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Sunday at the Albuquerque Rail Yards Market. Kuretake Watercolor, Sakura Micron Pen
How has your summer been? For me it went a little too fast. Thankfully here in Albuquerque it's still sunny and warm, but there is definitely a tinge of autumn in the air. Which means it's time to buckle down with a "back-to-school" attitude and get back to my main WIP, Ghazal.I also want to get back into a dedicatedsketching schedule that fits in with all my other projects.
Two things that are currently helping me get there are my writer's group summer art journal project and my outings with Urban Sketchers. Starting with my writer's group, because we've been meeting at the Albuquerque Museum we've been able to stay inspired by all the amazing art exhibited throughout the halls and galleries. Several weeks ago we had the idea to set out individually to find a painting or installation that could be the basis of some of our art journal pages. For me it was coming across an entire room devoted to the travel sketches of New Mexico-based architect, Antoine Predock. The extensive collection ended with an intricate proposal for a southern branch of the Palace Museum in Taiwan (unfortunately never realized), but I was so taken with the loose and easy style that led up to this final, intricate fantasy that I had to go visit the exhibition three more times over the next month. Predock's example and implied advice to scribble, go for color blocks and bold lines, and to follow what you feel about a place and its landmarks, rather than what you're "supposed to see" was exactly what I've been trying to achieve on my own for the last couple of years. I kept all of that in mind last Sunday when I went with Urban Sketchers to the Albuquerque Rail Yards Market for two hours of morning sketching:
Albuquerque Rail Yards--abandoned but not forgotten! Kuretake Watercolor and Sakura Micron Pen
The more I go out with the group the better I'm becoming at relaxing and losing my self-consciousness. I care more about the experience than the results, and consequently I'm drawing more than I ever have before. I love it!
Kuretake Watercolor, Fine-line Sharpie, Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens
I then wondered how this approach could work with writing and I found it fit perfectly. For instance:
Go BOLD. Don't hold back; don't edit, mince your words, or fear critique and censure. Let go and let the words flow.
Similar to a "gesture drawing," capturing the essence of a subject rather than the details, try gesture writing. First thoughts, first attempts, first drafts contain a lot of energy--energy that can transform your voice and writing into something only you could write.
Write hundreds and hundreds of pages. I was impressed at how many sketches Predock had made, many of them simply a few lines in the center of the page, but each was so strong and effective. His examples reminded me to not skimp on materials, ideas, or any step that will express where I completely want to go.
Good ideas for some good writing time!Enjoy the season.
Tip of the Day: Thinking of editing your work? Whatever you do, please don't kill the sketch. Whether you're sketching towards creating a more polished painting, or freewriting dozens of vignettes and character studies for your novel, screenplay, or short story collection, don't go crazy with the polishing. Yes, weed out awkward phrases, lines, and repetitions, but stay true to what made you fall in love with your ideas in the first place. Stay loose.
Introducing: Happy Little Cat, my new stone seal all the way from Taiwan!
Finally getting a chance to catch up with my blog again after another long break. The reason for my absence this time has been, what else, editing. Each time I thought I was finished editing my WIP, oops, oh no, there was more work on my plate. However, I am now finished, as in one-hundred-percent finished. The final draft of my new novel, The Abyssal Plain, is ready for submission to agents and editors alike. Which means that other than my daily freewriting (flash fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, whining), I'm planning to spend the rest of the year concentrating on establishing "Happy Little Cat," an online studio/shop that will include visual art, pottery, jewelry, and of course, books. I'm more than excited. And as you can see in the photo above, I even got a special seal carved to celebrate my debut, although . . .
. . . there's a certain irony to finally getting my seal made.
Backstory: Prior to leaving for my trip to Taiwan, my fellow travelers and I were emailed an itinerary of our day-to-day activities. One of the things listed for the first day was to visit an art supply store where we could order carved seals or "chops" as they are sometimes called. Back in March I was pretty sure I didn't need anything remotely like a carved seal, and when we did get to the art store, I was so fixated on buying a replacement for my broken water brush (you can read about that little misadventure here), that choosing a nice rock was the last thing on my mind. Other reasons for not wanting a seal included the fact that I didn't think "Valerie" sounded very Chinese, especially when I didn't paint in a Chinese or Asian style. Or at least I didn't then.
Fast forward to this summer and post-trip when I found myself still obsessed with everything Taiwanese. I bought a book on Chinese brush painting. I bought Chinese watercolors. I studied the books I bought in Taiwan on painting trees and tigers. Somewhere in the midst of all this enthusiasm for sumi ink and bamboo pens I had the profound realization that I loved Asian art and wanted to include as much of it as I could (given my limited and "beginner's mind" skills) in my own work. At the same time I very quickly learned something was vitally missing from all my pieces: my seal!
Immediately I started regretting my decision to forego buying a seal in Taipei when I had the chance. Things reached a crisis point when I attended a reception for the New Mexico Art League and saw a stunning floral watercolor painted by our Taiwan tour leader, Ming Franz, that naturally included her seal. My husband asked why I hadn't bought one. How could I be so remiss? Or so silly? I had to get that seal.
After some extensive online research, I found a great company, Asian Brush Art. They had the stones, the carver, great pricing and a nice feel to their website that encouraged me to go ahead and place my order. The big question now, though, was what was I going to have carved on the stone? I still didn't want to use my name. That's when I had the idea to describe not me personally, but how I feel about life and art in general: I feel like a Happy Little Cat. I asked the company if there was enough room on the stone for the characters; they said yes, and ta-dah, I have my own seal at last.
The best surprise of all was that the seal came not from the company's mailing address in North Carolina, but from Taiwan! What are the odds? And not just any place in Taiwan, but from one of my favorite stops on the tour: Kaohsiung. I was thrilled.
I'm still learning to use the seal properly, experimenting with how to tap and dip it into the special red ink paste which was included with my order (I tell you, this company was great). The hardness of the stone and the creaminess of the ink are both very different from my past experiences (and failures) with rubber stamping, so I'm still in "test" mode, but I'm getting there. My best impressions so far have resulted from placing a piece of folded felt under my paper before pressing down with the seal. The sample at the top here is in on rice paper. (Expanding the size of the photo made the edges go fuzzy. They don't look like that in real life.) After playing around with the rice paper, I moved on to stamping some artwork I had recently finished using various supplies (including my trusty bamboo pen) on Arches 140-lb cold press watercolor paper:
Splash Ink Goldfish. Sumi ink, watercolor, and gouache on Arches watercolor paper.
Some of the best images I was able to achieve (and of course I don't have any photos just when I need one to show you) were from using the seal on kraft paper cardstock gift tags, the same tags I experimented with last year applying collage and stick-on "pearls," (examples shown here).
So where I am now is I need to stop playing with my seal and use it for real: getting down to work to fill the shelves of Happy Little Cat Studio. It's going to take me a while to build up my inventory and then incorporate everything into my website, but it's a project I'm looking forward to. I'm also planning on illustrating some of my books for the first time, a great combination of my two favorite disciplines: writing AND painting.
For more information on the history of carved seals and their use, here's a good Wikipedia link to start with, but there are many, many other sites to investigate. My Happy Little Cat seal is carved in what is called "yin style," meaning that the characters are carved into the stone, leaving a red impression around them, as opposed to "yang style" which leaves white space around red characters.
It's also very common to use more than one seal in a painting, e.g., a "mood seal," a bit of poetry, etc., etc., and that's where things get really scary. Because I have a strong suspicion I'm going to want more seals in the future, which also describes me to a T--going from not wanting a seal at all, to now wanting a dozen. Go figure, LOL! Whatever, I love this first seal, I thought it turned out beautifully, and being the first it will always be special. Very happy, indeed.
