National Pencil Day


Every day is pencil day at The Spendy Pencil, but in the United States, March 30th is National Pencil Day. A special day for pencils? Yes, please! I love my pencils and over the years have accumulated quite a collection.

A macro photo of the sharpened ends of colored pencils in a variety of shades of green and yellow. Photo by Lori Ono
Some yellow and greens colored pencil from my stash collected over the years. These maybe only have one Laurentian that somehow I still have from childhood.

Whether you’re doing rough drafts, homework assignments or creating works of art, pencils are a forgiving medium—as long as you aren’t using the pencil grip of death with a #6 pencil. But a light hand and gentle erasing means you can rework your concept until you have it just right.

Humans have been using mark-making tools since… we figured out mark making could be useful, right? From sticks, stones, clay or charcoal from the fire, if we can use it to communicate an idea, it’s useful.

The modern pencil emerged with the conte crayon developed by 18th century, French artist Nicolas-Jacques Conte when he combined graphite with clay, making it stronger and more versatile. The crayons are still used by artists today. The familiar wood pencil with a graphite core and rubber eraser on the end was patented by Hymen Lipman 1858.

a macro photo of the sharpened ends of wood pencils with a graphite core to exemplify the modern pencil
The modern pencil we grew up with which has been replaced by the mechanical pencil?

My Favorite Pencil

I have a huge collection of pencils. Buying a pencil is my go to when I’m feeling stressed. Let’s not examine what having a large collection of pencils means for my stress levels.

My favorite pencil is the Mars technico 780 mechanical pencil. I think mine is pretty old now because the ones on the website are black and have a lead hardness indicator. Mine is blue and very basic. It’s my favorite pencil for two reasons:

The Mars technico is the mechanical pencil in the middle

1) thick lead. Most mechanical pencils have a very thin lead and I spend more time getting the perfect amount of lead sticking out from the pencil because I keep snapping the lead than I do getting anything done.
2) sharpener. Instead of an eraser on the end, there’s a little knob that comes off which you can use to sharpen the lead like chalking a pool cue. I always seem to forget my pencil sharpener so having one on the end is super handy.

Looking through my sketchbook and files, I realized I haven’t been doing as much pencil work as I used to. I found these illustrations I did for Drawlloween 2018:

graphite drawing of a rat lying on its back and feeding itself a piece of candy corn.

Rat Enjoying Candy Corn
Drawlloween 2018

By Lori Ono

Yokai: Kasa Obake—Dralloween 2018 by Lori Ono

The umbrella is type of yokai called a kasa-obake, basically an umbrella monster. It’s actually supposed to have an eye. The rat well, the only thing I love about candy corn is how it looks. I love how satisfied the rat looks. I might feel like this after I eat a really nice cinnamon bun.

Colored Pencils

sharpened ends of colored pencils in yellow orange in foreground and greens in background

I grew up calling them pencil crayons. Fellow Canadians, remember Laurentian pencil crayons? I always wanted the 60 pack. Never got them. History Canada has a great thread on the history of these iconic Canadian school pencils. My favorite brand is anything soft. I like Crayon D’ache and Holbein but I think Iro Jiten has a lot of beautiful colors but they are a bit hard for my taste.

I have a huge collection of pencil crayons (who am I to stop calling them that now?) but looking through my work I realized I don’t have a lot. I know that I started doing more pen and ink work (inspirations, Edward Gorey, E.H. Shepard and Sir Quentin Blake).

Anyway, I want to show some cool work using colored pencil. A lot of people do photorealism with colored pencil. There’s a lot of amazing work and technique. But I want to celebrate one of my friends, Michelle Zacharias, who uses colored pencils for her abstract art. Check out this gorgeous image from Michelle’s Pollution series. She has a number of pieces in this series and it’s worth checking them out.

This is from Michelle’s series Pollution.

Spring Diaspora 春離散; 2014; Coloured pencil, watercolour, and gesso on wooden panel 色鉛筆や水彩; 57 x 57 cm (H x W); Private collection

Photo courtesy of the artist.

What’s Spendy Now?

