art, drawing, graphic design, technology

Handwriting to drawing to painting

I’m not sure how much or whether I have mentioned on this blog, a thought about the interrelatedness of writing by hand, and of drawing. It’s something that was reinforced for me when visiting an art store today and emerging with a couple of little markers.

Whenever I start drawing, it seems kind of inevitable that I would be drawn into practicing my handwriting in Japanese language. I have a relatively solid grasp of kana (phonetic characters) and a very introductory knowledge of kanji (ideographic characters). The thing is…it’s very, very tempting to try and practice getting stroke quality, size, type, proportion of each character in such a way as it becomes beautiful at the same time as it contains meaning.

Of course, this is likely related to my interest both in Graphic Design and calligraphy, painting, and some spiritual bents such as Zen Buddhism. The last three, in particular, are very related historically in an East Asian context, along with poetry. I wouldn’t have known that without having researched the topic of art and writing within Zen, for a graduate project…but I’m fairly sure that this also pre-dates Zen and goes back to the literati in ancient China.

Okay, and that gets really complicated, with the introduction of Buddhist dharma (way of existence) into China, and the mixture of Buddhism and what are now called Daoism, Confucianism, etc. That was introduced into what is now Korea and from there, Japan, though there were multiple transmissions. (Buddhism is not native to East Asia; so far as I know, it originated in South Asia [now India], and traveled through Central Asia into China — but my sources are skewed due to the fact that I currently can only read English-language versions of the history of this. English-language versions of, “what Buddhism is,” by people who only know other English-language versions, are generally imperfect at best, warped and misunderstood, at worst.)

My point is basically that there’s a large historical precedent for my interest in this, and that I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these values were passed on to me by the cultures of family and friends (at the least). To get deeply into that goes into some personal spiritual beliefs (or lack of them), which I’m not even all the time sure on (see the Dao De Jing/Tao Te Ching for a reference to why I may not talk about this — it’s a short work), but it gives me some stability. An inkling of it.

Anyhow…I read somewhere that the expression of the writer/artist with ink and brush was supposed to be a reflection of the one who wrote it, although at times an artist would get someone else to do the calligraphy for him. (Most of what I’ve read goes over male artists/poets/calligraphers; that doesn’t mean they all were, but it’s what I’ve seen.)

I believe that it is because of the high value placed on literacy and writing in at least Japan, that the language has turned out as beautiful (and complex) as it is. There are thousands of kanji (ideographic symbols borrowed from Chinese language) to learn to read and write, though there are also patterns within the kanji (like their formative elements, or “radicals”) that give clues to their meanings and readings.

I did start this post talking about the interrelatedness of writing by hand and of making art. My concern is that when people shift from writing with their hands, to writing by typing — only — that the practice which allows drawing to grow from writing, and painting to grow from drawing, is avoided. I do have some concern over the fact that most of us — unless we make a conscious effort otherwise — will likely be writing mostly by using a keyboard, and facing a computer screen. Not by hand, with paper (or any surface) and whatever instrument you use to write with, which could be pencil or marker or pen or brush or charcoal or something else. Something that will make a mark. Anything that will make a mark.

There’s a freedom to any of the latter in that you can express yourself not only in how the text is encoded, but in how it is drawn, and also that you can draw other things that are not letters or punctuation! My drawing, really, started in the margins of my notes and writings for school, as a young teen. I got bored. I found a way to express myself which no one could take away from me, without also taking away my learning tools.

Coincidentally, it was also close to that time at which I started to learn kana. I was into anime, particularly Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon, and I wanted to know how to read the text in the Japanese-language books I had to accompany the series. This was also, particularly, because I knew there were a number of seasons and movies (most of them, actually) which had not been translated into English. The only contact I had with these movies and series were the anime books (these must have a name; they’re an entire genre) and untranslated VHS tapes which I found through local venues.

I’m guessing that for me — at least, right now — writing in Japanese is closer to art, than writing in English. That is changing a bit, as I experiment with incorporating more cursive into my handwriting (which inevitably makes it messier than my regular [legible] print; or my regular cursive, where my “r”s are a bit…hard to identify). It’s probably also because writing in Japanese is less familiar to me. But I think I need a bit of a challenge in my reading — and not from English sentences being indecipherable. (It happens in college readings, sometimes. I’ve had textbooks like this. I’m not kidding. SENTENCES WHICH MAKE NO SENSE.)

