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} Big picture goals from a weekly routine

One of the conversations that sticks out most to me was with my brother about goals for the new year, several years ago. When talking about things I would like to do in the coming year, my brother asked me, "what does your week look like?" I responded, "I guess I work, I exercise sometimes, I cook, I hang out with friends..." and he said, "Well multiply that by 52 and that will be what you do this year." 

That was a shocking reality check! I thought taking it a week at a time was fine, but when I realized that how each week is organized has a larger impact on the entire year, it made me rethink how I prioritize activities each week.

It's important to start in the big picture: What are your long-term goals? In other words: 

What are God-given gifts and desires that you want to use for His service over a lifetime?

That could be a 50-year plan, obviously impossible to know what it will look like, but we can figure out what kind of skills need to be polished to work in that direction. I was motivated even more after our retreat this weekend, being encouraged to work fervently, purposefully, and diligently in all things. We can only work hard with a specific goal in mind, so what am I working for? 

An ongoing tug on my heart since at least 10 years ago: the population is less than 1% Christian in Japan, so I want to share the joy and hope of knowing God. At the very least, so people will know God's love and can then decide what to do about it.  So, considering the family life I was brought up in and the skills I have now, that desire plays out like this long-term:

Two examples:

  1. Paint the history of Christianity in Japan 

  2. Teach kids Japanese language and culture

1. Paint the history of Christianity in Japan

What needs to be done?

  • Know the history
  • Improve painting skills
  • Know western art history to reference

For me, this means:

  • Study the history (--> I went to grad school)
  • Keep painting (--> I'm blogging and painting)
  • Know western art history to reference (keep looking at art books and going to museums)

Weekly (now):

  • Keep painting with different media so that I can incorporate western techniques into my Japanese painting... which is where this comes in: working on large oil paintings.

Now, breaking down the second example:

2: Teach kids Japanese language and culture

What needs to be done? 

  • Practice Japanese conversation so it'll flow better all the time at home
  • Read more Japanese to be able to teach
  • Keep up with Japanese culture
  • Know and practice Japanese customs

For me, this means:

  • Keep up relationships with Japanese friends
  • Read Japanese books
  • Watch Japanese shows, read news, look at magazines/websites
  • Celebrate holidays (& cook the holiday food!) and learn the background

Weekly (now):

  • Read the Bible in Japanese
  • Continue working as a translator and give it 100% effort

Basically it comes down to: *a notebook is crucial--write it down!*

  1. Big picture: long-term goal (not just a dream). Something clear based on the skills and desires God has given you.
  2. Talk it through: Pray first. Then, sharing and getting feedback is critical! People close to you can help identify your gifts and walk the journey with you.
  3. Break it down: Identify skills/components needed to see #1 (above) become a reality.
  4. Work on skills: Break down #3 into baby steps.
  5. Schedule it:  Subtract things in your weekly schedule that don't fit with the big picture goal, and add in things necessary to reach that goal.

Consider what is realistic for yourself now, but if the goal really is important then diligently work on at least one component!

Since those paintings are on my mind, I was thrilled to see the color palette I wanted to use on trees in Yosemite this weekend. The pops of bright green moss against the red bark with highlights of light mustard yellow was eye-catching. Bark is not brown! (Yes, I will die on that "nothing is brown" hill.) The outline of my paintings (photos above) will be bright green moss-colored, and the brick includes all these colors in the bark: 

It's no surprise that the Creator and Master Painter of the universe would have such a delightful color palette on a tree trunk. "The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." Psalm 19:1

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth...

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 

Colossians 3:1-2, 23-24

Let's work!!

Wreaths? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 3}

Why have I been making wreaths from Christmas tree branches the past two Christmas seasons? Why did we hang one on our door growing up? Tradition, I suppose...

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DAY 3: WREATHS.

Christmas wreaths can be traced back to Ancient Greeks and Persians, who wore them as a symbol of status or victory. They may have been hung in the home or on the door as souvenirs. Wreaths were also hung on doors as symbols of the home to distinguish one home from another.

