'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} 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} 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!

{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!!

Christmas Cookies? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly}

Christmas cookies tradition started from holiday biscuits in Medieval Europe. They included spices and dried nuts, like many of our Christmas cookies today. Apparently there were strict baking laws (presumably for safety reasons) but the holidays were an exception.

Some say that giving cookies to Santa started around the Great Depression to teach kids generosity. I know someone who was taught all along that Santa actually doesn't like cookies, he likes pizza and beer, so he grew up leaving pizza and beer out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Clever!

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We haven't decided about Santa and kids but I wonder what the Santa who comes to our home would prefer... maybe brownies. Edge pieces only-- extra special gifts for corner pieces. 

Nutcracker? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 4}

As strange as it sounds and for no good reason, those funny little nutcrackers are my favorite Christmas decorations. Yet I have no idea where they came from or why they are around only at Christmas. If it's trendy to have a gold rhino on your stack of books as a paper weight, why can't it be a nutcracker?

"I wonder if it really cracks?"

"I wonder if it really cracks?"

Day 4: NUTCRACKER.

How did nut-cracking pliers become a home decoration? The history goes back (at least) 300 years to a woodworking town in Germany. Dolls were given for good luck, and the same woodworkers made soldier dolls as well as nut-cracking tools, so the two were combined into one as a practical gift for good luck. The connection with Christmas may come from eating around this time since nuts are harvested in the fall and keep well.

Especially after Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker Suite, premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892 the little figurines grew in popularity. They became common in America only since the 1950s after soldiers in WWII brought them back from Christmas fairs in Germany (which I would LOVE to go to someday).

My favorite random fact that I've gathered from reading about nutcrackers is "Nutcrack Night" also known as Halloween. In Scottish and Northern English tradition, October 31 was the night to sit around a fire and crack freshly harvested hazelnuts and chestnuts. Maybe our nutcrackers should come out on Nutcrack Night and stay through Christmas!

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)

 

25/50 : What to do with"28 Thousand Days"

 Our days are numbered. Alicia Keys reminded me the other day--"28 Thousand Days"? Maybe. Maybe not. Often not.

 Some changes at work make me more grateful for and mindful of the people I see daily. It's not guaranteed to continue.

 I painted this stack of pants for my boss as a goodbye and thank you gift to him- he reminded us of the right perspective, that we are after all "just selling pants."(written in Japanese in the painting since my job is exactly this translation process)

"Just Selling Pants" 

"Just Selling Pants" 

Psalm 39:4-7

Show me, Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.

Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.

But now, Lord, what do I look for?

My hope is in you.

By hoping and trusting in God, who is eternal, it puts my petty daily troubles (which wouldn't even make a visible dot on a timeline of eternity) into perspective. They will pass, but how I respond and treat people in the meantime- those things last longer. While my boss (who is on to other adventures) was incredible at his job, his love for people and care for coworkers as family set him apart and impacted everyone.

 

"Let all that you do be done in love."

1 Corinthians 16:14

 

ALL? Yup. God can work miracles even in a hard heart like mine, so he can make the impossible a reality.

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.

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!

 

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!

15/50 : A Rainbow in Thailand

A repeated theme that I keep going back to when I find myself envious of other artists' work: IT TAKES PRACTICE! I can't expect to paint once a week and magically have tons of incredible art. It has to be a daily discipline to improve any skill.

So here I go, practicing etegami (picture-letters, Japanese folk art style):

I took photos in Thailand of things to paint later. A lot were based on color, texture, or shape.

"I saw a rainbow in Thailand"

"I saw a rainbow in Thailand"

I saw this one day during one of the travel days when we were waiting for a ferry for a couple hours at a ferry stop. Aside from the heat, the beautiful scenery made it a pleasant stop. The colors of cloth tied to the side of this little fishing boat were vivid and eye-catching against the grey water and green mountains behind.

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!

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