The Water Rabbit

This was my New Year’s card for 2023. This is the year of the rabbit. I read that each year a different element is assigned and this year was water. With the 5 elements, the next water rabbit, will appear in 60 years.

I drew this completely on my iPad with the Apple Pencil.

I named this blog The Spendy Pencil because of the Mars technico pencil but also becuase my camera was my mark making tool and it was spendy. But now I have a new spendy pencil—an Apple Pencil. I don’t know if I like drawing with it as much as regular graphite pencils or colored pencils. I feel like my hand control is not great on the screen, and I already have the paper-like film on my screen. I use an Intuos tablet as well. It seems to have just a bit more friction. I like that it’s easier to hit the back button if you make a mistake. Mostly, I like that I don’t have to worry about photographing the artwork and struggling to get the photo to look the same as the original.

One thing I’m excited about using an Apple Pencil is for editing writing and marking up a PDF instead of printing out paper. Does it work? Sort of. I’m still more excited by the idea than the result. My handwriting with the Apple Pencil is much worse. A lot worse. I do like that I’m saving paper so I keep trying.

Still Analog

I love my tech but I’m still mainly an analog person. Along with all my pencils, I have my pile of used notebooks and an even bigger pile of notebooks waiting to be used. I can’t wait until National Notebook Day! I’m feeling inspired to get out my sketchbooks and work on some pencil drawings.

What’s your favorite pencil? Do you have a pencil horror story? Did a pencil ever save your life? I want to hear about it!

Happy National Pencil Day! I hope you remember your pencil and use it’s power for good.


New Jewelry 2015 at 3331 Arts Chiyoda Review

The New Jewelry show at 3331 Arts Chiyoda (Dec 5-7, 2015) showcased some Japanese jewelry makers taking traditional materials and techniques into modern directions.

newjewelry.JPGJewelry is the ultimate meeting of design, craftsmanship and function. The New Jewelry show at 3331 Arts Chiyoda (Dec 4-6, 2015) showcased some Japanese jewelry makers taking traditional materials and techniques into modern directions. It was particularly interesting to talk with some of the artists and learn about their themes or inspirations. There wasn’t enough to talk with everyone but below are some very brief artist chats organized into material themes.

Thanks to Mikimoto, pearls are strongly associated with jewelry in Japan. Mikimoto has a variety of styles, from traditional to modern, but the usage of pearls at New Jewelry had an energy I don’t see in Mikimoto.

aya-hasegawa-karot-newjewelryAya Hasegawa of Korat is a Nagano based artist doing interesting designs with pearls. She carves a design in a pearl then adds urushi (laquer)to it. I asked her where she got the idea to do this with a pearl and she said it just came to her. She noted that the process can be nerve-wracking because a mistake means that the pearl is wasted. The work is whimisical and finely detailed.

Muresi is the work of Yuji Ishigami of Yamanashi. Ishigami works in metal and created the coral and pearl pins. He does fine metal work yet decided to use unpolished coral. The rougher coral is a nice counterpoint to the fine metal.

Another artist at the Muresi table (I didn’t get her name) didn’t use pearls but uses photographs to make jewelry.

The idea behind using photographs is to play with memory. One style is to take parts of photos printed on a semi-transparent material and to put in metal shapes to make earrings, pendants and brooches. The effect is like a abstract watercolor until closer examination reveals the actual image. The project uses found photos to make a brooch. The brooch fits into the rest of the original photo for storage and display. The two have been working together for two years.

Dan Tomimatsu (left photo) puts unaltered pearls in cages to present and preserve the pearls. Kenichi Kondo (right) does enamel work and uses pearls for accents.

Cosmos Nostalgie by Natsuko Okano is also Tokyo-based. Much of her work is inspired by astronomy and science and the use of unusual minerals. She has been working in this style for two and a half years. One series has minerals in a rectangular cage. Her inspiration for this design is a science museum display cabinet. Okano has been working in this style for several years.

Glass was the medium of several designers. Whether it was geometric and hard-looking or formed into organic shapes, glass proved more versatile than simply mimicking gems making as beads.

