Like many painters of the time, he began by studying under a Kanô school painter as a child. However, Kien is said to have angrily stormed out of his master's atelier, and out of the relationship, saying that modern modes of painting were too stultified, and that he would take Wu Daozi and Zhang Sengyou as his teachers, two ancient Chinese masters said to have painted with such vibrancy that their painted dragons literally flew off the page.
Kien came to some prominence, and began teaching Ike no Taiga in 1738; Taiga would go on to be one of the most famous of all Edo period literati painters. He also taught a young girl named Machi, whose mother's teashop Kien liked to frequent; he likely is the one who introduced Taiga to Machi, and the two married - Machi went on to be a significant painter in her own right, under the name Ike Gyokuran.
- Timon Screech, Obtaining Images, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 21.