Yohaku

brush and ink

Yohaku is the concept of white space. I first heard this term at a library conference in 2006. Legendary author E. L. Konigsburg, who wrote From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, gave a speech about appreciating both the half empty and half full glass.  She read us her elegant, intellectual speech and all eyes were on her.  It is a reminder that it is okay to prepare your words ahead of time and still be heard from the heart.

So what was she trying to tell us that was so important?  First of all, we need both the positive and the negative.  Everything has a duality.  You can call it masculine and feminine, black and white, yin and yang, north and south pole, good and evil, but it is all the same.  We exist because of it and we can transcend whatever side of the pole we find ourselves on in any given aspect of our lives in any moment.

She pointed out that only in our society would we refer to this beautiful white space as “negative” space.  Why?  We seem to have a need to fill up every corner of every painting, every closet, every space in our lives with stuff.  If we don’t, it is seen as a negative.  But how does black exist fully without the white space behind it, between it, around it, pushing it forward?  The reverse, of course, is also true, but we usually start with a white piece of paper.  And doesn’t that scare us to death?

When I asked my husband, who is Japanese, about the term “yohaku,” he immediately referred to the term as white space.  When I called it “negative” space, he said, “Oh no, it isn’t negative.  It’s a positive thing.”  I had to explain where the negative reference came from.

So how does this relate to my latest sumi-e painting?  It is my first attempt at something abstract with ink.  It is supposed to represent the concept of the “black hole.”  A little research taught me that black holes exist throughout the universe and balance the stars (light) that exists.  Black holes suck up matter (including light), which is a scary thought.  But they also spit out particles that make up all living things, including us.  We in essence would not exist without them.  The earth may in fact be a byproduct of one of them.

Looking at the painting, where is your eye drawn?  To the black in the center or the white throughout?  Could either exist fully without the other?  Which is more important?  More beautiful?

Konigsburg told us she gave herself time to write even as a young mother.  She found the space for her words.  We must find the space for ours.

My secondhand childhood copy signed and dated by the author 🙂

Check out these other posts that highlight yohaku as well as the concept of creative space:

The Four Noble Ones

Letting Go

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Let’s Celebrate Spring: Part 2

Image

Let’s Celebrate Spring!

watercolor

All Its Birds

brush and ink

“the universe takes care of all its birds.”
Wonder by R. J. Palacio

I recently read Wonder by R. J. Palacio, and I highly recommend it to everyone.  It’s the story of fifth grader Auggie, a boy who was born with a facial deformity, and how he faces the challenges of transitioning from home school to mainstream school.  As I said in my Goodreads review, I think reading this book will help humans learn how to be a little more humane.

When I attended the SCBWI summer conference in L.A. last summer, Gary Schmidt gave the last keynote speech.  He offered the writers in the room some serious advice, which has stuck with me to this day.  And yes, I’m going to quote him once again.  😉  He said, “Write stories to give kids more to be a human being with.”  I think Palacio has done that.  We can, too.

Getting back to the book, my favorite chapter is only one page and is titled, “The Universe.”  The narrator of this section is really questioning how the universe could allow kids like Auggie to exist in the world.  Why do some people get all the luck and others none at all?  I guess it depends on how you look at it and what you define as lucky.  Auggie is lucky enough to have a loving family and support network to protect him and serve as his nest.  He’s also learned to be very strong and brave in his own way.

Here is my favorite quote from the last lines of the chapter:  “maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end.  the universe takes care of all its birds.”

This can be a hard concept to accept sometimes.  But I think the more that we believe this and strive to embody this in our world, the more we can make it a reality.  It is our choice.  We all have a responsibility to take care of each other.

“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 😉

Tailspin

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!

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