Sorte means good fortune in Italian. She works in her glass studio in Hyogo with her husband. She designs the jewelry but they both have a hand in making the pieces. Mr. Sekino has been working with glass for 20 years. Sekino has been working with glass for 10 years. She started in university. She has been doing Sorte for the last three years. Her jewelry is various types of glass from organic to geometric with gold accents. When asked about the theme of her work she said that glass has lots of different expressions and she wants to demonstrate them in her jewelry.

Moko Kobayashi has a more traditional approach with glass, in that the work is made from French vintage glass beads about eighty years old. Watching the demonstration of making a brooch piques an interest in the finished product. The image outline is sewn onto fabric then the beads are sewn on. The motifs ranged from elegant to playful. I really loved the UFO with the little alien dangling from it. I also love the combination of glass and stitching required for this type of accessory.

This is not really a medium I associate with jewelry or accessories.When I do think of ceramics, I usually think of Wedgewood or something hippy-dippy. I know that ceramics are a wide-versatile material but I was surprised at the elegant offerings here.

Kimiko Suzuki uses ceramics to make her jewelry. At first glance the delicate lace work looks like it has been stitched, or 3-D printed but it is made with a ceramic paste with the consistency of whipped cream. The lace work is created much in the same way as decorating with icing. The result is a unique and delicate look. She has working with this style of production for four years. She likes lace of the symbolism of various motifs. Suzuki also uses ceramics to make molds and figures for her jewelry.

Plant-Plant offered coated metal jewelry and items made of porcelain. The poppy petals are particularly beautiful.

Sewing, Embroidery, Fiber Arts
Though I would include Moko Kobayashi in a sewing category, these artist use more recognizable stitching techniques.

Tomoka Kato at New Jewelry
Kobe artist Tomoka Kato is the creator of Monmannequin. She had the most playful take own jewelry and accessories like brooches, earrings andnecklaces. She has hand stitched small items five centimeters or smaller entirely of fabric and stitched by hand. She has been doing 3-D fabric for a while, starting with creating dolls. The majority of this work was created for another exhibition with a supermarket theme.

Some other fiber artists at the show to check out are
Akiko Ishiwata;  lace and tatting with fiber instead of ceramic by Filigne and Etsushi who embroiders broaches in a simple, bold graphics self-described as a “primitive” style.

Resin and Washi (and pearls again)
Few materials say “Japan” more than washi. But the idea of paper jewelry sounds very fragile and short-lived. Based in Tokyo, Lisa Nagano of Lissita designs feminine accessories with washi. She maintains the delicacy of washi but adds durability by mixing it with resin. This combination becomes delicate floral motifs in lovely pinks and purples. The flowers look like real petals! And the pearls make an appearance here as well, as flower detail and earring backs. She also had older work on display, (a collaboration with a sumie painter?), done with bold black, gold and resin. It is also striking, though very different from her current work. She’s been working with resin for ten years, and using washi for about two.


The show is over but the website is still up and has links to all the exhibitors’ pages. They are worth checking out for more photos of the work, explanations of their themes and inspirations and, in some cases, where to buy their work.

Talking About Art

In the middle of writing a blog post reflecting on everything going on this autumn, I end up writing about art and and the way we talk about it. It’s still a work in progress but I thought I would throw out some questions before I finish it.

Ikamura Gessozaburo wants to talk about art.
Ikamura Gessozaburo wants to talk about art.

I know how I feel about art and talking about it, but what about you good people?

  1. How do you feel about art?
  2. Do you feel comfortable about talking about it?
  3. Do you have any notions about what you can or can’t say about it?
  4. Do you think there are requirements or that there should be?
  5. Do you have any stereotypes or specific images about art discourse?
  6. What kind of experiences have you had?

I’m interested in your opinions. Please share them. Don’t worry about being right or wrong. Just be honest. I look forward to hearing from you.

