Monday, January 23, 2012

Prints, Prints for Everyone!!!!

Yin Yang Dragon by Elaine Cheung after Hokusai

All's quiet on the... I've been incommunicado for awhile.  For good reason.  I have been rethinking and reworking my approach to art.  I have been so long a stickler for one of a kind pieces that I think I've been blinded. I could not see beyond the original work of art.  I still of course believe in the original and feel that there never could be a replacement for working in oils on canvas, but there is this whole other side to art as well.  And, that is the concern for reproducibility.  That certain types of art are meant to be reproduced, like the book (discounting calligraphic manuscripts).  With that in mind, I spent the last few months thinking about how to reproduce beautiful books.  But, before I go any further, above is a graphic  I did, completely (and I mean completely) digitally.  There was no paper or pen involved.  I made it for my Cafe Press shop.

Back to what I was saying, the concern for reproducibility. I used to make linocut prints so my first thought was to make either woodblock or linocut prints.  These could work for small print runs before the block deteriorated.  There is no need for a printing press which is very costly.  The problem, though, is that if you wanted a design with many colors, each color would represent carving another block and then the printing of them would necessitate having the blocks and paper in register.  Again, all doable, but downright tedious.  Certainly it is an option, but one that I do not personally relish.

My second thought was to make black and white drawings which would then be scanned, printed on a laser printer, and finally transferred to the final paper with xylene, a neurotoxin.... again, not something I relish working with since I don't really want brain damage.  But, if there were a better transfer method, I think this one could work out.  The black and white image could then be hand-painted in watercolors, pencils, etc. and the final product would be an original work, yet be somewhat reproducible.  In other words, it wouldn't be a clone, but more of a multiple.  Kind of a monotype, but kind of not at the same time.  Ultimately, I think this is the best approach for reproducing original works, if I may.  But it was at this point that I had a revelation.

It occurred to me that there are many reasons for art and often it is not for that original.  In fact, most often it is for mass production.  Even the prints that we admire so much today by the artist Hokusai were nothing more than that.  They were prints made for the masses to enjoy.  In fact, that was the whole purpose of printmaking, of woodblocks, of lithography, etc.  It was to widely distribute the image itself.  But, now that we have computers, images are instantly accessible. Woodblock printing seems to the modern mind like a quaint method that is now considered only for the production of "real" art, when in fact its first and main purpose was a utilitarian one.  One could almost say that printers today are the modern equivalent of the woodblock.  But, I wouldn't go that far!

And so on and on about woodblocks and monotypes and transfers.... my mind was spinning... 'til, being unable to let any of this go, I had to teach myself vector graphics for the very sake of its infinite reproducibility in any medium to any scale without pixelation!  My god.... the possibilities.  This time, as opposed to the last time I tried my hand at anything digital a couple of years ago, I liked it so much that it brought to mind an exchange I had once long ago about snail mail versus email.  I had said at the time that I could not imagine using email to correspond with anyone. I insisted that snail mail was far better.  One could hold a letter, feel its weight, appreciate the handwriting, ink blotches and feel that you were receiving something of the person.  While I still wholeheartedly love letters, I do not write letters any longer.  Email and texting is my preferred mode of communication.  I even despise telephone calls... to the point where I will glance at my phone and maybe even turn it off if it so happens to ring. But, I digress...

My final point is that even though I use this program to generate art, it did not change my aesthetic in the least bit.  I still like wildly intricate drawings.  I still obsess over seemingly inconsequential lines and colors that to most people probably wouldn't even see and probably wouldn't make a difference on the whole.  I do notice, though, that it has made me even more meticulous when I am doing non-digital work... for instance,  I've just spent three months painting a landscape that is still not done... dab, dab, dab.  That's it in a nutshell: the medium matters not, only the artist.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Astral Extension