The specific use of evergreens most likely stems from celebrating Winter Solstice. Evergreens were chosen since they stay green year-round; a symbol of life overcoming- again, a victory. 

In the Christian tradition the circular shape represents eternal life- perhaps using evergreens as a symbol of victory over death.

Which reminded me of:

"Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?...but thanks be to God who gave us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:55-57)

Wreaths are a much more powerful symbol than I had expected... it gives me more motivation to form those branches sitting on the balcony into a symbol to remember Christ's victory over death.

 

 

Mexican Hot Chocolate? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 2}

Mexican Hot Chocolate? No, it's not a twist on hot chocolate. It's the other way around! The modern sugary-chocolatey-milky indulgence is a distant adaption of the original.

DAY 2: MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE.

Let's time travel back 2500 years to the Maya. They made a bitter chocolate drink made of ground cocoa seeds, water, chiles, and other spices. When the Spaniards came in the 16th century, it was still this bitter and spicy cocoa drink taken for its health benefits. 

After it was introduced in Europe, sugar was eventually added in the 17th century. It was an expensive drink since all ingredients were imported. Later in the same century, a British gentleman added milk. Of course.

It wasn't until the 19th century that the Dutch processed the beans into cocoa powder (and eventually to bar chocolate, hallelujah). I always buy "dutch process" cocoa powder because of the wonderful, smooth flavor but never thought about the name. The Dutch were the first to separate cocoa butter and cacao seeds, and the name stuck.

Fast forward a couple centuries:

Have you tried hot chocolate in Italy or Spain? I was shocked the first time I tried "hot chocolate" in Italy, after growing up with American instant powdered hot chocolate. The best way to describe it is an espresso cup of rich chocolate pudding. In Spain it's also a rich chocolate pudding (plus churros for dunking).

My cooking, traveling, and painting worlds collide- my favorite moments!

心もあたたまる:"Also warms your heart"

心もあたたまる:"Also warms your heart"

I suppose my Christmas drink, my "Mexican hot chocolate" (a concoction of almond milk + dutch process cocoa powder + cinnamon stick) has little to do with the original form, but I'll keep stirring my cinnamon stick now as an ode to times long ago. 

Now with this wealth of hot cocoa knowledge, continue on with this merry December and enjoy the health benefits of good cocoa.

I meant my "hallelujah" very literally: 

And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it IS the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

27/50 : Learning to Teach

This painting is from my last etegami workshop in November. It has taken that long to get back to writing! Since my translation and copywriting work is in the retail business, Christmas is the busiest season and it has felt like I'm just barely hanging on. In the middle of that, I got selected on a jury for jury duty! It was surprisingly very interesting, and for short cases I'd say it's a worthwhile experience (even though I was grumbling the whole time).

I daydream about painting these days as I walk to and from the stations on my commute. Since I'm explaining how I paint when I do workshops or demonstrations, I think more step-by-step. There's a lot that's just second nature now- when to apply more pressure, when to lift the brush, where to leave space white, where to add pops of color. I'm now having to trace my steps back to how I decide. 

"Autumn is the season for pumpkin pie"

"Autumn is the season for pumpkin pie"

Some things I've learned that I can now explain:

  • To get better at composition, look at good photographs. 
  • Practice your writing style and perfect your signature. 
  • Boldly mess up. Those confident mistakes often turn into something great.
  • No more than 2 layers of watercolor...let the paper breathe!
  • Variety of strokes, color intensity and values is key to get eyes glued on the piece.

Things I'm trying to teach myself, talking to myself:

  • Stop comparing. (You'll never paint like them, and no one paints like you.)
  • Keep painting. (It's getting better.)
  • Be patient. (You've already passed the Michelangelo/Mozart prodigy age.)

I'm glued in the psalms during this busy season. I particularly connected with:

And I say, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest." (Psalm 55:6-8)

How comforting to know that there are others that want to fly away and become a hermit sometimes. BUT right after in the same psalm:

"Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." (Psalm 55:22)

 

24/50: How about a pigeon?