Tokyo Art Book Fair 2015: Q & A with Arthur Huang

Name:  Arthur Huang
From:  United States
Time in Japan:  A little over six years
Occupation: Molecular and Neuro Biologist and Artist

How long have you been making books?
Going to the Tokyo Art Book Fair over the last several years and
working with other artists in Art Byte Critique inspired me to finally
get off the couch and start making artist books.  I am a relative
newbie to the artist book world – it has been a little more than a
year of making artist books.
21 Days of Memory Walks リーフレット画像What is the biggest challenge for you when you make a book?
The biggest challenge is finding the right balance between the book
structure and the concept.  For me, I want the book structure to
reflect the artistic concepts while maintaining the functionality of a

What kind of books are you making for this fair?
I will be exhibiting my “21 Days of Memory Walks” artist book for this
year’s Tokyo Art Book Fair.  This artist book was produced earlier
this year and I finished the complete edition of 21 for the upcoming
Tokyo Art Book Fair.  The concept behind this book was to translate my
work with the Memory Walks eggshell drawings into book format.  The
book consists of a acrylic embedded crushed Memory Walk eggshell from
one of the 21 days for the cover.  The reader will find a list of all
my walks for each of the 21 days with times and departure points
juxtaposed with a scanned image of the eggshell for that day.

012515 Week Memory Walks ClusterWhat did you learn from last book fair? What are you doing differently for this book fair?
I decided to simplify things for this year’s book fair.  I have spent
the last year making various editions.  It has been a series of trial
and error in terms of production and realization of concepts.  In the
end  “21 Days of Memory Walks” has been the most satisfying of all the
editions in terms of concept and production.  In addition to the
artist books, I will be exhibiting one of my weekly Memory Walk
Cluster works to give the artist book some context.

Do you have any advice for people coming to the book fair?
There will be more booths than ever at this year’s Tokyo Art Book
Fair.  Be patient, take your time wandering through the booths.  You
may not see everything, but it will make it a more enjoyable
experience connecting with what is in front of you.  Also, talk with
the artists!  This is a great opportunity to learn more the bookmaking
process and connect with their works.  Last piece of advice, go the
the Printer’s Section and get lots of free swag!
You can see more of Arthur’s work at his website:

Time and Location Details
The Tokyo Art Book Fair is held from September Saturday 19 – Monday 21 (holiday)
at Kyoto University of Art and Design, Tohoku University of Art and Design GAIEN CAMPUS
1-7-15 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Saturday: 3-9
Sunday: 12-8
Monday: 11-7

You can read about Art Byte Critique artist Lyle Nisenholz here and Karin Gunnarsson here.

Tokyo Art Book Fair 2015: Q and A with Karin Gunnarsson

The Tokyo Art Book Fair is nine days away. This is the second in a series of interviews with fellow Art Byte Critique members to introduce their work and talk about the show.

Name: Karin Gunnarsson (Nomura)
From: Sweden
Time in Japan: 16 months
Education: MA Photography Royal College of Art London
Occupation: Artist and Japanese Language Student

How long have you been making books?

This is the first artist book that I am showing in public. As for developing the craft I have in the past made hardcover notebooks.

What is your favorite kind of books to make?
I get a great sense of achievement in making a hardcover handbound book.

Plato's Plates by Karin Gunnarsson
Plato’s Plates by Karin Gunnarsson

Do you have favorite materials to use?
I like a book that is interesting and feel exclusive to the touch. The Plato’s Plates book is all in paper with subtle tactile variety, as this was the most suitable option for the project. But I am really fond of using a textile on the cover and a contrasting paper texture and colour for the cover pages inside.

What is the biggest challenge for you when you make a book?
Not rushing

What kind of books are you making for this fair?
I am making one hardcover handbound book in a limited signed and numbered edition and one saddlestitched simpler version of the same book. The book is called Plato’s Plates and  tells a story of transformation and transcendence through a character in a punctured paper suit.

Image from Plato's Plates by Karin Gunnarsson
Image from Plato’s Plates by Karin Gunnarsson

Do you have any advice for people coming to the book fair?
Based on my experience as a visitor last year; allow plenty of time for your visit, comfortable shoes, a strategic plan to navigate the fair and take plenty of breaks as it is quite overwhelming to see so many beautiful and inspiring books. And of course plenty of change and that extra note for that very special object of desire.


