Postcards with Faces

About 10 days ago I went to Auckland, among other things to see a much-reviewed art exhibition. More on this later. I've been thinking a lot, soliciting friends' opinion/critiques, (OR venting/ranting/looking for agreement/endorsement?) but doing a few other things, too. I've been trying to untangle the threads so they can turn into readable blog posts, and categorize/compartmentalize to suit my tree-rather-than-the-forest thinking. So, please bear in mind the next few posts are interdependent, less lineal/chronological than usual?? Put another way, if I had the patience and skill to post a mind-map with interactive links, (I'm not even sure about these vocabulary,) I would.

So first: postcards with faces. During the month of April, a local office supply store is paying postage for postcards to anywhere in the world. Their main goal is to encourage kids to write/draw by hand. The deal sounded too good so I checked with staff, and they confirmed any postcard to anywhere in the world by anyone of any age was allowed, as long as they were dropped into the red box in one of their stores during April.

That night I spread the good news on FB, and a few frieneds wanted mine. (Including my next door neighbor D whose wife B is a real professional artist; they're reappear later in the post.) Armed with their addresses, plus a few more of unsoliciting friends and family, I packed a few purchased cards and a pack of blanks and flew to Auckland, where I intended to forced myself off news. I started working soon after arrival, moving furniture and spreading supplies but facing Al Jazeera and staying updated on 45 and Syria; at least that was one day Koreas/Japan/China was off his mind. 
I started applying somewhere between three to five layers of watercolor wash on each postcard, focusing on the colors and their interactions, but also not looking at the intended recipient. The egg shapes, (and various curvy lines/shapes,) are what my hands draw naturally, and become faces easily; in some instances where I could not see a person, I forced egg shapes over the background; in others the unintended shapes looked like bodies, but where I could not draw the outlines well enough to show the human shapes I saw, (or so I thought,) more wash went on. I think in this last respect I'm all too pedantic and applies also to when I'm drawing outlines in pen; I don't need to draw the outlines exactly on the border of the shapes/colors, but must leave room for the recipients.

Above, on the first morning, I looked at the cards individually and enhanced/dull the effects of the previous layers of wash. Among the hardest was not washing the brushes in my coffee. 
Third night, I applied water-soluble varnish from the art supply shop 5 min walk from my accom; my cheap/hard brush, with which I love to dry brush, took off/moved watercolor pigments, but after I got the dilution of the varnish right-ish, it not only worked well, but dried rather quickly. As you can see in the bottom left PC, ignoring the shapes/colors works fine, but I want to continue the line/shape/color juxtaposition awhile.
Some days "work" started before 5AM in my room, I was so keen! Outlining faces took place mostly in the Auckland Art Gallery activities room on Day 3, in between hiding everything whenever staff/visitors walk in, trying to ignore the world and enjoy mine. 
Because of the egg shapes, and because I saw more covered women in Auckland, I drew a few with headscarves: top left woman with the... what did I say... the illusive ultimate scarf?... went to a weaver; top center went to a Chinese Muslim friend in Malaysia. In top right, I said something smarty pants like, "sometimes in museums and galleries, my head becomes transparent," because part of the wash looked like a landscape, and because it was a lovely sentiment during the few days I "lived" in that gallery. Bottom left, I love it when I don't repeat what I did earlier, like another scarved woman, but a somewhat "Cubic" face/s pop up instead; bottom right is the slightly more representational face I had in mind at the start of the project, but by the time I got to her it was a real surprise. Bottom center, to D; a eye through a hole in a fence in the top half, a Rolling Stones-like tongue in the bottom. I  held on to this because it was too weird/rude and not to my but in the end I wrote something like, "I covet your executive veg," and sent it. Oh, goodness the text could be misinterpreted, too, I just now realized. I can only hope D and B think it's a big funny because they have lived in the art world directly/vicariously. Yikes. (They live uphill from us and get way more sun, so their produce are no comparison to ours, even in years I do a bit more outside in summer.) I repeat, I didn't check the recipients until I finished the visuals and moved on to the text!   
I got so much satisfaction out of the postcards I started another lot last night but had already forgotten my lesson as a pedant and superimposed egg-shapes on all of them, though I remembered the color interactions. Some will get a few more layers of wash, though leaving them in shallow try of liquid is another option. 
I've kept up with the faces-kind-of-every-day project; I don't draw every day, but try to keep up with the numbers, i.e. it's OK to draw seven on the weekend, and this is really working. Yesterday was Day 105 and I have 171 faces so far. I've had a long Modigliani phase but have gone back to Matisse; these two chaps drew/painted amazing neck/shoulder angles far more expressive than just the constituents of a face. Detecting same-y-ness in my drawings and mindset, and bearing in mind the aforementioned desire for looseness, I've done some blind contours which have yielded such joyful discombobulation which reflect what I think I pick up from Matisse's portraits and my attitude towards this project, and life. I must blind contours with my left hand tonight.