Schiavonetti, 1808, Soul Leaving the Body
Just bear with me a moment.  Some of you will think, "she's off her rocker," but I have to relate an experience that I had a few years ago.  I was living in an apartment in Tokyo.  It was a three story house about a ten minute walk from Ikebukuro station.  The house was brand-new; the previous house that stood had been torn down.  So, obviously, what I'm trying to say is that it was a new house.  I slept in the lowest floor of the house, mainly because I liked that it was a tatami room with futons.  For some reason, I also found that the other rooms in the house were creepy.  But, again, remember, this is a new house, so I chalked it up to my overactive imagination.  Suffering from jet-lag in that first week, I found myself frequently awake at odd hours, unable to sleep.  I found myself staring up at the wood ceiling, admiring the aesthetics of the room.  Then, I noticed the light with its dangling string.  At the end of the string was the metal bell-shaped pull.  As I lay there, on my futon with the sun filtering through the shoji screens, I started to think that I could see the light-pull start to move; it was a pendulum, after all.  Indeed it started to swing in a circular fashion clockwise.  Then, when I wanted it to stop, it did so.  And, when I told it to swing counter-clockwise, it did so as well.  I did this for about an hour and perhaps thought I was going insane.  In the following days, I moved this pendulum again and again, and it responded.  I did not mention this to anyone at the time because surely they would have looked at me and promptly checked me in to a psychiatric institute.

Well, so I've looked for explanations into this.  I've come up with several:
1. It was a figment of my imagination
2. The place was haunted
3. It was my astral body extending itself

1.  It might have been a figment of my imagination.  But, I have never been able to replicate this particular imaginative episode anywhere.  Believe me, I've tried. Of course, one could never rule out this one, but I know that I am not loony nor do I suffer from delusions.  I am a sane, grounded individual, not prone to flights of fancy, and believe in logic and scientific explanations.

2.  The place was haunted.   I have never first-hand experienced a haunting.  I have woken up once when I was about five and thought I saw something in my bed.  It looked like the face of a clown (and yes, I have a fear of clowns), but in retrospect, it was most likely only my mind playing tricks on me.  It was most likely a stuffed toy in my bed that I saw. I have known people who have seen ghosts and spirits, but I have not.  Also, if it were a spirit, then this spirit would have had to read my mind to know whether I wanted the pendulum to swing clockwise or counterclockwise or stop.  And then, if spirits had the power to affect physical objects, why do the swinging of a pendulum?  Why not go all out and stack chairs and stuff?

3.  So I was reading the other day this book written by Swami Panchadasi entitled "Clairvoyance and Occult Powers."  It is the first book that I have read that offers a comprehensive explanation of supernatural phenomena.  Swami Panchadasi explains the ability to affect distant objects by what he calls astral extension.  He says, "they first picture the astral extension, and then will the projection of the astral and the passage of the prana (or vital force) around the pattern of the mental image.  ... their body becomes so charged with prana that it is able to move physical objects." (from "Clairvoyance and Occult Powers" by Swami Panchadasi).  In effect, oddly enough, he offers a non-supernatural explanation.  It is our astral bodies, our non-physical bodies, that can cause phenomenon that seems supernatural. (But, you might argue that the "belief" in an astral body is already something of the supernatural....)  Take for example the very famous 1970s Philip Experiment whereby a group of people conjure up an imaginary ghost.  Their imaginary ghost, named Philip, causes the table around which they sit to move and levitate.  The researchers believe that this is due to some sort of mental activity of the group; their psychic (or mental) abilities as a group created a physical result, the movement of the table.  These mental projections also explain the "supernatural" phenomena of mediums.  The mediums, in some cases, may not actually be conjuring spirits so much as reading the thoughts of those present and thus creating a psychic entity from their collective thoughts.  In essence, in order to understand our minds and the world as a whole, we must also take into account the as-yet-undeveloped ability of our minds to work as a collective whole.  So, instead of arguing whether or not we have astral bodies or what not (all a matter of semantics), why not simply say that there is something that our minds are capable of, but of which most people have not developed yet.  Let us work towards developing these mental capacities.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quan Yin posing as Lord Shiva

