Posts Tagged ‘sakura’

More Paintings

December 28, 2010

Well, here we go. As Christmas presents for some friends here this year, I decided to get out the brushes and canvases again and attempt to create one-of-a-kind, personalized gifts. (Notice that I didn’t say “great artwork” anywhere in there!) It has been relaxing and therapeutic to paint after the big push to finish The Star Shard on time. (Not that I was particularly tired of writing — but deadlines help, and the swift approach of Christmas with its need for presents was another great motivator.)

I have to apologize in advance for the quality of what you’re about to see. For one thing, these three paintings would be better if an actual artist had painted them. For another, it’s much harder than you might think to get painted images into an electronic format and post them onto a blog! When I asked about professional scanning at a couple different places, there was a lot of inhaling through teeth (which means, “You’re asking something difficult; I really wish you weren’t asking me that”). The pros were worried about shadows created by irregularities in the painted surfaces, etc. The upshot was that it may or may not be possible, but it would certainly involve sending the paintings away to the lab; it would take a long time; and it would be very expensive. [I’d gone into the first place with the merry idea of having them scan the paintings while I waited and then ordering cheap posters for all my friends . . . um, no. Live and learn!]

I tried using my own flatbed scanner — which, of course, is not nearly big enough for the canvases. They are A3 size, and it can only handle A4. But I thought I might scan the paintings a quadrant at a time and have good, digital images of the details. Again, not. For some reason, even when I played with the brightness control and weighted down the scanner lid with a stack of books, the scanned images came out very dim. Hmm.

So I resorted to taking digital photos of the paintings with my camera. Again, Murphy’s Law was strictly enforced. For one thing, it is winter in the northern hemisphere. That means that the sun over Niigata will next show its face in . . . maybe May? If we’re blessed. So I had to use the gray daylight on the edge of my tiny verandah. As I was jockeying into position, icy rainwater dripping off the edge of the roof hit the back of my coat and neatly splashed over the canvas. Grrr! (No damage, since the paintings are protected by nice finishing varnish.) I took gray daylight shots, and then I tried another series indoors by electric lighting. You’ll see a combination of both.

Problem #2: My preference for varnish is high-gloss. Not just “gloss,” but “high-gloss.” It’s beautiful to look at, but a nightmare to photograph. It’s like pointing your camera at a mirror. FLASHHH! That’s why you’ll see these images at all sorts of odd angles. I’m standing on my head with the camera, trying everything I can think of to avoid reflections.

Okay, I think that’s my full battery of excuses. I’m not an artist, I’m not a photographer, I’m poor, I have no patience, I live in a perpetually-cloudy region, and I like high-gloss varnish. May all that serve to predispose you to look kindly and mercifully on these humble paintings!

"What a Lot of Things You Use 'Good Morning' For!"

So here’s Gandalf talking with Bilbo at the beginning of The Hobbit. (I’m clearly not in any danger of being commissioned to do a Tolkien calendar anytime soon!) Sorry about the framing — because of the odd angle, I had to crop like mad, so you can’t see to the edges of the canvas. [This is precisely why Marquee Movies will tell you: always go with letterbox format in your movie rentals and purchases — never settle for the “pan-and-scan,” full-screen versions. Unfortunately, these are pan-and-scan versions of my paintings.]

I do like the expressions on the faces of these two. And the Shire looks sort of inviting. (It looks MUCH more so on the actual canvas, where the colors are brighter and everything looks 40% prettier.)

I like Bilbo’s fat stomach! The influence of the Peter Jackson films is quite evident in the hairstyle, huh? For that teacup, I used a color called “English Lace,” and I didn’t even have to mix it. I like the moss effect on the stone porch-thing. See my signature there in the corner? I always do it in gold, an “F” and a “D” together.

This was the outdoor shot, with a big glare on the canvas. (I took several, and believe it or not, this was the best. Sigh!) No, I don’t think that’s the Party Tree in the background. It’s just a tree. I like the purplish stuff in the hedgerow, and I hope that on your computer it looks better than it does on mine. It’s nice in the original, as is the sunlight on the grassy slopes.

The Eternal Now

This is a picture of me and my two closest friends on this side of the Pacific. (Can you tell which one is me?) It represents both Heaven and those “moments of Heaven” we experience at times in this life.