I have, off-and-on, heard arguments or concerns about Japanese youth losing the skill of reading because of the popularity of manga (comics). I’m not so much concerned about that at this moment, but rather the loss of artistic skill and development which may loom because of a digital revolution in which no one can even write (well) by hand, anymore. It’s already a given that a lot of schools in the U.S. no longer teach how to write in cursive, making the reading of things like old ledgers written in Copperplate script, difficult to read. (I can barely read Copperplate. How much worse must it be for kids who didn’t learn cursive in Kindergarten?)

I also wonder how much I have bought into that in the past, because I did have to spend so much of my time in front of a screen. Something that no one told me, though, is that going to school online does mean that you have to take copious notes (even when the Professor gives handouts). Which are best done by hand. It’s hard when you haven’t written quickly and legibly in a very long time. And, I’m finding, it’s likely harder to draw when you haven’t written by hand at all in a very long time.

I’ve been writing by hand recently, though (which I’ve referenced in earlier posts here), and…it is easier to edge back into mark-making by just trying to write correctly in Japanese. I am not entirely certain why, except for the fact that I now can tell when they’re right (or at least when they’re beautiful), and when they aren’t. I do believe that a lot of that is due to my art training. Before someone close to me dropped out of Japanese-language class, the teacher saw my writing trying to help them on their homework, and said I had “nice handwriting.” So…I don’t know what that’s worth, except that I know I’m not going way into calligraphic territory. It’s legible. That’s good.

So far, I’ve not personally focused on this Inktober thing, but it is kind of inspiring to see all the works people are doing. I’ve also been able to get into acrylic paint markers…which, alongside my Pitt pens and alcohol markers…they’re alluring because of the use of color, for one thing. Opacity also helps, and it’s absent in other water-based and alcohol-based markers. I wouldn’t consider myself into graffiti in any way, but there’s something in the graphic qualities of marker that’s there for me.

I’m thinking that if I get deep enough into this…work in paint may come easier to me. I realized that Acryla gouache is what I was seeking, in a hybrid between acrylics and watercolors which I could utilize on paper without abusing my watercolor brushes (gesso is rough) — say for miniatures. (I still love Shahzia Sikander.) There’s also the possibility of using gouache mixed with acrylic glazing medium, or the (gasp!) use of transparent watercolors mixed with gouache.

I haven’t tried any of that yet, though they’re all creative possibilities. Right now what I have to deal with is how to get my markers out so I can see them, and how to combine transparent, opaque, and permanent inks…

…and paints. If I try, I’ll find out what works, and what doesn’t. As I’m learning, a lot of art (or at least design), seems to be about that. That, and not getting hung up on what other people say art should be…

organization, personal, work

Languages and migration: a.k.a. Too much free time

As of last Friday, I completed my initial three weeks of full-time training. I went in to work one time this week to be signed off. Other than that, I haven’t been practicing. I’m kind of scared that I’m going to lose some of what I’ve learned…though a few days on desk for the amount of time I have experienced on a daily basis, should kick that right back in, for me.

I could also be reviewing my notes, from those last three weeks. Even with my attempt to write down only that which I did not know or recall, I filled up enough pages that I had to buy a bigger binder. Don’t worry, it’s done…and apparently a Kokuyo 20-hole binder for A5 paper will also fit Maruman 20-hole A5 paper. Don’t quote me on that, though.

Right now we have a guest, which has me thinking on the actuality of the possibility of taking a job nearer to them. This has caused me to remember plans for joining them, and the potential relevance of my learning Japanese language. It’s almost useless where I am now, but would be used daily at the place to which we’re considering moving.

So…this week has given me the opportunity to check out what I actually will want to do for the foreseeable future. Let’s say the next 5 years. This would impact me especially where it comes to furthering my acquisition of a second language. I have a choice between español (Spanish) or nihongo (Japanese), for a language I would have a head start in picking up. Which I choose, depends on where I expect myself to be in the future.

Based on my experience in learning Spanish language in middle and high school…I would say that most of my discouragement in learning the language, aside from a certain integral component (the fact that all nouns have a gender, which profoundly impacts me as a person who now considers themselves gender-nonbinary), has been in not wanting to be like my teachers. That sounds kind of harsh, but in my experience (in three out of five teachers — and one of the other two teachers was a native speaker, until he got fired) there was definitely a certain type of person — in my school district — who became a Spanish-language teacher.

