'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. 

Read More

When did St. Nick move to the North Pole? {12 Days of Christmas}

The background of St. Nick is somewhat known- the monk St. Nicholas born in 280AD was known for giving away his inherited wealth and helping many people. St. Nicholas day was celebrated December 6th, when people feasted and gave gifts. Stories about St. Nicholas giving gifts continued on for centuries.

The name? A quick overview:

  • Saint Nicholas
  • Sint Nikolaas (Dutch)
  • Sinter Klaas (shortened, Dutch)
  • Santa Claus

Now the main question: when did he move to the North Pole?

In 1890, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew what is now our image of Santa Claus in the North Pole. He was positioned there most likely because the arctic was seen as a mysterious fantasy land that no one had been to (yet), plus Christmas was associated with snow. So this mysterious, jolly, kind gift giver came from the land of the arctic, the North Pole. 

It says: "Oh look, there's Santa."

[another bubble burster: apparently there are no penguins in the North Pole...]

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!

Mistletoe? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 1}

We don't do a lot of Christmas decorating but we still have some basics including mistletoe, poinsettia, Christmas tree, branches for a wreath, nutcrackers... but if you ask me why? My best answer is: "It's festive (*add a big smile*)." So, here's my 12-day exploration featuring etegami to look at where these traditions came from!

Day 1: Mistletoe.

Why kiss under a mistletoe? Why not a holly? 

First, what is mistletoe: The name originated as "mistel"+"tan"= dung + stick

It's a parasite that is spread through bird poop. How romantic. 

Now a brief overview of the tradition: It symbolized love and friendship in European folklore, then in the Middle Ages was hung in homes for good luck and protection against evil spirits.

Kissing under it began in England, since mistletoe was attached to "Kissing Boughs"(basically a spherical version of a wreath) around wintertime . 

From England, the tradition migrated with people to America. Then fast forward hundreds of years, I'm giddy this year to discover preserved mistletoe at Trader Joe's! My first mistletoe! 

Hang your mistletoe, erase "dung stick" from your mind, and enjoy the tradition of love and friendship.

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)

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. 

 

 

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. 

IMG_0590.JPG

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.

3/50 : Custom art for a blank canvas (AKA bachelor pad)

A Christmas present to my brother: Custom art for his living room, to be completed by Jan 25. I had visited him in Chicago a few times and his blank 10 foot ceilings were calling my name for some attention. I went through the usual emotional ups and downs of painting:

  • "Ohh, great idea!" ---> "My creative juices are as drier than a forgotten raisin, how could I ever make anything good"
  • "This is going to be perfect for him!" --> "That's stupid, nobody would want that"
  • "This will look so modern" --> "It's messy, what is that?"
  • "I'm on a roll, this is fun!" --> "I can't do anything right"

That's what goes on in my head every time I paint going from excited to depressed and back again over and over until the painting is complete. I even dream about it. I've learned to accept that as normal. It also helps to make some small-scale versions and slowly work up so I don't put too much time into a messed up full-scale version.

One of my life goals is to complete a painting series of figures from the history of Christianity in Japan. Sadly there aren't that many which makes it a feasible goal.

Through these 50 blogs, I'm really slowly trying to grasp the fact that working hard does not equal perfection in art-making.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each will receive his commendation from God.

What am I doing with "the mysteries of God?"

Now: I'm writing about it in grad school-- God has been faithful through the centuries of persecution of Christians in Japan.

Later: I'll paint about it-- God never abandoned Japan. He is near and lets us know that.

I beat myself up about some bad paintings and drawings because of my self-imposed expectations, but the expectations that actually matter are much different. I will use what I'm given to the best of my ability. My current best may be "flawed" (from my perspective) but I'll keep at it because my calling is clear to be a good steward of what I'm given (gifts, time, and "the mysteries of God"). I refuse to let the fear of imperfection get in my way of trying BECAUSE:

Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Who knows what will happen?? [That's rhetorical, because obviously someone does.] But I have no clue, and that's exciting... at least when it comes to art.

Now back to the weekend, I rolled up the final painting and took it with me on the plane to Chicago.

First, we drove to Michigan to visit my grandparents. I wish I could explain more about the good conversations with them and the humbling reality of how I know nothing about enduring discomfort or English grammar. I hope to improve on the latter through the many books I brought home. For the post, I'll try to stick to the art stuff for now.

My brother and I went to IKEA for 2 hours. That's right, two full hours. Why waste time at a coffee shop when we can bond over home decorations, storage solutions, and indoor plants that are the hardest to kill? [We have really liking but not watering plants in common.] The 3-floor IKEA worked up our appetite for beefy Kyrgyz food (from Kyrgyzstan- a country in Central Asia) soon after.

We found the right frames for lots of prints and things he had collected from traveling etc. and got to work putting them together at home. He explained how double stick tape works (in manufacturing). I wouldn't be able to explain it. I had no idea it was so complicated.