Tip of the Day: Getting my seal was another step toward creating my "personal brand," something I first blogged about over 5 years ago (!). You can read the post here: What's Your Brand? Although you might find the idea of "branding" somewhat restrictive, it can also be a great help in defining your work to both yourself and your audience. Just for fun, brainstorm a list of 12 things you could use or do that would identify your work as uniquely yours. You might just want a seal of your own.
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Trying my hand at "splash ink"! I call this "The Spirit of The One" and I've pasted it to the back cover of my sketchbook. The shadow in the middle is where I had to fold it to fit. Rice paper, sumi ink, Derwent Inktense pencil. 9" x 12".
Time certainly flies. It's been several months since I've been home from Taiwan, and I've now had a chance to start working on some larger art pieces based on my travel sketchbook. At the same time, I've also been rethinking my choice of travel art supplies, all in the search for the "perfect pack." (Note: If you'd like to see what I took with me, or just need a reminder, here's my post listing the art supplies I packed.) In retrospect, I think most of my choices were good; others were . . . well, here's my verdict:
1. I loved my Stillman and Birn Epsilon 6" x 8" sketchbook, but it definitely took some getting used to. This was the first time I'd bought this brand, and I didn't have time to try it out before I left home. Not that I wasn't forewarned. Prior to making my purchase, I did quite a bit of research on the company and its products, and the one online comment I kept reading from other artists was that any kind of watercolor tends to "swim" on top of the book's paper. It's difficult to explain, and I didn't understand what they meant, but "swim" is the right word for sure. Until I learned how to manipulate the amount of water I applied to the areas I had colored in with my watercolor pencils, I had to be careful not to flood the pages. For instance, one picture I drew of the nursery we visited morphed into what looks like a rotten smashed cauliflower. It makes for an interesting abstract, but all the detail I wanted (and had drawn) was lost. (And no, I'm not sharing that one with you. Just use your imagination.) I think the problem is that the paper isn't very absorbent, so water and/or paint tends to pool on it. However, once I got used to this, I actually grew to enjoy and used the effect to advantage. Stillman and Birn sketchbooks are now the only ones I plan to buy, especially as they make so many different types of books and papers for various media. 2. Regardless of brand, the sketchbook I chose had too many pages: 50 of them. And because they were of such good quality paper, I could sketch on both sides without any kind of bleed-through whether I used my inky brush pens (purchased during the trip), watercolor pencils, or water-soluble graphite. (The paper didn't buckle when it was wet, either.) But planning to sketch 100 pictures in 12 days was ridiculously ambitious. I came home with the book less than half-filled. (The extra pages weren't wasted since I kept sketching once I got home using Taiwan references from my own photos, museum guides, and magazines. Every page is filled now, but it did take a whole three months.) So the next time I buy a Stillman and Birn for travel, it will be the 25-page version. 3. My Faber-Castell Art Grip watercolor pencils were the best. I liked the triangular shape, and the grippy surface really did work, keeping the pencils from slipping and making them very comfortable to use. Like my sketchbook choice, I've decided to stick with this brand for travel. The colors are rich and intense with excellent coverage--probably one of the reasons I initially had trouble judging the amount of water I needed to use with them. I had also mentioned in my earlier post on the subject that I had limited my colors down to 7. Now that I've had time to reflect, I would have added 2 more: black and pink. Yes, pink! Usually I don't like to use black paint out of a tube, preferring to mix my own, but this was one situation where a black watercolor pencil would have worked well. Not only would it have imitated the black ink that makes Chinese painting so unique, but I think it would have been a good mix with my other colors to give me a few more subtle, sophisticated hues. As for needing a pink pencil, I think I wanted to use pink about twenty times a day. The only red I brought was "scarlet" (a Caran d'Ache sample I received at a color pencil meeting). It's a beautiful red, and it turned out to be just right for Chinese lanterns, but it was absolutely hopeless when it came to drawing Taiwan's magnificent orchids and other flowers. Pink also would have been very helpful for drawing sunrises and sunsets, as well as Hello, Kitty! One benefit of using such a limited palette was that it did give a coherent appearance to my sketchbook, but from now on I'm bringing a standard tin of 12 colors--including black and pink. 4. I brought--and used--a water-soluble graphite pencil (another Caran d'Ache sample from that same meeting I attended), but in all honesty I didn't find it that important or useful. Once again, I wished I'd had a black pencil in its place. So I'd leave this one at home. 5. I wrote about my water brush disaster here. I was lucky that we had already planned to go to an art supply store on the same day it broke, but what if I'd been in the middle of the woods? Or stuck on a desert isle? You can't always just go to the mall. To prevent any future mishaps, I'll be carrying three brushes with me at all times: 1 medium round, 1 large round, and 1 flat. And I am never, ever going to fly with them assembled again. (They're probably even easier to pack when the brushes are separated from the barrels.) So, lesson learned the hard way, but at least now I know. 6. One of my favorite pieces of advice I read before I left home was to just open my sketchbook "anywhere" rather than draw in page-by-page chronological order (my usual style of doing things). The good side of this advice is that it really helped me to think of my sketchbook as a working tool and not as a sacred text. It also kept me from freaking out about the pages I hadn't filled because I didn't realize how many were blank until I got home! The downside of this system, though, was that none of my pictures follow the route of the trip. And because I failed to date anything, the where and when of some of my sketches will forever be a mystery. Next time: date the drawings, and maybe jot down a note or two about the location. 7. What I didn't bring and desperately wanted: my pocket-size viewfinder. Too often I was overwhelmed by Taiwan's scenery: huge green mountains, giant Buddhas, vast blue seas, enormous city blocks that went on and on and on . . . much of the time I couldn't grasp or take in the size of it. A viewfinder would have made sense of the vista and helped me to find the right portion to sketch. It's an easy item to pack and one that would have made a big difference to my sense of perspective. Note to self: Pack viewfinder! All-in-all, though, I was pleased with my little kit, especially as it encouraged me to cultivate and continue a daily art practice, one that's become as important to me as my daily writing. I often think writing and drawing come from the same source anyway: both are about telling stories, making sense of the world around us, and endowing our daily experiences with gratitude and meaning. Last year I even wrote a post about it: Art and Writing, Two Sides of the Creative Coin. So while you're digesting that happy thought, here are a couple of intermediate pieces I've been working on for your entertainment. They're larger than my sketchbook pages, but still in the "idea stage" as I work toward finding my true Taiwan art voice:
9"x 12". Color pencil on hot press watercolor paper. I had to add the washi tape when the masking tape I used to keep the paper on my drawing board tore the edges. Happy accident?
9" x 12". One of the many vistas from The One. Derwent Inktense pencil on hot press watercolor paper.
Tip of the Day: It's summer! You really don't have to go as far away as Taiwan to start a sketchbook habit. Keep a handy sketch pack in your car, purse, or backpack and just . . . sketch! Ideas for stories, ideas for jewelry, ideas for collage--you don't have to be a professional artist to express yourself with pictures. Go for it.Add a Comment
I'm coming to the end of my Taiwan trip; just four days left as I continue with Days 9 and 10. In many ways, these last days were amongst my favorites, but then I say that about every day in Taiwan, so it's difficult to know if there was anything I didn't enjoy to the max! Day 9 started in Kaohsiung with a visit to the famed Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, both overlooking a stunning lotus bed and lake.
At this point of our trip we were also poised on the cusp of a national holiday weekend, coinciding with Easter, and so there were lots of local tourists and food trucks to keep everyone happy.