Time and Location Details
The Tokyo Art Book Fair is held from September Saturday 19 – Monday 21 (holiday)
at Kyoto University of Art and Design, Tohoku University of Art and Design GAIEN CAMPUS
1-7-15 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Saturday: 3-9
Sunday: 12-8
Monday: 11-7

You can read about Art Byte Critique artist Lyle Nisenholz here.

Artist Interview with Teresa Currera

Theresa Currea at her desk.


Based In:  Columbia
Job: Full time artist with a tiny studio in Bogata.


Tell me about your work and your medium.
The majority of my work is with cut paper and different aspects of drawing, working with space and layers incorporating 3-D elements. I also do large size drawing and makes 3-D fabric versions of my illustrations.

Theresa Currea illustration cut out work in progress.

Why did you come to Japan?
In 1989 or 1990, a full package of Japanese shows from Japan came to Columbia about travel, food and entertainment. This has influenced my generation but older generation sees this but doesn’t understand the influence and don’t like it. Japanese artists have had a big influence on artists in Columbia. I always wanted to come here to see why. Isamu Noguchi, Takeshi Murakami, Hayao Miyazaki. I’m interested in Japanese paperwork and Japanese paper.

Why did you choose Shiro Oni Residency?
I won a prize to get money to attend a residency. I had one opportunity at the moment and wanted to go as far away as possible.

Interesting Point Theresa Made During Our Discussion

The artist has one question and tries to answer it with different methods and materials. This is the most important part for an artist when travelling to find different ways to answer that question.

What is your project here?

I started in January 2014. It’s inspired by the structures that living creatures use to protect themselves–camouflage, shells, hair, exoskeletons.

illustrated paper cut-outs on a string.Explore more of Theresa’s work on her website:

Theresa’s End of Residency Show is on July 7/25-26 at Shiro Oni Studio
• 370-1401 Gunma Fujioka Onishi 529 Japan

Going To Shiro Oni From Tokyo (train and bus)
• Tokyo ->Honjo Station 本庄駅 on JR Takasaki Line (I like to take Shonan Shinjuku Liner because it goes straight to Honjo) (fare about 1660 depending on original station)
• Use South Exit.
• Take the bus which stops in front of the 7-11., bus leaves about once an hour
• Get off at Onishi Yubinkyoku Mae (鬼石郵便局前). Bus fare is 660 yen.
• Walk about five minutes to Shiro Oni Residency main building, Kinuya.

The Days After the Art Book (af)Fair. Tokyo Art Book Fair 2014 Review

The 2014 Tokyo Art Book Fair (TABF) has come and gone. It took a lot of work to get ready for it, and it was an intense three days but I enjoyed all of it. Now I just have to sort through the leftovers in n my studio from my book making frenzy.

20140925-000242-162096.jpgA big thank you to every one who visited the Art Byte Critique Group table (H-05), we enjoyed talking to everyone who stopped by. Special thanks to those who purchased some of our work. We ‘re thrilled because we know that there were so many wonderful choices available to you.

To the other TABF contributers and Zinesmate staff, thanks for the community feeling and your hard work. I thought everything ran really smoothly and every contributer ‘s work looked amazing. It was fun to be counted amongst you.

Finally, Art Byte Critique Group, thanks for making the process so efficient and fun. I’m lucky to be a part of this group. It’s inspiring to see what members are up to and the feedback you give on my own work is invaluable.

20140925-000243-163101.jpgWhat Would I Do Differently?
Put prices on things immediately and have cuter price tags. I didn’t want to be pushy by having prices, but I soon realized when I was browsing myself that a price was one of the first things I looked for.

Put a muslin sheet over our work after the day is done. One fellow artist had several books go missing.  And while that could have happened while we were at the booth and the cloth doesn’t lock anything down, I think covering the table gives that sales-are-done-for-the-day feeling and one layer against temptation. I think people at the Book Fair are generally pretty honest.

Have a display rack for photos. It would be great if I could find a small v-shaped poster holder. The photos on the back wall were hard to access and I didn’t have a lot of stock. I’d like people to be able to look more closely at them.

