Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How to Buy Paint

I went to Blick this week for some blue water based ink for my Christmas card, and since I had to sit in traffic for an hour to travel 10 miles it felt like I should stock up on whatever I need. I picked up a canvas for a series of aquatic dinosaur skeleton paintings I have been working on, researching, and sketching. I visualized the 3'x4' field of black and thought I probably needed more black paint. I took my new things home and put them away and found I already had two full tubes of black. That always seems to happen to me; I have a poor memory for which colors are running low.

I have an old painting I started a year ago that doesn't really fit into the series. It is a plesiosaur as discovered on site, before restoration, so it is twisted up and dead rather than animated. I don't really remember why but I thought it was a neat way to follow the boxy shape of the canvas and I had taken a million photos of interesting rocks thinking I would explore those in oil paintings, so maybe I intended to render the rock bed in an interesting way. I want to get this painting cleaned up and done because it has been languishing so long. I took stock of my remaining oil paints and chose a cool red for the background, but it wouldn't open for anything so I used warm orangey red (cadmium red light). It was smoother and easier than I remember and I had a nice time defining the shapes of the bones for a session.

Then I put away my paints and made an inventory list so I would stop buying duplicates Artist's grade paint is sold in tiers called series, which are determined by cost and concentration of the pigment. Series 1 will be white, black and brown, and might be $25 for 6 ounces while blue and red from the same brand in the same brand and grade can cost $100. The cost, and in the case of acrylics the lack of longevity, is why I don't just keep a lot of everything on hand. Also, you can't really layer or mix different sorts of paints freely and I have never settled on one. Oil paints make better paintings because they are luminous and have a long working time but if you want to paint any little sculpture like a brooch or an ornament or a little figurine acrylic is nice because it doesn't leach oil into the thing or need a base coat. You don't have to baby it. So I need both sorts for different projects, and then when I travel or sketch on location I use watercolors because they don't ruin anything and you can leave clean up for never with no harm done.

Since it has been so long since I worked on this painting I don't recall all the little decisions I made about placement and color, and outlining it has been a nice way to rediscover them. Even if it is very rough it is sort of charming. I am planning to leave the background layer as translucent as possible without losing the vibrancy in order to display the different planning stages that are still there, in pencil and what I think is watercolor but might be watered down acrylic. You can see in the top photo at bottom right I started to paint a shoulder or a wrist and then decided to move it so just crossed it out with paint. I thought it would be covered by a thick, detailed layer of paint but I am learning not to control things so much. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ueno Station

This was taken on a pedestrian footbridge above Ueno Station. The art in glass cases here was the only contemporary art I saw, because I didn't know where to go and ran out of time.

Here is the Museum of Western Art. The building at both ends was billed everywhere as a potential world heritage site because Le Corbusier designed it. But, if you read its pamphlet it has been turned down as a world heritage site twice.

These panoramas were taken with photosynth. They have a lot of artifacts. The app automatically takes shots even in manual mode so it catches my shoes or pedestrians. On the photosynth website you can look at the version of this that you can pan around. You can see The Gates of Hell more clearly. That sculpture is what caught my eye and brought me over to the museum, because there are other casts of it all over, like in Palo Alto.

Monday, November 2, 2015

pliosaur, ichthyosaur, and archelon reference photos

 Taking panoramic pictures is a good way to get an entire indoor specimen into view, as I discovered  with this Kronosaurus at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. However, that room had natural lighting which always gives a better result.
 I took a ton of reference photos of the specimens or casts in the  National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. I like to do paintings of skeletal monsters and I never understand from the limited photos I can find online what the shoulders, ribs, and fins are like. The photos are usually of the still crushed fossil and from limited  perspective. My paintings are of an animated monster that makes viewers feel a thrill of fear. like ichthyosaurs like the one above as subjects because the sclerotic rings suggest eyes.
 The detail in this is not great (I haven't learned to compensate for indoor lighting in an iphone photo) but I like it because of the huge wingspan it shows.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Literally every decent meal I had in Japan.

I knew going into this that I don't like Japanese food, but I just thought I would be able to find at least instant ramen and rice and I would just be so happy to be there that I'd make do. That worked for two or three days, and then the endless saltiness of everything and the difficulty of anticipating which menu item would be ruined by salt or mayonnaise or fish or sugar wore me down. I don't usually eat at restaurants at home. I wasn't fluent enough to understand everything on the menu in time to order, so I would either use the English menu or sound out something from the set menu I might kind of like. Then I would piece together the menu for something to do while eating alone. I am not the type who likes anything that's put in front of me, and I didn't prepare enough for this. If I go again I will bring a lot of food, and I will bring sriracha. I wanted sriracha so much, and I would always look for it in the grocery store, but I couldn't find any. There was shichimi available everywhere but it tasted like nothing. I know I am particular about food, but one day I swelled up unbelievably from all the salt, so it really was objectively too salty. However, service was excellent absolutely everywhere, everything was very inexpensive, and there was no tipping.

Yoshinoya- Beef Bowl
The best Japanese food I found in the area I was staying, Iriya, was the fast food place Yoshinoya. I would get beef and onions and rice for ¥680. This came with a little sprouts and shredded things salad with corn on top that I ate the first time and then stopped eating.

Pizza Hut-  I went to Pizza Hut and the pizza was pretty good (which, keeping in mind that I was eating as infrequently as possible and only when very hungry, means... not very good) and it came with a tube of green chili sauce that I liked. Mine was ¥1280 but studying the menu it looks like that was half price for some unknown reason.

