Harumichi Shibasaki is 73 years old, a grandfather, and wears square little glasses and sweaters over button-downs. He is not what one pictures of a viral sensation. But the internet is full of surprises, and he is a delightful one.
Shibasaki is a watercolor painter, and his YouTube channel, Watercolor by Shibasaki, is a collection of nearly 80 how-to art videos, with more being added every week. His most popular video, a study on how to paint a tree that is exactly 5 minutes long, has over 5 million views, and nearly 800,000 people subscribe to his channel. He has 300,000 more subscribers on his TikTok, mostly younger.
Shibasaki, as may be obvious to anyone who has listened to his calm, friendly, encouraging instruction (In Japanese, but with English subtitles), is a retired teacher. He began his channel in 2016 because he wanted to continue sharing what he knew, but the pandemic brought his channel to the surface of the internet in a way he’d never imagined.
“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,” said Shibasaki in a short video about himself. “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.”
People around the world have been displaced, either physically, emotionally, in their careers, or all three by the pandemic, which is a huge stress on so many. For those who have turned to art for soothing, this “Bob Ross of Japan” has been a source of joy.
Shibasaki says that painting, and all art, including the video editing he learned from his son but now does himself, keeps him young. “There is a fighting spirit surging up within me to do creative things — in order not to be left behind (by) young people.”