Longer lead time on production. I had my proto-types for the application, but didn’t start producing in earnest until I learned we got accepted and got a table. But not knowing for sure if you get a spot and spending money on production just in case seems like a bad idea.

What Would I Do the Same?
The whole experience! It was great.

Work with Art Byte Critique. I think it is great to share a table with people. I could easily see being overwhelmed and a bit lonely if I were to do this alone.

More Estello! I got a lot  of great feedback on this project. I was a bit hesitant about how Estello would be received  so I made some very simple zines and some A4 posters. While the zines looked good and suited the casual style of Estello, I think I could get something a little better quality with a lower price point if I have a longer production time and spend a bit more.

Talk to people! I got a chance to interview some people at the book fair and to make some contacts. I also got to watch how people perceived my work. So this makes it a bit more useful as a testing ground for new ideas.

Fellow blogger, Universo Tokyo, asked me if I noticed any trends in the types of  work available this year. This is a tough question. I only attended for a short hour at the end last year, so many things may have already sold.  Like last year, there was a huge variety in the offerings, from high-level professionally done photography coffee table books, to stapled editions of zines. I feel like there were more zines and more hand-made books.

I think another trend was looking instead of buying. I have no idea how this compares to last year. I saw lots of people buying supplies, but proportionally less people buying books and maybe looking around for ideas. Goodness knows there was so much creativity in the building that the urge to start making something really built up.

If you attended, what was your impression of the Art Book Fair? Did you notice any trends?

I did buy a few books…

Tokyo Art Book Fair 2014: Interview with Arthur Huang

The Zinesmate Tokyo Art Book Fair starts next week and I’m participating with the Art Byte Critique Group. Art Byte Critique is a diverse group of artists based in Tokyo. I’m really excited about the event and really proud to be part of the group. They were generous enough to spare some time from their preparation to do an interview with me. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be posting their interviews on The Spendy Pencil.

The first interview is with Arthur Huang, founder of Art Byte Critique Group.

Tell us about your background.
I moved to Tokyo from the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009. I work at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute as a researcher in a laboratory studying the mechanisms of learning and memory in mice. At the same time, I maintain a studio practice working as a visual artist interested in memory and the everyday.

How long have you been making books?
I made my first artist book back in graduate school in 2001 incorporating bookbinding and screenprinting. Since then, I have always had an interest in making artist books, but I have not had the structure and motivation to focus on this craft. I began to explore this medium again in late 2013 in conjunction with the Art Byte Critique group, which I helped to start, with other Tokyo-based contemporary artists.

Can you tell us more about ABC?
The Art Byte Critique group was started to create an environment where artists could gather on a regular basis to share ideas and give feedback to each other’s work in progress.

How has Art Byte Critique helped you get ready for the Tokyo Art Book Fair?
We have had regular meetings over that last year to gather knowledge, inspiration, and feedback about our work in creating artist books. They have provided structure and motivation for me as we get ready for the Tokyo Art Book Fair in less than two weeks.

What kind of work will you have at the okyo Art Book Fair?
For the Tokyo Art Book Fair, I will be exhibiting a series of accordion books that I created in 2011 titled “One Year on Japanese Public Transportation” which is composed of twelve books. Each book represents one month of travels on Japanese, primarily Tokyo, public transportation. I have drawn lines which represent each train or subway ride that I took in that month. The lines are the actual route of the train or subway ride taken from a map of Tokyo. Each ride is connected to the next ride chronologically (time and day) and run back and forth through the length of the entire book. Each book uses slightly different marks to represent departure and arrival points.

In addition to “One Year of Japanese Public Transportation”, I am in the process of creating several new series of artist books based on my “Memory Walks” project and “Interstices” project. I plan to assemble the books for the these projects by hand, printing the images on paper or acetate, cutting and binding the pages by hand.