I came across this beautiful painting today and had to share it.
On Wikicommons, the quote is as follows:

"Quan Yin Posing as Lord Shiva.
Performing a divine dance of creation and destruction Surrounding flames represent the manifest Universe Upper left hand holds angi (fire) - signifies destruction Upper right hand holds a ḍamaru (hourglass drum) - creation Stoic face of Shiva & Quān Yīn represents neutrality and balance Second right hand shows Abhaya mudra - protection from evil & ignorance Second left hand points towards the lifted foot - signifies upliftment & liberation
Dance position performed is in which the universe is created, maintained and resolved."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Paper Ingots and Hell Bank Notes

Paper folded into sycee to be burned as an offering
 Death has always been an important aspect of my life though  I do not think that I have an unhealthy preoccupation with death and the afterlife.  It is simply that I grew up thinking a lot about death.  In Chinese culture, we have Ching Ming which is a holiday when we go clean the graves and burn incense and offer food to our ancestors.  Colloquially we call it "bai san" which means "pray (or worship) the mountain." In this case, even though "san" is literally "the mountain," in this meaning it is also of the burial site.  When I was little, my extended family and I would visit the grave of my great grandfather and great grandmother at the Chinese cemetery.  I cannot even remember where it was because I never drove there myself, otherwise I would put a link to the place if anyone were so inclined to check the place out... it was the creepiest place.  It is not like the beautifully landscaped Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston nor like the meditative Valley of the Temples in Kaneohe.  It was a smallish cemetery with bubblegum pink walls.  There were small, crooked tombstones in the oldest section.  The graves there were so old that the names were completely worn away.   Some of the tombs were sunken.  In the center of the cemetery stood the crematorium.  Even at the age of five or six, I knew what a crematorium was.  There were few trees so the sun was always blazing down on us as we children stood in front of the graves with sticks of incense in our hands.  With my eyes always closed, I said a prayer, mostly along the lines of, "please take care of me and help me to be good... I promise to be good, just don't do anything bad to ruin my fate."  As I looked at their photographs on their tombstones and admired the sparkly granite, I poured out the offering of wine on the grass in front of me.  All the while, the boiled whole chicken with its head still attached and the various pastries and dim sum were spread in front of their tombstones.  When everyone had their turn praying, we took the food to the trunk of the car and stood there eating it.  All of this was done to appease the dead and to make sure they were well-taken care of in the afterlife.  We ate the food at the cemetery so that they would know not to follow us home.  There was always the fear that if you pissed them off, they would come get you somehow.  It was never very specific.... I guess it was kind of like what parents tell their children about Santa Claus.  If you don't behave, you won't get any Christmas presents.  Except in this case it was more like, if you don't behave, your dead great grandparents will haunt you.  Eh, whatever works...  I mean, let me tell you, I tried really hard to behave. 

It wasn't just Ching Ming, though.  There were the burials themselves.  We used to visit L.A.'s Chinatown on Saturdays quite frequently.  I remember watching numerous funeral processions roll down the street.  The coffin of the deceased would ride in a fancy black hearse with a large photograph of himself mounted at the front.  Then, on loudspeaker, they would announce the name of the person who died.  There would follow a line of cars escorted by police.  When my great grandmother died, limousines were hired for our family.  I remember going shopping for my black outfit which I was told should not be too nice since it was to be burned afterward.  The thought of burning my clothes really bothered me.  They said it was bad luck to ever wear that outfit again.  In fact, anything worn to a burial must be burned.

Then there were the superstitions.  Color was a big one.  For instance, we were never allowed to wear only black or only white as both signified a death in the family and was bad luck.  My mother used to do the Chinese equivalent of crossing herself.  She would say, "Dai gut lay see" which translates into "Big tangerine lucky money."  It was impossible.  Almost everything we asked or said would prompt my mother to mutter about big tangerines.  When my uncle listened to the song "Say Say Say" by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, my maternal grandmother pounded on his door to get him to stop playing the death song.  The word for death in Chinese is "say."  Which also happens to be the word for the number four in Chinese.  And that is why Chinese people avoid fours.  Fours are bad.  Four is death.  Everything is death.

