Less Scatter, More Brain

Narrow focus was the principle driving this piece. It's something I have an exceptionally hard time practicing in both painting and daily life.

After many frustrating landscape painting attempts over the years, I've finally learned to stop trying to paint ALL that's in front of me. I paint what I see first and what my eyes are drawn to. For this piece, it was a view of what Unzen looked like to the Japanese Catholics being tortured there hundreds of years ago. When I visited Unzen a few years back, I kept asking myself if the place can still be considered beautiful when used for evil? I don't have an answer.

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'Brush Stories' Show in Oakland: How an Introvert Does StoryTelling

Telling stories with my brush at 310 Gallery in Oakland: There are no rough drafts or under drawings in the tradition of etegami, or Japanese “painting letters.” Etegami are direct, thoughtful, personal letters intended to share. The shift in perspective when thinking of the recipient rather than the perfect line calls for a change in style—coming to terms with the imperfect human touch. 

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Eat, Pray, Paint

As long as I've known, art has been "shizen"—best translated as second nature—as natural as breathing. The tool, be it a paintbrush, pencil, or charcoal stick, feels like an extension of my hand.  Much like my hand, I can't necessarily make it do everything I want it to do. I'll never hold a basketball from the side or the top because my hand is too small. I can never open large jars because I can barely grip the lid with my fingertips. That's where community comes in (Page, who grips basketballs one-handed and opens all jars). There are certain limitations I have to struggle through in art life, and community is crucial to work through them. 

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I just made it through my funk, the deep valley period of the middle of a painting. It's that point after the unlimited potential at the start, and before the completed work is visible...when every part seems incomplete and mediocre. Tears are shed, ice cream is eaten, and I keep painting. Now that I see the light at the end of the tunnel, I've emerged and am once again excited to see the paintings and write about it. 

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The community, mainly close friends and family, were helpful to keep at it during the frequent ice cream break phase. Some who know how shizen (natural) it is for me to paint ask about it. Their enthusiasm encourages me far more than I ever tell them. Pride can get in the way of sharing about what I love. "Once I make masterpieces, then I'll tell them...then I can justify it." To be honest, that will probably always be a struggle. For a type A person that likes to efficiently complete tasks, how can it be that what I love to do most is exceptionally inefficient?? The other day I spent two hours on a few shades of dark shadow lines...just lines... in two of the paintings. It's almost comical how different the two sides within me can be, yet it makes perfect sense when teaching art. Methodical + inefficient = a surprisingly successful pair.

 

Like looking forward to a good meal, I'm looking ahead at which evenings this week I might be able to paint. Well, more like looking forward to breakfast in 8 hours (yes, really, every day), I'm counting down to my next opportunity to paint as I continue this shizen cycle of eat, pray, paint. 

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Speaking of eating, I can't help but include the incredible Japanese feast by my mom to celebrate my brother's new stage of life (MBA at Wharton) and an early Children's Day (we'll never grow out of it) on Sunday. My tiny contribution was a veggie dish and salad...I suppose we all start somewhere. I'm still daydreaming about the meal.  This doesn't even include the dessert spread! 

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 Plate #1 of 2  

Plate #1 of 2  

{Making Monday} Messiness is a Good Sign

I'm on the "adding detail" step of painting now. I like the broad thick strokes of paint that suggest a brick or stone slab, and the detailed tile portion in contrast. I can start to see how the completed paintings may turn out...and they look far too green and the light is unclear, which means I need to step back and get the big picture perspective more frequently when I'm painting. 

Though oil paint is messy and more labor intensive than watercolor, I like how little pressure there is (my own pressure for perfection) because it can always be painted over. 

I have paint in my hair, stained into my nails and hands, on my old PJs (AKA painting clothes), which means my mind was in the right place, focused on what's in front of me.

These sessions of painting with a Japanese TV show on the side making me laugh out loud by myself have been the perfect mental escape. Painting just to paint isn't nearly as satisfying as painting with a specific place (Page's office) in mind. At first I was hesitant because it sounded like a lot of time/ work/ energy outside of work and other activities, but I'm now really glad and grateful for this project. God's timing is perfect, all the time.

