Drawn to Stars

I was walking on the street in Seattle the other night. I was rushing but looked up at the sky and noticed a couple of stars in between the cracks of clouds. Deep blue-black sky and white clouds. It was too bright to see the stars because the street was lit with the lights of homes. Yet, the stars were visible and I just felt moved by the simple beauty.

I have been attracted to things that shine, twinkle, glitter, sparkle, glisten, gleam…and a number of my works including previous photographic series (Sample 1 (Blue Fireflies), 1b and 2 (El Camino)) reflect both natural and artificial light(s).

In recent years, I have found myself drawn to stars…and sometimes the moon.

01MisakoOba_MilkyWay3ab_900“The Milky Way #2” (diptych). Collagraph with carborundum and beeswax (mixed media), Misako Oba

Those are very recent works. The concept was developed last summer and I just started to create the works this year. Works on paper, silk, canvas or wood panels. It is on-going the series.

The work is very reflective of Seattle and its sounding areas. When I am in Tokyo or New York, I don’t even think about the stars or sunset. It’s interesting to see a lot of people in Seattle care about the sunset and nature, and would say, “You can see a beautiful sunset this evening.” Or “Today, you can see the mountains.” They would be excited and I AM very excited since I had lived in such big cities with not much nature or visible stars.

Milky Way#2b detail by Misako Oba           “The Milky Way #2” (detail)

Seattle is such a beautiful city that has BOTH nature and an urban element. Olympic mountains behind the Space needle, and high-rise buildings near various lakes. What excites me is that I can see nature and the urban city together in the SAME frame. Especially in good weather, it is breathtaking. I will never be tired of viewing this type of scenery.

I wanted to show you the beauty by photographing the scene. However, I know photographs don’t always capture the reality. The photos can be more beautiful (..yes you can do that…) or less beautiful than the actual scene you see, and I don’t want to ruin what you can see for yourself on the spot. There are feelings, temperatures, and breezes on your cheek kind of things too. Also, the scene changes in a moment depending on the angles, weather and/or light. So, you must see it yourself by coming to visit. I fell in love with the city when I first visited. Yes, Seattle has much rain, but I found it mostly just drizzling. Unlike rain in New York with stormy winds – in most cases breaking my umbrella. Poeople in Seattle don’t even use umbrellas.

People can go to be in nature easily on a weekend, or even after work. If you drive just 30 minutes from downtown Seattle, you can find yourself be in beautiful nature. What a luxury!

Desert #3-a by Misako Oba “Desert #3-a” or b, Collagraph with carborundum and beeswax (mixed media), Misako Oba

And by driving a little further, you can encounter the beauty of God’s creation: forest, desert, open sky with lots of stars at night. I haven’t had much chance to see those yet, so hopefully I would like to explore more. But, I did see the Milky Way for the first time in my life in Eastern Washington. It was not quite as visible since there was a bright moon and it was not summer. However, it was still slightly visible with the naked eye! And as a city person, I was like “wow….” Like a child.

The Milky Way#1 by Misako Oba “The Milky Way #1”  Collagraph with carborundum (mixed media), Misako Oba
Water and Desert (detail) by Misako Oba     “Water and Desert” (details) Collagraph with carborundum and beeswax (mixed media), Misako Oba

In the future blog, I will talk about the text and technique that I employed.

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When You Don’t Feel Inspired… (Story from Chuck Close)

What would you do when you don’t feel motivated?
Or the time you don’t feel inspired – for work or for anything else you need to do?

Do I always feel motivated or inspired to create artwork?
– No. I sometimes feel unmotivated or just don’t feel like creating in the studio.

A lot of people might think creating art is just fun. Maybe, some fortunate artists feel this way all the time. And that’s great. For me, however, while I enjoy choosing the materials and such, once I start working on a project, perhaps only 5% of my time is fun. The remaining 95% I feel is work. A lot of unorganized thoughts, or many different ideas and techniques which are still not in order in my head, would leave me frustrated. When I am in the process of putting my projects together, or when I have multiple projects/tasks with tight deadlines all at once, I feel like procrastinating. And this makes me feel unmotivated or uninspired even though I have high expectations and anticipation for the finished pieces. The whole process creates very complex emotions.