Colors in the wash overlap because 1) I'm still experimenting with mixing yellow greens, ochres and now watery purples with everything, and 2) I wash, then "monoprint" onto other paper including the postcards, or the other way around. I need to learn when to quit so they don't all turn the same light brown!

If you'd like a(nother) postcard, please let me know. They will be posted sometime before the end of the month. 



As of today I have 365 days, actually 364, until I hit 60. 60th is called "Kanreki (還暦)" or circling the calendar, in Japan, because the 12 animals and the ten elements (?????) of the Chinese astrology, (adopted and adapted by a bunch of countries in Asia,) return to where they were when one was born. Except I think Chinese astrology reboots on Chinese New Year's Day.

And then, I wrote once before that in the old days the age of a Japanese person started at 1 when they are/were born and the country aged by a year on January 1 in unison; oldies used to ask us kids how old we were "counting" in the 1960's and 70's, while when asked by strangers and/or on official forms we had to specify how many years we've "fulfilled", which is what you probably think of as "age" in many places. "J'ai 60 ans," starts to feel more familiar, n'est-ce pas? Except, if you think about it, this doesn't make sense, either, and the real Kanreki should be on the Chinese New Year's Day of the year you "count" 61, no? Well at least it used to be January 1 or thereabouts on the year you "count" 61, Internet says.

Chinese New Year is still printed on store-bought calendars and fancy executive diaries and if you import Japanese, (and probably many other Asian,) calendars on Microsoft Outlook into your own, it'll be there. In New Zealand they started to pop up because especially in the larger cities, Chinese folks put up a fun display of how they celebrate, fireworks, food, lion dance and all.

Anyway, even though meanings and calculations got messed up/lost over the centuries, in Japan, 60th is a big deal, and perhaps until the 1970's or so it meant one started the last stages of life, being surrounded by grandkids and retiring into a quiet life. But nowadays of course 60 is like the old 30/40/50 depending on how fit one is in body and mind. In my case, most probably older rather than younger but I'll let you know next year.
I was naughtily and blissfully unaware when my parents turned 60, (we always had wee family celebrations for everybody but I, the eldest, had no idea about the traditions surrounding the occasion, working at IBM for upwards of 65 hours a week in a new IT job,) but for Dad his alum got together and dressed him in a red vest and a cap. Red, according to the Internet, is the talisman/good luck color used for the new born and putting a red vest signifies rebirth. Strangely, the talisman red, an intense cinnabar red, was used for the same reason for women's undermost garment, shaped like a straight wrap skirt under the kimono, which was, according to Wiki, worn until the mid 1950's before being gradually replaced by "drawers" first, shaped and fit like boxers, then to undies/panties/knickers as we know them, to coincide with the spread of Western style clothes. To this day, the word "drawers" point to the older style and I remember my paternal grandmother preferring them to undies/panties/knickers. Further, Wiki says some women still prefer them so a small number are still being produced today! Well, wasn't that informative? (No, we're not bothering with the men's, but even there the talisman red comes up!) The internet also tells me of course the big celebration was for menfolk only in the old days, and save for some regions, nowadays women celebrate, too, or not, depending on her wishes.

Funny thing, though, is I remember n9th birthdays more vividly than n0th, probably because I get myself into a not-so meaningful but a weird, purely numerical countdown mode. Then again as regards 60, I've been counting down for a few years since my fav cousin's husband, (himself one year senior,) started "threatening" said cousin and me a while ago. Men!!

Anyway, what I wanted to say was, I'm am not even going to try to use up all my yarns, except the cashmeres and skinny cottons, in the next 364 days. No way can I do it, and unlike early last year I don't even want to rush and make things that don't appeal to me. So there you have it.

I'm off to the library, picking up (figuratively) where I left off the monster Alan Pearson book, then I'm having coffee with Esther. Ciao!


Trying to... What??

Take care of residual issues.

