The Passage of a Year

Almost exactly a year ago, I made a zine for a visual arts class. I’ve always held on to bits and pieces of stuff. They’re mostly just piles of receipts and flyers sitting in eternal purgatory somewhere in my apartment. This was the first time I ever compiled them.

2015 was a crazy period of change, but looking through my year-old images, I realize that I’m still very much influenced, driven, and characterized by the same things. Postcards that never got sent, annotated text, artist bios, being so into someone – the passage of a year revealed the authenticity contained in this little book. In 2015, I actually ended up visiting Prague, Paris, Vienna, Florence, Berlin and more. I saw the original Egon Schieles. I walked the streets of Kundera.

I should make one every February for good luck.

 

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The Post-Graduate Reading List

Many of my friends who have just graduated college are getting back into free reading. A few even joined book clubs. As a consequence, I’ve been asked by a lot of people for book recommendations. This makes me feel like a fraud – I actually don’t read as many books as my friends think I do. I’m much more an essay/short story/Aeon/New York Times person. Out of the recommendation list below, there’s only two full length novels – the rest are collections of short stories or a novella. I blame my impatience and/or inability to sift through long-winded allegory for meaning.

Anyway, the following are my favorite books that I’ve read after college graduation, listed in the order in which I read them.

Books and Novels

1. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by Milan Kundera

Honestly, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was much better. But to uphold the integrity of this post graduate reading list, I had to leave that Kundera novel off and replace it with this one instead. This book is a classic Kundera – set in communist-era Prague, with a bunch of cheating husbands and wives and spies scattered around. For those new to Kundera, he writes like a philosopher whose primary concern is to explain a concept. His focus is not in realistic character development or tantalizing plots. He’s perfect for those who dabble in existential crisis.

Buzzwords – orgy, horoscope, ostriches

2. Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto
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This is a very simple story about a girl and a boy and a mom persevering through life despite hardships. However, the context in which I read this book gave it incredible meaning to my life. I borrowed it from Angela to read during the five-hour ordeal that is college Commencement, and then I finished it on the plane to Beijing just two days later.  It’s one of those stories that soak up and illuminate the environment in which you read it. I bet if I reread it in less terrifying, less daunting circumstances, I would experience a different interpretation and mood.

Buzzwords – pineapple, katsudon, taxis

3. On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
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Zadie Smith is non-stop wit and satire in this novel. At its heart, this is a story about family relationships, but a mixed “modern” family with transatlantic roots, from England to New England. It does a wonderful job of depicting the diversity of experiences within black communities.  I especially recommend it to my college friends because it paints such a vivid picture of the pretentiousness and hypocrisy in elite higher education. Certain one-liners had me snickering out loud.

Buzzwords – slam poetry, aesthetics, Haiti

4. Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, by Vincent Lambloodletting-and-miraculous-cures

I recommend this collection for those who want more Asian characters in fiction but don’t want the entire plot to center around the struggles of being Asian and born in a non-Asian country. (God I wish this book took place in America so then I could have written Asian-American instead of writing that convoluted sentence, but it’s important to acknowledge the difference between the Asian-Canadian and Asian-American experience).

Buzzwords – premeds, purple birds, Canada

5. Graduates in Wonderland, by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-DaleGraduates_FINAL-cover

Coming clean here: I am still reading this. But I knew from page one that I had found the voice(s) of my generation. In this non-fiction memoir, two best friends keep in touch through detailed, charming emails about their new post-grad lives in Beijing, New York, Paris, and more. Of course, terrible dates and awful jobs are analyzed in detail. Quite a few of my friends have scattered across the world in search of adventure and work, and I know we all get pangs of loneliness from all the unfamiliar. Reading this is like reading emails from your best friend and being home again.

Buzzwords – Beijing bikini, beard brother, grad school

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I know, I know. Given that it’s been over four months since graduation, my book list is rather paltry. But since I’ve been abroad for that entire time, getting my hands on a physical copy of a good English-language book (I refuse to join the Kindle revolution) has proven difficult. The selection has been limited to discarded books from faculty and hostels. I made up for it by reading a lot of online short stories and essays sourced from my friends (many thanks to @thenarrowroad). I would just load them on my laptop for times when I had no wifi, which was way too often. Sometimes, I read an idea that actually changes my life. This happens more with short stories and essays than it does for full-length novels.  I think it’s because essays are more direct and to-the-point.  In times of distress, certain lines from an essay would pop into my head and I would repeat it like a mantra to calm down.  I love essays – they can save you. The best part about essays is that they can be easily shared with people for free over the internet.