Hell Bank Note
So you see, while most American children are told lovely stories about angels and heaven, we were told about angry vengeful spirits that could make life really tough for you.  It is the reason to give proper burials and to regard the dead with respect.  And even with all of my efforts to rid myself of superstitious behaviors, I cannot easily let these pass.  When I buried Mamaa, my paternal grandmother, in 2006, I followed the Buddhist priest as he told us what to do.  I bowed and I put my hands together with incense.  I folded the little gold papers to resemble gold ingots that were then placed in her casket.  Some were burned after the open casket viewing.  As the ashes of the paper gold floated into the air, I spoke her name so that they would be sure to be deposited into her bank account  at the Bank of Hell (I guess this means everyone goes to hell).  At the cemetery, I never looked back at her grave.  I had been told long ago by Mamaa that if I were to look back, I would see the spirit of the deceased.  It was then that it finally occurred to me that all of these customs and rites were done out of respect for the person who raised you and taught you how to do a million things and who helped you become the person you are today.  Sure, there were some confusing scary nightmares, but ultimately, these traditions help me to remember the ones I loved best and to remember to live and not fear the inevitability of death.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The $pending Habit

Detail from a US Dollar Bill... should make one's heart flutter???

I was lamenting to the bead store lady the other day about how there was no such thing as a bead store when I was growing up.  We did, however, have Newberry's.   I like to think of it as the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink store.  You could buy plastic flowers, pots and pans, crafty things, and little piggy banks in the shape of Santa Claus. It was where my grandmother went to buy fabric to make blouses and yarn to hand-knit sweaters for us... which, incidentally defined much of my wardrobe throughout my childhood (fashion has never been my strong suit, no pun intended).  All of my allowance and birthday money went to that store.  I bought embroidery floss, cross stitching kits, latchhook pillow kits, beading needles, and lots and lots of yarn.  This craft habit started at the tender age of six.  I could knit like there was no tomorrow by the time I was 12.  I never had money in my little safe and frequently tried to borrow from my older sister.  My mother rightfully thought I had no ability to save money and accused Grandma of instilling in me bad shopping (and useless crafting) habits.  It was the family joke... like, hey, you Chinese girl should be thrifty and money-saving, but you're not and *gasp* you use money to buy things!!!!  They would look at my palms and see that money would slip through my grip, like water leaking out through the wide spaces between my fingers.  I was accused of having a too-generous nature (a trait one must, of course, strive to eliminate from one's personality) because I would give away my toys to anyone who asked.  I was lectured about the virtues of saving money.  I was told there would be some joy from watching numbers rise on my savings booklet.  My parents even forced me to open a CD account which literally trapped your dollars in an account for a year.... in exchange one would earn (back then) 8%... (I know!  Unbelievable rate!).  I even invested in a utility company in my teens.  So, by all means, I should be well-versed in saving and investing money.  I should be a wildly successful business woman today, what with all the money talk, right?  But.... oh, the buts!  But, it was truly yawn-inducing.  Looking back, I know my parents meant well.  They wanted me to be money-savvy.  I just never really got it, I guess.  I mean, where is the fun in watching numbers go up and down?  Even after all that "education" I basically have the same spending habits as before.  I think it must be something in the genes, some kind of recessive gene that reared its ugly head in the face of all those money-saving genes so dominant in my family... I like to blame the genes.  I was born that way.  The way I see it is that some people are spenders and others are keepers.  And no amount of convincing or education could ever sway them to the other side.... believe me, they tried!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Back to Paper

Dagon, 2.5" x 3.5" by Elaine Cheung

Sooo... I gave it a go.  I don't like technology after all.  Confirmed.  Fini.  Done.  It was great for awhile.  I did a portrait of my friend's dog....  so, it's not da Vinci.  Then I did a few sketches while out and about and I have to say, I don't like the feel of it.  There isn't the friction of the pencil on paper, there's no tactile sensation.  I can't get my lines fine enough.  The picture that comes out is way too colorful and because of the back lighting from the screen, everything glows.  It's just all wrong.  I give up on technology.  Technology is great for word processing.  It's great for watching netflix and looking things up on wikipedia, but for art, it is lost on me.