One biggie is the health non-issues. Our diet continues; our weight stopped decreasing after having lost 9/5kgs respectively, and neither of us are exercising much so this is predictable in my case but Ben's blood sugar level is slightly higher, though still within normal range. Not bad but we could do oh, so much better.

Speaking of normal-in-quotations, I finished seven-and-a-half months of head meds and till can't tell if my head is back in shape. As I keep saying, this has been the mildest episode, but if what I have is still a head problem, it's now gone on nearly a year. And some days I'm so tired I can't even finish washing dishes but have to lie down on the floor and sleep for half an hour. Or more. Mid-March I had two consecutive weeks where many days I could stay upright only seven to eight hours within a 24-hour period. Crazy, eh. So Doc Karl ordered me fasting blood tests to eliminate biological problems; also because this diet, which didn't feel so, could still have been a shock to my system.

We also discussed my news addiction, where news move from bad to unimaginable in a tweet, and the fate of my country of origin is in the hands of two loony kids in grownup jobs and grown up guns, Kim and 45. Abe hanging his tongue out and following 45 doesn't help. When the immigration issue first came out in the US, I considered the possibility we, too, might have to sell up and move back with short notices. There is no immediate danger, but anti-immigrant and especially anti-Asian sentiments which is never far from the surface is coming to the fore again as we prepare for a September election, and I learned in 2000 that though we may laugh at what's happening in the US, the same "fashion" arrives Downunder breathtakingly quickly; now even more so. My mindset has changed, though, and my focus now is more on cleaning up the house and getting rid of clutter in case family members need to evacuate their/our further-nuked country. Overreaction, perhaps, but I'd rather we all be prepared, because I've become so bad at quick action.

My hip problem almost went away and hurt only when I sat incorrectly for any length, and I knew when I was sitting incorrectly. Then I developed an awkward not-quite-pain on the back of my other leg after I've walked a lot, so now I have to review my insole situations. I have high arches and my heels get tired after walking a lot so I have a collection of yummy gel insoles. Maybe back to Tetsu the Japanese acupuncture magician down the road.

Anyway, too much head activity, not enough body activity. To offset this, I've been trying to go into town a little more but not waste $. After a fasting blood test, having had taken seven, seven, vials, for which I thought I should charge Doc Karl and funky Phlebotomist Jude said she could make black pudding with that much, I couldn't even walk to the cafe I intended to go for the first time but crossed the street and had breakfast at an old trusty place. I was feeling so faint usually I have just the eggs, but I had to have an almond croissant as well and it was excruciatingly delicious. (Prego, Nelson.)
Then there is the money worries. I filed my last ever tax return because it costs a lot to file, and even with my huge deficits and returns, both Ben and I come out at a big loss. Besides, I'm so near 60 I thought I could retire from the business part of weaving as long as it's legal. And it is; I'm not stopping weaving, (well, permanently,) nor selling, but I'd have to sell five to seven times as many to to have to file returns. There are a few things happening: nephew spending a year in Canada, cousin who lived next door is going to be a grandma, and mom wants me to visit this year, not next Feb; without a cogent plan, I've resumed collecting a few books again; I'd like to continue art therapy if poss; I want to travel at least around NZ some, or Australia, (bang for buck, Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane worth more for art;) and 60 makes me worry about our retirement more immediately. I feel an online sale coming up after Easter. Although I've been thinking of another since the end of the last one.

Goodness me, this was the preamble. Now we're getting to the guts of the matter.

There is what I label "weaving", which encompasses everything I do/think/research/study which I hope will help me weave more interesting, worthwhile pieces and/or to enjoy the process. Others may call this life. As I said I have been trying to go into town a bit more often, and sometimes I draw, while sitting on benches, cafes, libraries; I don't want people to look at my work, but I'm fine with strangers knowing I'm drawing. Sometimes I just walk around, sometimes I browse through shops, but thankfully I have enough stuff at home I don't cover art supplies and yarns/fabrics/buttons I see.

I miss Andrea at the Suter so very much, and she's got a busier job now so I can't bother her at her workplace, but I have new peeps to pester and ponder about "making" occasionally; Esther and Julie at the Suter, and Stella and Thomas at Volume, and Jean (ex-weaver, ex-tertiary visual art department staff,) and Jay (ex-Red Gallery) when our timing work out, in aromatic environments. And of course Pat when I can catch her. I probably need less human interaction than, say, Mom, but nevertheless time spend with these folks are precious and appreciated.