{Making Monday} Learning from John Singer Sargent

Here we are on a Monday again...after springing forward and sleeping less... Happy Monday! 

Slow but steady progress on the layers of color. At this point, I need to look at other painters' work to see how they paint similar subjects. For example. John Singer Sargent (19th-century American painter) painted many watercolor sketches of scenes in Venice that include a similar style of architecture. 

These are just his sketches! (Not his completed work.) His paintings take my breath away. He has an eye for color and a decisive touch, and intentionally includes the right amount of detail in the right places.
For example, this portrait I saw with my family at the Huntington Library and Garden in Pasadena a few weeks ago:

There is incredible detail around her face and less detail away from her face, like at the bottom of her dress. I think Sargent chose to do so since it's a portrait of this woman, not of his ability to paint the folds in her dress (though his ability is apparent!)
This is an important part of good paintings- knowing where and how much detail to include to mimic the human eye. We can't see everything at once, so when a painting imitates natural sight it seems to work well. Detail everywhere is overwhelming and feels busy because we aren't used to seeing that way. This is all assuming one has the natural ability plus training to capture the necessary details and make such distinctions, either by instinct or training, or both. 

The same applies to color. It's helpful to think of how we naturally see. Colors up close are more vivid than colors in the distance. In paintings or photographs, when all colors in the foreground and background are equally vivid, there is no depth because we perceive depth by color and scale distinctions. Working contrary to these "natural" rules can be used intentionally if you don't want it to look natural or comfortable, like Fauvist Art. Maybe that's why Matisse is unsettling, like these examples below:

I'm in painting observation mode now and then I will continue on with my triptych. The color and detail balance is difficult! Yet the more I paint, the more those decisions come by instinct so I will keep at it.

Using thick, rich strokes of paint:


{Making Monday} Painting Party of One

This current stage is my favorite part of painting. To be specific, this early stage in color is the most exciting. There's structure from the planned steps (tedious work is done), but tons of potential (excitement of the unknown). That's probably a reflection of my personality. I like to plan, but I like flexibility and creativity within certain boundaries. Steps needed to get to this point:

  1. Idea : What am I going to paint?
  2. Image : Who/what/where am I going to paint from?
  3. Materials : What will I use to paint? Paper? Canvas? Paint medium?
  4. Prepare Surface : Several coats of gesso (white paint)
  5. Composition : How will this be laid out? How will I crop the image?
  6. Drawing : Careful attention to detail
  7. Outline : Painting over the drawing

This step: COLOR!


The paintings were outlined one by one up on my painting easel, but now I need to paint them all together to have consistent colors throughout since they are all part of one building. The scale of the paintings is a little more clear having them side by side by other objects. This order is how they will be laid out on the office wall. I'm starting with my darkest color first.

*A side-note to painters: Please, please never use black if you want any life in your shadows. These two dark colors are made of: 3 dark blues (ultramarine, phthalo, cerulean), 1 red (cadmium red light), 1 yellow (cadmium yellow).

My painting professor's voice is echoing in my ear as I paint.

  • Use more paint!
  • Use a bigger brush!
  • Warmer! (I tend to paint with cool colors so things look dead)

These steps needed to paint are really the steps needed to plan any activity. 

  1. [Idea] : What am I going to do?
  2. [Image] : Who/ what/ where?
  3. [Materials] : What things are needed for this? 
  4. [Prepare Surface] : What do I need to do ahead of time?
  5. [Composition] : Cropping; start/end time, budget
  6. [Drawing] : The tedious but necessary details
  7. [Outline] : Start activity

The step I'm on now: follow-through. The party. Party of one, in this case. As an introvert, I enjoy parties of one. Now that the paintings are set up and ready with my palette ready to go, I'm looking forward to many solo painting parties this week.

A cup of herbal tea in one hand and a paintbrush in the other...and I wonder why people call me grandma.


{Making Monday} The Uninspired Painter


We get an extra day in February! But still, I'm far from my goal of completing these paintings this month. Since I set that goal in early January, the two months to follow were extra busy helping with a good friend's wedding. The wedding was this past weekend— it was a beautiful day! Since I was involved with many plans along the way, seeing it all come together was especially exciting.