The following pieces all introduced a new perspective to my life – my routines, purpose, relationships, etc.  Or I just found them to be fantastic writing that made me really feel something. I hope they do for you as well.

Short Stories

Essays

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And of course I’ve been a total basic bitch and reading quotes off of tumblr. But whatever. Words are words. Here’s the most recent:

“Sometimes we must undergo hardships, breakups, and narcissistic wounds, which shatter the flattering image that we had of ourselves, in order to discover two truths: that we are not who we thought we were; and that the loss of a cherished pleasure is not necessarily the loss of true happiness and well-being.” – Jean-Yves Leloup

Finally,  great books and stories spark unforgettable conversations with friends and loved ones in real life. So please let me know if you have read anything amazing recently. I would love to expand my reading list. Or if you also read any of the stuff listed above, in which case I want to pick your brain for your reaction and thoughts.

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#goals.

In Memory of Disposable Kodaks

At the start of my romp around Europe in March of this year, I decided to pick up two disposable cameras in London. I was drawn to the challenge of capturing two weeks of adventure in less than 60 images. I really do believe in soaking up and being solidly present in the places I visit. I see too many people constantly glued to their cameras or phones, that they forget to see the world right in front of them with their own eyes, and not through artificial lens. Photography is amazing, but not all of an atmosphere or mood can be picked up in pixels.

When I walked back to my apartment from the Kodak store with my fresh batch of photos, I was actually smiling ear to ear. Something about the combination of anticipation and nostalgia in looking at pictures taken five months ago. It’s a new age (now, old age) time capsule, a blast from the past reminding you of how far you’ve come, and the fascinating places still left to be discovered. Aside from this fluffy stuff, here’s what I learned about taking pictures with disposable cameras:

Pros

  • They are lightweight.
  • You feel hip.
  • Instant vintage filter!
  • Everyone looks great because HD quality is not always a good thing.
  • It’s like Christmas morning when you pick up your developed photos.

Cons

  • Photo quality is hit or miss, especially for indoor shots. I only bothered scanning around 40% of all the photos.
  • You get called a try-hard hipster.
  • It’s expensive to develop. CVS was charging something like $18 a roll.

Overall, I definitely plan on using disposable cameras again when I travel. They’re a lot of fun and the resulting photos make beautiful souvenirs. I now have envelope stuffers for the letters I’m writing to my friends abroad who were kind enough to host me and show me around. The photos are also cheery decoration for freshly minted, post-grad millennial apartments.

I already sealed the pictures I took of my friends and myself into envelopes to be mailed, but I still have plenty from just around town. Now without any further ado, and in no particular order, I present my 2015 European Backpack Trip in twenty-one images! Click on them for closeups and occasional captions. Can you guess where each was taken?

The Marchutz Oil Painting Haul

Since my experience in Aix was intimately tied up with what I ended up painting during my time at Marchutz, I thought I’d visually introduce you to some special people and special places of my time abroad through my paintings. Starting with…. the lovely faculty of the Marchutz School of Fine Arts:

I’ve never experienced such lavishness in terms of a teacher’s dedication to their student’s learning process. They are more than teachers; they are dear friends.

I have so many of John because he would sit the longest and read to the entire class from a book. Like To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

We also did a few weeks of still lives. I don’t have as many because our motif was kinda limited by the natural cycle of rotting, maggots, and an unbearable smell of spoiled food in the studio. I was also unmotivated to work fast as an apple sitting on a counter isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

For the first month, we took the “vomit comet” out to the landscape near the base of Mt. St. Victoire and painted in a field of snails, grain, and Provencal farm houses. Life is beautiful when you really stop and look at all the colors and movement that make up the world.

Of course Marchutz wouldn’t be Marchutz without the best classmates and friends and buddies I could ever have asked for. Portraiture was the last leg of the curriculum and the one I enjoyed the most. I love trying to capture the personality of a person. Again with the beauty thing; painting people just makes me think how beautiful all friends are. Not everyone sat for a portrait but here’s what I have.

Those are just the paintings I thought were worthy of your attention. Drawings (which I am much much more comfortable with) will be up by a distant date in the future. I have Christmas parties to do.