I feel uncharacteristically unexcited about photography, but get more pleasure out of the slower drawing and collage work. I'm surprised how much I enjoy making tiny simple dolls. I've had my needlepoint out again, and it's April and daylight savings ended today so theoretically it's going to be cooler and not as bright outside from now on. I haven't stopped making, (e.g. Letter Journals and other mixed media,) but I haven't woven since September 29, and though I want to get back to weaving, I don't want the delicate commission baby blankets to be the reentry pieces. So I've been thinking of putting a warp on the Klick or the Rigid Heddle, but haven't so far.

I try to read/gaze at book on paper, but when at home, even tough I can slip into another world immediately, the laptop/Wifi/telly are never far away and before I know it I'm chasing news again. So last week, I went to a library! And it was so quiet, I was immediately in that art-thinking place. It was invigorating and frustrating at once, as I discovered a new-to-me painter, Alan Pearson, whose big exhibition in Wellington just closed, grrrrr..... Expressionist portraits, exactly the genre I'm interested in now. English/Kiwi/Aussie. Although I foolishly chose the biggest of three books to begin with, with tiny gray, not black, text on shiny white paper, (he designed it, the current Mrs wrote it,) and I kept searching for the sweet spot on my multifocals, shifting my posture/position and that of the book, brick, tome, I lasted 55 pages of the almost 400, taking breaks, propping the book on a higher shelf, walking away to see if I can spot the first Mrs who is said to be in the couple's joint abstract portrait, etc. At the same time I kept coming up with themes/questions to consider and flipped my notebook to fresh pages to try and catch them all. Good times.

Looking at the notebook, I thought about three biggish themes: 1) New Zealand/New Zealander-ness of art/colors/makers, individual and collective; 2) living with/without one's internal critic; and 3) the long-standing one, how to make "pictures" within the grid without going into tapestry or jacquard, where is my sweet spot in this; and a few other brief musings. 1) has a long way to go before I can even tell you my interim thought, and 3) I don't know what to do at the moment, but I have a thread on 2), one I touched on yesterday: my inner critic, that pesky, horrible, bossy loud cat.

* Am I able to, if I so choose, completely lock it out of the house? (MEOW!!!)
* Without it, I can concentrate on my making, my taste, rather than what sells or what the gallery wants or what I think I should make.
* Does it makes my motivations/intentions purer. (But does this necessarily make a better "product", meow.) Will purer concentration/pleasure/satisfaction produce good pieces beyond the quality of my experience? (Cottage "industry"/work vs art therapy style; where is the sweet spot?)
* Without the critic, will my process be longer? More concentrated? More meaningful? For each project? And how does it correlated/reflect to my longevity as a weaver and the end product?
* I need peace and quiet to think more than ever as I get older and have less energy. Along with the critic, I've been shedding ambition/competitiveness as well which should leave just me.
* This should allow some time to consider techniques, (MEOW,) training, knowledge, all things classic/proper which self-taught makers lack. Which makes them/me a fraud.
* Are there ways to reconcile, (though not hide,) lack of technical prowess with unrealized vision?
* Won't I need objectivity to assess my creative/aesthetic ambition/gumption and the end product? (Scratch, scratch.) Without a critic, where will I end up? Or am I old enough to know and not need a critic? (Screech, crash, bang!!) Or do I no longer care? (Silence!) And can I live that way happily? (Meow.)

Eventually I reach the technique conundrum, (although not as much as before, because I don't have the energy to fight with myself, and with the last cashmere, I did reach the fish-or-cut-bait stage and took a break, but would like to keep fishing.) Is it because I'm Japanese; did 10 years in a convent school; just like tidiness? Or because it's an easy element to spot/criticize?

I spoke with Stella, to ask about a book recommendation for a stuck maker, and she said one of the things she does is to revisit her "workbooks". And goodness, I used to keep one of those, albeit an excel file of all things; but not for ages, except for special projects; backs of envelopes have sufficed. And I know that it's the technical disappointment, in weaving, drawing and making a beautiful "artist's sketchbook" that stopped me. So there seems to be a few areas in which I need to get over myself and decide what to do with the cat to continue as a happy weaver.



My Divided Self

So far, I summarized my Round I experience with Art Therapy, and the first two sessions of Round II. We finished Round II on Wednesday so here is the theme set by Jade, and the rest of what I did:

Week 1: Our relationship with creativity and developing a visual language. We drew scribbles with our eyes closed and found shapes and patterns.