Once I’ve made up my mind with exactly what I want to do and the results please me, I feel excited and eventually happy. I would lose my mind or immerse myself in the process. When I see the completed piece in my studio, at galleries, or in a collectors’ hand, it feels great!

We do things that we enjoy and interest us in the beginning. However, soon after, the passion may be doomed. Life is much more challenging and rewarding when we stick with something over years or decades. Work, relationships, activities and everything important to us requires efforts and patience.

It is good to have inspiration, or try to be inspired. However, when we are not inspired, we can get  stuck. What should we do then? CBS aired a segment called “Note to Self” which featured a letter that Chuck Close wrote to his younger self. It contains great reminders in life, whether you’re an artist or not, that I found very interesting, uplifting and encouraging.

elow are the two that stand out as my favorites:

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. Every great idea I ever had grew out of work itself.”

“You don’t have to invent a wheel everyday. Today you do what you did yesterday. Tomorrow you do what you do today. Eventually you will get somewhere.”

These quotes make me feel relieved and believe in what I’m doing. In fact, Chuck’s comments make me feel more creative. It is OK if we don’t feel inspired all the time. And even when you don’t feel like you can keep going, just SHOW UP and GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY!

Additional quotes from the Chuck Close special:

“Never let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don’t apply to you.”

“Sign on to a process and see where it takes you.”

“If you overwhelmed by the size of problem, break it down to a mini-bite size pieces.”

“Everyone needs to feel special.”

“Absolute the worse thing can happen to you, and when you get past it, you will be happy again.”

Chuck Close is a American painter and photographer, who lives and works in New York. He is renowned for large-scale portraitures/human faces through photography and varied inventive drawing and painting techniques, and recognized as a photorealists. He mentioned the encounter with a Jackson Pollock painting at the Seattle Art Museum at the age of 11, influenced him and changed his perspective from what he thought art was. He has a B.A. from the University of Washington and received his MFA from Yale University in 1964. One of his best known subjects from that period was composer Philip Glass, whose portrait Close painted. Later in 2005, Glass wrote a musical portrait of Close. Chuck Close’s recent series features 20 Hollywood stars without make-up or airbrushing. You can find the collection in the 2014 Vanity Fair Hollywood Portfolio issue (on stands February 11th).

I knew some of his work before I saw this video. Yet, I didn’t know he suffered a seizure which left him paralyzed from the neck down, and now relies on a wheelchair for his mobility. Compared with him, my physical suffering of numbness and pain in my cheek, as well as nerve and phantom pain that were aftereffects from the loss of my right pinkie, seem lighter to me. I now feel more connected to his story – as an artist and simply as a person. Unexpected events or a stagnant situation (being unmotivated) can happen to anyone.

You can change your perspective anytime. It’s all up to you.

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Feel the Original Work with Texture

I would like you to feel the soul and texture by viewing the original artwork.

When I prepare images for presentation in computer or online, I feel that the images have different feeling from the actual work. I wish I could show the actual pieces to everyone in person. Even jpeg images of photographic work feel very different from the actual printed original fine art photographs – they do not fully capture the subtle texture of the surface, the level of gloss, mat or pearl, tone of the color, the contrast and brightness of the images on paper and the scale, etc.

How you mat the work and frame it make it look different as well. I like metal or wood black frames for my original gelatin silver prints. Some of my works, however, such as the Lambda print version of the Blue Fire Fly series are finished with plexiglass (in the installation shot at the gallery: 36×26 inch).

Some encaustic artists prefer to frame around the art piece. So far I have enjoyed creating unframed encaustic work. I cover the four sides of the artwork, which are normally 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) deep, with encaustic paint. Those sides are a part of my artwork, so I take care to paint them carefully. I have to infuse the sides with a heat gun to fix the layers as I do to the main surface of the work. You can see the basic technique in the separate posts #1 and #2.