Photo courtesy of Arthur Huang
Photo courtesy of Arthur Huang

For the “Memory Walks” artist books, I am planning to create photo books composed of close-up photographs of my Memory Walk eggshells. Each edition of the “Memory Walks” artist books will consist of a single walk that I take on a regular basis, such as my walk from my home to the train station or the train station to work. The cover for each book in each edition will consist of a previously drawn “Memory Walk” crushed eggshell for that particular walk.

隙間 070614 #3 – 下北沢, Courtesy of Arthur Huang
隙間 070614 #3 – 下北沢, Courtesy of Arthur Huang

For the “Interstices” project, I am planning to create a series of accordion books in which individual photographs of alleyways in Tokyo are printed on acetate and then mounted into the pages of the accordion book. Taken individually, the reader can see the characteristics of each alleyway. When the book is folded, the different photographs will be overlaid to create a composite image of all the alleyways similar to the digitally created “Interstices” photographic series that I have been creating since 2012.

Is there a website where we can learn more about you and your work?
You can learn more about my progress towards the Tokyo Art Book Fair 2014 at my blog – This blog also has more details and images about my “Memory Walks” and “Interstices” project. Please come to the Art Byte Critique booth between September 19th and 21st and say hello!

In Pursuit of “Wabi Sabi”: Chiaki Horikoshi’s Exhibition

2021 NOTE: this article was posted in 2014 and reviews an event at that time

A multimedia artist and cantaor (flamenco singer), a flamenco dancer, and a tea ceremony practitioner all display their skills on the opening night of an art exhibition. Sounds incongruous, doesn’t it? How does fiery flamenco relate to the placid tea ceremony?

horikoshi-poster_webMultimedia artist Chiaki Horikoshi’s makes this connenction in his exhibition “Wabi Sabi Asobi” held in the lobby of the Park Hotel in Shiodome until May 18th. He paints, does installations, creates ceramics and sings flamenco. He divides his time between Japan and Spain. Horikoshi’s pursuit of the concept of wabi sabi isn’t some kind of cultural jumble sale but ties this eclectic mix together and in the process illuminates the concept of wabi sabi and its emotional range. Wabi sabi is one of the more difficult concepts of Japanese art. In a modern design context it roughly equates to Asian shabby chic. But it has deeper roots. It started as a religious concept in Zen. From that point of view it is about learning to live life as it happens, to engage life rather than passively observe it and avoid unnecessary stressors and distractions. To engage this as a practice, one embraces the imperfection of an object as beauty as opposed to fault, to appreciate the changes age brings. To that end, natural objects or materials have more value as they weather and exhibit change. So let’s examine the elements of this opening night and how they illuminate the concept of wabi sabi.

Sadou, The Tea Ceremony

Horikoshi took the wood door of this chashitsu off his own house.
Horikoshi took the wood door of this chashitsu off his own house.

Here we find the installation portion of the exhibition. Horikoshi constructed a cha-shitsu (a tea room) out of mountain trash—sasa branches, logs, rope and grasses. The idea of the installation was to create a respite from the urban world made from natural materials. Both the installation and the materials are impermanent, satisfying the essence of wabi sabi. Inside the cha-shitsu are the standard tatami mats, tea implements and a kakejiku (hanging scroll) painted by Horikoshi. He created the chawan (tea bowls) as well. The lighting at night was dim and relaxing but during the day, light could stream through the gaps in the leaves.

Fuyuko Kobori and Megumi Harada of the Kobori-Enshu school conducted the ceremony. Harada-san conducted the conversation element of the ceremony. During a tea ceremony one should avoid talking about daily hardships or stress. It’s not a place to talk about work. One talks about the seasons, the weather, art or good memories. Though I was unfamiliar with the few required responses and was unable to follow the topics as closely as I liked, I enjoyed the rhythm and flow of the conversation. Watching Kobori-san immerse herself in the motions of making tea was fascinating. The precision, grace and economy of movement while preparing the tea highlighted the experience of drinking bittersweet macha from exquisite bowls. The elegance of the ceremony complimented the oasis of the cha-shitsu.

Fuyuko Kobori performing sadou.
Fuyuko Kobori performing sadou.