My sister who lives in London told me about a Chinatown scandal in which a restaurant in London Chinatown was serving pigeon. Not the farmed kind for eating. I mean, free range and local-- rooftop local!

I suppose they were calling it "squab"-- a delicacy. Not just pigeon.

Street pigeons would never make it on my plate (by choice), much less my "want to draw" list. On a practical level, they're fidgety and hard to draw. But beyond that, I don't like the way they look or function so they're not worthy of study.

If I dig a little deeper: I don't consider their Maker.

But this guy did, and that left an impression on me. I took a photo of him when I saw this scene in Nagasaki, Japan. Is this elderly Japanese man thinking, "God created this creature so I should study it?" Statistically based on the religious environment in Japan, I doubt it.

There's a lot God can teach us through people-- through those who may point out things that are usually ignored. Maybe through artists who have "weird" perspectives.

So, how about a pigeon? Perhaps not for dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown in London. But maybe to draw, maybe to point me to their Maker. 

"Worthy are you, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and because of your will they existed, and were created." Revelation 4:11

If creation in general isn't enough of a link to the Creator, here's a bonus fact: 

Pigeons are in the same family as doves. 

As I continue with this painting, it'll remind me of seeing things as made-by-God, not based on my judgment of if it's worthy of attention or not. 

"You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you." Nehemiah 9:6

Progress on this painting to come (once I actually make that progress).



23/50: Portuguese Wall Painting & Yogi Adventures

While valuing everything I have from God (see last post)- his teaching, resources, time, talents- I want to share what I've been given. 

Now that doesn't mean I intend to give away everything I paint! The only paintings I give away are to family for now, until I build up a larger portfolio. This one was a recent painting for my mother-in-law's birthday.

16x20"

16x20"

At work she had a painting from a rotating collection that went through the offices but she wanted something that she would really enjoy looking at, not someone else's collection. I wanted the painting for her to match her character but of course can't encompass all of a person so I pinpointed a couple things about her: 

  • easygoing and relaxed but organized and responsible 
  • loves beautiful colors and being in God's creation.

Compared to a painting for Page (see here), the style is different. His was for a different purpose, more about structure and order. Hers is for enjoyment, for a breather. 

I took a photo of this wall in Portugal. It was part of a staircase tower in the magnificent garden/estate of Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra. We had never seen anything like it- the caves, palace, chapel, wild greenery, mossy stones, I can't do it justice in a sentence. 

[So if you're curious, look at pictures of this incredible place on trip advisor.]

Even plenty of space for yoga like the crane pose with a crane statue...what a cheeseball... I would love to spend days there. A yoga retreat maybe?

Back to the painting. I don't believe practice makes perfect, but that principle applies here. I attempted painting this wall earlier this year, and it's in my first post this year. I didn't end up posting the final version afterwards because it was a mess! In comparison, this new painting came together from start to finish in less than 3 hours. The point is, practice! The practice version (plus years of painting beforehand) wasn't wasted. If only I could remember that every time BEFORE my perfectionist tendencies take over and I'm discouraged after messing something up.

Lastly, something I'm meditating on: 

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing each other in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Colossians 3:16

What do I dwell on and what kind of words result? (the latter seems to indicates the former)

22/50 : Life lesson from football & Japanese sweets

Looks like commuting time is the best no-chores-or-tasks opportunity to write. I learned a lesson from Japanese sweets today, and while they aren't paintings, they're in the creating department of my mind so I have to share!

Happy Autumn Equinox Day, or "Shu-bun no hi!" I took 40+ ohagi to work today (ohagi=traditional Japanese red beans and sticky rice confection). It's common to eat ohagi on the first day of fall, and since I'm still giddy about having Japanese coworkers I wanted to celebrate properly. By properly, I mean "with food." Even if it entails waking up at 4:20. 

A quick photo before work of 1 of my many packages of ohagi.

A quick photo before work of 1 of my many packages of ohagi.

I am by no means a morning person. But I am a food person so that can override my morning haze. I made it to bed right before 12am, and I hopped out of bed with excitement at 4:20! What a weirdo!

