever laser cut was a Twin Peaks themed pin for my super fan friend. In fact, it was the Diane brooch that's still for sale in my shop today! She got me hooked on the show and I'm so grateful - the Twin Peaks pins I made were an amazing starting point for my business, and they've been stocked in some super cool shops around the world, even in The Great Northern Hotel itself (real name Salish Lodge). 

Needless to say I'm SUPER excited for the return of Twin Peaks, which airs tonight! I've tracked down someone with Sky Atlantic to reord it for me, yipeeeeeee. I'll be watching with a big slice of cherry pie and a mug of coffee. Black of course. 


I've designed a collection of three brand new Twin Peaks brooches in time for the new series, as well as these super cute round glossy stickers, featuring original gouache artwork.  Each brooch features acrylic detail and hand painted details!


 Take a look at the shop now!

I'd love to hear what you think of the new show too - please get in touch in the comments or via social media!

Kate x