CryForLove_Side_9ac_MisakoObaBeyond Time & Space: “Cry for LOVE 9-#80c (left) and #80a (right)”, detail, Misako OBA.

Some encaustic artists strive to make a smooth surface. However, I make a rough texture; sometimes the combination of smooth and rough. It feels right to do it in most works. I crave texture in mixed media* work, perhaps because for a long time I have been using the photography medium which is flat and two-dimensional.

At the Icon exhibition, you can have a close look at some encaustic mixed media from the series Beyond Time & Space, Cry for LOVE. With or without reading the concept behind it, enjoy the viewing and experience to feel your emotion.

The show is until this Saturday, September 28th, 2013.

*Mixed media: In visual art, the use of more than one medium in the creation of an artwork. In my work in most cases I use encaustic paint (I make my own medium), oil paint, Japanese rice paper and archival pigment ink (for photo transfer). It depends on the series and work.
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Love Poems Beyond Time


Meaning: [I don’t know if you will always be true. I cannot see your mind well although you said you would love me forever. So, this morning after you left, I’m lost in thought with my heart confused like my long disheveled black hair… like the tangles in my heart.]  Hyakunin Isshu #80 (poem) by Horikawa

Translation to modern Japanese:

1_MisakoOba_Cry for LOVE9-80ab
Beyond Time & Space: “Cry for LOVE 9-#80 ab,” Misako OBA. From the series Truth in Emotion. 25.5 x 12 x 2 inch (64×30.5x5cm)
2_MisakoOba_CryForLove9b_detail“Cry for LOVE 9-#80b” (detail)

My work explores human life as a journey and is a metaphor for our lives. It is both a deep examination of our souls and an exploration of universal experiences. It also depicts the beauty of life with its transient nature.

People today love and suffer as ancient people did. We face the same feelings and issues as humans. It’s beyond time and space, I realized.

In this project, the collection of 7th – 13th century Japanese Tanka poems of thirty-one syllables (known as百人一首Haykunin Isshu*) are re-written in calligraphy using specific ancient characters (the same as back then) on Japanese paper. I often use text in my work, searching for harmony in text and images, sometimes in printmaking and other times in mixed media painting like this series. Ancient Japanese is different from modern Japanese. Even for me as a Japanese person, I cannot easily read those characters especially in calligraphy form. As for the typed ones, I can read them but didn’t know the meaning, so I had to study what each poem means. Actually, I ended up making a spreadsheet in Excel and put the author’s information, background, the time and the translation from those original ancient 100 poems into modern Japanese and English. I then categorized each poem based on the theme such as women’s desperate and/or passionate love as well as men’s love, loneliness or transience in life, and beauty of the four seasons and nature.

In Japan, Haykunin Isshu is fairly popular. We study and memorize some of the poems as schoolchildren. However, as a child without much life experience, you cannot know the deep meaning. I never knew until I opened up this time, and I felt amazed how passionate Japanese men and women in love in that era were and expressed it in the poem in a sophisticated way, and how common human emotions in life are. (You can read more about the concept of the series Beyond Time & Space in the separate post.)

Calligraphy layered in this series was written by my father, a master of calligraphy in Japan. Calligraphy is one of the historical means of communication in Japan and takes many years to master although in this modern society it is no longer common practice. I have been exploring ways of combining traditional calligraphy with my contemporary art work partly in order to create new ideas to pass on to the next generation in a different art form, which is not straight calligraphy but I let it become abstract, yet it still has a substantial meaning and role in the work.

Beyond Time & Space: “Cry for LOVE 9-#80d” 2013 (detail), Misako OBA. From the series Truth in Emotion.

I also use English text as you can see in my encaustic mixed media work (in the right side of the image above). It is also transforming to the new images using my point of view.

Take a peek at the encaustic mixed media works from the series Truth in Emotion “Beyond Time & Space” Part 1: Cry for LOVE.  The show is until September 28th in Seattle.