This is by electric lighting. Of course in Heaven it will be midsummer all the time (heh, heh — Mr. Snowflake is away, so I can say anything I want!) — but maybe the cherry trees in Heaven bloom in the midsummer. The sakura blossoms themselves were easy to paint: I used a large, soft brush like the tuft on a lion’s tail, and when I had the paint mixed to the precise color I wanted (white with the tiniest touch of crimson), I just puffed the brush all over, above every trunk I’d painstakingly drawn first. I like how the most distant trees seem almost a mist. (Those trunks took forever!)

What’s “Heavenly” about this image is that there aren’t crowds of people. There’s the picnic, and then just trees, trees, and trees, as far as the eye can see — and friendly blue hills in the distance. There are no responsibilities. There is only a picnic, and close friends, and good books, and a baseball and ball gloves, and time that does not pass: the Eternal Now. A golden moment unending.

This picture allows you to see the two bicycles in the foreground. The thing about cherry trees is that they bloom for a very short time. It’s like about a week at the most — and if there’s rain or wind during that time, the petals can fall prematurely. For the sakura to look beautiful, a blue sky is required. So in most places, people are very fortunate if they have one or two good viewing days during cherry blossom season. That is a large part of their allure, I suppose. Like a human life, they are here for one shining moment, and then they are gone. A breath. A day and a night, and then Eternity.

The peak of the blooming is called mankai, when every blossom is open, and the boughs look positively heavy with flowers, and every tree is poised in that one breathless instant before the pink rain of falling petals begins. If you get a blue sky on the day of mankai, you have received a wonderful gift. For this painting, I chose the moment when the first few petals are falling — the threshold between the perfect beauty of mankai and the perfect beauty of the pink rain.

The Eternal Now

And now we return to Middle-earth:

The Bridge of Khazad-dum

The classic confrontation between Gandalf and the Balrog is a favorite of artists. But I have yet to see a rendition of this scene that doesn’t ignore Tolkien’s description that the Balrog’s limbs have the coiling property of serpents. Have you seen anyone else tackle that? I’ve attempted to show that here, and I think my design is plausible.

Flame of Udun

The Balrog should be a combination of shadow and flame. See my little orcs streaming down the stairways in the background?

The Balrog

You can pretty much tell that what I love the most about this scene is Moria itself. Moria is the place in Middle-earth that I’d most like to visit. I mean Khazad-dum in its heyday, of course, before it was full of orcs. The folk of Durin! The great city of Dwarrowdelf! (Is it an accident that there’s only one letter difference between “Durin” and “Durbin”?)

Fleeing Companions

Frodo doesn’t want to leave Gandalf. Sam isn’t about to leave Frodo. Aragorn is trying to get them both out of harm’s way. We see Legolas and Gimli here, and I guess the blond hobbit must be Pippin. (Merry wouldn’t be blond.)

In the actual, I love these colors of the stonework.

Nice chasm, huh? 🙂

And there you have it. Once again: if your computer works anything like mine does, if you click on any painting, you can view a magnified version of it. Click again, and you zoom in further. I haven’t figured out how to “click back out” without shutting down the whole window, though . . .

In the previous post, I introduced a quotation from Tolstoy in War and Peace and invited reactions. Thank you to those who offered your thoughts! Here’s the quote once again, and then my two cents:

“Everything I know, I know because I love.”

To love is to step forth, to reach out, to emerge from one’s isolation. It is to sense and savor the world around us. It is to embrace the joy that comes from places, from objects, from activities, and especially from other people. To love is to take a risk — for only when we love do we have something to lose. When we love we are involved; we are invested. Triumph, awkwardness, anxiety, exultation, fear, anger, joy . . . all these emotions that mark us as human beings — are they not all traceable to our loves?

In the movie The Name of the Rose, Sean Connery’s character William of Baskerville says to his novice, “How simple life would be without love, Adsol — how safe, how tranquil . . . and how dull.”

“Everything I know, I know because I love.”

I think Tolstoy was right.


April 17, 2009

Sakura is the Japanese word for “cherry” as in cherry blossoms, those

Cherry blossoms, 2009

Cherry blossoms, 2009

otherworldly white-pink flowering boughs that are one symbol of Japan — and a national craze at this time of year. I remember being bewildered by the profound mystery of cherry blossoms when I first saw them: how they can be both pink and white at the same time. You see a cherry tree from a distance, and it is a gentle pink haze. You approach it and examine the flowers at close range, and they’re as white as white can be. Then you back off, and sure enough, the tree is pink again.

