Kimonos and Patchwork

Kimonos have always fascinated me and influenced my work. Not as a piece of clothing, but as a form of expression. If you look at kimonos both in real life and art (such as Japanese wood block prints), they are often a combination of sophisticated and sometimes surprising choices of contrasting patterns and color. I’m not sure of the proper terminology, but I’m talking about the under-layers around the neckline, the outer gown, the obi, even the shoes can have color and pattern.

Likewise my attraction to pattern in origami paper and later old-time patchwork quilts when I discovered them a few years ago. I try to remember the surprising contrasts between organic and geometric fabric patterns in kimono design and the sponteity and scrappyness of patchwork quilts when I’m designing my own work.

In addition when I’m telling a story, I think about the symbolic aspects and scale of pattern I’m using, all the while trying to layer in depth and keep a clarity of design. Sometimes the possible combinations of pattern seem infinite and perplexing. Other times I don’t know why something works, but it just makes me happy and feel light when I look at it.

I take a lot of photos while I work, because the camera helps me to step back and see how a print is reading visually in terms of tone and color. Here’s my current struggle on the design board, and below that, a screen-grab from my iPhoto library. I try not to re-cut things because it seems like I’m just spinning my wheels. But many times, it’s unavoidable.


For those who have been wondering if I fell off the end of the earth, unfortunately for many weeks I was teleported to another dimension called Really Hard Work. Not just the brain-drain kind of hard work, but also the kind that completely wears you out by the end of the day.

I was able to sustain my energy by ingesting vast amounts of red licorice, coffee and diet coke. But at the end of each day, I didn’t feel like writing blogs or making art — all I wanted to do was come home and fall asleep playing Plants versus Zombies on the sofa. And since I sort of lost my sense of humor for a while, it’s probably better I didn’t write much.

Now that I’m getting back into the blogging mood, here are more pages from my sketchbook. While in Japan, we visited a high school, and I got a chance to draw the girls in music class. The school has a blue uniform that sort of looks like gym suits and looks very comfortable. I wouldn’t mind wearing a uniform — It would save having to decide what to wear every morning!

Photoshopping Drawings and other High Wire Acts

This is a rendering for larger project to be made in fabric. I’m pretty happy with the composition — it’s an interesting spin on a portrait of a single character as the center of interest with my typical busyness in the background.

It’s also the first time I’ve combined natural drawing media and computer drawings in a Photoshop collage. The high-wire walker was done with a Pigma brush pen and watercolors. I drew the monks in pen in my travel journal, then scanned and combined them with drawings of buildings I did in CorelDraw.

If you remember, a couple of years ago I did a drawing called Tip Toe Temple. Somehow that original idea has gotten tangled up with these photos of cell towers and electrical power lines from Japan. So now here’s some other more recent ink brush drawings of similar themes…


and this one:

Clouds have a lot of personality and are interesting characters to draw or paint. Speaking of clouds, here were some really wild ones as I left the studio tonight, just a little before sunset. The wind was whistling in an eerie way, and the clouds seemed over-dramatic over the paper cup factory across the street. I half expected an big UFO to break through at any moment.

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.