After climbing to the top of the pagodas and wending our way back "out of the mouth of the tiger" (sounds like a kung fu movie), we next went to a modern art museum. I thoroughly enjoyed the innovative installations including a life-size street scene made from dried banana peels (it was amazing!) and a variety of art videos (which also gave me a chance to sit down for a while). We left Kaohsiung after lunch in a Hakka-style restaurant (read more on Taiwan's Hakka population here), and headed for our next major stopping point: theFo Guang Shan Buddhist Memorial Center. Prior to our arrival at the monastery, I had no idea what to expect other than a night of austerity: gruel for dinner (if we were lucky), lights out at 7 PM, compulsory meditation, and pre-dawn rise-and-shine. I couldn't have been more mistaken. The monastery was a beehive of commercial activity filled with hundreds of visitors, an art museum and up-scale galleries, a shopping mall, plenty of individual specialty shops tucked away into various hidden corners, several top-notch restaurants, a 7-11, and of course a Starbucks right in the main entrance! In other words, it was paradise. And that was just the small part I was able to see. Apparently there's also a university, conference centers, and all kinds interesting visitor and educational facilities.
It was also very noisy. As well as finding preparations underway for an outdoor concert to be held sometime that weekend, a construction project prevented our tour bus from dropping us of at our dorm-room accommodations:
Despite our difficulties getting up the hill and into our rooms, we were encouraged at all times to look on the bright side:
And they were right: tune out the noise and confusion, and the grounds were magnificent, the main feature being this enormous Buddha:
The theme of spiritual living extended into our dorm lobby . . .
. . . leading to our rooms: simple, clean, and cozy, and designed for students with strong backs. The mattresses were comically rock-hard, probably the only austerity we experienced in the place, but mine also provided the best night's sleep of my life. Maybe I should get a piece of plywood to sleep on here in Albuquerque!
Sketchbook reminder: Do Good Deeds . . .
Banners and signs placed throughout the walkways reminded visitors to"Do good deeds, speak good words, think good thoughts." A worthy sentiment and one that was very different from what I discovered when I unwrapped a throat lozenge halfway through our tour. I wasn't getting sick, I just felt like I needed some Vitamin C. The lozenges I brought from home were packaged in what the brand called "positive affirmations," and the one I picked on this occasion revealed the statement: "Inspire envy!" Whoa. What a contrast to "Do good deeds." Give me the lessons of the Buddha any day.
That evening we gathered in one of the mall restaurants for the best vegetarian dinner to date (vegetarian cuisine being the only one available, and just right for me) followed by yet more shopping. I was able to purchase more beads, this time ones inscribed with little spiritual symbols and writings (none about envy, I'm sure), and a couple of brush pens I totally fell in love with. Morning proved to be far more peaceful than the day before, the machinery turned off and the air humming with the sound of nuns chanting while others walked in silent procession or worked in the gardens:
The only catch to the day was the complete absence of coffee in the breakfast room. I need coffee in the morning, as in, I really need coffee in the morning, and I've already mentioned how good the coffee in Taiwan is. In my desperation I remembered the Starbucks, but I also remembered it being a long way to walk and I wasn't sure when our tour bus would be leaving. As I stood alone in the middle of an empty courtyard, contemplating what to do, a party of nuns and monks led by a tall German greeted me with a hearty, "Good Morning! Where are you going?" Immediately I thought this was one of those trick koan questions, and that I was supposed to have some brilliant reply such as, "To find enlightenment, O Master!" Instead, all I could weakly croak was, "Starbucks?" The monk's reply: "Hahahaha! Then I wish you luck! They are closed!" Drat. However, thanks to my quick-thinking roommate, I was able to avoid a caffeine headache when she surprised me with a can of iced coffee from a vending machine. Yay! The day was saved. I thank her with a thousand Buddhas:
Even after we left the monastery, monks and nuns seemed to be following us. Lunchtime in a village known for its wood-working artistry let me snap this photo:
And then we were on our way to: THE ONE. Oh, my goodness. Oh, my. THE ONE really is, The One. (That's what it's called, The One. The One what? Just. The One.) Now a luxury spa, resort, hotel and restaurant, it was originally the playground of a Taiwanese newspaper mogul. Built in the 1980s in a traditional and palatial style (no nails were used in its construction), it is gorgeous. I took dozens of photos, mainly for art references, but here are just a few to capture the ambiance:
Really, I could live here forever. Highlight of the Day: Before dinner at The One (which was. what else?, a multi-course extravaganza) I had a chance to sit and dream with my sketchbook in my own private alcove. The area I found was decked out in pale lavender silk, embroidered cushions, antique Chinese furniture, and dimmed lighting. While I was luxuriating upon the divan and pretending to be an eighteenth-century empress, I thought I would experiment with one of my new brush pens. Wow--where have these pens been all my life? It was like painting with silk. Another unforgettable moment from Taiwan.
(Side note: the stamp in the upper corner on this sketch was from our visit to the King Car Whisky Factory where they make--and we got to taste--Kavalan whiskey, judged to be the world's finest. In an interesting coincidence, King Car was founded by the man who developed "Mr. Brown Coffee," the canned coffee that saved my life at the monastery. Thanks, Mr. Brown!)
Okay, I'll cut right to the chase: Taiwan Trip Day 7 will forever go down in history as:
DAY OF THE MONKEY
Long story short: my poor roommate was attacked, MUGGED, by three of the little devils. (And they weren't all that little.) I have never been so stunned--or frightened-- in my whole life. Monkeys might look cute and innocent on the surface, but wow, can they get mean. I was thoroughly impressed at how my roommate stayed so cool, calm, and collected as she divested herself of the creatures, talking to them in a quietly authoritarian voice (even whilst getting a huge bite in the process!), but it was a terrifying moment. Personally I would have had a complete nervous breakdown. The worst part was that we were on a bridge stretching a deep ravine. One false step and . . . well, we won't go there. All I can say is, if you ever get the chance to see monkeys in the wild: run. (Needless to say I made the above sketch from an image on my camera at a later date. No way was I going to stick around for longer than it took to snap a photo or two.) Before monkey madness, the day started out quite peacefully in this coastal village where we stopped for lunch and some sightseeing:
The restaurant we ate at was what they called "chef cook style." Instead of customers choosing meals from a menu, lunchtime clientele simply got what the chef made that day. And of course it was delicious!
But then it was back on the bus to monkey territory. If I seem a little obsessed, it's because a) I was really looking forward to seeing the monkeys, and b) then I was traumatized by their antics. I can't even look at monkeys on TV at the moment. However, for your enjoyment, here they are again:
Me, before witnessing "the attack."
Hurrying back into the bus to resume traveling (and making sure my roommate was okay (She was. No puncture wound, thanks to the thick weave of her shirt, but there was a large bruise.), we then carried on in a state of exhaustion to an organic tea plantation.
Here we tasted (and purchased) a variety of fragrant teas, the most-prized and expensive being a type known as "honey oolong." This particular tea gets its sweetness from cicada secretions. Yes. (By now nothing could faze me.)
Next stop: a "Buddha's Head" fruit stand. Each of these interesting little fruits is an exact replica of the tight curls atop the head of the familiar representation of the Buddha. Or this is at least what we thought. There seemed to be some difficulty in translation because sometimes they were called "Buddha's Hands." But to me they look like Buddha's head. Whatever they are called, they are wonderful, kind of like apple and pear custard.
And then our hotel--a lovely family-style hot springs resort owned by a friend from Ming Franz's high school days. What a treat! The sulphuric water scent was strong, but, oh, so healthy. For me it was pure nostalgia reminding me of my teenage trips to the hot pools of Rotorua in New Zealand, always with that smell hanging in the air at every turn. Here at the resort we could get the spring water in our rooms too, so naturally I took advantage of a long soak before bed.
Resort koi pond. I fed them, too.
Day 8 continued our up-close-and-personal portion of the trip, getting to see a side of Taiwan most tourists rarely see. After leaving Ming's friend's hotel, we next went to visit her former high school where one of her classmates is now the principal. (They were a very dynamic group!)
These kids were the lucky ones. The rest of their classmates were busy cleaning and mopping the hallways.
Wish my school had been this pretty.
After a short tour of the school grounds, we then assembled in the library where Ming gave the school one of her books and we were all presented with official school tie pins and a morning snack.