Hanson Scott Gallery
121 Prefontaine Pl S, Seattle, WA 98104
Tel: 858 361-5385  www.hansonscottgallery.com
Gallery hours: Wed – Sat. 11am-5pm
September 5th– 28th, 2013
(Last day, Sep. 28th : Until 3pm)

This is an ongoing series and eventually there will be 20 pieces for Part 1: Cry for LOVE-What Women think.  (Update: This Part1 was completed (25-works), and Part2 Cry for LIFE was completed, as of May, 2017.  Part 3 and 4 will follow later).

*Hakunin Isshu is a collection of 100 Tanka poems by 100 cerebrated authors.
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Immerse Yourself in Art: Exhibition Info.

In recent years, I have expanded from only photography to mixed-media painting, especially incorporating encaustic and text such as Japanese calligraphy or different languages (French, English, etc.) that are based on the individual concept of each series.

Beyond Time & Space: "Cry for LOVE 9-#80d" Misako OBA, From the series Truth in Emotion.

Beyond Time & Space: “Cry for LOVE 9-#80d” 2013. Misako OBA. From the series Truth in Emotion.

The encaustic mixed media works that will be exhibited at the Hanson Scott Gallery in Seattle from September 5th are a part of my ongoing series Truth in Emotion “Beyond Time & Space” Part 1: Cry for LOVE.  You can take a peek. Part 1 is based exclusively on desperate and/or passionate love letters/poems regarding thoughts and feelings including loneliness or transience in life.

People today love and suffer from the same issues as ancient people did. It’s beyond time and space. The collection of 7th-13th century Japanese poems are re-written in calligraphy using specific ancient characters (the same as back then) on Japanese paper. I make layers with an ancient medium (encaustic paint) and the materials from ancient Japan as well as the images that I witnessed from the 21st century in the U.S. where I lived/live including New York City and Seattle; while at the same time investing my own emotional content and imagination into these poems and artworks.


Beyond Time & Space: “Cry for LOVE 9-#80c”2013 (detail), Misako OBA. From the series Truth in Emotion.

Opening reception: September 5th, 5–8 pm.
Awards reception: September 14th, 5–7 pm.
Exhibition: September 5th– 28th, 2013

Hanson Scott Gallery
121 Prefontaine Pl S
Seattle, WA 98104
Tel: 858 361-5385
Gallery hours: Wed – Sat. 11am-5pm

I will be at the opening. Please say hi to me if you find me. 🙂 My mixed media works including encaustic and photography were exhibited in NYC and other places before and some printmaking works in Seattle, but this is the FIRST exposure of my encaustic work in Seattle. I feel excited! Looking forward to meeting you.

By the way, encaustic is big in Seattle. I found that there are many well-known encaustic artists live and create their works in Seattle. Also, there are related events such as EncaustiCamp by my new friend Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch, an artist and author of encaustic books. She lived in Seattle as well and her works are represented by this gallery. (Currently she lives in Australia.)

The exhibition at the Hanson Scott Gallery is a part of the First Thursday Art Walk* in the gallery district in Seattle. You can immerse yourself in art.

*Free parking available. (5pm-10pm: Visit a gallery, restaurant, or store in Pioneer Square to receive a voucher.)
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Story Behind the Move

New York – Seattle

  O barco está mais seguro no porto, mas não é esse o objetivo dos barcos.
  “The boat is safer when anchored at the harbor,
however that is not what  it’s built for.”

                   –  from Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage

“Sunset at Harbor #2 ” *2 Saint-Malo, France.  Misako OBA
The original print is archival gelatin silver print. (14×18 inch with mat/ frame)  Edition of 5

I moved to Seattle from Manhattan, New York City.

Many people ask why I moved from New York to Seattle. Okay, so it is now official that I moved to Seattle! It’s been great and I still feel excited!

There is more than one reason for my move and it has been a process. But, the quote above is somehow representing my answer to the question.

