Art: Art Supply Rabbit Hole

I have been on an acrylic monotype bender this year, but I hope to return to watercolor painting again. I do it in flurries, and I’m overdue for a return.

I use transparent Japanese, Holbein brand tube watercolors (primarily: I also like a French brand); Swiss watercolor pencils and crayons; and I have a German travel set of watercolors I bought at a museum in Switzerland on one of my last trips there, but haven’t used much since. I also have a tiny mixing set of Holbein’s opaque gouache, which I love, and can mix just about any color I need from. I’ve gone through multiple tubes of it, and love its dense color.

I have enough supplies. Probably. I’m always missing a shade of green or blue that can’t be mixed, but I surely have enough.

Anyway, there’s a type of Japanese watercolor that I (somehow) do not have. It had escaped me, because we call several things “watercolor” in English, but they have different names there.

The paint is called gansai. It is often mineral based, opaque, and generally not vegetarian in composition, commonly using animal skin binders. I wanted to know more about it, to see if a vegetarian version is available, and to know if it offers colors I don’t already have in the only big set of paints I’ve ever bought, which is a set of Holbein’s “antique” Japanese colors.

Does Holbein offer a gansai range? Yes! But only in Japan: the product isn’t available through their US distributor. Also, they don’t address my animal ingredient concern, so I may need to ask.

Is it similar in color range to Holbein Irodori Antique Watercolors? Well, this was a hard question, because that set is no longer listed on the Holbein sites. Why? It has been replaced with a full line of Holbein Irodori GOUACHES!

[insert sound of me, a gouache lover, losing my mind]

Oh oh oh oh oh… I need to know more about this, and found an Irodori fan who runs her own art supply shop in Hanoi to share her insights:

Knowing that I already love gouache complicates my research into gansai… Though it’s not like a huge box of tubes and all the related equipment is very portable, and I was looking for something portable in this instance. (During my business travels, I used the portable tools and got satisfactory results. While I’m at home, the bulky tube paints give me better results, but require more space and equipment. Since I created work while traveling to justify that purchase, this means I can justify having both! 😀 )

So, setting aside how gorgeous the gouache looks (though there are only a few colors that I feel I can’t go on without in that new line), I chose to go back to research gansai.

Is there a vegetarian Gansai: YES! My local supplier, Jet Pens, offers Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, and specifically notes that they contain no animal products. Hooray!

Did I see other magical things during this research? Oh, goodness yes. Tons of tours of various art supply shops in Japan, plus this gem on one VERY SPECIAL art supply store:

My mind is filled with colorful paint fantasies now… I’ll try not to talk about paint again until I show you something I’ve made with it.

Art: Judy Chicago’s ‘Forever de Young’

Yes, I did choose a viewing spot downwind of the performance. I REGRET NOTHING!

I always marvel at how lucky I am to live in San Francisco. While taking long walks with friends, I often say aloud that we are extraordinarily lucky to live here, in such a beautiful city, with such a vibrant and creative and international population, mild weather year round, and the remarkable influence of the bay and our famous fog.

October 16th was one of those days that inspires outbursts of gratitude, not only because the weather was warm and mild, but also because I also got to participate with friends in an ART EXPERIENCE! The brilliant Judy Chicago performed one of her Atmospheres installations: a gorgeous, colored smoke performance of vast size, here for the public in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

IT WAS FANTASTIC.

It’s not every day I come home starry-eyed and reeking of gunpowder, but this was one of those days!

The de Young live-streamed the event, and packaged it with a great overview of the exhibit. It’s a GREAT use of video, and I want to compel everyone I know to see it (giving me a moment’s overlap with the sort of zeal religious missionaries possess, which is a funny feeling).

It was gorgeous; it allowed me to follow my habit of photographing other people while they photograph; it was great to see so many people so excited about an art event; it was pleasant to participate in a masked group activity outdoors; my phone is filled with abstract colors and texts from the friend who participated with me; I left completely delighted.

Stamps: Emilio Sanchez art postage stamps

Maybe it’s because I enjoyed the exercises in architecture school in which we drafted shadows on objects (that was a good year….), but I really like the bold clarity of Emilio Sanchez’ paintings in the form of US Postal Service Stamps.

The paintings read well at stamp size (and the stamps are generously sized, which I appreciate!), and are even better at oversized postcard size. The oversized postcards are printed on surprisingly sturdy card stock – I feel confident they’ll travel well, even to my international pen friends. The colors are great – rich and deep – with a matte finish.

Sanchez’s work is a great choice for postal products, and I’m sure the recipients of my mail will enjoy and appreciate these cards and stamps.

Art: Emily Carr’s Lush, Green Forests

I’m sending art postcards, and just prepared to mail Old-Time Coast Village by Emily Carr, and… it’s just so GOOD! The way she shapes the forest, so the canopy looks solid, or like a blanket… it’s just WONDERFUL. Dark, mysterious, fresh, and wonderful.

The Vancouver Art Gallery’s website is down, so I’ll link to it (expecting it to return?), but also share a thumbnail of the card:

Postcard of Old-Time Coast Village by Emily Carr. Hopefully the Vancouver Art Gallery website will be restored, so you can look at their Emily Carr collection. I LOVE LOVE LOVE her work!

Art: World Cyanotype Day is September 25th

My favorite handmade photographic process has its own day of appreciation!

My friends at alternativephotography.com, my favorite alternative process website, have a gallery of submissions to share. It’s fun to see how people are using this vivid blue photographic printing process.

Art: Pan American Unity by Diego Rivera on view at SFMoMA

The colors! THE COLORS! It’s been {forever and a day} since I last saw this, and it is glorious. A really powerful mural. It’s in the free-to-the-public SFMoMA lobby on Howard. Go see it.