  • 4:20am: rinse and soak rice, take nap.
  • 5:30am: cook the rice, get ready for work.
  • 6:30am: go time for speed ohagi making
  • 7:50am: guard my sweets on Bart

Page made coffee and took me to the station to protect my precious cargo. I had my bundle close to my body under one arm... the most football player-esque I will ever look! Now I finally understand that football-holding position. It's a secure yet agile stance while on the move. (No, there are no 250-lb men tackling me BUT proportionally, my odds aren't that great if I get shoved around.) This reminded me of treasure, protecting something important to ensure its safe delivery. 

"Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119:18

I protected my little sweets like treasure so that I could share them- as I thought about "treasure" I saw a picture of protecting God's word in order to share it. 

"I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. Job 23:12

This was by far one of the most unusual lessons that has hit me recently. God knows my language! First and foremost directly from the Bible, but then bringing it to my mind through funny experiences like guarding my sweets on BART.

"For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

Since ohagi (the Japanese sweets) are so common, hopefully they will be at least a seasonal reminder of what I truly treasure. And not to hoard it but to carry that treasure and share it. Also, If I can wake up at 4:20 for sweets, I can most certainly wake up for more important things.

21/50 : Careful what you Google! [Lessons from a new job, part 2]

I was working on a quick one-line translation at work. I looked up a name for a shade of pink in Japanese to see if it was a transliterated color name (like "pee-chi" for peach, etc) or a Japanese word. No photos came up, just text. That should've been clue number 1, but I wasn't aware that apparently Google doesn't show photos for graphic content. The summaries I skimmed in the first 5 hits that came up were unexpected! There I was, week 1 at work, already looking up...what? Porn. Noted, I am definitely NOT using this word in Japanese!

Lesson 1: Careful what you Google.

For my sanity, I must stop comparing this work commute to my previous Tokyo commute. Where could I begin? Why do people on the platform stand directly in front of the doors and block passengers getting off the trains? Why is there enough space to do yoga in the aisles between the seats while people are packed like sardines in the space between the doors on each train? Why is the escalator line far down the platform blocking traffic while the stairs are empty? Why are both sides of the escalator standing sides during rush hour? I suppose these questions answers my last question: Why is the train late 90% of the time?

As scary as it was to face a herd of morning commuting robots in Tokyo, I appreciated the unspoken systematic approach once I got the hang of it and became one of the robots.

Lesson 2: I've a feeling we're not in Tokyo anymore.

This etegami ("letter painting") below was for work also, included in a thank-you note. We talked about going to Humphry Slocombe for an ice cream break after a busy week so that part of the conversation went into the painting.

This weekend I realized (again) that my hopes and prayers are small. But time and time again I'm shown that the "impossible" is possible, and I should hope for great things. I should expect God to work miracles. I'm a pessimist. So, I need extra time spent focusing on the truth, like:

God's voice thunders in marvelous ways, He does great things beyond our understanding. [Job 37:5]

and my favorite that I forget too often:

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory..." [Ephesians 3:20]

It's "risky" for a pessimistic-planner-type to expect great things and pray for miracles but here we go! Maybe changing this "pessimistic-planner-type" description of myself will be miracle #1.

20/50 : A Burger for Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day in an etegami!

Below is what I painted during the art demo on Wednesday at the Fremont Art Association. Etegami ("painting letters") are usually seasonally themed, so I thought about what holidays are coming up and Labor Day was perfect! What's associated with Labor Day? Grilled burgers of course.

「休みの時はハンバーガー」:"When you're off, have a burger" (roughly translated)

Before the demo I was nervous: my first week of work overlapping with my first art demo/class... the 9-5 job wasn't on the radar when I first agreed to the demo date. Then as usual, some completely unnecessary pessimistic thoughts crept up:

  • What if only 3 people show up (my husband Page, the coordinator, me)?
  • What if I can't explain clearly?
  • What if they aren't interested?
  • What if they are disappointed?
  • What if my demo painting turns out terrible? 

