Inspirations from the Japanese Fall Festival

It’s the time of year that I sometimes work on art for the Japanese Fall Festival. I don’t do it every year, but over the past decade have designed many posters and t-shirts, so looking back through my files, you can see sort of a snapshot progression.

I often return to Japanese wood-block prints from around the 1800’s for inspiration. There I often find originality of compositions and stylization of forms of nature that I need to reinvigorate my work. I love the way flat shapes are filled with complex patterns, and depth inside the picture frame is created not through shading, but by scale, color and composition. I also like the way images seem frozen in a moment of time, and yet at the same time tell a story by selective use of people, objects, and landscapes.

Another interesting aspect of this annual festival is that making outdoor banners for the event is kind of how I got started making fiber art and art quilts. I was trying to come up a with a way to make big outdoor banners — not signs – but vertical banners that would hang from posts — so I started experimenting with kite materials that could survive outdoor weather.

This was about 15 years ago, and they are still used every year at the festival. In the photo above that Russ took last year, you can only see the backs. The fronts are more colorful because they are appliqued color layers edged with black satin stitching. The black kanji above the figures was painted by a famous Japanese calligrapher who was visiting Springfield, and so I left room for him to paint in whatever characters he wanted, then we heat-set the paint with an iron.

Occupied with Octopi, part one

On a street corner outside a noisy concert, a friend pulled out her phone to make a call. I was shocked to see the front of her phone was shattered, yet she was still using it. When I asked, she started screaming at me.

“It’s just so easy to use this one. I have a brand new iPhone 4 at the office, and I just can’t bring myself to switch over. I just can’t deal with all this new stuff, having to keep up with the latest thing. I just can’t deal with it.”

I had to laugh because that was exactly what my last quilt was about — feeling underwater, struggling to keep up with the latest thing, and so many new tech devices, toys, and software being continually presented to me that I’m not sure where to direct my distracted attention.

Usually it’s not hard for me to title my work. The title is usually in my mind from the very beginning. But in this case, it was just a feeling I had and no words came to mind. I just drew.

An octopus.

Lots of them. Then I became a little obsessed with octopi, as I usually do when working on a project. Big ones, spotty ones, happy one. Looking at more photos of real octopi, I was amazed at the wide range of colors and patterns, the way their tentacles make such beautiful lines in the water.

I found this photo from our trip to Japan last year, and it reinvigorated my interest in drawing.

Randomly searching the internet, this image of an Austin-based band The Octopus Project came up and when I saw their electrical outlet heads, it made me wonder if I should draw the octopus with outlets instead of suction cups on his tentacles. (tried it later – no, too complicated)

It’s funny how when we are focused on something, the universe seems to drop little clues for us to follow. About that time Paul, the World Cup predicting octopus became popular. Then I heard this Beatles song playing on the radio and couldn’t get the tune out of my head for a week:

“I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’ garden in the shade…

We would be warm below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head on the sea bed
In an octopus’ garden near a cave…”

Since the octopus was going to be handing, or rather tentacling me, a lot of high-tech devices, I decided to make him smart. I put a college t-shirt on him.

Next I started looking at old computers, phones, and electronic toys to line the bottom of the ocean bed – the “octopus’ garden.” Russ happened to walk into the studio one morning with this Prehistoric Laptop and I wrote a blog post.

Looking at photos of old swimsuits, snorkeling gear, and flipper feet was fun. I found some in this retro Jamese Bond Thunderball poster, but I wasn’t interested in the spear gun.

Here’s how all this crazy stuff finally starts to come together on my drawing wall inside my computer.

Tomorrow I’ll post photos of making this in fabric, because I need help thinking up a good title.

update: here’s the second post about this project: Occupied with Octopi, part two

Alternative Life Drawing at Art Factory 417

I’ve been looking for a group that meets to do figure drawing and recently saw on Art Factory 417 ‘s facebook page that they were having a Life Drawing Spring Kickoff. Then I read further and saw it was going to be an Alternative Life Drawing session.

I wasn’t quite sure what alternative life drawing meant, but I’ve been wanting to see inside the building — it’s a big chunky building at the end of the College Street mural. And I like their mission statement…

“Art Factory 417 fosters the growth of creative culture by providing necessary accommodations for the success of visual and performing artists. It is our goal to empower the community through education, inspiration and opportunity.”

When I got there, I wasn’t sure about drawing people in costumes and masks, mostly because I enjoy drawing faces. So I started drawing the room and the other people who were drawing.

Then a comedy team called Mike and Gary showed up and did some silly skits with a tin-foil robot. More people wandered in. Some drew from the models, some just drew. There was music, a casual friendly atmosphere, and in between poses I nosed around a bit looking at some of the artwork on exhibit, posters, and shared creative spaces.

The last pose — sort of a ‘Bunny Goddess victorious over the Feeble Tiger Man’ was inspiring and fun. I’m enjoying using the big open format of the 8″x11″ moleskine, but it took me three tries get something that would fit on the page.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next at Art Factory 417. Here’s their new Tumblr page.




Timid about Sketching in Public?

Kerry wrote me, “my friends and I took a brief online course with Jane LaFazio...about sketching/watercoloring in public…we did just fine…most probably because there is safety in numbers…your recent sketches have all been in situations where you were known…do you feel more pressure when sketching around people who know you vs people who have no clue who you are?”

I feel a lot of pressure drawing where people know me, because they want to see what I’m doing and there seems to be some expectation for the outcome. I guess I also have to fight my own exceptions as to outcome, especially if I’m just trying to experiment with new techniques or just try to get better at sketching.