The tea ceremony meets the ideals of wabi sabi through the natural materials, the creation of a room and an experience that allows one to focus on completely on the task at hand. Kobori-san and Harada-san will do many more tea ceremonies, but that moment, at that place will never happen again—wabi sabi. The Flamenco I admit, I was dubious about the flamenco, likely because I have a hard time relating to dance. I also thought flamenco was more about pageantry. I was so wrong.

As cantaor, Horikoshi sang two songs. The first was accompanied by guitar. The music was raw, emotional and seemed complete yet spontaneous. I could see how Horikoshi was immersed in his song and the moment. As the cante ricocheted throughout the central atrium of the hotel lobby, I felt keenly grateful that I was present for this moment, gifted with this song. The second cante was accompanied by a percussionist instead of a guitarist. This time, flamenco dancer, Yuri Matusmaru, performed. Her dance–no dress, no fan, just a pair of jeans and a long shirt–was flamenco pared down. This was no practiced routine. A friend of the artists told me the performance was improvised. With the song and the dance I was witnessing the artists’ immersion into their work, creating a singular moment never to be captured again. And so flamenco meets the wabi sabi ideals of transience and investment in the moment. We can see this in the final portion of Yuri Matsumaru’s dance in the video below.

I’m fortunate to know a flamenco dancer, so I asked her if I was making the right connections. Did I see wabi sabi in flamenco? She explained to me that flamenco is at it’s best when an experienced dancer improvises, passionately engages in a moment never to be captured again. She led me to a concept in flamenco called duende. This is the moment where the “spirit of the dance takes over the dancer.” In Spanish folklore duende is a spirit (like Japanese kami I wonder?) that exists as an artist’s muse. Duende is an interesting concept that I’m just beginning to explore. Like wabi sabi, I may never understand “the” definition. But here is the part I find most interesting: with duende, one doesn’t simply surrender to the muse but battles it. I like this idea because that the artist remains in the equation. One surrenders but still retains control. Like the tea ceremony, you find a balance between owning the rules and following the rules. Duende seems to be on the same wavelength as wabi sabi, but on the other end of the spectrum. The concept of wabi sabi and duende exist on a continuum of artistic expression and immersion into the moment. Sadou exemplifies an immersion into the rhythm or rules and ritual to create a transitory moment of experience and flamenco has an immersion into emotion and self-expression through dance and song to create a different kind of transitory, a one-of-a-kind moment.

Note: Kobori Enshu will hold another tea ceremony on May 11th. There will be several sessions. Chiaki Horikoshi will participate in the evening ceremony and give an artist’s talk. The evening session costs a bit more but also includes sake! You can reserve a spot at

I’m Hosting a Workshop at Tokyo Spidering Show at Hagiso Gallery

Tokyo Art Byte is holding their first group show called Tokyo Spidering at Hagiso Gallery in Yanaka in Tokyo. I’m really excited to be part of this group. Members range in age and media types but really come together to discuss art and help each other progress their studio work.

Art Byte is holding a series of events and workshops during the show. You can read more about the events here. I’m hosting an event on two different days.  It will be a fun relaxed event so I hope you can drop by. Japanese information follows.

Character Building from a Scribble.

Sunday, October 20 , 13:00-15:00
Sunday, October 27. 13:00-15:00

Kaiju Grocery Shopping
Release your creativity and create a character from a scribble. Scribble on paper then choose lines to keep or erase to bring out the character within. Characters will be created on hagaki-size cards. Workshop members are free to take their creations home with them.

Materials: pencil, papers, eraser, colored pencils, felt pens provided by me.

Workshop Size: Drop in but only 6 people at a time.

Duration: 2 hours.

October 15-October 27, 2013
12:00 – 21:00

落書きからキャラクター創造しましょう (Loriさん)
10月20日(日)13:00 – 15:00、 HAGI-ROOM/HAGI-ARTで ((誰でも参加できますですが6 人まで一度に)
10月27日(日)13:00 – 15:00、 HAGI-ROOM/HAGI-ARTで ((誰でも参加できますですが6 人まで一度に)

October 15-October 27, 2013
12:00 – 21:00
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