I'm still catching up from the busy wedding week so the only thing that got me painting last night was knowing that I had this specific green color mixed last week and though it dries slowly (since it's oil paint), it would be unusable within a few more days. Call it lazy for not wanting to mix the same color again or resourceful for not wasting, either way, it got me to paint. Well, plus the boost of two bowls of popcorn, chocolate, yogurt, two "Relaxing" cups of herbal tea...

Writing about painting has helped me get out of my head and add commitment and discipline when needed. I've learned that inspiration may be a starting point, but a complete painting is never the result of 100% inspiration. This principle, learned from the discipline of completing paintings, applies to all areas of life and has been really beneficial. 

Last week I outlined parts 1 and 2, plus parts of the most detailed part 3. Now, it's all outlined except the bottom tile detail corner. I hope to finish the corner tonight and move on with the painting the rest of this week. Here's a quick shot from my iPad before heading to work this morning!

When I don't feel like completing things, this is a great reminder: 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
(Galatians 5:22-25)

This self-controlled spirit isn't ruled by feelings, so whether it's painting or not, I'll keep chugging along!  

 

{Making Monday} From Pencil to Brush: Seville Wall Painting Progress

Finally some color! I recently taught someone how to paint with oil paints so I soaked my oil paint tubes in hot water to open them. I suppose 5 years was enough time to seal them shut. When setting up my palette, I was reminded why I hadn't gotten back into oil painting. The set-up alone took at least 30 minutes! Normally my painting sessions with ink and watercolor are about 1 hour total. BUT this is a special project for Page's office and is therefore a good reason to get back into oil painting. His office is currently white, grey, and black. The only pop of color in the room = bright stripes on his socks (that go with his dress shirt, of course).

The pencil drawing was completed many weeks ago. The next part for this project was the color outline. In the end, this green will be mostly covered up and won't be very noticeable but the pops of bright color coming through the rest of the wall painting will keep it looking fresh...which is exactly what a monotone office needs!

Mixing paint is best with one of these tools: a palette knife. Otherwise the paint gets stuck in the bristles of the brush and ends up riding up the brush handle, so it will waste time and paint.


This green has cadmium red light in it (that's the bright red, third from the end). Mixing opposite colors on the color wheel helps tone down your color, but adding too much makes brown so it's best to add a dab at time.

Mixing paint

Growing glob of green...

Oil Painting Outline


It's always an exciting and sad step to start painting because that means my drawing that I spent hours on will be covered up. It sounds dramatic but there is some kind of attachment especially when the drawing turns out well. Those detailed lines below that describe the old stone wall will covered by thick strokes of paint. But they serve their purpose, because without the detailed drawing there would be no variation of line in the painted thick outline.

Oil Painting

Aaaand here are the paintings below. These 3 will line up side by side. They're quite large though it's hard to tell. They currently take up the length of our kitchen... a very small kitchen, but the entire kitchen nonetheless! It seemed like the safest place to put them while they dry for the next 2 days or so since our meals are ready and I won't be cooking. 

I'm stuck on this one below because I wanted to photograph the paintings before it got dark, but knew I wouldn't have time to complete it since it has the most detail. I may switch brushes to a smaller one to get more detail in for the outline.

The main part I'm stuck on:

I love the casual dress code at work, but it's hard to beat slippers and spandex...and the green streak of paint in my hair. There was a time when I wanted to bleach and color my hair bright purple, but it seems like I get to experiment with all sorts of hair colors (in streaks and highlighted ends) through painting. When washing my hands in the bathroom, I saw  my reflection with a dark red mustache. I didn't even use dark red paint today. Green hair, red mustache, stretchy pants and slippers... It's probably a good thing this oil painting business is only on weekends.

{Making Monday} Creativity Without a Brush

After a few years of painting here and there, I started painting again most regularly in 2015. I had lofty plans to complete several paintings by this time in 2016, but this year has felt extra busy...and they still are in pencil-only form without a single splotch of paint on them. My creativity has been channeled in other ways out of necessity, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. For example, my most recent project was a bridal shower and bachelorette. These are part of the decorations I made for the shower.