And then we were off for lunch and adult beverages at the Tsingtao Beer Factory:
Dragons love beer too.
Where I discovered this poster:
And had to know who these bad boys were . . .
Before I could find out though, we then had the very special opportunity to visit with some of Ming's family living in her grandfather's one-hundred-year-old house. Parts of the home are still maintained just as they were in the past, and it was a unique privilege to be invited inside. I was especially taken with the family pet:
It took me forever to realize this kitty didn't speak English, and that it was useless to repeat, "Kitty, look up! Look at me, Kitty!"
Ming's family owns a nursery in the town, and they graciously next took us for a visit there. The plants were exquisite, nothing like the dry specimens we have here in Albuquerque.
All that lovely mist . . .
Cooled and refreshed, we then took off for Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest city, an architectural mixture of London, Barcelona, New York, Paris . . . It's beautiful! Here we stayed on the 39th-floor of a luxury hotel atop a posh department store with late night shopping. Dinner in the building's restaurant continued the family theme as we met with our tour guide's mother, sister and her husband, and their two adorable little children. And then my solitary adventure began . . . Remember the guys in the poster? I had the bright idea that I would try to find some of their music in that downstairs department store. Except I didn't know the name of the band, or anything else about them except they like Tsingtao beer. So under the universal heading of "heavy metal" I bought what I thought would be some good old Taiwanese rock'n'roll. Carrying my daintily-wrapped package, I went in search of tea-towels, thinking that would be a nice thing to bring home. Except I couldn't get anyone to understand what I wanted. I even demonstrated what I thought "towel" looked like if you were playing charades. All that happened was the sales clerk started imitating my extremely strange movements until we were both doing this weird dance in the aisles and I had to shake my head, say, "Sorry, but thank you so much," and run away. I ran so far I then got lost and couldn't find the exit to the hotel. To make matters worse, the loud speakers came on: "The store is closing in 1o minutes." In English, nonetheless. For which I am eternally grateful. Otherwise I would have had to have slept somewhere between women's fashion and men's shoes. I think I got out of there with 30 seconds to spare. Whew.
Grateful to be back in our room with a view.
More exciting than New York!
Good night, Kitty!
Highlight of the Day: Say it isn't so. Discovering that the CD I had bought was this: Add a Comment
I've been sick--flu, cold, allergies, whatever you want to call it, but instead of blogging I've been stuck in bed reading (and finishing) Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet for the last couple of weeks. My particular copy of The Quartet contained all four volumes in one door-stopper of a monstrosity, and my shoulders and wrists are suffering the consequences, LOL! Anyway, I'm much better now, have moved on to some lighter reading, and am ready to continue sharing my Taiwan trip, Days 5 and 6. So . . . by Day 5 I had devised a sketching routine for my bus rides. I decided to divide some of my sketchbook pages into grids of six and then whenever we stopped at the traffic lights, or just slowed down, I would draw as quickly as possible in one or more of the squares. Some of the drawings are a bit esoteric, for instance:
At other times, however, the scenery was so consistent I was able to use a full page and go for some color, such as when we were following the coast:
They're funny little drawings, I know, but they mean a lot to me--and I now have some good references for larger work later this summer.
Other than drawing, the main focus for Day 5 was the National Center for Traditional Arts, and perhaps one of my favorite places on the tour. The idea behind the winding streets and specialty shops is to give visitors a sense of "old world" Taiwan while demonstrating how the various items for sale from puppets to paintbrushes are made. I found it utterly charming and ended up buying incense (complete with history lesson and a chance to sniff a wide variety of sandalwood shavings); preserved kumquats; dried "squid" cheese (a stringy cheese snack guaranteed to have not harmed any squids); and my most extravagant purchase to date: handmade lampwork glass beads for yet more jewelry-making. (I’m going to have to open my own shop at this rate.) At lunch, served in a building that had once been an old kiln, one of our group members asked an interesting question: What have you learned about yourself so far? At first I seemed to have so many answers I couldn’t concentrate on just one, so I think I said something inane, like, “A lot!” But later that afternoon I wanted to examine the question in more depth. Here’s my reply straight and unedited from my journal: “I’ve learned that I don’t need to go on my dream-vacation to Japan. This trip is enough and even better. For years I thought I was “Japanese” in spirit. Now, after this trip, that no longer rings true. I have learned that I am more complex: for instance, in the Palace Museum I read that everything in Chinese culture and life holds meaning and symbolism. And it all has to add up and create the ultimate state of harmony. I have learned that I want that too. And that I want to use my five senses in my art and writing much, much more than I have in the past. I guess I've learned I am hungry for life. I want to keep learning."
After lunch my quest for more "art and life" came to vivid life when I got caught up in a street theater performance—letting me believe I had been transported to another world and century.
Then it was back on the bus for our next destination: our hotel and such a steep drive into the mountains we had to be calmed (i.e., distracted) by watching a spectacular movie on Taiwan's geographical wonders. Refreshments for the ride were what our guide referred to as “donkey tongue cookies.” Although I think something may have been lost in translation, they were very good, about ten inches of pastry filled with cinnamon, and I suppose they do look like donkey tongues (not that I'm any kind of expert on the subject). And then . . . we arrived at our hotel, a wonderland of a resort owned and managed by the local Aborigines. I had NO idea we would be staying here (or anywhere like it, for that matter):
My "10-minute" version of our cabin.
The dining room--great for early morning journaling and sketching.
Using our hotel as "base camp," Day 6 took us hiking into the marbled cliffs of the Taroko Gorge:
Helmets were compulsory in this section--not, in my opinion, to protect us from the falling rocks, but because of the narrow walkway along the highway where buses, cars, and scooters whizzed, I mean whizzed by. Add to that my general fatigue from reaching the halfway point of our journey, and it's a miracle I didn't fall over the edge or in front of a speeding Porsche.
Taroko Gorge also provided my first monkey sighting in the village where we had lunch, followed by cold beers in a scenic garden setting while waiting for a few of our more-adventurous explorers to return.
Beer finished, it was onto the bus and off to a marble factory where we were able to take a peek into the high-security jade jewelry vaults. These star-fire gems (there is no other way to describe them) were unlike any pieces of jade I'd ever seen before--highly lustrous in shades of green, blue, and lilac, quite expensive, and guarded by uniformed girls straight out of a James Bond film. And, boy, did they keep their eyes out for sticky fingers. Once we'd had our look-see the cases closed with a bang, bang, bang and we were quickly ushered into the next room. Very quickly.
Marble chunks perfect for home or garden!
Back on the bus we had a lovely surprise waiting for us: our bus driver had bought us all porcelain pendant necklaces while we were admiring the jade. Mine was a miniature Blue Willow plate on a deep blue cord which I wore for the remainder of the trip. (It's currently on display in my writing room as part of my "Taiwan Memories" grouping.)
Necklaces in place, we then set out for another Aborigine village, this time with a lively dance show followed by a "hot pot" cook-your-own-dinner restaurant. As was often the case, I was given my own special vegetarian items to cook, starting with this amazing lotus flower:
A small lotus bud placed in boiling soup water turned into . . . a genuine Kodak moment. (And yes, I drew it in my sketchbook too.)
Highlight of the Day: Our Luxurious Leader Hotel. We were lucky enough to stay two nights in this beautiful setting and I don't think I'll ever forget a single moment. P.S. The dialogue in the video is in Chinese, but I thought that would provide an accurate example of what it was like to be there, rarely able to understand a single word anyone said! One difference between the video and our own stay is that the the grounds are shown to be more crowded than they were for us, but otherwise it's exactly the same. I even recognize some of the staff and performers. So please turn on the sound, sit back, and enjoy. Add a Comment
Today I've been going through the photos I took in Taiwan. Altogether I took a whopping 893 (a record for me), of which I printed out 293 over the weekend. Some will go into an album, but the majority are for art reference, especially pictures of temples, monkeys, and cats. Thanks to a handy mix-up at the developers, I ended up with an extra 181 doubles! I can't wait to start painting and experimenting with color, media, and some new techniques. Before then, however, (and before I continue with my Taiwan Diary posts) I wanted to let you all know about an exciting music-and-art event here in Albuquerque. Pianist Hui-Mei Lin, sister of our super Taiwan tour leader, artist Ming Franz, will be giving a concert on Friday, May 29, with cellist Peter Seidenberg. The concert will be followed by a reception at the New Mexico Art League, where the tickets are currently on sale. Phone: (505) 293-5034.
