540 Stone Monks

Here’s some pages from my Japan sketchbook. At the Kitain Temple in Kawagoe, there is a small plot of land with rows and rows of Buddhist monks, carved from stone between 1782 and 1825. A note on the guide sheet said no two are alike. It’s not just that the statues are all different – it’s that each one has such distinctive personality, each one was doing something different or expressing a different emotion.

Some were laughing, some crying, some sleeping, fishing, praying, planting…. They were difficult to photograph because the area was dark and shady, the statues broken and covered in moss. So I started drawing. I wish I could have stayed longer and drawn more, but it have would taken a long time to draw 540.

If you can’t read the writing, it is a legend I copied from the guide paper that they hand out at the information desk. Our Japanese friend Kazuko said the legend wasn’t in the Japanese version of the guidebook.  So I don’t know where the legend came from, but I still like it.

“It is said, if you feel among the statues in the dead of night, you will find one that feels warm. Mark it and return in the day, and you will find it is the one most resembling yourself.”

I haven’t posted many photos of Japan, since I’ve given all those to Russ to organize with the thousand he took. But I’ve been studying the stone monks because they have become part of project I’m drawing, except instead of stone plants and baskets, my monks are holding cell phone and kindles. These photos aren’t very good (Russ has much better ones) but they give you an idea of the place.

Here’s another drawing from the museum of the Third Shogun which was near the stone monks. You couldn’t take photos in there at all, but I wanted to draw these things after I found out what they are.
Farm tools?

Torture devices?
They were used when chasing people to catch onto their kimonos so they couldn’t run away.

Tokyo Towers

I know for my online Japan Journal, I should probably first show you the pretty photos of snow-covered ancient pine trees in Nikko, but I have to start with the funky stuff first – because it’s my nature, and also I have a project deadline approaching, lol.

Always ready to have a project in pocket, I was happy to have something for my brain to gnaw on during this recent trip to Japan and decided to revisit my Wish You Were Hair series. What could it be I wondered? What hairstyle would express how I felt about visiting Japan this time?

At first blush, this is the scenic view of a drive-by in Japan. Some traditional house, farm fields, etc.

But on closer look, I started to notice antennas on the top of each and every house. As I took more photos of electrical poles, wire and cell towers, I reminded myself how our personal visual editing system is constantly removing things right in front of our eyes, but the camera can show us of what is really there.

There is this:


and this…

Thinking about all these antennae and electrical lines, it makes me think how dependent we are today on the internet, phones, and at the most basic level, on electricity. But having survived a week-long city-wide ice storm and electrical outage a few years ago, I’m always reminding myself how fragile this lifestyle can also be.

Closer to Tokyo, I started to get more photos of all kinds of unique cell and radio towers, and wired buildings crammed together.

These were all shot out of a moving van on a rainy day, so excuse the blurriness. But maybe it sets a mood also?

Tokyo Disneyland and neighboring cell tower:

Tokyo Tower:

How do you get from Point A to Point B on an art project? I’m not sure of the best answer, but in this case, I took an overwhelming 242 photos (and Russ even more!) of electrical lines and cell towers in Japan , then didn’t look at a single one while I was drawing sketches like this on the plane home.

Now to just fit in some more stuff I feel sentimental about — like those 540 stone statues of Buddhist monks I drew near a temple in Kewagoe!

Images of Japan

When traveling, it’s difficult to find time to post and write about many things we see. So here’s just a few images… as always the food can be so beautiful in Japan. I have no idea what it was — but it was delicious!

I know what this was though, sashimi. It’s now gone also – in my tummy!

It’s also fun to look for good Jaenglish — a sort of weird apanese and English words. Yesterday I was please to have Creap and “Slim Up Sugar” with my coffee.

Outside a karoke shop with my friend Buddha.  I don’t know the words to many songs, but I know “Yellow Submarine.

As always, it’s fun to delight in contrasts. A beautiful Japanese teahouse. I love the uncut bark on the the logs on the ceiling. A Japanese loom. I’d love to take this apart and put in my suitcase, but it’s already pretty full of stuff.

And then there’s huge animatronic mushrooms in this arcade ride.

In case you’re wondering, we’re here on a Sister Cities exchange trip to represent our city and help set up some new cultural and educational exchanges. So we’re traveling with a group, and not necessarily at our own pace. I’ll write more when I get a chance!

7 Illustrated Tips for Surviving a 12 Hour Plane Flight

1. Draw your food. It probably looks better than it tastes anyway, and confuses the flight attendants who keep wanting to take the half-eaten food to get it out of your way.

It’s also good practice to start with something like food before you start trying to draw people in public. I’m a little out of practice of drawing in public, and had forgotten how people like to watch and see how it the drawing turns out.