Satkar- Spinach Curry and Naan
The fact that the Indian food was great in Japan was a lifesaver. The naan was a bit sweet but also huge and fluffy. I had Indian food several times but Satkar in Fabric Town (Nippori) was the standout. Lunch was only ¥900 which is half price compared to home.

The National Museum of Western Art -Charred Salmon, Salad, Minestrone (about ¥1900)
I am a printmaker, and the Ukiyo-e prints are very good, so I thought I would see some while I was in town. As far as I can tell, they aren't rarefied enough to be in an art museum in any great quantity. I determined this by walking all through the museum district looking at brochures to see if any had a collection of more than a few. This took a fair amount of time and walking. By the time I was through the National Museum of Western Art I was emergency level hungry so I went to this little cafe inside the museum. It was so cute in a British pastiche. My soup bowl had two handles, the tablecloth was baby pink, and they brought me so much silverware. My salad was incredible. I don't know what the other, mayonnaise salad served with the salmon was, but it was better than all the other mayonnaise salads at every turn.

Shabu-shabu in Chigasaki- On my last day in Japan, I found a new food I like! Yay! I went to the seaside, and because I had already checked out of the hostel I had my luggage so I carried it out onto the beach and went for barely a swim. There were windsurfers, so I knew it was okay to swim, but I was alone and since I was pretty sick and run down I thought my endurance would be awful, so I just ran out and did head up breaststroke for a moment. It was a bit of a beach town with tons of joggers and I felt very at home. The ocean was way warmer than at home. Anyway, I was headed right to the airport after so I wanted to try something local and I was a little weird looking from the way the wind kept pulling my hair out of its pins so I picked a very casual looking all-you-can-eat-in-80-minutes hot pot place. This was probably one place I should have definitely spoken Japanese instead of letting people practice their English, but after I resolutely said I didn't speak Japanese I felt painted into a corner. So I had a simmering pot of water and broth on my table and a buffet of vegetables and tofu and they brought me a tray of meat. I assembled a little salad and started to eat it while I waited for more diners to arrive so I could copy them, but several staff came over to coach me. They kept saying "shabu-shabu" and pointing at the pot. So it turned out there had been no salad, the jicama and radishes and greens were soup ingredients. However, the broth was so salty it even made things too salty if I left them in, let alone trying to consume the broth itself. Anyway, the barely cooked meat was excellent (sometimes I dropped it and it got too cooked and wasn't as good) and I finally got some garlic that wasn't pickled and buffet style is the right way for me to be choosy without imposing on anyone.

Oh yes, and I bought grocery store mochi and it was terrible (like a sugar cube, not creamy or milky) so in an enormous faux pas I would peel the mochi and put two in my coffee in the morning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to tell シ and ツapart, laboriously.

Ten years in, there are katakana I still can't sight read: シ and ツ. I have a little mnemonic plus muscle memory workaround. It also involves ンand ソ because when I started I couldn't tell those apart either, until I noticed that ソ looks like its hiragana counterpart, そ.  (In handwriting it is more apparent). So the mnemonic is "sheets and sew," (shi, tsu, n, so) and I spell this with my thumb: シツンソ, starting with an up stroke and alternating. Then I compare  how vertical they are to what I am trying to read.

Faced with the prospect of having to do this in a grocery store, I have come up with a new  trick. シ kind of looks like an s, and ツdoesn't. Not that there aren't kana which look way more like an S.


Hakone is under 60 miles from where I was staying in Tokyo, so I tried to take the subway there. This was maddening and everything went wrong and it took all day, but the last leg of the trip was via the tiny red mountain train, and that made everything better. Everything was fresh air and fall colors and waterfalls. The train used little switchbacks, when we would roll up onto a dead end, and back out. It was tiny and charming and slow and cold. 
I'd learned to pay for the cheapest ticket and settle the difference at the add fare machine instead of trying to figure it out in advance, since I kept getting off early or switching over to another train provider early or late. At the Hakone staton, Chukoku no mori, this slightly backfired as there was no add fare machine and it was open access. It was alarming, feeling too stupid for the honor system.
 I walked around a little bit, being charmed, before I went to the museum that brought me to Hakone.

 The hakone outdoor museum was stellar. Usually I like to find unusual angles for photos but this setting was so balanced and lovely that anywhere you pointed the camera would be lovely.
For example, this irrigation.
 This was the jewel of everything, 6 or so stories of a double spiral staircase (one staircase for up, one for down) inside a stained glass window. I took hundreds of photos in here; it was an incredible space.
 Here I am at the top.
 The Hakone Open Air Museum had a long foot bath next to the cafe. It wasn't very hot, but I was charmed by the regularly spaced shoehorns. Honestly I should get one so I can step into my shoes instead of jamming my feet in and then unfolding the squashed down back.

 This was for washcloths to go with the foot bath. As far as I know, I used the honor system just fine in this instance.

 This was my favorite part of my trip. It was so restorative. There are all sorts of things I would still like to see, like the lake and the glass forest.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

No Box Letterbox

I like experimenting with getting the smallest possible letterbox. Can I get a log and stamp into a locket? Sort of. A pill box? yes! The key to this box is that it is indoors in a dry area, so it doesn't need an external container. The other key is magnets. I noticed that the metal that lockers are folded from has a little vertical space on both sides that is totally invisible. A letterbox for this space could be any length, and 3/4" wide. I designed a plesiosaur stamp with those dimensions in mind. I know there are lockers at the National Museum of Nature and Science, which has the (a?) futabasaurus reconstruction on display. I hope the lockers have this same gap. It should be pretty discreet to pull this out while appearing to arrange your things in the locker.

It's not really proper to post spoilers of letterboxes online, but I am pleased with how this one turned out and there are only 13 letterboxes in Japan so I doubt anyone at all will find this one.