The New Mexico Art League Presents
"Classical in Bloom"
About the musicians: Hui-Mei Lin, pianist, a native of Taiwan, received her Bachelor’s degree from the Hartt School of Music, and Master’s degree from the Juilliard School. In 2002, she received a Doctoral of Musical Arts degree from the Graduate School of the City University of
Hui-Mei made her New York solo debut at the Weill Recital Hall at the Carnegie Hall as the winner of the Artists International Competition. She was described by the New York Times as “an excellent pianist throughout” and the Taiwan News as “a sensitive and powerful pianist.” Concert tours have taken her to Italy, Canada, and various cities in Taiwan, including two concerts at the National Concert Hall in Taipei. Her media broadcasts include solo performances at PBS, WQXR, Taiwan Television and China Broadcasting Company. As a chamber musician, Hui-Mei has performed with cellist Carter Brey, flutist Robert Stallman, soprano Berenice Bramson at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; the New Hungarian Quartet in Taos Chamber Music Festival, New Mexico; and the Peregrine Trio throughout the North East.
Dr. Lin maintains an active performing schedule. Last season she performed with her duo piano team, “Hudson Connection” at UC Davis, Metro State University of Denver, Bard College, Sarah Lawrence College, and with Peter at Music Institute of Chicago. This season her concerts include various venues in NY area, SC, CA, and NM. She is currently the Music Director at Briarcliff Congregational Church and a faculty member of The Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
Peter Seidenberg, cellist:“Totally enchanting, inspired performances, brimming with natural, spontaneous musicianship”, raves Gramophone Magazine about cellist Peter Seidenberg. Mr. Seidenberg has played in major halls throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. He made his solo debut with the Chicago Symphony, and has since appeared as soloist with many orchestras including Century Orchestra of Osaka, New American Chamber Orchestra, De Paul Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Soloists, and the Eastman-Rochester Philharmonic.
For four years he served as principal cellist with the Century Orchestra of Osaka. He was founding member of the critically acclaimed Elements Quartet which created groundbreaking commissioning projects involving over 30 composers. He has collaborated with members of the Cleveland, Tokyo, Juilliard and Emerson Quartets and has participated in the Marlboro, Aspen, Caramoor, Casals and Norfolk festivals.
His numerous recordings can be found on the Pantheon, RCA, EMF, CRI, Albany, and Lyrichord labels. He has been featured on PBS, NBC, NHK, New Zealand Public TV, Air Espania and European Broadcast Union (EBU) broadcasts.
Currently, Peter Seidenberg is the cellist for the Oracle Trio, the Queen’s Chamber Band, and the New York Chamber Soloists. He now lives in Hastings on Hudson, NY with his wife, violinist April Johnson, and two daughters, Beatrice and Olivia. It's quite an honor to have two such talented and accomplished musicians coming to our city. Something that made my trip to Taiwan particularly magical was the sound of music wherever I went. At first I thought it was my imagination, but no, soft neo-classical music was really floating onto the streets from shops, restaurants, hotels, and strategically-placed municipal speakers. (I've since learned it also emanates from the garbage trucks making their rounds!) The music didn't stop once we were inside, either. Besides music on the bus, we could listen and relax to all kinds of gentle sounds in several of our hotel rooms right at the push of a button. So with these happy memories still in mind I'm very much looking forward to Hui-Lin and Peter's concert. Piano and cello are two of my favorite instruments, and getting the chance to view some art on the same night will certainly prove inspiring. If you're already in Albuquerque, or perhaps traveling here that weekend, I hope to see you there!
The "art of the flower" as displayed in another of our
magnificent Taiwanese hotels: more on this amazing place later!
Hello, Everyone! Where do the weeks go? Despite my best intentions, it's been nearly two whole weeks since my last post. I need to catch up, so let's just start with Day 3 dawning over Taipei:
Sunny and mild, Day 3 found us traveling to the Tamsui Bay region where we explored the ancient Spanish Fort San Domingo, with its classic old Western-style architecture, garden, furnishings and views of Guan-yin Mountain. For some reason I didn't take any photos--probably because I was concentrating on the views:
Tamsui Bay--looking forward to painting this.
Going through the various rooms of the fort's living quarters, displayed to resemble the way the house appeared during the time of the last British Consulate, I came across this intriguing message on the wall: "One may ask, From which angle will the mountain look like the Goddess of Mercy most?" Hmm. I found the answer fairly soon when I turned the corner and entered an exhibition of mid-century modern Taiwanese art focusing on scenes of Tamsui. Cubism, Fauvism, 1950's "primitive," so many different techniques but all with an Asian flair I loved--a little too much as I then had to run to the gift shop to buy the exhibition catalog/book. And there went "traveling light." After the fort and a drive along the coast, we lunched (feasted) at a seafood restaurant. Being a vegetarian I was given my own special selections, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the artistry of the fish presentations--fish as food sculpture was a new one to me! Better still was the fact that I started using my chopsticks with serious proficiency. I can only thank the Goddess of Mercy for such kindness.
One of my favorite things was seeing all the family businesses in action. So many just like this.
After lunch: the wild and crazy Yehliu rocks, a coastal phenomenon unique to Taiwan. The rocks are truly unbelievable, shaped like chess pieces, dogs, mushrooms; whatever you can imagine there's a rock to match. Climbing up and down the walkways got a tad slippery for me (especially with my uncanny ability to trip whenever possible) so midway along the tour I stopped to rest with one of my fellow travelers, a lovely woman and new friend from the UK. While we were happily chatting in the shade about how difficult it is to get Americans to call a bathrobe a "dressing gown," we noticed people taking our photo, not once, but several times, only then to be asked if the photographers could be in the photos with us. It turned out that tourists from mainland China had never seen an American--or English--traveler in person before. They were thrilled, and I have no idea how many family albums we'll be appearing in over the next few months.
Yehliu mushroom rocks--incredible!
Straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Day 3 ended and Day 4 began in the port city of Keelung:
From our hotel room window!
Night view from the hotel restaurant.
Early morning stroll along the docks.
The sidewalk was narrow . . . but I was on a mission . . .
. . . to buy these. Delicious.
And then we were off to gold mining country, waterfall viewing,
and a terrifying bus trip while standing (I had to keep my eyes closed) into the romantic and exceptionally steep village of Jiufen. Once we arrived we still had to go further uphill, climbing, climbing, and climbing to the very top of the village accompanied by the pervasive scent of what's known as “stinky tofu," a local delicacy and a taste I'm embarrassed to say I never tried. I’m a bit disappointed at myself for being such a coward, but it was just too . . . stinky.
The streets of Jiufen filled with happy strangers.
No clue what they're selling here, but it looks like something fun!
"No, it's your turn to buy the stinky tofu!"
Unbelievably, it was lunchtime again (the meals never stopped appearing). This time in a delightful open-air wooden tea room with the usual abundance of delicious offerings. Good thing we were forced to walk down to the bottom of the village to catch our bus. Calories, calories!