Book: Judy Chicago: New Views by the National Museum of Women in the Arts

This is a gorgeous cover, with the intrusive colored smoke encroaching on the title text. Just fantastic!

Judy Chicago: New Views
by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (U.S.)
published by Scala Arts Publishers, Inc., New York
2019

Judy Chicago’s works, especially her drawings and paintings, always appeal to me. She has a sense shading and gradation that is consistent across her materials, and her drawing compositions are just stunning. She is an artist I have always believed should be more famous, and the folks at the National Museum of Women in the Arts agree! They’ve created and published this excellent book.

There is a lot to appreciate about this volume. It includes works that are held privately, and so you are unlikely to have seen them; it includes details of works you may not have appreciated from a polite viewing distance in a museum, especially for her textile works; and the essays and interview are of exceptionally high quality – and are somehow at just the right length to leave you stimulated and wanting more.

I am personally thrilled to see images of her smoke and firework pieces, which had escaped me previously, but which I should see in larger form at the upcoming Judy Chicago retrospective at the San Francisco deYoung Museum, which opens later this month (August 2021).

I appreciate so much about her body of work. I especially appreciate: the consistency of her compositions across materials (from Prismacolor pencil to sprayed paints on different bases); her elegant use of ranges of color; her direct embrace of female imagery and feminist ideas; her compassion for the suffering of others (including animals), which she renders so skillfully across different media; her in depth, multi-year studies of materials (she enrolled in auto body shop classes, boatbuilding classes, and china painting classes) so she could execute her work at a high technical level; and her utilization and embrace of skilled collaborators to help her achieve some of her monumentally sized works.

While her work evolved in clear directions, I was surprised to be so delighted by some of her early paintings on car hoods, which I wouldn’t recognize has hers (based on later work), but which is charming and bold. The shapes she uses are nearly iconic.

This is an excellent book of very high quality by every measure, with a great selection of Chicago’s work, beautifully reproduced, presented in a well-organized fashion alongside thoughtful writing about her direction and commitment to her themes. I’m so glad I bought it, and feel more prepared to enjoy her forthcoming show!

Book: Tokyo at Night by Mateusz Urbanowicz

Cover of Tokyo at Night, art book by Mateusz Urbanowicz

Tokyo at Night (translated Japanese title: Tokyo Night Train Works)
by Mateusz Urbanowicz
published by MdN Corp, Tokyo, Japan
2019

This is a beautiful book of NIGHT TIME contemporary, urban watercolors by a professional artist/illustrator for Japanese animation films. If you have ever wondered what animation artists do in their spare time, the answer is: they create MORE ART!

You may find this book review inevitable, between my fuss over ordering books from Kinokuniya Books in San Francisco, my background in architecture, and my appreciation of the background illustrations in Japanese anime I caught up on during the pandemic. Kinokuniya featured Urbanowicz’ other work, Tokyo Storefronts, prominently in its windows, and those are great, but night time watercolors are definitely within my special area of interest!

There is a lot to appreciate here.

First, Urbanowicz has some conflicted feelings about contemporary urban surfaces in Tokyo. There are a plenty of hyper-modern concrete facades, overhead wires, metal roll-up doors, overpasses, and other functional urban shapes, all of which are both a great visual challenge for an artist AND a sort of painful visual blight for someone who appreciates historic/traditional Japanese design more generally. I like that Urbanowicz embraces this hypermodern chaos, accepting it for what it offers visually, and sharing some of his feelings about it.

On a related note, Urbanowicz isn’t choosing beloved landmarks that would already have a warm place in your heart: he is choosing ordinary urban scenes that you wouldn’t ordinarily go out of your way to glorify. As so many people favor conventionally pretty, “popular” scenes to benefit from existing affection for a subject, I’m all the more impressed for his originality and effort to make remarkable work about ordinary locations.

As a professional illustrator, Urbanowicz takes a very practical approach to these works. He uses waterproof ink where that benefits the work; he uses opaque white paint when that creates an effect he wants; he uses masking fluid; he uses an airbrush when he wants to soften something. He uses watercolor for its strengths, and uses other tools when they contribute. He also revises compositions when the real life arrangement wouldn’t make a great image. He offers and illustrated guide near the end of the book to share his techniques, so we’ll appreciate the human effort that went into doing all this work by hand. It’s quite refreshing that he is so skilled with many tools, and isn’t unduly strict about single tool purity.

I’m especially impressed that he created all of this work on light paper. That required laying down a LOT of pigment, and he chose his materials and approach carefully, so that his washes remained clear and smooth. (My own washes get very grainy in unfortunate ways when I try to work this this kind of saturation, so I really appreciate his fantastic washes – I appreciate just knowing that this kind of saturation is possible!) Many painters render night scenes in opaque paints, especially oils, so seeing this work done in watercolor expands my idea of what is possible in watercolor.

This is an impressive and enjoyable book of great watercolors for fans of watercolor painting, hard-edged urban details, night scenes, Tokyo, Japanese urban environments, and any of Urbanowicz’ other work.

Life: I don’t have a monotype printing blog (yet)

However, I have a smartphone photo blog, where I sometimes post photos of monotype prints. (Pretend that is meta.)

This is just a reminder that I post images at mobilelene.blogspot.com more frequently than I post book reviews and rambles about coffee here. I’ve been posting there since 2008 with my fancy new iPhone 1, exported my Google+ posts there (buggily) when that service shut down, and then kept on keeping on.

You may already know that I like skies, flowers, and buildings, but that blog provides PROOF.