“The Terrified Eye”

brush and ink

I’ve been curious about “the terrified eye” (which I kept calling “the terrible eye” and “the terrific eye” by mistake– Don’t you just love “eggcorns” ?) ever since I read Gary Schmidt’s book Okay for Now.  How can you not be concerned with the outcome of this eye?  Which in this case belongs to 8th grade narrator Doug Swieteck, who’s having trouble at home with an abusive father.  He finds solace in art, particularly in viewing Audubon’s illustrations for The Birds of America.  “The terrified eye” both represents the main character’s own situation and that of one of the pictured birds: The Arctic Tern ( Plate CCL).

What is even more interesting is that Schmidt seems to have been fixated on this eye for quite a while now.  It shows up in several of his other books!  In the aforementioned book’s predecessor, The Wednesday Wars, 7th grader Holling Hoodhood is constantly getting the evil eye from his teacher.  She has the habit of rolling her eyes at him, which is not a very teacherly thing to do.  😉  Our other narrator, good old Doug Swieteck, shows up in this book with a BLACK EYE.  And then there are the rats, which just happen to be named after two characters from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.  I love this line: “I looked back, and there were the demon rats, racing with their scabby paws toward me, their eyes filled with the big M–Murder!–and their pointy heads bobbing up and down with each leap.”  How’s that for imagery?

But we’re not done yet.  The eye shows up in an even earlier work, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy In this book, 13-year-old Turner Buckminster, a minister’s son mind you, starts out in a new town by getting into a fight.  An elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hurd, gives him some advice on how to handle someone bigger.  “You were supposed to hit that boy in the eye.”  Later on, Turner comes face to face with a whale while out in a boat.  Schmidt not only describes the whale, but also highlights the main character’s deep connection to it.  “Its great fins slapping the water.  and its eye…its eye.”

I decided to study my own “terrified eye” for this sumi-e painting.  I’m drawn to this eye.  Aren’t you?

“Friday Evening Experiments”

brush and ink

One of the most intriguing parts in the book I’m reading, Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields, is about frog levitation.  “What?” you say.  You heard right.

Scientist Andre Geim was conducting such experiments.  He and his colleague Konstantin Novoselov conducted all kinds of improbable experiments, which they called “Friday Evening Experiments.”  Did they really hope to make frogs levitate?  Maybe.  But what they were actually pursuing was creative abandon.  The genius that comes from asking a lot of questions and letting go of  preconceived notions and the need for particular outcomes.  Not all of their experiments were successful, in fact some failed wildly, but at least one of the “Friday Evening Experiments” resulted in the two researchers winning the 2010 Nobel Prize.

So here’s your task.  Start a few “Friday Evening Experiments” of your own.  See where they take you.  Don’t be afraid to take chances.  You never know what you might discover about a character, subject, or idea…  And who knows, you might even make a frog levitate.  I know I just did 😉


brush and ink

The inspiration for this picture was actually a line from the book The Writer’s Journey under the section titled, “The Wisdom of the Body.”

“In fact,the secret of drama may come down to control of the audience’s breathing, for  through the breath all the other organs of the body can be regulated.”

The fish I drew is in a complete tailspin, which can be defined quite literally as a “rapid descent…in a steep spiral.”  A tailspin might also refer to a “loss of emotional control.”

But to me, this sumi-e painting is not meant to be dramatic.  After all, this move is second nature to the fish.  The loss of control is symbolic of freedom.

You might feel like the fish is spinning out of control, but what you don’t know is that the fish is actually leaning into the spin.

According to Taosim.net, “Zen means being in the flow of the universe.”  Therefore this fish is experiencing a moment of pure zen.

Self-control is defined as “the ability to exercise restraint or control over one’s feelings, emotions, reactions, etc.”

We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it.

Every time we create something new we experience uncertainty.  But according to Jonathan Fields, author of Uncertainty, we need that element to create anything truly unique or innovative.  “Your ability not only to live with but lean into and proactively seek out risk, judgment, and uncertainty…will play a huge role in your ability to create genius in every aspect of your work….”

So keep the drama in your creations.  Let the audience feel it.

Want less drama in your life?  Don’t forget to breathe 😉  Flow with the universe and let everything else go!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

brush and ink

The Four Noble Ones

So I’ve officially taken up sumi-e painting. “Sumi” means “ink” and “e” means “picture” or “painting.”  I first became interested in this art form, which has its roots in Chinese calligraphy, when I was in Japan for the New Year. While visiting my husband’s obaasan (his grandmother), at her house, I couldn’t stop staring at some of the Japanese-style drawings hanging on her walls. They were so simplistic, by this I mean they used very few brushstrokes, and yet they captured the essence of the subject, in this case a bird, perfectly. She noticed me staring and told me that her husband was the artist and that he even had a special artist name, kind of like a pen name. The artist’s signature is called a seal, as it is a character stamped on the drawing. I’m not sure yet what my seal will be, but for now I’m using the stamp given to me on my wedding day, which has the character for my husband’s surname.

I also had the honor of going to Miyajima, an island off the coast of Hiroshima. There is a shrine there featuring a beautiful gate in the water. We also visited The Hall of One Thousand Tatami Mats, a wooden structure created to pray for fallen soldiers. I was drawn to the artwork displayed in the hall, especially the paintings of horses. The simplistic brush strokes used to draw their features, particularly the movement of their legs, made me see this majestic animal, and painting in general, in a whole new way. Needless to say, I couldn’t stop thinking about those horses.