Nor am I really confident in my Spanish-language skills. But I know enough so that when I start to read something written in Spanish language, I can get the gist of what’s meant. My major difficulty is then with vocabulary. There is also the point that the people I’ve known who have natively spoken Spanish, have been a lot more down-to-earth than my past teachers.

It wasn’t quite until I began reading things in English that looked like they had originally been written for Spanish speakers, that I started to take interest in the language again (I had originally chosen Spanish over French because it was more widely applicable in the Americas; these two languages were the only two I had access to in my regular public school setting). Then there is the issue of International Relations which are just being trashed with Latin America right now…it wasn’t great to be estadounidense in Central and South America before: I don’t expect it to be easier, now.

On the other hand — with Japanese language…the biggest barriers are now 1) kanji (Chinese characters integrated into Japanese writing), which I have not systematically studied; 2) counters; and, 3) practice partners. Apparently, as there is such a shortage of sounds within nihongo itself, differing counters are appended to differing types of objects being counted, in order to tell what the number applies to. There’s that, and the fact that the pronunciation of a number changes, depending on the counter paired with it.

This comes up early…which kind of makes me fear that people in Japan test foreigners by asking them to count things appropriately. (Counting things in a basic way is understandable, but generally only done by small children.) That, in turn…doesn’t have me thinking that nihonjin (Japanese-from-Japan) are really welcoming to foreigners. There’s that, in addition to the fact that I’ve lived the experience of a hapa (mixed-race) nikkeijin (Japanese-of-foreign-birth)…and have experienced issues with racism from within my own family, ostensibly caused by the race of my non-Japanese parent. I say, “ostensibly,” because no minority brings the experience of racism upon themselves. Others visit it upon them, whatever their excuse.

Having said that, I’ve also experienced racial tensions all through my life in University…so I suppose it may come with the package of this rebirth.

The issue for me — when I was taking Japanese-language classes — was the bizarreness factor of being in class with a bunch of anime (Japanese animation) and J-pop (Japanese pop music) fans who just wanted to understand their lyrics or lines…and myself, who wanted to know more about my heritage, and what had helped give form to me.

In short, my drive to learn nihongo, early on, was a drive to understand more about myself and my social, cultural, and historical context. I knew I did like Japanese pop culture (and appreciated what of Japanese culture I did participate in due to family influence), but I didn’t know why. I have a lot more of a clue about that, at this time.

I just can’t see giving up Japanese language study for Spanish, just because Spanish is easier (being closer to English). Spanish would give me a better window into European cultures and American Indigenous cultures…the thing is, I’m not heavily interested in European cultures, compared to my interest in China, Japan, Korea, or Tibet. (I don’t know much about Southeast Asia at this point, but I can see myself curious about that, once I get a baseline understanding of the more northerly territories. There’s also Polynesia, though French may be of more use, there.)

Finding information on American Indigenous cultures is so far from my present capability that I really don’t know how long it will be before I can even source words from the people I want to hear from, or tell whether it would be recorded en español or in their specific native languages. I suppose it makes sense that I would be more interested in regions connected to my diaspora.

Anyhow. I…have restarted my nihongo practice via my library. I can work through the 12 classes, and then see where I am. After all, it’s not like the español knowledge is just going to evaporate. It has hung around for two decades, after all.

And Japanese is so beautiful when written. It just will take some practice to learn. And I have time.

creative writing

Handwriting…

It’s ironic that I keep looking around at pens, when the vast majority of my writing these days is done on a keyboard. There’s a pretty straightforward reason for this: sometimes, thoughts come to me so quickly that it is very difficult to write them down before they’re lost — though that was more of an issue when I was younger. Also, despite the fact that typing is by its nature a linear route, it’s still easier to insert and delete records here, than on paper.

Of course, it’s also easier to draw and make notations in the middle of writing, by using pen and paper. I am also not a stranger to multiple ink colors…though it’s easy enough to change a font color on a computer, there’s basically not a lot of point to it, there.

There’s also the fact that ink may not be permanent — but then, file formats go obsolete, too.