While I couldn't do much to solve most besides pray for supernatural peace, I could at least cross off one by preparing and organizing to provide maximum clarity for participants. If they see me paint, hear me explain, read my handout, and paint their own etegami, that's at least 4 avenues of input! So I spent hours on Sunday planning and making a handout, taking my time since it was also an opportunity to brush up on Adobe InDesign [by no means a one-day feat].

To be honest, after my quick demo my perfectionist side was horrified to see my juicy burger (painting) seep into the bottom bun! BUT it was fun. People were excited and engaged, even inspired to buy the materials to do it at home or incorporate techniques into there own art practice. The enthusiasm of the 25 or so participants gave me a second wind of energy and my anxiety was gone.

I don't want it to sound like magic. The public speaking/teaching I signed up for over and over during grad school to conquer my fear of public speaking really helped. I learned how to organize, simplify, and explain slowly from practice. Opportunities don't just fall in place, but it looks like a pattern of God rewarding the work you put in. I firmly believe:

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."

because, 

"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor build it in vain."

More pics on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fremontartassociation?fref=ts

I expected this opportunity to be good practice and a fun side gig, but it went far beyond! Two tentative things to look forward to:

  1. Exhibiting my work in SF (a representative from an office in SF spoke with me right before the demo to see if I was interested. And YES I am.)
  2. Doing etegami workshops on Saturdays in the next few months

I can't stop thinking, "never try, never know, honey!" whenever something unexpectedly wonderful happens. Moral of the story: if you have a dream, you want to get better at something, you hope for something, GET MOVING.  Baby steps most certainly count!

"In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty." (Proverbs 14:23)

19/50 : Take advice! [Lessons from a new job, part 1]

A few weeks ago, back-to-back interviews seemed to go well with all 5 people so I went home and immediately painted personalized etegami ["painting-letter"] thank you notes, recalling something specific, (mostly) something funny/fun, from our conversations ("interviews"). The next morning I went to the post office right when it opened to send them off. 

I started this job about a week ago...never heard anything about the cards, but I didn't want to be pushy. A few days in I asked if they had received their cards, and they didn't know what I was talking about. Turns out snail mail goes to a floor inbox that nobody checks anymore since everything is done by email! Well, good to know I got the job for other reasons. Also, thank you to my friend Emilie who recommended sending emails AND thank you notes- at least they got the emails!

Lesson #1: follow practical advice from experienced, smart friends!

To the GAP Japan website designer

To the GAP Japan website designer

Each person seemed really pleased with their card, and seeing them smile made me happy. It was certainly worth the effort, even if the rushing-to-the-post-office part was unnecessary. The delay wasn't bad afterall since I got to see their surprised & happy reactions! It was exciting to see that they all put their etegami up on the wall by their desks.

Lesson 2: My ideal timing isn't necessarily God's ideal timing.

To the marketing director, whose mom recently sent her a picture of brushes she didn't know what to do with.

To the marketing director, whose mom recently sent her a picture of brushes she didn't know what to do with.

So far I love the job. The people, work, building, environment...all of it together is FUN. Some people would instantly fall asleep thinking about Japanese translating/copywriting all day, but I love it! I work on a computer but since I'm also interacting with people a lot it's the perfect balance for a social introvert.

If I go in early, I get off early enough to come home and keep up with painting (plus chores and daily life responsibilities, I suppose). It's quite an adjustment not being around to cook, clean, and spread chores/errands out throughout the day. Thank God (literally!) for kindness and patience from my husband. Needless to say, our home has seen better days.

For now, the emotional roller coaster of a job hunt is over. Jobs that I thought were good for me were not good in God's eyes because:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. {Psalm 84:11}

Lesson 3: My idea of a "good thing" isn't necessarily God's "good thing."


[Part 2] to come about funny surprises at work. Then more on an etegami painting class and a future art exhibition in SF! Whew, what a week!

 

18/50 : "Never try, never know, honey!"

Mini-Thailand series continued! Fruits and herbs not even available at 99Ranch??

"Never try, never know, honey!" 

