At 91, my mother still inspires me with all her creative energy. With an unexpected windfall, she just had an art studio built behind her house where she works on clay sculptures several days a week.
People often ask me where I get my inspiration. I tell them that for writing haiku, it could be literally anything I experience. For instance, getting out of jury duty and going from the courthouse to the beach:
from jury duty
the wind in my hair
But for paintings, 90% of my ideas come from one place: nature. Whether hiking through sand dunes or exploring Arcata’s marsh and bird sanctuary, I find that spending time out in nature is a wellspring of creative ideas.
My family and I are wrapping up a summer of wilderness adventures. Hiking in the King Range along the Lost Coast, we stumbled on a colony of elephant seals, the males bellowing and grappling like sumo wrestlers.
We rented double kayaks and paddled around two islands on Humboldt Bay, slipping past harbor seals, herons and pelicans, and gaining a whole new perspective on our local geography.
In Prairie Creek State Park, we trekked through lush old-growth redwood forest, passing a lovely little waterfall and sword ferns growing taller than my head. It was a nine-mile hike in which we climbed the equivalent of 73 floors. (Undaunted, our 16-year old son Gabriel asked to be dropped off at tennis class on the drive back so he could play for a couple of hours!)
And this past weekend, the smoke from wildfires cleared just in time for us to get in one last, delicious weekend of swimming and sunning on the Klamath River, where we have gone every summer for the past twenty-one years.
Many of these experiences have given rise to art. Working from photos taken on my iPhone, I paint the beautiful places we’ve visited, which allows me to experience them all over again.
As for poetic inspiration, although I’m safe from jury duty for another year, there are always events large and small to inspire haiku. Even a mate's choice of bedtime reading!
War and Peace
a hundred pages in
Makino Studios News
North Country Fair: Celebrate the fall equinox at the 44th annual North Country Fair in Arcata the weekend of Sept. 16-17! This festive event features 170 booths, live entertainment on three stages, and two parades. I’ll have my newest cards and calendars at the Makino Studios booth on G Street near 9th.
2018 calendars: For the fifth year in a row, I’ve designed a mini-calendar of art and haiku. This year’s features landscapes, dogs, cats and flowers. It is now available online and is coming to stores soon. These make great holiday gifts!
New haiga: I’ve posted several new haiga (art that includes haiku) in the Makino Studios online gallery. Many of these appear in the new calendar.
Newest cards: Check out my latest card designs in the MakinoStudios Etsy shop. You can choose any six designs for $19.99 plus tax and shipping
Connecting: I so appreciate whenever someone takes the time to respond to these posts, and I read and answer every message.
“War and Peace” published in Frogpond, Issue 40.2, Spring-Summer 2017.
When I first tried sumi ink painting five years ago, I struggled. There was frustration. There was angst.
In this ancient medium, you grind an ink stick made of pine soot and glue in an ink stone with a few drops of water, then paint with bamboo brushes on rice paper. Sounds simple enough, right? But in practice, there are many ways to go wrong—and I excelled at all of them.
I ground the ink too thin and it dried sad and gray on the paper; I ground it too thick and my strokes ran out early, gasping for ink. I got too much water in the brush and my strokes grew wide and blobby. I moved my arm too slowly and the lines looked tentative; too quickly and the lines skipped and went awry.
But with the encouragement of family and friends, I kept plugging away. Occasionally, almost by accident, a painting would work, and that was enough to keep me going.
water and stone
how we shape
Multiplying the challenges, I soon added Japanese watercolors (gansai paints) to my pieces. And I gradually moved away from the simple lines and white backgrounds of traditional Japanese ink painting toward more colorful and detailed pieces—images involving tricky subjects like animal fur, water reflections or storm clouds. In the words of management guru Tom Peters, I learned to “fail forward fast.”
I feel oddly shy sharing this, but I’ve recently had a breakthrough. After years of effort in which my failed paintings ended up as wrapping paper, I think I may be getting the hang of this. Somehow, the dozen paintings I’ve created this summer radiate a new level of aliveness. The sea foam looks lighter, the flower petals more delicate, the river wetter.
the sea laps the edge
of the page
I haven’t yet put in the requisite ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery. But I’m getting closer. A few days ago I hung a solo show of local Humboldt landscapes, called “Water & Earth,” and I feel it’s my strongest body of work to date. The journey continues, but I am pausing here to appreciate the view.
rice paper moon
pine trees brush
the inky sky
Makino Studios News
Water & Earth: My current show features landscape paintings inspired by Humboldt County’s beautiful wild places. It is on view at Libation on the plaza in Arcata, California through August 2015, along with my cards and prints.