When people know me…

When I am with people I know, I try to be sort of casual. I don’t start drawing right away. I watch the scene for a while. Then I pull a sketchbook out my purse and look through it, all the while watching for something to draw and thinking of a composition or what the mood feels like. A little later I get out a pen and start drawing. In the end people still notice, but if you do it often enough, I guess they get used to it and excuse you, kind of like they excuse or humor their friend who’s always texting or Harriet the Spy, who was always writing notes in her journal.

As a stranger…

When I’m a stranger somewhere,  I usually try to pick a place where I’m kind of hidden or not easily observed. I like that better because most people are afraid to approach a stranger and ask to see what they are working on.

At the same time, I think you have to be careful about their feelings because people don’t really like strangers staring at them, so I try not to be intrusive. It may be better to pick someplace were there’s a lot of activity that attracts most of the attention away from you. I also like drawing people from the back or side so they can’t see me.

I read one artist who said just pick a comfortable place to sit – it may have been Robert Genn of the Painters Keys, because he said then you can always look around and find an interesting scene once you find your place to sit.

Sketching someone by the pool

For the drawing above, I was sitting by a pool and wanted to draw the woman reading, but I figured most people wouldn’t want to be drawn in their bathing suit. So I started with the building and the tree behind her. That way it didn’t look like I was staring at her. I sketched her sitting in the chair reading a book at the very end, but I had allowed room for that on the page because that was the whole purpose of the drawing. In the end I was happy with the result because doing the entire scene instead of just the woman alone gave a sense of atmosphere of the afternoon.

A good place to see lot of nice drawings that people have done in public is Urban Sketchers. Artists all around the world contribute to this site, and there are also links to their personal blogs and flickr sites.

Spring Crocus

Since coming back from Mexico, I’ve had bit of color withdrawal. This one little spot yellow has been waiting to greet me each morning when I walk out the front door – tiny yellow crocus just beginning to peep through the pine needles in the garden.

I did this quick sketch for @wardomatic ‘s “I need to sketch more” creative group on Flickr, and am trying to post this from my phone. Here goes…

(a bit later)

Couldn’t get the iPhone app to work, so now I’m trying this on the iPad. I know I could do this easily from a computer, but I’m trying to learn some new skills.

Sketching Lunch at Paco’s

I’ve had The Tao of Sketching for a couple of years, but packing it along on a recent trip to Mexico was a great opportunity to truly study the book. Chinese artist Qu Lei Lei covers using a wide of variety of media and subject matter. Here’s a good review of the book by artist and writer Katherine Tyrrell on Making a Mark blog. I especially like this quote she highlights:

Successful sketching depends on two distinct elements to be combined: the understanding of how each medium works and the ability to measure the amount of time you have available against the scene you want to record.
Qu Lei Lei – techniques

The samples of his own sketches drawn in many countries around the world are a delight to study, and the included demonstrations are not meant to copied, but to illustrate how the reader might approach their own subject matter and draw from the heart.

As I read his “Beijing Breakfast” chapter about drawing groups of people who are constantly in motion, it all seemed simple enough. Just draw one person, then another and another…then finally the background and furniture because that doesn’t move. But it really is a great challenge to do in real life.

Here are couple of my attempts during our trip. In “Lunch at Paco’s” I tried to capture the feeling of a group of people gathered around a table, listening to songs, and the colorful ceramic plates on the wall of Paco’s house. I sketched first in pencil, then watercolor washes, and last added the ink pen details. It probably took about 45 minutes.

I had less time for “Quinta Patio Evening” and so used pen first, then only suggested a few colors with watercolor wash. As Qu Lei Lei suggested, I wrote a few notes about the scene at the bottom of the page to remind myself of colors and mood at the bottom of the sketch.

“Love is a….” sketch drawn by candlelight

My friend Stephanie inspired me to create a painting to donate to Hearts for the Arts — a silent gallery and on-line auction to raise money for arts education programs at the Creamery Arts Center.

The auction will end February 4th, so winners will have time to give a piece of original art to a loved one on Valentine’s Day. Which means of course, hearts are the theme.

Here’s some sketches I started doing by candlelight, not to get into the mood although I must admit it helped. Sometimes late at night or early in the morning, I try to sketch by low level light so my thinking brain isn’t too alert and my subconscious is more free to go rambling.

These drawings don’t really make much sense, I just started with the phrase “Love is a….” and went from there. I finished the final painting for the auction this week and dropped it off at the gallery. You can see “Love is a Circus” and all the other auction art on the Hearts for the Arts auction page. Click on a thumbnail below to see the sketches and titles.

Looking out the window on a Snowy Morning

It started snowing last night about five and accumulated to only a couple of inches over night. This morning it was 8 degrees outside and too cold to draw. So I went to several windows to find a scene I could draw from inside the house.

I’ve been trying to look at scenes and reduce them in my mind into a few simple lines, leaving some chunk of white space for room to scribble a few words about that moment.

As I looked at the snow covering the monkey grass that lines our driveway, I thought it looked like a fluffy white fur collar, so perfect for a few minutes before I back the car out the driveway and mess it all up.

Simplify for the New Year

For the last few weeks, when I wake early I make a cup of hot tea and light a candle. Then sit curled up in a quilt on a old comfy chair and watch the flame dance in the early morning darkness. Sometimes draw on white sheets of paper.

I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions, and have narrowed it down to one word.


I guess it wouldn’t really work to have that resolution and then a long list of other stuff too?

Simplify is a good ambition for me, because I always tend to over-complicate, thinking I’m going to just add one more thing until I end up breaking the camel’s back. In my art, I’m always having to force myself to stop or take stuff out and try to leave some white space.

In my house, there’s clutter everywhere that needs to be eliminated. In my office there’s baskets of papers, newspapers, photos, and notes that need to be filed. And don’t even mention computer files and email boxes!

Simplify – sounds good right now, but it will take me all year… probably my whole life.