(The motto of our Thai cooking instructor)

Ah, music to my ears, the motto I live by but couldn't articulate so clearly. 

The variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs in the markets was beyond my imagination! I think I've seen a lot from exploring all the local Persian, Indian, Afghan, Mexican, Korean, and Japanese markets in addition to spending hours (cumulatively) browsing grocery store aisles in every country I visit. I've collected some random things like a 25 lb. bag of "the best" basmati rice and Portuguese salted cod, hoping to someday make some special dishes. They're still in the cupboard. 

Of course there are disappointments that come with this "Never try, never know" motto. Some things I've learned: 

  • Orange Mocha Frappuccinos are terrible. Orange+Coffee should never be.
  • Greek yogurt is NOT a suitable substitute for heavy cream in Chicken Tikka Masala.
  • The leg-lengthening effect of high-rise pants does NOT justify the horse-butt effect.
  • Street seafood in 80% humidity weather in Thailand WILL taste fishy. 
  • Layering oil-based paints over water-based paints works, but NOT vice versa.
  • Painting WILL improve observational skills.

I often don't notice unique details about objects until I paint them. In this case the detail was the two-tone color, green at the stem shifting to light orange on the opposite end. Water-based Japanese pigments are the best for two-colored gradations! 

With a handful of these freshly picked, our cooking instructor said to us, "never try, never know, honey!" They were delicious. They had a thin but tough skin like avocado, and the inside was jelly-like, similar to lychee, and very sweet. 

Though there are some risks with constantly trying new things, the benefits have always exceeded the disappointments! 

"Never try, never know, honey!" I'm grateful for these wise words. 

 

 

17/50 : "Same-Same" (but different) & Fool-proof Method to Cook Rice

Anyone who has been to Thailand has heard "same-same" from street vendors. For example,

  • Is this Gucci watch real? Why is it only $30?    "Same-same."
  • Is Adidos like Adidas shoes?    "Same-same."
  • Red soup curry or red curry rice?    "Same-same."

Fun fact: It's never the same-same.

"Similar but different"

"Similar but different"

We took a cooking class and learned that they make rice the same way as Japanese (and many other asian) people, using a finger to measure how much water to use. The teacher asked, "who knows how to cook rice without measuring?" All 3 asians (including me) in the class raised a hand with our thumbs at our first finger joint. 

 Somehow it's a universal measuring system regardless of the length of your finger. I haven't figured out how it always works but since it does I don't question it. Here it is:

  1. Rinse rice until water is mostly clear
  2. Drain rice
  3. Put rice in rice cooker bowl and add water
  4. Check water level: with your fingertip at the top of rice, the water level should meet your first finger joint (distal interphalangeal joint, in case "first" is unclear) 

I had to double check and look up "finger joint" because I've only ever referred to "first finger joint" in Japanese- always to cook rice!

That was a fun memory for me, especially the three asians from different countries learning the same method of cooking rice from our moms. So, it deserved an etegami painting. I took this photo of our rice draining during the cooking class. They use colanders essentially made of a plant, but different- not bamboo colanders like in Japan. They cook white rice but it's jasmine rice, not sticky short grain. Same-same but different.

Try out the finger measurement sometime. You'll never have to measure white rice again. (disclaimer: not for brown/black rice!)

Without painting, I wouldn't notice the 100 shades of brown weaved into one basket! Any natural fiber basket has intricate colors that synthetic weaves don't. While brown is my least favorite color, the variety of tones is a feast for my eyes and a welcome challenge as a painter! I can't begin to mimic the breadth of colors, much less come up with them. The Creator's color capacity blows my mind!

16/50 : Found some buns in Thailand

Here's an etegami (picture-letter) from a photo I took in Thailand. 

I was thrilled to find a steamed bun shop in Thailand- an entire store, like a cupcake shop, with a lovely glass display case with rows upon rows of steamed buns. 

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A bun-lover's dream. 

