A welcome disruption to doomscrolling, the patterned zen gardens composed by Yuki Kawae are an antidote to today’s seemingly endless anxieties. The Bay Area designer records meditative footage of wide-toothed prongs and dense rakes that scrape across beds of white sand, creating intersecting loops, fractals, and other organic shapes. Each clip is evidence of Kawae’s steady hand and penchant for precision as he meticulously plows the otherwise smooth grains to form clean lines.
His practice dates back to 2019 when gardening served as an escape from life pressures and the anxiety-provoking nature of social media. “I was quite overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks and what are the ‘expected’ next steps in life…One day, I realized all of those thoughts were completely gone when I was gardening, pruning, watering, and re-potting the soil. That process let me be clear-minded somehow, and it was very calming and refreshing,” he writes. Because he didn’t have space for a larger outdoor plot, he shifted to a coffee-table-sized zen garden, an initial design that’s now provided a similar reprieve when it pops into the feeds of Kawae’s massive followings on
YouTube and Instagram.
Today, the designer focuses on pattern and precise movement, creating visuals that are minimal and deliberate in their execution. Each video requires hours of work consisting of conceptual vision, rake design and production, pattern practice, revisions, filming, and editing. “You may have some idea of the end product but with trial and error, you end up with a completely different end pattern,” he says. “All the zen garden patterns are not permanent, and they get erased to start a new one. It is temporary like many things in life. It taught me about what not to overthink as what I am stressing about may also be temporary.”
Although Kawae’s works have been limited to digital platforms so far, he envisions a large-scale botanical space with greenery, zen gardens, and his abstract paintings, some of which form the backdrop for his videos. He also has a background in woodworking and shares detailed instructions for creating your own sand space, from building the enclosure to choosing rakes.
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