It was a Pinterest idea on the bride's wedding board (for seating chart placecards ). Though I give credit to Pinterest, it was NOT a "best chicken in 15 minutes" (which is never the best), nor "easiest chocolate cake ever" (that takes 2 hours + cleanup). It actually was REALLY simple. I can't take credit for the idea but it was fun to do something with paint that didn't involve careful detail. It's also great for when you have colors for an event/party that may be hard to find...unless you want to drop $200 at Paper Source for the right hue of chartreuse green. 

The process was delightfully simple.

Here are the steps: 

  1. Cut the paper to desired size.
  2. Mix the color and water in a plate. (I mixed a few watercolors to get the right shade)
  3. Dip edge of paper in different angles to get a jagged colored edge. Let it dry.
  4. Repeat 2 more times, each time dipping a little less of the paper in so you get that 3-tiered effect. 
  5. Write with a calligraphy pen. (I typed it on Microsoft word first to look at and then loosely followed that font.)

two ways to avoid the handwritten part:

  1. Make it a shared project: do steps 1-4 and pass off step 5 to a friend with good penmanship. 
  2. It's the 21st century and printers work wonders. Find a cute font, type it and print it on card stock, and then do steps 1-4.

It was a tea party theme (I'm sure that's obvious by now) so the favors were lavender earl grey cookies & tea. I added some lemon extract in the batter to freshen up the heavier flavor of lavender and earl grey. The center sign was on the door to welcome guests. The pen on the right is my favorite for cheater calligraphy style writing!

When West Meets East & Falls in Love: "Looking East" Exhibit {Monet, Van Gogh & Japan}

The sunrise this morning took my breath away.  (I mean I actually forgot to breathe...) I chose not to photograph it because my iPhone camera couldn't possibly do a vast expanse of color wash in the sky any sort of appropriate justice!

Anyways, back on topic: my solo field trip. Sunday was the last day of "Looking East" at the Asian Art Museum about how Japanese art influenced western artists like Monet, Van Gogh, and others. It was also the week of SuperBowl City so SF was extra busy. I went to work extra early to get off in time to make it before the 5pm closing time at the museum. I really wish museums had hours outside of 10am-5pm so they would be more accessible to working people. To be fair, some are adding an evening event day including the Asian art museum (but only during warmer seasons?)

Clearly thrilled about starting the exhibit and my audio guide... I didn't notice that "Asian" lanyard until I saw the photo later— maybe not the best choice for a lanyard label. I assume they were thinking "deYoung" or another one-word museum name, but in this case "AAM" or "Asian Art Museum" probably would have been better. 

Since Japan had an isolation policy for 200 years, when it was opened to the West in mid-1850s, there was a huge influx of Japanese art and craft in the West. In many ways the goods were used out of context, like a formal kimono becoming a sexy lounging gown with a plunging neckline. 
This topic —the love of Japanese things in the 19th century—is well-studied and is called Japonisme. Since the east to west study is so common, for my Japanese Saint painting series, I took the opposite approach and used western art compositions for my Japanese ink paintings. Perhaps I keep coming back to this topic in some way or another because I relate with it. For grad school, I studied the Japan-Europe interaction (mostly focusing on Catholicism) before the seclusion, about 3 centuries earlier. I'm somewhat caught in between, tied to both but can't clearly define which culture influenced what part of me.
And now I'm a translator/Japanese copywriter working on making an American brand successful in Japan.

The exhibit was interesting, pointing out how Japanese art compositions at the time were very different than western paintings. Van Gogh painted the most directly from the woodblock prints, replicating them with oil paints and his unique Van Gogh hand. Other artists like Monet were less direct, like Monet's Japanese garden with the bridge or his haystack series looking like prints of Japanese rest stops (top right two drawings below)

 Quick sketches while looking around

Quick sketches while looking around

I wish I had more than 1 hour but I'm really glad I got that one hour! It's inspiring and refreshing to see different perspectives through artists and history. It never gets old.

Happy Friday!