The standard flavors at dim sum places are custard, red bean, meat/veggie fillings, but there were fantastic options like Thai tea cream custard, Pandan, Chocolate Banana... It took a while to decide. I mean, maybe 25 minutes to pick a bun. I finally settled on one: Taro Bun with Red Bean filling.

More Thailand-themed etegami to come!

14/50 : Built by Someone

An artist I look up to, Makoto Fujimura, is based out of NY but shows his work around the world. He's trained in and is a master of nihonga, Japanese traditional style painting. He paints culturally relevant yet theologically sound paintings, inspired directly from passages in the Bible.  And he's awarded from the President and is globally highly regarded as an artist and writer. His work is a clear reminder to me of how the words in the Bible are still living and active, able to stir up the souls of people who believe and those who don't.

I'm seeking inspiration now from the Author of creativity, the one who paints the sky every morning and evening. So, I'm naming this painting: Built by Someone.

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For every house is built by someone, but the Builder of all things is God. Hebrews 3:4

It's finished. The open space is intentional. We build. God builds. I can't explain how those two overlap but they do. We work hard to lay the foundation and plan, but not alone. We have an image of how things may look but there is always the unexpected. I'll work hard in each stage I am in and though I don't always think this, I really like not knowing the future because I'm not the only one building.

13/50 : Picture-letter (etegami) painting

One day last week, mentally I was 150% over my summer cold/flu and ready to paint in the morning and apply to a job in the afternoon. Then my throat was dry, my head started to pound, my eyes got squinty from the "bright" light (shaded window)... But I was determined so I made a few attempts:

  • Dayquil for cold symptoms [but acetaminophen doesn't work for migraines, oops]
  • Hydrate, push through, it'll go away
  • Massage stiff neck
  • Do a yoga flow to increase blood flow and reduce migraine pain

Result: Nausea from the yoga inversion, migraine persists. Apparently it's time to lie down. Clearly my soul is DENSE and I need physical reminders of "let it go, you're not in control."

A family I met when I lived in Tokyo (2012-2013) has become closer than relatives, and are firmly planted in my heart as family. They welcomed me in as a stranger and have been the most hospitable people I've ever met. We eat together, talk about food, go to museums, look at art books, talk about life, God's goodness, culture... I look forward to every minute with them! I tried out "e-tegami," translated as "picture-letter," which is popular in Japan.

My formula to paint an e-tegami:

cropped image + ink + watercolor + words + signature

Each one is from a specific and memorable activity we did together while I was visiting.

I brainstormed painting one for another person I wanted to write a note to but since I'm not as close and have far fewer memories, I ended up opting for a traditional thank-you note. Interesting how that works. [These e-tegami were a special case, I've never done this before so please don't take it personally if I don't paint for you!]

There are classes on e-tegami in Japan but I've never seen them offered here and would love to do it! It's simple enough for anyone to try and the stylized strokes that are characteristic of e-tegami are what make each one unique so it's BETTER not to be a professional still life painter to make these! Most importantly, after a class they're still useful since they're personalized, seasonally-themed postcards.

Clearly I am indecisive in my interests [beyond wanting to eat 9 things on a menu at restaurants,] and am swayed between studio art, publishing companies, universities, and mochi-making in my kitchen! But my foundation is secure like the quote at the top of the page,

"I know not the way God leads me but well do I know my Guide."

Thanks for keeping up with this journey!

12/50 : Cook, eat, paint mochi

In less than five minutes with me the subject of food is likely to come up in conversation. I love how it can represent culture, creativity, tradition, and most importantly the creative mind of our Creator. Taste buds, colors, textures, variety...most of it isn't for survival but for enjoyment. What a gift! Sadly, there is no place around to buy traditional Japanese sweets. Some markets and shops have mochi but they are often unnaturally bright colored, excessively sweet, or clumsily shaped. So, if I want them, I have to make them.

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Sakura (salted cherry blossom) nerikiri with sakura mixed into red bean filling

Most Japanese confections are made of sweet rice, beans, and sugar, but there are hundreds of variations in the grind of sweet rice, bean type, sugar type and amount, and other mix-ins.

