Sugiyama was born in 1909 in Asakusa, the eldest son of the owner of a stationery shop. In 1928, Sugiyama enrolled in the Tokyo Art School (now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music). He formed the "rossogasha" (瑠爽画社) along with Yamamoto Kyujin and Takayama Tatsuo, and participated positively in the movement to reform nihonga. His paintings are characteristized by peacefulness filled with a sense of security, owing to excellent sketching ability and solid construction.
In 1958, his eldest daughter married Yukio Mishima. As a reason for choosing her, Mishima suggested "because she was the daughter of an artist, so she wouldn't hold to many of the illusions people have about artists".