I think technology and I were doomed from the start.  Even when I was in school, taking notes for run of the mill classes, I would only write with a fountain pen.  No modern ball point pens for me!  It had to be ink.  And I preferred the non-cartridge type pen, the ones with the ink bladder.  I would have used a quill and ink at the time, but I couldn't find a source for tail feathers and it would have been burdensome to be sharpening quills in the middle of class anyway.  Still, I have to say, it was very, very enjoyable to write with a fountain pen, a pleasure. 

So, these last few weeks, I've completely gone back to just pen and paper.  It's simple, portable, infinitely more pleasurable than tapping a stylus on a glass screen.  And, there up above, to my utter relief, the simplest of pleasures, is my latest work... Dagon.

Friday, December 3, 2010

From Watercolors to Pixels

Sketch for The Last Supper, Juda's Head by da Vinci

Many artists in the past used watercolor and pen as a sketching tool out in the field to record roughly major shadows, shapes, and line.  They would then return to the studio with their quick watercolor sketch and work up an oil painting from these sketches.  The choice of oils in the past was mainly for its durability (or permanence) and also for its flexibility as a medium.  Watercolor, on the other hand, being done on paper, was lightweight, not permanent, a rather fleeting medium.  It was also less expensive and more portable.  Hence, it was the perfect thing to take into the field to use for a quick study.  At some point, watercolor became more than just a tool; watercolors are now finished pieces, beautiful in and of themselves.  Maybe the invention of more permanent, fade-resistant colors, archival papers, and treated glass/plexiglas allowed people to display these more fragile works of art. 

So... I was thinking about this today as I was doing a digital sketch, instead of a watercolor one... *gasp*... and I... liked... it... yikes!  I never thought I would ever say that about anything digital.  Technology has so progressed that I was sketching with a stylus on a touchscreen.  Pixels are evermore portable, flexible, and in some ways, more permanent, plus infinitely pliable.  What's not to love?  I'm going to work at it until I can sketch like Master da Vinci up there with my stylus.  Will post my work later!!! 

Monday, November 22, 2010


Ship Clouds by Ciurlionis 1906
J called me a gypsy once because she said I had the "disease of moving." (Her exact words)  It isn't so, I argued at the time.  I was settled, I thought.  Yet, as I gaze out on the ocean, I feel that familiar tug.  I like leaving things behind.  I like starting over.  I like moving.  I know I complain about the packing and about having to learn all over again where the markets are or where the post office is, but the fact is that it is kind of fun.  And then getting to live in different apartments or houses, each with its own character in different neighborhoods; well, it's charming, interesting... and I feel as if I am assuming someone else' life for a little while. 

I suppose she is a little bit right.  She herself has lived in the same place for decades, hence her observation.  I keep asking myself why it is that I want to move in the first place and I cannot seem to find the reason, other than maybe I just feel restless, and that is really not even an answer.  It doesn't faze me in the least to pack it all up (or sell it all), plane ticket and passport in hand to some faraway place I've never been and calmly settle there... maybe forever this time?  It seems a bit callous.  What about roots?  What about family?  What about friendship?  Maybe it was because of my own father who left home one day, at the age of 18 (I think), and sailed the seas for years and years.  From Hong Kong, he sailed all over the world: Europe, Hawaii, America.  I admire that about him and maybe I inherited some of that restlessness too.  There is something about the sea that makes us wonder about what lies just a little beyond.  Maybe it is that we cannot comprehend the vastness of the ocean and so need to seek other lands.  Or maybe the water is a little bit hypnotic... perhaps the movement of the water awakens in our deepest subconscious a need for movement and change.  Is it possible that land-locked people prefer to stay put?