Marron Shishu

embroidery illustrator
Tokyo, Japan

WHEN I ASKED to meet embroidery illustrator Marron Shishu, she surprised me by inviting me to the aquarium. Sea life and animals are a central motif in Marron's recent work and she wanted me to experience the child-like wonder she feels with a visit to the aquarium. Although the wet weather in Tokyo derailed those initial plans, I arrived at her home studio looking forward to our chat.
Marron's first encounter with embroidery was when she started learning from her mother's friend at 14 years old. Despite taking lessons for years, she claims she only finished three "assignments" because she was more interested in learning how use the craft to express herself.

Historically, embroidery was considered a hobby of sophistication in Japan, one that many housewives pursued as a skill because they were did not work in formal jobs. Marron explains that while her teachers were mainly women of this generation, she was lucky they were patient enough to endure her endless questions and desire to "go off-script" and beyond what was in syllabus.
What I found most intriguing is how Marron specifically calls herself an embroidery illustrator. More than just mastering the craft, it is about how she can use it as a way of expression. Balancing an emphasis on materials and motifs, embroidered lines can draw the viewer in as they possess a warmth and liveliness. Compared to digital formats, embroidery, along with its imperfections, suggest a human touch.

“When people notice the amount of effort that goes into each piece,
how I draw with many stitches,
they'll be able to appreciate and respect
the artistry and textures that comes with embroidery.” 

Since Marron's first exhibition 12 years ago, she has centred her work around themes of fantasy and folklore. At that first exhibition, she recalls encountering a friend's mother who was overcome with emotion and burst into tears recalling her own happy childhood.
Such a strong reaction to her work gave her confidence to explore other mythical elements, with her most recent creations drawing from the ocean depths. From exotic mermaids to jellyfish and harp sponges (yes, they do exist), she deftly creates scenes using her embroidered lines, even to the point of making them levitate in each frame. 

Apart from personal projects, Marron also does commission work, which she says is a chance for her to explore the world she didn't know she could make. This comes in the form of editorial work where she can push her own boundaries. She showed me a recent project where the designer was intrigued by the underside of her embroidery, and chose to include that in the book jacket design. Such design choices further convey the intricacies and precision of her needlework.
From the few hours I spent with Marron, it was obvious how embroidery had become her medium of expression. From her fascination with mythical sea creatures to her embroidering her own wedding dress, she has let it permeate all aspects of her life.

It is heartening to hear her speak so excitedly about visiting the aquarium with her kid to find out about new sea animals, or about East Asian myths that she is reading about. Her unique way of communicating her interests and her desire to develop her skills truly sets her apart. 

Marron Shishu


Visited January 2023, published September 2023.