I also wanted to point out the living presence of ancient folklore in

Kappa asking visitors to keep Toyano Lagoon free of trash

Kappa asking visitors to keep Toyano Lagoon free of trash

 modern times: one of these photos shows a sign asking people to help keep the area around Toyano Lagoon free of trash. The creatures making the plea are kappa, the water-goblins of many an old tale. Since the lagoon is their home, they have a vested interest in the neatness of tourists who come to see the cherry blossoms along the waterside.

Cherries at Toyano Lagoon

Cherries at Toyano Lagoon

This, by the way, is my favorite place in Niigata City for cherry viewing. The trees along the lagoon’s near side are quite old, their trunks gnarled and wizened with the elements and time’s passage. In another decade or two, these trees will no longer bloom so well, and the annual traffic of sakurophiles will shift to the lagoon’s far side and to other areas in the city with younger trees. And so the cycle goes on. . . .

Cherry blossoms at Toyano Lagoon

Cherry blossoms at Toyano Lagoon

The fascination with sakura in Japan includes the awareness of brevity. Full bloom lasts for a couple days — perhaps three, four at best, certainly less than a week. Then the long-anticipated petals fall in a pink rain, the new green leaves burst forth, and the blossoms are over for another year. I recall at least one old Japanese ghost story in which human youth is linked to the sakura tree. We humans, too, blossom and flourish for one white-pink moment in the sun, and then the wheel of time rolls on. (As some famous writer said: “You’re young for a moment, and then you’re old for a very long time.”) But the blossoming

Booth selling poppoyaki, a soft bread stick made with molasses/brown sugar

Booth selling poppoyaki, a soft bread stick made with molasses/brown sugar

— it’s all the more spectacular because it’s so brief. It is a Japanese ideal to savor every single instant, to perceive and experience the life in every breath.

Anyway (grroinnk!), “The Star Shard” is now complete in its Cricket run. Any day now, my corner of the Web site will be deactivated, and I’ll be passing the baton to the next featured writer. What a blessing it’s been to be a part of it all this past year! I hope I’ve savored every instant and experienced the life in every breath.

Toyano Lagoon

Toyano Lagoon

Another batch of hard-copy reader letters arrived from Cricket today; and the winners and honorable mentions are all up on the site now for the contest in February about writing a song that the Urrmsh might sing. I’m not ashamed to admit that reading through these entries brought tears to my eyes.

One young reader, Aashima, included sheet music with her song text! She composed a melody to go with the words! To read all the song lyrics, please visit Cricket‘s site at I can’t reprint the songs here, but I can say a heartfelt thank you to all these young readers/writers, who wrote beautiful song texts, most centered on the sadness but necessity of Cymbril’s leaving the Rake and saying goodbye to the Urrmsh:

Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms

Emily/Sparks, NV; Hope/Lake Oswego, OR; Sarah/Andover, MA; Jack/Great Meadows, NJ; Sasha/Berkeley, CA; Isabel/Brooklyn, NY; Kayla/Cape May Court House, NJ; Isabel/Houston, TX; Sumayyah/West Babylon, NY; Jessie/Brentwood Bay, B.C., Canada; Kendra/Seattle, WA; Frances/Salt Lake City, UT; Aashima/Dallas, TX; Sam/Dallas, TX; Emma/Omaha, NE; Madeline/Valencia, CA; Max/New Hampton, NH; Mia/New Hampton, NH; Peyton/Dallas, TX; Phoebe/Dallas, TX; and

Strings of lanterns through the trees for nightly illumination

Strings of lanterns through the trees for nightly illumination

Miranda/Skokie, IL. And thanks also to the magnificent fan artists: Anhtho/Seattle, WA; Dylann/Vista, CA; Aria/PA; Irisa/NY; Maya/NY; Andrew/NY; Aloise/Baltimore, MA; Eddie/Bandon, OR; Samantha/Northport, NY; Olivia/Belmont, MS; Laura/Anchorage, AK; Ethan/PA; Natalie/Wilton, CT; and Ivy/Costa Mesa, CA.

Soli Deo gloria! That the story has had this much life of its own beyond

the tabletop where I wrote it is a blessing beyond words, beyond imagining. If I were to die tomorrow, I would have no regrets as a writer — as a writer, I could have more success in volume and magnitude — but in kind, in experience, what more could one hope for? This is the best of all worlds, and I’m thankful to have seen it up this close.