I loved New York and I still do. NYC is probably the easiest city for me to live in in the world. I feel New York is slow and easy, less crowded, less competitive, and feels closer to nature than Tokyo where I previously lived. People in New York City are friendly and culturally diverse. You can be accepted and even respected at times  when you do things differently from others. Living there, I felt so relaxed and comfortable. New York City is artist-friendly as well. (I lived in Paris for a while and have experienced staying in London, Brussels, Berlin, Geneva, and Hong Kong…etc. So, I can compare NY to those urban cities. New York fits me well although I am Japanese. I know I am not typical, though.)

I felt like New York City became a home.  Yes, it became a harbor for me.

However, after a few years, I had experienced most things in the city, and it wasn’t inspiring anymore. A lot of elements in NYC kept me there much longer than I originally planned… professional, social, and personal circumstances, which was great. Yet, it felt like I was in lukewarm water, living a sort of easy and comfortable life. Like a boat at the harbor. Safe. Maybe, nothing is wrong with that, but I knew I should move on to the next step. I had come all the way from Japan and now I pondered and reconsidered my mission and new vision in life. I began praying about the next place for last couple of years.

I figured this year was the right time, and felt convinced and it made sense to make this move. It was a calling. This is another reason that I decided to take a step.

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
– Isaiah 43:18, 19 (NIV)

Sometimes, even though you need to get more motivated, the situation doesn’t allow you to move. Yet, it is true, there is a time for everything.

After a while, moving to Seattle became so obvious, as if some kind of current took over my will and I couldn’t resist it. That seemed like reason enough, and I was excited to leave the city finally.  But, it had to be for the right reason, a constructive move in my head. Yet I sometimes go forward by guts or faith to be precise. It seems like the decision to move there had both.

It was a long process, but towards the end, things happened very quickly and I left this comfortable place, New York City. At least for now. I feel I can go back any time, as it is my “hometown.”

To me, living in Seattle is much more challenging than living in New York City. I have figured that even before arriving. But, life is not all about living comfortably. I am already experiencing a lot of culture and societal differences, and people are different as well. It is interesting. It may sound strange to say, but to me, Seattle is much more exciting. There is an artistic reason as well. (I will tell you about it some other time. ).  So anyway, I feel more alive here like a fish in water. I am very much enjoying the city of Seattle and Pacific Northwest.

Shark – Boat

In my previous post, I talked about a shark that has to keep moving in order to stay alive. So does Anderson Cooper. So do I. This may be understood by those who have had extreme experiences in life. Perhaps, you can understand this.

Keeping in motion and creating art is a necessary process for me to stay alive. It normally happens as if I need a breeze. However, sometimes, I feel the need to move deliberately or even force myself to get through.

The quote helped (and still helps) me keep going whenever I feel stuck, lazy or too comfortable. It’s not easy but I think I get more motivation and inspiration.

Life is a journey.   El Camino (path)…..to walk.   Journey of life, which has been the theme of my work. *3

I still travel to New York, Japan, the rest of the U.S., and the world. But, for now, I’m based in Seattle for my work/ art and more. I feel inspired to create. I’m happy and grateful for everything.  Fortunately, shortly after moving, I read the article in Businessweek that Seattle became the second best city in the U.S. to live!  This is a bonus for me.

America’s 50 Best CitiesBest Places to Live in 2012 (by Businessweek)

The top city is San Francisco. (New York is 7th place. Sorry! But, I still like it.)

I sailed out to a new ocean and found a new location. Story goes on.

*1.)   I read the book in Japanese and translated this quote into English. The author is Portuguese. Therefore, it may be different from the English translated version in Also, there is an American writer who seems to have said this quote.
*2.)   This work is at Converge Gallery.  Please contact John, a gallery director if you find it interesting or if you have any questions..
From November 1 to through December 22, 2012, a group show “Sinner & Saints” will be at Converge Gallery, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
(Opening reception: Thursday, November 1 )  As for my work, large scale photography and printmaking (etching) works will be exhibited. Like us on facebook for the updated information. (The link icon is on the right.)
*3.)   Black and white photography work (traditional gelatin silver prints) from El Camino and Peace in Your Mind series has been on view (since September through October 28th at the Peter Herdic House, curated by Converge Gallery.
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Numbing Your Emotions

Numbing Your Emotions – Creative Process

This summer, when I was sorting out books in my apartment in New York to determine whether to keep them or give them away, one book caught my attention.  It was Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival by Anderson Cooper, CNN news anchor.