Week 2: Journey and heroes journey - we thought about stages of our journey and our challenges and allies.

Week 3: Myself as a tree - we used painting and explored our roots, leaves, growth and surroundings as a Tree; A1, (actually two A2 taped together,) acrylic paint.
Week 4: Connection with nature - our mandalas helped us appreciate beauty in ordinary objects, ephemeral art. (My first ephemeral anything, and the pebbles were collected by my Philosophy Professor and the Fab Mrs; they decided they couldn't carry them all so these were what didn't make the cut.)

Week 5: Fairy tales and story - we looked at the format of typical fairy tales, using metaphors to tell stories, and used writing and the accordion book to help explore a part of our story. A5, collage.

First we had a short meditation; then, "finish this sentence" exercise, and lastly we made a wee book. The starts of the sentences are in italics. Some members drew, some wrote texts but I did something news to me; I collaged texts, and then added images. So some pertinent words are no longer visible. The book is an accordion, so my life is told continuously, and every single piece symbolizes something. (Since the original text was a quick, stream-of-consciousness writing, I edited in a few places to make it make sense.)

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to be great, to be the best at everything in the world. In this far off land she asked her Dad how she could become the best and they drew up a plan. She lived in a... humble house, but she had everything she needed, so it didn't feel humble. She was known across the land for being a smart ass? a slow child? a fat child? an obnoxious child? (I had a problem with this one.) She went on a journey to find... wisdom, a way to become the best, and the man who would rescue her, and help her become the best. Along the way she met a lot of truly wise people, and this taught her she wasn't wise at all, but she didn't know how to be wiser. She also met the man. She was surprised to find how much more enjoyable life was when she wasn't trying to be the best. And the man liked her any way. She found she could live happily without striving to be the best. The thing she was no longer scared of was being ordinary, not being wise, or wise enough. She returned with her pockets full of small wisdom, pretty things she made on the way, and the man who rescued her.

Session 6: Bonus session; Dottie Doll, because Jade loves them, but also to celebrate the company of the last few weeks. We're swapping them in the group so my Winged, Tailed One is going to Australia.
A smiley, guardian angel??
But it can't be that straight-forward; she has a tail, too!

So what did I learn in two rounds?

1) Making things in art therapy is done in a totally different mindset from my normal kind of making; it is the process that is important, and the resultant "thing" has more meaning to me, be they wonky, incomplete/unfinished, or bad/ugly. The process was more spontaneous, though not always/completely. Being foretold of topics, e.g. the tree, felt a little strange as we weren't told much in Round I, but the tree came out looking more "finished" than others. (I didn't plan out the tree painting, but I considered all the elements that had to go in ahead of time.) I hesitate making things I hope to sell in this way, but the energy/surprise in the process vs. remain the safe inveterate planner vs. the responsibility of making things to sell interest me. There has to be a workable though nonrigid balance.

2) I learned to almost completely ignore my creativity/critic, but still loved to hear others' comments. With weaving I have a hard time with comments, especially when complimentary, because I want to know why they think it's nice/pretty/good. In art therapy, we heard the same short "lecture" before making, so the shared background helped in commenting/receiving comments.

About my creativity. You know how much I like cats? (I don't.) My creativity is like a cat; it ignores me completely for long stretches, won't even come home, and when least convenient, it reappears and won't stop rubbing against my leg, begs for food, or sit on whatever I'm working on; I often feel I'm better off without it. It's the first time I was able to conceptualize/verbalize it and our tenuous relationship.

3) In every "self portrait", I saw dualities; I've always struggled with these inconsistencies in my character, but as I age, I've started to be able to see both sides of the argument, become able to change if I'm shown to be in the wrong, or resigned to lacking the energy/gumption to do as I thought best, so managed as best I could.

And though this is not new, it's grown stronger; when I first learned to weave, restrictions grid posed were also the reliable known, the box within which I felt comfortable. Now that I do things with paper, albeit forever naively/outsider-y, the restrictions began to feel indeed restrictive. Which makes me feel unbelievably unfaithful, almost a heretic, and yet it's still cloth weaving, not tapestry, I'm interested in. It's tantamount to telling Ben to change after 27 years because I've changed!! So how do I reconcile the technical challenges and the emotional turmoil? (The weaving, Ben, not you!)

I've been keen to return to weaving for a while but felt I have a few unresolved issues, and they're all related, so this thinking thread will continue.

By the way, not art therapy, but have a look at Tess's somewhat-similar workshop experience here.