Yeah, but is it art?

“love you till the cows come home” is 11×14, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolor on paper. It is one of several new pieces showing at Humboldt Herbals in July and August, and is also available as a card or print.

“love you till the cows come home” is 11×14, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolor on paper. It is one of several new pieces showing at Humboldt Herbals in July and August, and is also available as a card or print.

The head of a local gallery once turned me down for a show, saying my work was too "popular" and not a good fit for his gallery. "Come back if you do something different," he said, "maybe something more from your soul." 


A nationally recognized artist put it in more positive terms: "Your work is very accessible."

As I've been painting a new series and preparing for a solo show in July and August, titled "Savor the Day," I've been pondering the question, "what is art?" And I've been feeling some insecurity about my work. Is it really art if it works as a greeting card? Is it art if it's not that technically skilled? Is it art if someone buys it for their mother in Oklahoma?

Of course, the question of what is art has been argued for a long time. The Impressionists once appalled the Paris art world with their loose, naturalistic approach.

About thirty years ago, my Swiss grandmother, who was born in 1899, told me she'd gotten my mother an art calendar for Christmas: "One of those modern painters . . . Monet."

She and my Swiss aunts, discussing a Picasso exhibit that was then visiting Basel, agreed that his work was "verrückt, verrückt!" (crazy).

In his seventh grade art class, my son recently learned about the work of Andy Warhol. When I asked what he thought of it, he replied, "Soup. A lot of soup. That was the dominant impression." It took a long time for the art establishment to accept those Campbell's soup cans as art, and clearly some younger critics are not yet convinced

Every class in Japanese or Chinese brush painting starts with learning to paint bamboo. The particular brush strokes for the trunk, the leaves, and the twigs have been handed down for centuries.

“savor the day” is 5×7, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolor on paper. It is available as a card or print.

“savor the day” is 5×7, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolor on paper. It is available as a card or print.

It's said that once you master the art of painting bamboo, you know the strokes to paint just about anything. The catch is that it takes a lifetime of painting bamboo to get there, or at least a decade.

And bamboo is just one of the Four Gentlemen that every aspiring brush painter is supposed to learn properly before painting anything else, along with the orchid, chrysanthemum and plum blossom. (As my daughter observed, "Four Gentlemen? Those don't sound very manly to me.")

Though my art draws on the tradition of Japanese ink painting, I've come to realize that I'm not terribly interested in mastering these ancient tools and techniques. Instead, I have learned just enough to adapt them to my own purposes.

I enjoy grinding my sumi ink stick in an ink stone and painting with bamboo brushes, but in a simple style that doesn't take years to master. And while I started out painting on rice paper, lately I prefer using watercolor paper and other sturdy paper, so I can saturate my paintings with color.

As for subject matter, I have yet to find anything to say about bamboo. Instead, my new show features flying chickens, lovestruck cows, and smiling frogs.

Is it true art? Who is to say? And does it matter? But I do know that my work, now sold in 30 stores in four states, is given to friends and lovers, shared with support groups and classes, taped to bathroom mirrors, and stuck on refrigerators.

Helping people feel more connected to each other and to the world around them: that is my soul's work. My mother put it succinctly last week, as I was sharing my uncertainties: "Your art makes a lot of people happy."

I like to think that if she were still alive, even my art critic grandmother would agree.

Makino Studios News

Savor the Day: I have a solo show opening Saturday, July 5, 6-9 p.m. at Humboldt Herbals in Eureka, CA. There will be live music and free refreshments, and I'll have new cards and prints for sale as well as my brand-new 2015 16-month calendar. The show runs through August.

Healthy Customers:LifeSource Natural Foods in Salem, Oregon is now carrying my cards. It seems my customers are a healthy bunch, as this is the sixth natural food store to carry my cards. Thanks to everyone who supports my work, wherever you find it!

Traveling: I'm heading to New York and then to a cabin on the Klamath River in Northern California, so my Makino Studios Etsy shop will be closed July 5-26. I'm sorry for any inconvenience.

North Country Fair: Humboldt folks, come celebrate the fall equinox at the 41st annual North Country Fair on the Arcata Plaza September 20 and 21. I'll have a Makino Studios booth on G Street near 9th.

BabyUpdate: Thanks to everyone who responded to my last post, Adoption Journey! My nephew Kai, now five months old, is doing well at home in Tucson with my sister Yuri, and he continues to enchant all who meet him.

Ripening into sweetness


Happy Solstice! One of the things I love best about the advent of summer is all the delicious fresh fruit. You can take your pasta, meat, bread and sweets; if I had to live on only one kind of food for the rest of my life, it would be fruit. There is a series of photos of me at age three, up in a tree in our Southern California backyard, stark naked, blissfully eating apricot after apricot right off the branch.

My idea of paradise still involves lots of fruit trees and berry vines. A few years ago, my husband spent a backbreaking summer planting over thirty fruit trees on our land. Visions of strolling out into our yard to harvest fresh cherries, plums, and nectarines have since given way to the sad reality: our area just isn’t sunny and warm enough for such trees to thrive. What little fruit they produce is discovered first by the birds and raccoons.

Luckily for us, there is a lively farmer’s market on the Arcata Plaza every Saturday. Live music, an array of jugglers and hula hoopers, and half a dozen booths of fresh-baked treats complement the rows of organic farm stands. These days we are gorging ourselves on the tiny, deep red strawberries we find there, each one packed with more flavor and sweetness than an industrially grown version ten times the size.

I am savoring the strawberries and peaches of the season every way I can think of: as an oatmeal topping; sliced onto toasted bread slathered with almond butter or mascarpone cheese; in salads with blue cheese crumbles; combined with Greek yogurt and drizzled with chopped nuts and honey; or eaten whole with a few squares of good dark chocolate.

Hello, summer.

“summer solstice” is 5" x 7", painted with sumi ink and Japanese gansai paint on paper.

Makino Studios News

Summer Art Show: For the months of July and August, I will have an exhibit at Persimmons Garden Gallery, located at 1055 Redway Drive in Redway, California. There will be an opening Friday, July 5 from 6-9 p.m. with live music by the SoHum Girls and the Fabulous Resinaires.

North Coast Open Studios: Thanks to everyone who came out to visit the five of us at the Samoa Women's Club June 1 and 2! The event was very well-attended and it was great fun to share our work and techniques with visitors.

MikkiMoves Living Room Gallery: I have a piece in a group show at MikkiMoves' Living Room Gallery, located at 805 7th Street in Eureka, California. The show runs through June.

Makino Studios Gallery: There are several new pieces in the gallery secti0n, including some I painted in Mexico this past spring.