Keep Yourself in Motion

I bought this book a few years ago, and didn’t finish it for some reason, but I strongly remember the paragraph where Anderson Cooper compared himself to a shark.  A shark has to keep moving in order to stay alive.  He mentioned that motion keeps him alive as well.  I felt connected.  Now, I somehow understand more what he was saying.

Although this book mainly covers his experience in war and disasters, as the title shows, it has a personal and private story about his life and I like that part even more.

After I left the broadcasting industry to pursue an arts career a while back, I tend to pursue news events less and I don’t focus on other journalists as much.  Yet, I have become interested in Anderson Cooper, perhaps after he talked about his personal tragedy in an article called “10 questions for Anderson Cooper” in TIME magazine from June 2006.  I remember then becoming interested in his life, so I bought the book.  It was around the time that I was having my right pinkie amputated due to an extremely rare medical condition.  At that time, Dispatches from the Edge was about to be No. 1 on New York Times best-seller list.  I normally don’t care about “best-sellers”, however, reading the article in TIME about his personal tragedy/ loss (- His father died when he was 10, and his brother committed suicide when he was 21) coincided with the personal tragedy of my hand and previous experience of the death of my baby.

Cooper answered the question by TIME saying he sort of numbed himself after his father and his brother’s death.

Time: Your specialty seems to be war and disaster. Why?
A.C.: I sort of numbed myself after my dad’s death and certainly after my brother’s death. I wanted to go places where the pain outside would match the pain that I was feeling inside. War seemed like really my only option.   (Time, June 19, 2006)

For him, the place is war and disasters and maybe that keep him in motion.
For me, the place is art and I probably could not live without this motion. I will not go into details in today’s blog, but photography and art has kept me alive in a way and God is gracious enough to push me through these things.

It is interesting that Cooper seems to beat himself up to forget or freeze the pain by working in places like war and disasters instead of healing. It is an aggressive and brave choice.  He is perhaps synchronizing his inside pain with outside pain, which war or disaster places have.

Blocking Own Emotions and Going Numb

I realized lately that I sometimes numbed myself after the extreme pain, not only the death of loved ones, but also the deception or betrayal of trusted people, I block my own emotion and let it be numbed.  These things don’t happen so often in my life, but when they do happen, I let my emotion numb for a while or for the time being.  When I faced the death of my son in a one in a million case of a medical condition, I was not even able to numb or handle my feelings and emotions well but I was not an artist at the time.  I had to figure out how to move on from there as Cooper found his way.  I sought not only how to move on but also how to find peace.

As the extreme pain passes by, I strive to sublimate the emotion into art.  Naturally I am doing it to survive and to keep living.

Meanwhile, I am smiling and laughing often.

A creative life involves great swathes of attention. Attention is a way to connect and survive.
Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention.
The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.              – Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

This time, I finished the book, Dispatches from the Edge.  Anderson Cooper describes in the book:

…. For so long, I’ve been isolated by sadness, …… I finally feel whole – connected to both the past and the present, the living and the lost. The world has many edges, and all of us dangle from them by a very delicate thread. The key is not to let go.

….. There is so much laughter, even in the midst of all this loss. It’s the way it should be – no distance between the living and the dead. Their stories are remembered, their spirits embraced.

These are just fragments.  I would recommend reading the entire book.  Sometimes, organizing a bookshelf is good.  I found a new inspiration from the book I already had.

Feel your emotion by reading and taking in paintings or any kind of art.

This is just one of the natural processes of my creation.

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