Before leaving the village we were given an hour or so to sightsee on our own, so my first choice was to visit a natural stone store I remembered passing on the way up and where I was able to buy beads for jewelry making. I came away with jade, aventurine, and citrine (so, so pretty), and at a bargain, too. (BTW, in case there's any doubt, let me just remind everyone that shopping IS sightseeing. It's very educational to learn how shopkeepers in foreign parts write up receipts, display their goods, etc. etc. I highly recommend it.) After shop-seeing and some more much-needed walking, we then learned how to shove our way onto the shuttle bus. Being a Sunday, the place was crowded to capacity, so we had to be aggressive if we wanted get down to our tour bus waiting at the bottom of the mountain. So all together now: Shove, shove, shove! I felt terrible. Sort of. Safely back on our home bus again, shins and elbows intact, we again followed the coastline, this time to the tune of soul-soothing classical music, before we stopped at this architectural wonder of a museum:
Inside the museum I was able to learn more about the Aboriginal people of Taiwan, and the history of the Chinese settlers. My favorite moment was sitting inside a replica of an Aboriginal thatched hut to watch a movie (the big screen TV was something of an anachronism, especially as I was sitting on a log) about their daily lives, arts and crafts, and hunting methods.
After the museum: another spectacular hotel doubling as a spa (complete with deep stone-tiled spa tub and hot spring water right in our room) and known as "A Spring Full of Indulgence and Comfort." Taiwanese pajamas were provided for our comfort, that is if you were the size of a small teddy bear, but the cute free flip-flops fit like a dream--I'm still wearing them as I'm writing this post!
Tea for two.
Highlight of the Day: Shove, shove, shove! Nah, just kidding. Fortunately, we never had to be so ruthless again. Instead, I found the majority of the trip to be extremely calm and restful, a mood I'm celebrating with my new Pinterest board: I Love Taiwan! I'd love for you to take a look when you've got a free minute or two. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, Days 5 and 6.
<!--[if gte mso 9]>Normal0falsefalsefalseEN-USX-NONEX-NONEMicrosoftInternetExplorer4<![endif]-->Today I start my "Taiwan Diary" posts, outlining as best I can our 12 days of non-stop fun. Day 1 of the trip, a full travel day, might not sound like a thrill-a-minute, but I actually enjoyed it. Starting here at home in Albuquerque: up at 5.00 AM to shower, breakfast, and get to the airport (thankfully just a 20 minute drive away) in time for my flight to San Francisco where I would catch the plane to Taipei.
From Albuquerque to San Francisco I got the surprise of my life: several crates of puppies were packed behind me in the cargo area—aarf, aarf, aarf for the next two hours! At first I thought it was the guy sitting next to me--I was terrified he was making barking noises and I would have to call security. When I realized he couldn't possibly be barking in three different languages (i.e., chihuahua, poodle, and mutt), I finally arrived in San Francisco: collecting luggage, checking in to EVA Airlines, and meeting up with the rest of the tour group. After a several hour wait, we then boarded our plane for a long (14 hours?) trip made bearable by movies, a much better system than the days when I used to fly back and forth to New Zealand.
I watched The Theory of Everything (the recent film about Stephen Hawking); Someone to Love (Scandinavian tear-jerker about a selfish rock star who has to raise his grandson when the child's drug addict mother--the mean superstar's daughter--overdoses. It might have been a bit heavy for in-flight entertainment, but I felt I got to see a side of Scandinavian life I would otherwise have missed); and Gemma Bovary, a rather strange and dark French comedy (I think it was a comedy) about a woman whose life mimicked that of Madame Bovary. Which anyone familiar with the story would know is not very comedic!
By the time we arrived in Taipei it was a couple of hours before midnight, but we had yet to get through immigration, a seemingly endless line of night-arriving travelers. Once that was over, we were next into a shuttle van and off to the City Suites Hotel, a clean and comfortable stay perfect for when you have absolutely no idea where you are, what time of night or day it really is, and just need to crawl into bed.
At first my roommate (who turned out to be the best roommate anyone could ever ask for!!) and I couldn't get the lights to work until we figured out we had to place our room key card in the light switch. And then we couldn’t figure out how to turn them off--I think we slept with the lights on. Until dawn, at least, when I got up and unplugged all the lamps without telling her so that she thought there were no lights at all. Not my smartest moment.
What I do think was a pretty smart move, though, was my idea to throw away my entire airplane outfit! Yep, this had been my plan all along. For traveling I wore my very worst yard clothes and during the rest of the trip I managed to throw out 1 pair of jeans, 4 tops, 2 cardigan sweaters, a pair of shoes, and ALL of my underwear and socks. Talk about traveling light. My "Throw and Go" system was the best travel brainstorm I’ve ever had: months ago I started collecting things that would normally go in the rag bag or trash and decided to wear them one last time on the trip. I will never travel any other way again. "Throw and Go" not only solved the laundry problem, it left plenty of room in my suitcase for shopping.
Day 2 found me getting up at 5.00 AM again—I felt completely rested and ready to see the sights. This pattern seemed to follow me the rest of the trip—I didn’t want to miss a thing!
The day turned out to be cold and overcast, making me grateful to have brought a raincoat with a removable liner and hood. Coming from Albuquerque, I found the light drizzle something of a novelty, providing a mysterious dreamlike atmosphere that only added to my sense of adventure. Our tour guide also informed us that water brings good luck, a statement that proved itself just about every day.
After breakfast (with some of the best coffee I've ever had in my life--another great thing that continued throughout the entire trip) and waiting for everyone to gather for the bus, I took a few minutes to sketch the back view from the hotel lobby where a small canal or stream was flowing past:
My chosen medium was watercolor pencils, and everything was going fine until I went to fill my water brush with water and it broke in two. For anyone not familiar with a water brush, it's a brush that holds water in the tubular barrel and is (usually) great for travel. Except for when it breaks, which had never happened to me before. During the flight it must have developed some kind of airlock from the pressure, finally snapping in two. At first I was totally devastated; my whole "art plan" depended on my water brush. I consoled myself with the fact that we were going to an art supply store in the afternoon where I could buy a new one and I could always add the water at any time, but I wanted to paint now.
Painting woes aside, it was time to get on the bus, and our first tour stop of the day was the residence, now a museum, of Chang Dai-Chien, Taiwan’s most famous splash ink artist.
The entrance to the neighborhood housing the residence.
The Master's carp pond.
The Master's inner courtyard.
The back of the residence. Bonsai trees, rushing water, mountains, and white butterflies.
The Master's pickle jars!
The residence was definitely well worth the visit, an experience made even more interesting when our guide explained that the reason for all the water (ponds, waterfalls, river) was not only for the visual beauty, but for the sound. Chinese art strives to use, and be inspired by, all the senses, something I want to keep in mind for future artwork.
From the Master's House our next stop was the National Palace Museum—one of the largest collections of Chinese antiquities in the world.
I have no idea who these people are or how they got in my photo.
Before we started exploring the museum though, it was time for lunch. With chopsticks. Here is the sad story of me and chopsticks: despite having watched 3 Youtube videos prior to my departure on the correct usage of these darn little sticks, and practicing at home with knitting needles, I still made a big mess. Everyone else at my table seemed to be genius chopstick users. The thought occurred to me that I was going to have to solve the problem soon or I might soon be banned from the table. I couldn't eat with my fingers forever!
From the museum steps. (And an exciting view of the backs of people's heads. Sorry!)
Once I was finished throwing my food around the room we were given several free hours on our own to wander and absorb the magnificence of the actual museum. Again I noted in some of the displays that same theme of Chinese art using all the senses, particularly those that help to find the "chi" of whatever subject is being portrayed. For instance, if the artist was painting an animal, that chi might be found in the way the little creature lifted its paw or angled its head--an excellent starting point for any work of art.
Although the museum was far too big to cover in a single afternoon, I managed to see more floors and exhibitions then I thought I would, but it was tiring work. To recover I decided to get another cup of wonderful Taiwanese coffee and go outside for some more sketching. Another piece of advice I recalled from The Tao of Sketching was to cultivate "visual memory," so I tried to reproduce a Ming vase I saw in one of the exhibitions. I don't think I captured its "chi" exactly, but it makes a nice memory all the same.