Finally (groink! — that’s the sound of changing the subject with a

The Anastasia ("Resurrection"): tour boat on the Shinano River

The Anastasia ("Resurrection"): tour boat on the Shinano River

monkey wrench, for anyone who came in late), remember how a while back we were talking about misconceptions of words we had as kids? I remembered another one: for a time, I thought a “Valkyrie” was something we sang in church, related to the “Kyrie” in the liturgy. I thought a Valkyrie was higher or stronger than a simple Kyrie, just as an archangel is of higher rank than an angel. (Tom Cruise’s film Valkyrie is playing here now; that’s what reminded me.)


The "Big Swan" stadium, built for the World Cup soccer games

The "Big Swan" stadium, built for the World Cup soccer games

Finally, I had some breakthroughs in thinking today about a story that’s teetering on the edge between being targeted for middle-grade and for teenagers. I guess I’ll know better when I get into the writing. (I’m hoping to get a shorter piece written before some publisher bites on The Star Shard [Lord willing] and I have to do another overhaul of that manuscript.) But also the dreaded last big chunk of the Japanese grammar dictionary I’m helping to edit arrived today, so I can blame my ineptitude and procrastination on having this dictionary job. . . . It’s good to have your writerly excuses in order. Keep them polished.

“When That April. . . .”

April 7, 2009

Here we are again in the month that, according to Chaucer, makes people want to go on pilgrimages! A friend over there in the States was just commenting today on how appropriate it is that, at this time of year when we finally begin to see and feel the sun again, when new life is bursting out all over, that we’re also in Holy Week. We’re about to celebrate again the Resurrection. In the words of the hymn:

“I know that my Redeemer lives.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives!”

Anyway, for me here, it’s been a week of getting organized for the new

My new file cabinet

My new file cabinet

 school year, which gets underway next week. I’d always wanted a file cabinet, and I finally found a store here that specializes in used office furniture. They had file cabinets in all shapes and sizes, and I finally decided on this one.

So I’ve just spent several days sorting things, labeling the hanging folders, and filling it up with stuff that used to be in cardboard boxes and drawers. It now holds:

1. All my important correspondence since 1997, in order and filed by year;

2. My writing projects and some works-in-progress of writer friends;

3. My teaching materials — years and years of handouts and ideas, gleaned from here and there or my own originals — all categorized for easy location now in folders with such labels as “reading homework,” “listening,” “pronunciation,” “grammar,” “games,” etc. This should make class preparation easier.

My apartment in Niigata

My apartment in Niigata

Oh — here’s also a picture of my apartment. That’s my place on the ground floor: my little verandah where I hang out my laundry — my office is right inside there — and my tatami-mat sleeping room on the left, behind the paper shouji window — the one that shows my silhouette to the neighborhood if I’m not careful. The building was sparsely-populated last year, but it’s completely filled up in the last couple weeks. This is the time of year when people move around, when the fiscal year begins.

What’s the universal writerly application of this posting? Am I skirting dangerously close to a “what-I-had-for-breakfast” posting here? Far be it from me! The universal application is: I commend to you spring organization, spring cleaning, and the opening of windows. It’s the time of year to sweep up the dust, clean off the tables, cast out the piles of paper you’ll never ever need again — and begin something new. Go on a pilgrimage! Tell tales with your fellow travelers, and be glad for their company.

Know that your Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the Earth; and that though worms destroy these bodies, yet in our flesh we shall see God!

Oh — semi-groink! — Issue #13 of Black Gate came in yesterday’s mail. And I see by the enclosed ad for what’s coming soon that my story “World’s End” is slated to appear sometime during the next four issues. That’s the first Agondria story — not the first one written, but the first in the intended order — and editor John O’Neill also bought my cousin Steve’s illustration for it. Don’t start holding your breath yet: we may be celebrating Easter two or three more times before the story finally appears, because BG comes out on an irregular schedule — Mr. O’Neill gives quality the priority over speed. When issues do come out, they are, for all practical purpose, high-quality books, like big, soft-cover trade paperbacks, slick and glossy and thick. But anyway, that story is coming eventually, and I was thrilled to see my name on a list of what people “won’t want to miss, so don’t let your subscription run out”!

As to the header of this blog: yes, I thought I’d put away the skeletons for awhile — how could I have skeletons up for Easter? — but they’re not gone, they’re just in the closet. What you see there are the first cherry blossoms of this year in Niigata, the photo just taken today. By the weekend, the city will probably be in full bloom!

May your projects and your work and your life bloom, too, to the glory of God!