Since I mentioned food I might as well include it:

Chicago is ethnic food & vegan food heaven. I'm not vegan, I just really like vegan food.

This isn't everything we ate, but a few highlights.

Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate "Cheesecake" & Carrot Cake

The Kyrgyz food: Piroshki, Carrot Salad, Pickles & Smoked Meat/Sausage Stew, Potatoes & Beef, Hand-pulled Noodles (tasted like Chinese noodles!) with Beef and Veggie Tomato Sauce, Cabbage Potato & Carrot Pie with Sour Relish (same wrap as a wonton wrapper!).

The Turkish, Chinese, and Russian influences in one country's dishes were fascinating.

Cafe de Olla (traditional Mexican coffee with brown sugar and cinnamon) and Chocoflan (my favorite)

Cactus, Huitlacoche (Black Mushroom), & Poblano Pepper Tacos

i

i

Vegan Soul Food. That was a hearty lentil loaf.

Raw Vegan: Sampler Platter of Raw Ravioli, Raw Zucchini Noodles with Marinara, Raw Burger, Raw "Meat"ball, Cocoa Truffle, Sprouted Raw Wild Rice Salad, Raw Carrot Cake

Noah enjoyed it too!

I can't say I took the windy snow like a champ, but it was a wonderful weekend of sibling time. I'm grateful for rich and honest conversations. He shows me how to work hard, courageously seek new endeavors, and be conscious of his purpose each moment as a servant of God.

1/50 : Paint and blog it, 50 times in 2015

Time for New Year's Resolutions 2015! [According to every personality test I'm an "Achiever" to put it lightly so I just can't help it.] First looking back, here are my 2014 resolutions written in pen in a notebook I started a year ago:

{BOLD: Resolution 2014 ------> Italic : Result 2014}

  1. Read the Japanese Bible through -----> [only 1500 more pages to go]
  2. Lift weights regularly----->[Yes]
  3. Paint -----> [Twice, maybe]
  4. Disciple/mentor relationship -----> [Yes]
  5. Become a yogi -----> [Yes... but now recovering with a sore neck from falling directly on my head a few weeks ago]
  6. Teach Page words in Japanese -----> [Somewhat]

Maybe the resolutions were too broad. Resolutions 2015 are for the most part related to last year. (Aside from my core identity and spiritual life) I've pinpointed things I love and am finally not embarrassed to admit them. I'll write more about how I see God's character through them in a later post.

  • Painting
  • Good food (all things related: to cook, experiment, & eat; cookbooks, menus, demos)
  • Learning history (currently, specifically comparative studies between Buddhist and Catholic practice & Japanese Christian history)

There are other regular activities that I don't necessarily love, like exercise. I've wanted to be athletic but I would rather roll around and stretch until I can fold into a pretzel...for what purpose? I have no idea. I work out because I want to use what I'm given (health) to take care of my family as long as I am able. As much as I wish I loved exercise, I don't. But it's just like hundreds of other things that are necessary regardless of if they are fun or not.

Finally getting to the point...almost. I'll finish grad school in May, so the "what next" question comes up often. Answer, as photographed below:

  • Short version-Paint and teach.
  • Long version- Continue large scale ink painting series of Japanese Christian history, using and "translating" Western art compositions of parallel historical events. For teaching, if there are positions available, then teach Asian art history at local community colleges.
IMG_0337

Resolutions 2015:

  1. 50 paint-blog entries: practicing ink line work and "translating" Western art into Japanese style
  2. Use Japanese daily at home
  3. Memorize portions of Ephesians 3 and Colossians 3
  4. Submit proposals for conferences and publications
  5. Finish reading Japanese Old Testament
  6. Continue yoga working toward a press-up handstand

There it is. After the long-winded explanation, this travel blog is reborn now as my 50 paint-blog entry resolution for 2015. Here is 1/50. I'm painting a photo I took in Sintra, Portugal this summer at Quinta de Regaleira. I'm still in love with old walls. (See http://emakubo.com/2011/02/13/more-from-italy/ and http://emakubo.com/2010/04/05/paintings-from-cortona/ )

I don't know why I chose to work on such a giant painting to "get back into it." Perhaps my "Achiever" personality?

Here's the painting in progress and a detail shot. Another aspect of this 50 blog post is to stop being a proud perfectionist by show imperfect things. I'm sure there will be "off" days for drawing but with this concrete goal I have to show it anyways!

...plus some photos of my most recent organized chaos of art supplies and research materials. Apologies for the darkness. I'm looking for how to light up the studio space more. Also I only had my 35mm lens around so please excuse the weird angles and cropping :)

IMG_0335

 Coming next: Process/result of building a stretcher frame with my dad's help for a large oil painting I painted in Italy. We have a building date on Thursday. The neglected painting has been rolled up for 4.5 years!