Just like sushi chefs, woodworkers, or printmakers, Japanese sweets are made by craftsmen who have learned the trade after years of training. I would love to be an apprentice! But in the mean time youtube and cookbooks will suffice. I've been experimenting a lot, and am thinking about a mochi catering business on the side. We'll see. I have too many "side business" ideas.

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In case I decide to go with this side business plan, I would need a business card. I photographed the Japanese sweets I made so I painted those photographs (since the sweets are long gone in my stomach).

Hibiscus flower mochi with red bean

Things I like to make often have Japanese and Western influences [for instance, the hibiscus flower mochi above with red bean filling], so I thought the name "Hapa Kitchen" (hapa="mixed," usually refers to mixed Asian ethnicity) was appropriate. It was already taken by a hapa supper club network.

Chrysanthemum nerikiri with lima bean filling

Candied orange peel (homemade) mixed into lima bean filling

Sencha mochi with red bean

Walnut mochi with red bean

Most likely more food paintings to come!

10/50 : "Mindless browsing" is an oxymoron

I realized something after four weeks spent recently with a smartphone that became useful only as a camera or a map. At first I thought I gained time from not browsing mindlessly on Facebook or instagram, or looking up random facts on the internet. But it wasn't time-- it was focus. I had time during breaks from grad school to paint. On weekends even during the semester, I could take a day off. So why couldn't I focus enough to paint the Japanese history that I wanted to? I'm certain I was distracted by constant input.

In Tokyo, I only had wifi access a handful of times with a painfully slow connection at a convenience store. My email loaded at a friend's home while my phone was deep in my bag in another room so I read it on the train on my way home. But I couldn't reply.  It was awfully inconvenient to solidify plans and make phone calls, hunting down the few remaining pay phones somewhere in a department store or train station. But what I gained from being semi-disconnected was worth it: focus.

Focus- that's why I sketched in Japan. Especially when out of consistent practice, it takes a surprising amount of concentration to look at something and repeat the shapes on paper. Below are some sketches from Japan:

Museum 1: Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art // Exhibition: Villains in Ukiyo-e

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Museum 2: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum // Exhibition: Kyosai - Master Painter and his Student Josiah Conder

Museum 3: Yamatane Museum of Art // Exhibition: Maeda Seison and the Japanese Art Institute

I was both shocked and thrilled to see a painting from a series about the hidden Japanese Christians (the subject of my master's thesis) so I sketched the painting. I'll look up more about this artist!

Last sketch, not at a museum, just waiting for a friend and saw some bamboo in a hotel. Also a famous author's name whose historical narrative books I bought to read.

The day I left I went to see the underground Japanese Christian artifacts in the Tokyo National Museum, but read carefully instead of sketching the images.

I wasn't mentally distracted by 20 ways to redecorate, 50 recipes I must make now, or 10 miraculous exercises (that I'll probably never do). Possibly more significantly, I wasn't distracted by what everyone else was doing.  My life didn't suffer a bit in the few weeks of not being up-to-date in other people's business. Actually, I think it improved.

I like to be in touch with friends and the convenience of a cell phone, but I also like the mental space available when it's not glued to my hand. Now I have to consciously keep it in a separate room (with the ringer on loud), to use it for contact but not for "mindless" browsing. At least for me, I finally see that "mindless browsing" is an oxymoron. Perhaps it has to do with being a visual person, or maybe it's universal and I'm just slow to realize it. But for the first time in 4 years, I'm sketching, researching, and planning out my next painting continuing my Japanese martyrs' series.

So far I have my Japanese martyr subject (a family of 3 from an island north of Nagasaki) and the western painting parallel to work from (most likely, the Flight to Egypt).

It's humbling to realize how limited my mental capacity is! God's infinite abilities are more awe-inspiring when I see how limited I am.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.   Psalm 147:5

But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."   Matthew 19:26

I can't take in much at once, and it takes me weeks to even realize that! But God has no limit.

Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?

It is higher than heaven- what can you do? Deeper than Sheol - what can you know?

Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.   Job 11:7-9