My sketch and coffee finished, the chilly weather drove me back inside and surprise, surprise, into the museum gift store. I had wanted some cat art and sure enough, there it were two prints just waiting for me:
Lots of chi here, don't you think?
I'll be framing these soon for my office.
At last it was time to go to the art supply store, an old-world traditional shop up a steep flight of stairs and next to a street vendor making and selling delicious-smelling steamed pork buns (and that's from a vegetarian!). While the others in our group ordered authentic carved name seals (I opted out because I wasn't sure I really had a need for one) I started searching in vain for my water brush. Not only were they nonexistent, no one had a clue what I was talking about (neither in English nor with the help of Chinese translation.)
Which leads me to this important travel tip: keep the various parts of your brush separated while flying. Better still, take at least two brushes—this was one case where “traveling light” was too light.
However, all was not lost. I ended up purchasing something much, much better: a little Chinese watercolor brush I will treasure forever. The only downside of this brush was having to use a bottle of drinking water for dipping and cleaning it, and then having to constantly remind myself not to drink my paint water . . .
Such a sweet little brush. Excellent quality. I love it.
Last stop of the day was dinner and bed, all at the spectacular Grand Hotel where we turned into royalty. Sheer heaven. What a way to travel.
I reveled in the abundance of soaps, shampoos and lotions all smelling better than Chanel No. 5. Chinese artistry celebrates the senses for sure.
Highlight of the Day: Rubber stamps! Starting at the National Palace Museum I discovered that most tourist sites and even some hotels provide rubber stamps and ink pads to commemorate your visit with a mini work of art. It was so much fun collecting the various images throughout the country and I think they really enhanced my journal/sketchbook. The one I added to my museum sketch (and after I was able to use my paint brush) was one I found several days later at a Buddhist monastery. I have no idea what it says, or if I have the characters facing the right direction, but I'm glad I found it.
And what a trip it was. Here's a photo of me in the Taroko Gorge area, about halfway through our 12-day journey. I chose this one out of all my 893 pics because I thought it summed up my day-by-day existence pretty well: happy as a clam and having the time of my life whilst overcoming my reluctance to stand too close to the edge. (P.S. I did get right up close by the end of the day. In fact, I don't think I'll ever be afraid of heights again.) As you can see, we had to wear helmets in this particular section, but to be perfectly honest I should have been required to keep mine on my head until I got home. My head was always in the clouds (giving our wonderful tour guide a constant source of worry with the repeated refrain of: "Valerie, watch OUT!"). And that's because:
Taiwan was . . . incredible; one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. I am so grateful to artist Ming Franz for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with her to her home country in such a personal and insightful way. Any expectations I may have held in advance were far exceeded; both from a cultural and a tourist point of view. My sole job every day was to have my luggage ready for collection in the morning, get on the bus, and be prepared for adventure. The perfect way to travel!
Our magic flying bus.
Because the trip meant I had to miss participating in this year's April A-Z blogging challenge, I thought I would make up for lost time by writing several posts about the trip over the next couple of weeks. Don't worry--they won't be long or too exhaustive. As much as I would love to share every single second with you, I also realize how easily travel stories can become a big snooze, so I'll keep everything down to the highlights.
Something I wanted to mention before my next post though, is to remind everyone that my primary reasons for taking the trip (besides having lots of fun, traveling with Ming, and meeting new friends) were to, a) learn more about Asian and Chinese art, which I certainly did, and b) to sketch with a free heart and without my Inner Critic (I think I threw her off at the Gorge somewhere). In order to achieve the right state of mind for these goals, one book that really helped me ahead of time was The Tao of Sketching by Qui Lei Lei. I found his timetable/chart for sketching invaluable, e.g. "2-3 minutes, just use pen or pencil and go for quick lines," as well as his sage advice, "Never give up," (draw or paint in whatever circumstances you find yourself, which for me was drawing on the bus with all its bumps, sudden turns, and spilled water galore) and, "Capture what 'punctures your heart.' ”
Taiwan punctured my heart. But more of that in my next post: Travel Days 1 and 2. Right now I'm going to eat a yummy preserved kumquat, one of the treats I brought home from this amazing place, The National Center for Traditional Arts. Oh, how I wish I was still there!
Tip of the Day: Besides drawing, I also did a little bit of writing in the form of listing 12 items to remember every day. It was a good system as it saved me from the pressure of “having to journal” when I was too tired to do anything but smile. Best of all, the ensuing 144 are right at my fingertips, easy to transcribe into another form, e.g. this blog, without having to search through pages and pages of rambling observations and inner musings.
Earlier this year, Cartoon Network partnered with the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation for a public transportation advertising campaign called Cartoon Express. The campaign features a passenger train wrapped entirely, inside and out, in Cartoon Network character decals.
During its inaugural journey, the passengers, which included children from underprivileged backgrounds, received train announcements from the voice of Adventure Time’s Jake the Dog, played a CN-specific bingo game and mailed Cartoon Express postcards to loved ones via an on-board mailbox.
The Cartoon Express runs between the Taiwanese capitol of Taipei to the southern city of Kaohsiung and it is estimated that it will serve several hundred thousand passengers during the run of the campaign.
Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading →
Rhythm & Hues recently had a booth at a job fair at Taichung’s National Chung Hsing University, where it was recruiting special effects engineers, 3D animation artists and other creative personnel. Starting salaries for new graduates at the Taiwan studio are roughly in the range of $250-per-week, according to the China Post.
Pacy and her family are off to Taiwan for the summer. Pacy and her sisters are NOT looking forward to it. When they get there, it's hard. Everything is new and overwhelming. They don't speak the language and can't read signs. At home, they were the only Asian family and could feel out of place. In Taiwan they look like everyone else, but still don't fit. Through it all, Pacy learns more about straddling two cultures and gains appreciation for what her parents must have gone through when they moved to the US.
I'm a big fan of all of Grace Lin's works and this is a great addition to her largely autobiographical Pacy series. The tone is light and often funny and the sprinkled in simple line drawings add a lot to the text.
But this book proves that Lin and I should be friends because she goes to Taiwan AND SHE EATS ALL THE DUMPLINGS. Pacy looooooooooooooooooooooooves dumplings and orders them at almost every meal. By doing this, she eats a lot of different kinds of dumplings. I got SO HUNGRY reading this book. Good thing Mala Tang has several dumpling options for me to choose from.
But really, I mean, last time I went to China, Dan and I had the following conversation:
Dan: What do you want to do while we're in Shanghai? Me: EAT ALL THE DUMPLINGS. Dan: Ha ha. Seriously though, what do you want to see while we're there? Me: Seriously. I want to see places that serve dumplings.
I ate so many dumplings on that trip. Here's a picture of me eating xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) in Shanghai. That steamer used to be full. I did NOT share with Dan. In the book, Lin's relatives tell her that if you can eat soup dumplings without spilling, you're a true Chinese. I'm not about to claim that I'm Chinese, but I don't spill my dumplings.
So, as Pacy is obviously a girl after my own heart, of course I love her. (Now I want more dumplings...)
Book Provided by... my local library
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Even though all of our titles come from countries other than the U.S. it is a very special day when we can highlight our books that speak about or take place in a land that is somehow different than the ones we're used to seeing in a children's book.
Here are just a few of our books that take place in unique places in our world:
Much of what's written in English about children's book cover design naturally focuses on Western images. But what about children's books produced on the far half of the globe? I've been wondering if the style was quite different. It seems that most of what we see from the Far East now is manga and anime, and except for a few books that have drifted across the Pacific now and again, we don't seem to see much of what kids over there are reading.