One of the reasons I may move back to paper records is the fact that they’re relatively private. I haven’t attempted any creative writing in a long time; it is possible to attribute this to the fact that primarily writing online means that my writing is not only my own. It also means that every typographical error, every ill-thought-out slip of the keys (or of judgment) is public. Writing involves risk-taking; risk-taking involves privacy, and freedom from other people’s criticisms until one is ready to present.

Blogging simply is too public a forum to place such extreme vulnerability. Or maybe I should say that blogging is extremely public, and creative writing needs some degree of nurturing, and in the early stages is helped by some degree of privacy (or incubation, if you’d rather).

I got my first fountain pen, a Pilot Metropolitan, to practice writing in Japanese. While I could resume learning this…I’m far from functionality, but too far in for grammatical drills and repetitions of “konnichi wa” to be alluring. It would be review, and review can be frustrating after you’ve done it over and over, for years. I’ve come far enough that I recognize some of what people are saying on NHK World, but it’s in fragments. A large part of what I’m missing is just vocabulary. That, and knowledge of pitch.

What I need to do is just craft my own approach to learning Japanese. I have enough sources to begin, though now I also have no one to correct me.

I should also back off of the typing and try and write some things out by hand. Like I do here. Just sit down, and write.

After having looked around a bit on the Reader, I’m fairly glad that I haven’t been mindlessly posting pictures of my craft work — controlled openness, is a term I think I’ve read, before, as applies to the craft community. It isn’t easy to do that, online: unless I’m in a protected area, it’s all-or-nothing.

While I’m writing this, I should also mention that it has become more difficult for me to read books. I think it’s because they aren’t animated like my screen. ;)

I’m getting off topic. Last night I was up way too late, and paid for it earlier today. I’ll try and get some rest now. Hopefully, I can touch on this tomorrow.

craft, creativity, design, paper crafts

Papercrafts.

Two things: One, I have started experimenting with paper-cutting (or “papercuts,” as my old Art friends would have called it). Two, for the second day in recent memory, I woke up today striking out at something that was in a dream. (The previous time, I struck a pillow and my headboard, which woke me up.)

Luckily, I don’t share my bed with anyone; I was also on my back, so I only would have popped someone if they had been standing over me. It took me a little bit of time to get to the point of wondering how hard I would have struck. M says that it sounds like I’ve been under a lot of stress. It’s possible; I realized last night that I’m actually in the middle of three instructional programs, though none of them are in the University system, at the moment. I’m also kind of stressed from the job search, and the fact that I did not opt to take internships (which is apparently very important, though I’ve been told that my nine years in the system as an Aide [but not as a Library Assistant] suffices).

I suppose that by the beginning of this Fall, I should be fairly clear on whether I want to be a Cataloger, or otherwise concentrate on Web Development…

So…the other thing. I believe that the term for what I’ve been doing with knives and paper is called kirigami, though I’m not completely sure. My previous forays into kirigami were simple cuts into origami (paper-folding) which allowed slightly more complex structures (such as antennae on shrimp). Because origami has a strong inclination to avoid cutting of the paper, though, these cuts were minimal, and mostly not of a structural nature.

What I was doing last night was more experimental and playful, than anything. I had started experimenting with my knives and gouges on linoleum printing blocks. It was at this time that I realized that most of my gouges are seriously damaged; one had a bent tip which split and tore the linoleum rather than cutting it, while many of the others had otherwise chipped or deformed (dulled) cutting edges. It’s probably due to my using them without having realized how fragile they were; though I also wonder if these companies should be making gouges (as versus knives) in the first place. The blades which were undamaged (the U-gouges) also slipped on the harder blocks, which is an obvious safety hazard. Then there was the chisel blade, which was sharp, but hard to back out of a cut. It’s good for clearing away mass, but not so much in detailed areas.

These are Speedball and X-Acto blades (both of which have issues in fitting the blades to the handles, particularly where it comes to tightening the collets, which in both cases have resulted in metal shavings)…and I’m not entirely certain whether it’s worth buying replacement blades for them. This is especially as I can go to one or more Japanese toolshops and buy reusable blades that I know I can sharpen myself (I have a fine-grit waterstone built for this purpose, though my Japanese-language skills aren’t high enough yet to allow me to read the instructions, and Google Translate basically doesn’t play well with Japanese).