North Country Fair: Celebrate the fall equinox at the 42nd annual North Country Fair in Arcata the weekend of Sept. 19-20. This festive event features 200 booths, live music on two stages, and two parades. My booth will be in the usual spot on G Street near 9th.
Fieldbrook Art & Wine Festival: The following weekend I’ll have a booth at this lovely event at the Fieldbrook Winery in Fieldbrook, California on Saturday, Sept. 26, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Seabeck Haiku Getaway: This fun and inspiring gathering of haiku poets takes place on Washington State’s beautiful Kitsap Peninsula Oct. 1-4. I will be giving a presentation of my haiga (haiku art) there.
Before we were tamed: Thanks so much to all who came to see Tina Gleave and me at Ramone’s in June during North Coast Open Studios and who visited our show!
I have been having trouble with frogs. Not actual frogs, which I kind of like, in their funny, damp way, but with trying to capture them on paper. To get the image I wanted for the piece shown here, in a long, frustrating process lasting two days, I painted a frog on a lily pad twenty-three times.
Still, each of my paintings fell short in some way. In many there was a problem with the neck, as my 12-year-old, an avid frog-catcher, helpfully pointed out. Others were out of proportion—froggy arms too long for the body, or feet too small. And in a couple, the ink ran in the all-important eyes, ruining the whole piece.
I wasn’t going for anatomical precision—that’s why God invented cameras—but I was still looking for that elusive “aha!” that tells me I’m done.
Exhausted by frogs, I put them away for a couple of weeks, letting the images percolate in my brain. And when I finally got up the gumption to tackle the piece again, I allowed myself to sketch it in pencil first, contrary to traditional Japanese technique.
Aha! Got it.
From the outside, being an artist may seem like a dream job. To have a career that is all about expressing your creativity, to enjoy the freedom of pursuing your passion however you choose, to share your talent with the admiring public, to leave your mark on the world in the most personal of ways . . .
There is truth to all of that, and I do appreciate the opportunity I have to walk this path. But the dirty little secret about being an artist is that it is also hard. Really hard.
First there is the overwhelming problem of trying to make a living as an artist, which deserves a whole separate discussion. Then there is the fact that—as rewarding as it is to create a successful painting—on any given morning, it is far easier to check email, Facebook, and Twitter, do laundry, or even (shudder) clean the bathroom, than sit down in the studio and paint.
It takes focused concentration and a mind uncluttered by the demands of a to-do list or a tight schedule. That's a tall order right there.
More fundamentally, although my creative vision is usually clear, my technical skills lag behind. In that gap lies self-doubt and frustration—not to mention a whole lot of wasted ink and paper. I’ve been involved with art and graphic design since childhood, yet some part of me still questions whether I can really call myself an artist. If so, would it really take me twenty-three tries to paint a simple frog? And must the whole process involve so much hair pulling?
And yet . . . I know that it's only by reaching beyond our comfort levels and throwing ourselves into the difficult and unknown that we leave open the possibility of grace. In the case of this particular painting, grace takes the form of a meditating frog, distracted by its many wandering thoughts, peeking an eye open.
Is this goofy painting to be part of my legacy to humanity? Well, so be it. Ribbit.
“in meditation” is 5" x 7", painted with sumi ink and gansai paint (Japanese watercolors) on paper. It is also available as a print or greeting card.
Makino Studios News
North Country Fair: Humboldt folks, please stop by and say hello at my booth at the 40th annual North Country Fair in Arcata, California this coming weekend, September 21-22, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. The Makino Studios booth will be near the Hot Knots corner on G Street.
Seabeck Haiku Gathering: I will be presenting examples of my haiga (art with haiku) at this fun haiku retreat taking place in Seabeck, Washington October 10-13.
Hello, Oregon: As of this month, the independent bookstore Soundpeace in Ashland is the first retailer in Oregon to carry a selection of my cards.