2. Draw the people around you. It makes them nervous because you keep looking intently at them.

I love this overhead quote…. “I’m not creative about things like drawing and very compartmentalized. When she got to the break in the page…..and then went over it, I thought Whoa, is that allowed?!”

3. Go to the back of the plane and look at how funny all those little monitors in the plane seat look all light up with the lights out. They are kind of hard to draw, but it gets you out of your seat and confuses people who think you’re standing in line for the restrooms.

4. Draw the restroom. It’s very small, so the perspective can be interesting. My drawing didn’t turn out very good, so I won’t show it to you. Oh okay, here it is.

5. Stuff your big down coat into an Eco-sack, fold the handles over, and wala — you have a big fat down pillow. Especially good if the plane’s not too crowded and you can hog several seats to lay down.

6. Make an eye pillow out of fabric themed to the country you’re traveling, in this case I used a blue indigo batik. Try not to think about this project too far in advance — maybe not even until 10 pm the night before your flight. Then you’ll find no matter how much you sew, it’s hard to find a piece of elastic in the house that doesn’t sort of look like a bra strap. All night grocery stores have elastic headbands — cut one of these open, and you have a nice strap for the eye pillow. The eye pillow helps you sleep on the plane, which you need to do, since you stayed up all night making eye pillows.

7. Wake up and use your final slap-happy hour of the flight to write a silly blog post. It’ll make you feel better and look forward to getting off the plane and back to the world of the internet where you can post it.

Eiffel Tower at Night & Drawing Inspiration from Photos

view by Alexandros Krasokeras

This morning I spent some time in Paris looking at the Fashion Museum and Eiffel Tower, in Tokyo looking at cherries blossoms in a park, and a panorama of Prague. You can too by visiting 360cities.net.

Be sure to go fullscreen if you can. Some of the scenes move on their own, other you click and drag your mouse to move around. You can go to the world map view to pick where in the world you want to see!

Eiffel Tower – Night View from Tower Base in Paris

Update: I was just touring the Syndey Opera House on 360cities, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could use these panorama views for research and inspiration. While I was drawing and making my Sydey: Wish You Were Hair quilt, I used some of our old photos and memories of the place to decide what to include in the composition.

Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbour Bridge with Water Taxi in Australia

sydney-quiltBut experiencing this panorama could have given me some different viewpoints and details of the scene.  Also I sometimes hear other artists wanting to use others photos for source material for art, I don’t really incorporate other’s photos in my work. But I do study them for details and features of interest to later draw in my own style and perspective.

Do you use reference materials when you’re making art? Or do you just make it all up as you go along?

Cape of the Super Organized

I was joking on Twitter the other day:
Time to put on my cape and become Super Organized Person.

I had been stressing out all week, because two big events had be scheduled for the same day. And they were 221 miles apart.my_shelf

Months before I had promised to speak at a new series at the Foundry Art Centre for their new “Luncheon with the Artist” series that also kicked off Quilt National 2009 month. They gave me the choice of three dates, so I picked October 8.

Last spring we had also promised to host a big event at the studio for a band of Lady Mariachis who would be traveling from our sister city in Mexico to perform in downtown Springfield for Cinco de Mayo. But that trip got canceled due to the outbreak of the H1N1 flu.

So the trip and ArtsFiesta! in Founder’s Park was rescheduled for fall. Because of the extensive performing schedule of the band, there was only one date available for the promised welcome party. October 8.

I can do this, we can do this – just takes a little planning and early prep, right? But as usual, we were busy, things didn’t get planned early enough. There were visa and plane reservation problems for the traveling group, so it seemed easy to put off decisions about food and sending out invitations, etc.

Then the week arrived, and I wasn’t ready. So the Twitter joke. The rest of the story has two parts.

Part One: The Cape Worked

Somehow that visualization empowered me. Two days before I got busy and found some creative food ideas. Colorful whole fruits that didn’t have to be cut up, we could just plate at the last minute — have you heard of kiwi berries and sugar pears? me either, but they are good.

A place that would make spicy chicken, sundried tortilla wraps, and eggplant-mozzarella rolls that I could pick up at 5 p.m. (Sam’s!) Bought the wine, tequila and flowers there the day before when I ordered the food.

Edited down my keynote gallery presentation from one hour down to 20 minutes as the Foundry has suggested, and thought of a new way to tell my quilt stories backwards (more on that later.)

So I was set, I was super-organized.

Part Two: The Cape didn’t Work

That morning I had trouble getting out the door, as usual. Turned out my math is so bad, I could still get there on time. But halfway there, it started to pour.