Allow me to introduce two twenty-somethings, Amie and Nikolai. Amie grew up in Jhunan, Taiwan; Nikolai in Illinois, USA. They now both live in Boston. I asked them to come up with five favorite books they remember from childhood, so that we may have a little fun comparing and contrasting the cover art and design. Below are their choices.
First, from Amie, we have this picture book. She tells me it's about Mr. Crocodile having a day off:
I like how his passengers are wearing clothes and carrying books; they're adorable. I like how his long body spans the entire cover. By comparison, here's Nikolai's first choice, one of his very first books. The classic story of Corduroy, the little bear no one would buy.
Also adorable. I had no idea what to expect with this experiment, whether the covers would have significant design differences or not. But the more I look at these books, I see more similarities than differences. Note the way both images above face to the right, as if inviting the child to open the book, in anticipation of the story (which is common in picture books, I know). Note the jaunty typefaces. I love the way the crocodile seems to be about to swim right off the page, ready for adventure. (He looks like Lyle, doesn't he? Gosh, those teeth!) On the other hand, Corduroy is standing on a soft, comfy cushion. He's enclosed by the red background--very safe and cozy.
Next we have this somewhat Babar-esque little pachyderm on the cover of a wordless picture book from Taiwan. Amie says this "is my favorite elephant! She really tries hard to make her body look funny, sometimes looks like the moon, sometimes looks like a tree."
I like the bright colors, and the way the sky frames the little elephant. But I kind of wish the frame around the artwork had been left off. If the artist had omitted it, it would have allowed the elephant room to swing right off the edge of the book, like the croc above. The puffy, outlined title typeface is cool.
Compare that cover to Nikolai's Dandelion by Don Freeman, the lion who wishes to upgrade his appearance for a fancy party. Another Don Freeman cover, with similarities to Corduroy.
Both have animals for main characters. The elephant morphs, and the lion is anthropomorphic. Both are books about changing oneself--okay, maybe that's a stretch.
I wonder if children's book design and the stories one grows up with can influence the way a person sees the world. From Amie, we have this story of a young girl searching for presents on her birthday. "Her mom leaves little traces everywhere in the house, like a treasure hunt," Amie explains.
I can't get enough of this cover. Love the playful typeface and the way the girl is partly outside the frame, as if she's sneaking past her parents (Amie, is that what appealed to you, hmm?). Contrast, color, pattern, all very appealing. It's interesting that we don't see anyone's face straight on; in fact, the mother's back is turned to us--because she's hiding something?
Nikolai listed a very silly book, one he asked for nearly every night when he was three: Roger Bradford's Benjamin Dilley's Thirsty Camel, a cumulative story about a flooded basement and the fantastical beast who drinks it up. It's a tale about a boy's runaway imagination. Did it affect the way Nikolai turned out? Probably not; he says he just liked the illustrations. Honestly, I do, too. There's something about the way the camel's hump and head slope down toward little Benjamin so that our eyes are drawn to him. Very nice.
Now, from Nikolai and the west we have the wonderful Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel.
Contrast Lobel's easy reader tales of friendship between two amphibians with this book about two friends and jealousy from Taiwan:
These covers say more about what's to come than first meets the eye. Frog and Toad are facing the same direction (into the book again), riding together on their little amphibian-sized tandem bike as if all is right with the world, whereas the two children' on the Taiwanese book face each other, facing off, with the gift--and some white space--in between them. Well done, in both instances. Surely, the jealousy book was produced later than Lobel's; the more modern nature of the cover suggests as much. This is the only book that I felt had a uniquely Asian style--and maybe this shows my ignorance more than anything. But the cloud pattern on the gift, and the way it appears to be made of cut paper suggests an Asian aesthetic, to me. Like origami. The white square behind the two children and the sharply contrasting thick, black border remind me of calligraphy. And the entire design seems, well, designed. Deliberate. Artsy. Yet despite the Asian feel, the hair color on the two children makes me think this may be an import from the west, perhaps Europe?
And finally, my favorites. Both of our guests listed the same book. How's that for a small world? Comments anyone? Corrections? Clarification? --CB
All my life, my parents told me "If anyone asks, you're Taiwanese. Not Chinese. It's different." As a child I would dutifully comply, even though I didn't completely understand the distinction. In high school, one of my friends would tell me that I was Chinese American, like her. And when I disagreed, we would argue about it, no doubt just spouting our parents' political beliefs.
Well, I now understand the difference (especially after having lived in Taiwan for over a year after college), and yes, there is a difference. And yes, some of it is politically-based. To a certain extent, it comes down to whether or not you believe that Taiwan is an independent country, not a renegade province belonging to China. I believe that Taiwan is (and should be recognized as such) its own nation. Taiwan is a democracy. It has its own political system, its own president, its own economy, industry, and foods and culture. It's a tropical island country. Are many aspects of the culture similar to Chinese culture? Of course, but there are also so many differences: the food (oyster pancakes! Smelly tofu! Bubble tea! Bah-zang!), the language (although Mandarin is now the official dialect in Taiwan, the Taiwanese dialect is very different), and especially the way the people there think (as you can expect, someone growing up in a democracy that encourages freedom of speech and though will be much different from one growing up in a Communist country with censorship. Also, Taiwan had been occupied in the past by both the Dutch and the Japanese, and there are influences from both in the Taiwanese culture today). Taiwan has been separate from the mainland for over 200 years. And all of this was especially apparent to me when I visited China two years ago and realized the extent of the differences.
Anyway, I don't want to go on and on. I simply wanted to share this marvelous video. To my delight and surprise (they hadn't told me they were doing this), my younger brother, parents, and aunt and uncle are all featured! Can you guess which ones they are?
Lin, Grace. 2011. Dumpling Days. New York: Little Brown.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher - artwork not final)
(a booktalk) In Dumpling Days, Pacy Lin, her parents and two sisters (one older, one younger) are going to Taiwan for Pacy's grandmother's 60th birthday - for 28 days! Twenty-eight days?! What is Pacy supposed to do for 28 days without her friends in a country where she may look like everyone else, but inside, she's definitely not. At least there will be dumplings!
Pacy Lin is Grace Lin's semi-autobiographical character from her previous books, The Year of the Dog and the Year of the Rat. In Dumpling Days, Grace Lin has made a departure from her earlier books. Breaking out of "The Year of the" formula, with its limited page numbers, Dumpling Days is a longer book (approximately 265 pages), that offers Lin a chance to explore many facets of Chinese art, food, and culture, as well as offer deeper glimpses into the lives of Pacy's sisters, Lissy and Ki-Ki, and even their parents,
Mom and Dad had told us about how they had moved to the United States, but I hadn't thought about their not understanding TV commercials, not being able to order food, being ignored because you didn't speak the language - all the things I found hard here in Taiwan. Maybe when Mom ad Dad were first in America, everything was just as strange and confusing to them as Taiwan was to me now. It was surprising to think about.
A beautifully concise thought channeled through the voice of a young girl, easily undertood and profoundly important. In addition to offering cultural perspective, through the family's travels and activities, the reader learns much about the Chinese/Taiwanese culture.
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One of my many favorite food scenes in Dumpling Days by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012):
"Careful when you eat these," Auntie Jin said. "They're special."
I'd had dumplings lots of times. How special could these be? But as I took a bite, I almost stopped in amazement.
"There's soup in these dumplings!" I said.
All the adults at the table laughed.
"I told you they were special!" Auntie Jin said. "They are called xiaolongbao. They have soup inside of them. They're good, aren't they?"
I took another bite. The hot soup filled my mouth, and the mixture of soup and meat and dumpling skin seemed to melt into a warm, rich flavor. They were good. Very, very good. I began to realize why Uncle Flower said Taiwan had the best dumplings in the world.
They were so good that I didn't even notice that I had soup dribbling down my chin. I quickly wiped it away.
"They say if you can eat these dumplings without making a mess, you are a 'real Chinese' person," Uncle Flower said.