I came home and using my new colored ink. I tried my hand at drawing these horses, only mine were blue. You can see that in a previous post. I actually used chopsticks instead of a traditional brush. But this dabbling wasn’t enough. I decided to research this kind of drawing, and what do you know, I discovered a whole new art form.

Susan Frame offers a great introduction to sumi-e painting. You can view an interview with her conducted by Jeanne Emrich here. I was amazed to discover that sumi-e painting is compared to the style characteristic of Impressionism. Some of my favorite artists, including Monet and Van Gogh, came from this period. Ironically, there is a story suggesting that some of these artists, including Van Gogh, actually became influenced by sumi-e. It seems to me, with my limited knowledge of both types of painting, that the main difference in the two styles is that Impressionist paintings try to capture something transitory while sumi-e paintings try to express the eternal. Also, pure Impressionists avoided the use of black while pure sumi-e painters only used black, but in such a way as to bring out all the colors of the rainbow through tone.

I was lucky enough to find Susan Frame’s book as well as one by Naomi Okamoto on sumi-e painting at the library. It is interesting to note that this art form was originally practiced by Zen monks. I like how Susan Frame refers to it as a meditative practice, especially grinding the ink. According to her, you have to clear your mind before you start, and then try to become your subject. What a great concept!

Something else from Frame’s book grabbed my attention. She said, “The vigor and strength in each stroke contribute to the overall life force of the painting. Strong strokes make a vibrant painting, and indecisive strokes make a weak one.” Where had I heard this concept before? Ah, yes. Picture book author and illustrator Lisa Jahn-Clough discussed this very thing in Illustrating Children’s Picture Books by Withrow. She’s a mostly self-taught artist and she talked about having a “confident line.” This concept stuck with me. In fact, I’m still thinking about it….

So now we get to the heart of this post and the reason for its title: “The Four Noble Ones” (also referred to as “The Four Gentlemen,” but speaking as a gentlewoman artist you can perhaps see why I’d choose the former.) This term refers to the four subjects painted by beginning sumi-e artists, who are taught all the basic brush strokes using these subjects. The subjects are: the the wild orchid, bamboo, the chrysanthemum, and the plum blossom. These subjects also symbolize the four seasons respectively: spring, summer, fall, and winter. The desired personality traits attributed to each are what give these subjects their identity. The wild orchid represents grace, bamboo represents strength and flexibility, the chrysanthemum represents righteousness, and the plum blossom represents austerity.

Here is my first foray with these subjects. I do not know when or if I will master them. But I’m looking forward to the process of sumi-e painting. May it be a lifelong journey and time well spent.





Where Is the Post?

blue calligraphy ink with chopsticks

Want to find out what this drawing relates to?  Check out my guest post, entitled “Horseplay,” on Katherine Carver’s photography blog.

Cabbagehead Knight

Cabbagehead Knight

Here is my entry for the annual Tomie dePaola Art Award.  We had to choose one of three classic books and create an illustration in black and white only.  I chose Little Women, which I had just finished reading a year prior.  I wanted my image to stand out, so I actually chose to illustrate a story within a story.  What would a knight look like with a cabbage for a head?  Would he feel it or not?  The idea of the brave knight with a cabbagehead is a juxtaposition in and of itself.  This piece represents innovation, transformation, and humility.

Then, to top it off, I drew the final picture using chopsticks and calligraphy ink.  Talk about pressure to get it right!  I had already done several studies of both knights and cabbages in pencil, but they seemed to lack something.  Or perhaps they were simply too careful.  With chopsticks and ink you have to let everything go.  You have to let the art move through you.  It is a way to laugh at yourself and the idea of perfection.  Just like this cabbagehead.  Enjoy!

Check out some of the other fantastic entries.

The forum allows artists to comment on each other’s work.  Here is what some talented entrants said about mine:

“so good.. reminds me of this book I just came across.”

-Brian Won  http://www.brianwon.net/

“So fun! Love his expression, Angela..and chopsticks? Wow! : )”

-Shirley Ng-Benitez  http://www.shirleyngbenitez.com/


There’s a great article in the Nov. 2012 issue of EXPERIENCE L!FE magazine.  Maternity lifestyle expert Latham Thomas was interviewed about how women can get the most out of their pregnancy.  Check out Mama Glow, which features her new book with the same name.

As a writer, what I found most interesting was her comparison  of babies to ideas and how we, in a sense, give birth to them.  She likens the creative process to “wombifesting.”

LT– “It’s focusing on the womb, the place in the body that’s connected with everything we create, and understanding that everything is born from darkness…The energy here is always fluid and flowing; all you have to do is show up and lend yourself to the process…Womb-ifestation happens inside of you and then moves out into the world. The growth is not necessarily witnessed by others.”

Continuing with the brain paintings, here is my interpretation of this concept.

Calligraphy Ink on Mixed Media Paper

I call it: Incubation.  I feel a little like Victor in Frankenstein when I say that 😉  The interesting part about the process is that I used chopsticks with calligraphy ink to create this piece.  As you probably guessed, ink is quite permanent and chopsticks are not very precise.  It was very scary because I knew there wasn’t much I could do if I made a mistake.  At the same time, it was liberating to just create without relying too much on a given outcome.  What would be would be.  And that is at the heart of incubating an idea.  ❤

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