Got to the Foundry, set up the projector and tested my images. Took a quick tour of Quilt National 09 — fantastic, but sorry I didn’t have more time to do it justice. I was nervous at first, face with a room full of 50-60 people looking up at me, but was happy that family and friends had also made the trip.

The twenty-minute talk turned into 50, there was a lot of discussion about the QN exhibit, and I left the Foundry on time. On my return trip, the rain was worse, and St. Louis was a mess of traffic and blinding clouds of water.  Driving past a couple of wreaks was bad enough, but it was unnerving when the National Guard was working the third, and traffic slowed to a creep. I kept hearing reports on the radio of flooding through the area and other roads closed because of accidents.

I knew that this point I wasn’t going to make it home in time and worried about making it at all — so I called Russ. My hero! He was done setting his neon sculptures early and could go to Sam’s to get the food. The day before Carla had agreed to come early to do flowers and fruit, Kay and Tom to pick up the cake and set the buffet.

So even if I didn’t make it back in time, the party would be okay. I could concentrate on driving more slowly, safely, and making it home with out having a wreak. I got back about an hour before the event and was happy to see everything going smoothly. The studio looked beautiful, new art installed, the Garbano’s arriving for their wild entertainment. Heck, the party was already populated by the many mannequins we had re-dressed the day before!

Part Three: What I Learned

Visualize yourself as a Super-Organized person. It really works. Just tell yourself you can do it, because you can. But don’t forget that things happen, weather happens, fate happens, and you can’t control it all. So hold your family and friends close, lean on them when you need to, and be glad when they let you.

new neon sculptures at the studio

Off to the Foundry

mannequins Today we were cleaning and setting up for an ArtsFiesta event tomorrow night at the studio. The mannequins were looking a little disheveled, so we dug into the vintage clothes stash and gave them a makeover.

Some were in need of hair, some arms and hands. We have a big stash of both in a box, but it’s not easy to figure out which arm goes to which body, if you haven’t kept it all organized.

Meanwhile, I was also trying to figure out my Foundry Art Centre talk for tomorrow. What a concidence – both events on the same day. And only 221 miles apart. Lots of driving will be involved.

I had hoped to use the same talk that I gave at the ArtSpace [Untitled] gallery in July, but as I tried to cut the number of images (and talk time) in half, I began to realize that I wanted to include a lot of stories specific to the Foundry, Quilt National, and St. Louis.

So now it is a completely different talk, and I hope a better one. I have a new opening joke at least! And if you haven’t already seen it, here’s a video by Kristin Hare of the St. Louis Beacon about Quilt National 2009 at the Foundry.

The Love-Bug (car) Ring for Vintage Stuff Friday

Okay, I know I missed Friday. But I got absorbed in a Slam Poetry Workshop at the Missouri Literary Festival on Friday, so I didn’t post this little car-ring I’ve been wanting to show you.

I got it an a little shop in Mexico near our hotel when we were there last March. At first the guy who owns the shop wasn’t very friendly, but I was fascinated by his collection of retro, vintage and antique silver jewelry. (I’m not sure if those terms overlap, so just threw them all in there to be sure.)

car-ring-store-signAnyway, he had lots of really old-looking stuff, some stuff that looked like the 40’s, some that looked like the 60’s… Since most of the charms, bracelets and rings were small, everything was in cases and we had to ask him to get each one out. As our enthusiasm for the pieces showed, he started to tell us about the dates and histories of the different styles and how it related to Mexican history.

When I found this little Volkswagon bug ring, he said, “Oh yeah, there were lots of those made because we were all driving them in those days.” I’d never seen a ring like this — the little car slides around the ring which I think is so clever!


Vintage Photo Friday – Capri motel sign

This has to be the best motel sign that I’ve seen in the midwest. Capri_motel_signDuring the week of installing Russ’s neon show in Joplin and this week of de-installation, I’ve unintentionally explored many routes in and out of town. By far, my favorite route is old Main heading towards I-44, because of all the old buildings and funky signs on Main. At the edge of town on the way to the interstate, there is this car-stopper.

Capri_motel_sign2You probably won’t realize how huge this thing is until I show you the motel next to it.

It has old pieces of neon hanging off of it. Wonder if any of it still lights up? There’s more neon signs that say things like “cocktails” (of course) on the bar at the front the hotel, but I couldn’t get around the Miller Lite beer streamers to get a good photo.

What do I love about this? The fonts for one thing. Would love to trace those letters and use them in a design. And the funky retro shapes.Capri_motel_exit_sign

Even the little Exit and Entrance signs are funky. You can also just see a the edge of an abandoned swimming pool on the hillside down from the sign. What a place this must have been in it’s heyday.