I do, however, know that high-carbon steel (the kind that rusts and has to be oiled and protected from air and water) is much better for blades of this type than stainless steel (the latter of which, looks like what I’ve got in my X-Acto set — I doubt high-carbon steel would bend). The deal is that Japanese high-carbon steel blades, I would think, would be made more for use in wood and food, not linoleum, which…really? Is made from sawdust and linseed oil (possibly with stone dust also)?

Anyhow…I wanted to cut some things, and upon seeing the damage that my gouges had largely gone through, I turned my attention to the straight and hooked blades (they worked better, fortunately)…and the paper-crafting drawer that I had not gone into, for months.

Turns out, I have a large number of origami paper sheets, mostly unfaded (though the faded ones are good for potentially disposable practice). This includes a lot of tiny papers (!) which are not as useful in kirigami, but fun to play with. I tried making a tiny crane from a paper which was 4 cm square…not easy! Especially when you haven’t done origami in years (and making Diamond Base means you’re working with a module that is 2√2 cm in height)!

Still, that stuff’s cute. I picked up the block (500 sheets) from a small Asian grocery store when I was a kid, probably for $1. I still remember that. The owner there has basically seen me grow up, though we don’t really talk…he’s much more comfortable using nihongo (Japanese language), and less comfortable with English, than I am. I wouldn’t be surprised if situations like that were part of the reason I originally wanted to learn (that, and anime, manga, games, and music, though that sounds silly as an adult — there’s way more to any culture than just pop culture and food).

So…let’s see. I don’t have pictures yet — I was up too late last night to consider it, and today I was largely asleep — but it was fun to play around with folding the papers different ways, to see what would happen. As I was messing around with that, I started remembering the ways I’d folded paper in the past, mostly as a kid and teen. With art, it’s really rare for there to be a rule that says you can’t do something (which is always meant to be followed)…

What’s interesting is that I seem to have stumbled back onto a modular component (one which fits into a bunch of other ones to make a larger piece), just from playing around. I don’t remember what to do with it, though. I just have it folded up and waiting for me to get back to it. (The tough part is dealing with the aftermath of the first fold, requiring an inversion and tuck of the last fold. This makes a smaller square where all the corners are tucked in.)

I also have the question of whether there exist origami and/or kirigami books for adults. There have to be, right? I haven’t run a search yet (edit: they’re in or near Dewey 736.982), though I can see from a basic Web search that kirigami in particular is inspiring people in Engineering. I think I’ve seen at least one NOVA program focusing on that, where it came to nanotechnology and self-assembling robots.

Hmm. I also know a bookstore in SF Japantown that did have displays on origami, possibly kirigami. Whether the person who was into that is still there (or can help me), I’m not certain. There’s a very real language barrier that I’ve dealt with for a very long time, which is why I’m currently trying to learn nihongo. That goal is also a large part of the reasoning behind considering moving further West; it would be much easier to maintain practice in Japanese language where there are a lot of people who need you to do so (and whom you can practice with).

What’s fun — with the papers, at least — is the fact that until you get a good amount of practice, it’s not easy to tell what is going to come out of any particular folding + cutting pattern. Getting a good handle on origami bases and modules (some of which, I’ll likely make up, solely as cutting patterns) should help, though.

The major drawback to using origami paper is that I haven’t known it to be colorfast (the colors, at least in the cheaper versions, often run with water-based adhesives); thus, gluing these things down to anything will require some skill (or spray adhesive, which I’ve been told is particularly noxious). There’s also the possibility of cutting my own paper, meaning possibly marbling or painting and then squaring up, folding, and cutting the paper again…which I might do if I find a nice enough cutting pattern. For example, I could take a folded and cut piece, then cut pieces out of it and glue those down to stiffer paper, possibly with overlap, to help make bookmarks.

(I’ve had a bookmark “trip” in the back of my mind for the last several years, apologies.)

I did also, though, find a bunch of bookmarks I made one Christmas which did not cure in time for the holiday, meaning that they would have left glue marks on the insides of books. Several years later, they’re less slippery. I’m still not using that glue again. I have three alternatives to test, now.

I could still do bookmarks. The major deal with those is the fact that I was using patterned greeting card paper along with paper blanks made for scrapbook borders…I never really got into the scrapbooking thing, but it’s nice to have a bunch of different papers available. It reminds me of quilting, really.

And yeah, right — now I have the washi tape in addition to acrylic markers! There are a good amount of possibilities…