Embracing Imperfection with Gyotaku and Cherry Blossoms

ink print

So as promised, here is the artwork I created at the Japanese art class.  The above fish ink painting is inspired by the Japanese art of printing fish known as gyotaku.  We used rubber fish, but typically artists print from the real thing!  The tradition may have started as a way for fishermen to record their catch.  It’s harder than it looks because you have to use just the right amount of ink and then press in all areas evenly.  But boy was it fun to paint a fish!

watercolor and ink

This next piece is considered a Japanese scroll painting of cherry blossoms.  I thought it was perfect for the season 🙂  There’s actually an interesting story behind the process of creating this painting.  My friend and I attended this workshop together.  Both of us like watercolor AND controlling the outcome of our work.  But those two things don’t really go together.  The nature of watercolor supports spontaneity and embracing happy accidents.

Well, we finished our blossoms and couldn’t seem to go any further, although the next step was to take a clean, wet brush and paint over the surface to produce a beautiful, loose, watercolor effect.  Were we doing that?  No way!  But then I decided I needed to grow.  So I took a chance…a slightly calculated, slow, rhythmic, in-the-flow chance.  And wow, the world didn’t end and my painting didn’t get wrecked.  Under total surrender, the painted deepened in its value and aesthetic beauty all because I took a chance.  And you know what?  I looked over at my friend who appreciates control far more than I do.  And what is she doing?  She’s embracing water and freedom and lack of control like crazy!  And truthfully, it looked like a perfect storm on her paper for a few minutes.  We could not predict the outcome to save our lives.  BUT as the water and paint dried, there emerged these blossoms as if from a fire of smoke, water, and ashes.  Imperfect.  Beautiful.  Just like life.

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Out of My Mind: A Lesson in Mindfulness

The other day I came across some photographs taken on an old cell phone.  This treasure was one of them.  It’s a photo of my first brain painting, which was a gift to an artist friend.  She and I were having a discussion about “growing old” (whatever that means) and death.  I thought perhaps a meditation on illness and the body/organs through art might bring out the humor of the situation.  We often expect art to be aesthetically pleasing.  As a culture, we have a certain idea of what is beautiful, namely youth and perfection.  But what makes art beautiful and people beautiful are the imperfections.

When deciding on a title for this piece, a lot of different ideas came to mind: I’m Coming Out!, Departure, and The Final Frontier.  After I came up with the current title, Out of My Mind, I had to pause for a moment to consider its implications:  This phrase literally refers to the mental state of being “crazy.”  But what does it really mean to be crazy anyway?  It has such a negative connotation…just like disease and death…and art that is not “beautiful.”  I realized that this title was then quite fitting for this piece which honors the beauty in illness and imperfection.

Actually, the zen practice of “mindfulness” requires being in the present moment and stepping out of your thoughts.  Letting them pass by you like swimming fish.  You can notice them, but you don’t become consumed by them.  One of my favorite mantras comes from my yoga teacher.  Practice saying, “I am not a body.  I am not a mind,” as you breath in and out.  Do that a few times and see how different you feel about yourself and your current situation.  It’s guaranteed to lower your stress levels.  And if you’re an artist like me, it’s a great method to use when you notice you’re stuck in your work.  Mindfulness implies mental focus, but it is just the opposite.  Often when we think we’re stuck in our writing or art, we’re simply too close to it or overly focused on the minutia of it.

So let’s all practice stepping out of our minds.  Take my advice.  Get a little bit crazy!  Enjoy the view from the final frontier.  It’s beautiful out here 🙂

To read more about my brain paintings, click here.