I Was That Girl Who Color Coded Her Lecture Notes

I love a beautiful collection of class notes in a pristine notebook, every entry dated and numbered and following a system of underlined titles and circled “important points to remember.” Great thing about art history class is that I can have all that AND a chronological account of my progression in drawing, especially the figure for this course. I definitely ended the semester with a looser, more expressive hand stemming from a lowered dependence on contour lines and higher emphasis on drawing from “inside” the figure. Let me know if you can see what I’m talking about:

Five Days in Monet’s Gardens, Giverny

It’s a rare opportunity to be able to stay for five days in a world renowned tourist destination that most visitors only experience for a few hours. Literally a two minute walk from Monet’s gardens and house, Terra Foundation’s housing and studio was truly a haven for art students. In the midst of all the starstruck moments of study abroad, I was beginning to miss the feeling of being comfortable, stable, and familiar. But those four days, four dinner parties, and four fabulous studio sessions with Greg Wyatt and the rest of the Marchutz gang felt like home. Not just home, but home during the holiday season when everyone’s together – family and friends – and enjoying each other’s company with not a thought for how late it is getting or how many bottles of wine have been drained (64, if you had to know). I needed that.

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The focus of the studio sessions was sculpture. Now I am not naturally inclined to sculpture probably because it confuses me. It confuses me because I’ve never done it before. I’ve never done it before probably because sculpture is fricking expensive. We’re going to be casting our little three by four inch wax sculpture into bronze through the founderie at Coubertin and I think he estimated them to be at about a hundred bucks a pop. I mean, it’s a gift free of charge from Greg but, seriously. Bronze cast sculpture is not for the starving artist.

Though, there is something incredibly fascinating about playing with hot wax and burning stuff over an open flame. Melting wax is fun. Playing with soft, squishy clay is fun. I don’t know why but it’s just fun to squish stuff in your hand and feel it ooze through your fingers.

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Obligatory photo in front of Monet’s ponds. Did you know Monet was actually kind of a bad ass? I thought Monet just bought these ponds and gardens but no. He had these dug and built to his exact specifications (a lot of Japanese zen influence) because he was one of those rare painters that made it when he was still alive. His garden is almost the antipathy of something like Versailles with all the geometric grids and clear boundaries (seriously, the French are so strict about not walking on the grass…) where man imposes a form onto nature. If you see Monet’s garden, it’s very organic and there are no boundaries so that the reflections in the water are infinite. That was probably very important to Monet because he considered the mirror of water to be his number one motif. I used to think Monet was kinda foufou and decorative but when I actually had to draw the pond and make sense of the water, the transparency of the water to the bottom of the pond, and the reflection of the sky and trees on the water – my mind exploded.

Some attempts:

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We were supposed to interpret Monet’s gardens with wax sculpture on wire supports. I didn’t take a photo but I did do a sketch of it!

It might be shallow of me to say this but the food and housing definitely made the Giverny trip unforgettable. We basically had three separate houses to ourselves, catered dinners every night, museum lunches everyday, and endless loaves of good French breads and jams for breakfast.

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Me devouring a chocolate tart with the most sexy expression on the planet.

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Me not looking at all the art books on the shelves in the middle of the most epic pillow fight of the century.

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The Terra Foundation buildings had the sweetest country feel to them. Wood on exposed beams on stone fireplaces on floral patterned linens.

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Not taken at Giverny but at the Founderie de Coubertin. There’s some pretty secretive stuff going on over there, no pictures allowed. Looking back on all these photos though…man, I really am so lucky. How many people can say that they stayed at an artist’s colony in Monet’s gardens for a week? I journaled, I sketched, I ate, I fell in love with a place. Maybe Monet was onto something:

“I form no other wish but to mingle myself more intimately with nature and i covet no other destiny than to have worked and lived…in harmony with her laws. She is the grandeur, the power, and the immortality beside which the human creature seems no more than a miserable atom.”

All in a Day’s Work: Water-Soluble Color Ink Pencils

This weekends marks the few last days of the still lives that have served us valiantly for the past two weeks. I have come to spend so much time with them that I no longer notice the smell of the rotten pumpkin, bananas, carrots, yams, and various other moldy fruits and veg. Drawing and painting still lives was way more comfortable than painting out in the landscape. I know what an apple is supposed to look and feel like. I  have no clue what a fluttering cypress tree 100 meters away even is. Here’s all the sketches I did today from Ink-tense pencils. They’re like color pencils that you can wash over with water and the marks turn into really vibrant ink. My camera isn’t the best at picking up the accurate colorings. Sorry everything’s so yellow tinged. In reality, they’re more red.

1. First impressions. Curly-que is a black moldy pumpkin slice. Purple cabbage does not relate to stark, light background.

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2. Awkward composition of tomatoes and pumpkin. But I do like how many reds I was able to  describe.

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3. Blue and yellow color contrasts are always crowd winners. Focused a bit too much on dark contours rather than developing the interior color values, though.

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4. Got bored of still lives. Drew Ruhee painting on the floor instead. Much more difficult than still lives as you probably can tell… Sorry I gave you a hunchback 😦

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5. White bottles give me hard times. Quite proud of my cauliflower though.

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