Week 290 / Tokyo

Actually, weeks 289 and 290 since I did something interesting enough last week to warrant mentioning it still a week later.

Was fortunate enough to visit Tokyo again for week 289 – I think for the 6th or 7th time now? – and spend the week there with Alex between two of his business trips. It was very cold and snowed a couple of times, but fun as always. I really want to do a 6 month-ish trip there and really get to know my way around more.

People often ask me what I eat there, since I’m vegetarian (including no fish) but I’ve never starved. There’s one place in particular I’m fond of called SoraNoiro which does this amazingly thick and rich ramen in a carrot based soup with the most perfectly boiled egg in it, but a surprisingly large number of ramen places do “rainbow ramen” which is usually a vegan bowl. A new place this time that fed me well was a tempura place called ippoh cooking the lightest and most delicate mushrooms and vegetables in batter I’ve ever had. Also had a good time at a shabu shabu place called “Let us” with a friend of ours that lets you have your own personal cooking bowl, so you don’t have to share the meat oil bowl if you don’t want to. I had an interesting combination of a soy milk cook bowl with vegetables and tofu and ended with rice and cheese that uses the left over soy milk to create risotto. Very interesting.

There are a couple caveats, though. I’m not going to freak out if something is cooked in the same oil as animal-items and I’ve eaten more dashi than I would in a country where I can speak the language and specify not to have it, but if you are super strict, the trick is to look for food designed with Japan’s strict buddhists in mind – shojin ryori – and you’ll eat like a king.

Also, to be clear, I also eat a lot of tiny perfect sandwiches. I could honestly eat an egg lunch pack every day for the rest of my life.

The platonic ideal of a tiny perfect sandwich

We saw some good art in Tokyo.

The TeamLab installations are amazing and we visited 2 of them – Planets and Borderless. I preferred Planets over Borderless, mostly because it’s a more curated experience with few people. They’re both very engaging digital, full body art things, both share some features like interactive projections, LED crystal infinity rooms and perspective tricks. Planets, though, is probably especially memorable for having to wade up to your knees in a room filled with warm, cloudy, water with projections of colourful koi and flower petals. It’s really impressively done. It would never work outside of Japan – folks just wouldn’t behave anywhere else.

The other good art was a big lifetime retrospective of Hokusai. I’d seen a few of them before, but never the more funny character pieces. I particularly enjoyed his drawing manuals.

The other thing I spotted was commentary about pieces labelled as X of Y – like 50 illustrations of ghosts or something – and the curators can only ever find 5 or 6 of them. So, they assumed Hokusai never finished the set – he just stopped after 5 or 6. I love that – even extremely successful and well-known artists can’t stick to their 30 day projects. Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.

Week 290 can mostly be summarised as: jetlag, coughing, 10 thousand meetings.

Making a comic

I made a comic for my dad’s 60th birthday recently. It’s the first time I’ve made a comic and the first time I’ve ever really dealt with making something in print. It was a lot more work than I expected, so I’ve got a whole new appreciation for comic book artists, inkers, colourists and writers. I basically learned a bunch of stuff that in hindsight should have been really obvious.

I screwed up:

  • My margins. I just assumed that if I worked on Bristol board with an even margin on everything, I’d just be able to make it fit nicely when I scanned it and set the page. Of course, the physical paper size of Bristol board does not in fact match the aspect ratio of the classic printed comic book that I wanted to create. Thus, I have margins on the top and bottom of pages that are too large. Obviously.
  • Where to focus my energy. I thought the colouring was going to be the bit that took forever. That, and cleaning up the line work and all that fiddly stuff.  Turns out, Photoshop makes that stuff really fast if you just watch, like, 2 youtube videos and keep a simple palette (even then, I made some compositions overall too dark while others were too light). The bit that took me forever was figuring out what to actually put in the panels and then the physical act of hand drawing them. I should have applied what I’d learned from my actual career and lead with the user stories and got that bit down before worrying about the UI.
  • The subject and style. Rabbits are basically expressionless blobs. They are terrible visual subjects for storytelling. I’d have had an easier time if I’d gone more cartoony and/or more fantastical.
  • The story telling. I am not a writer. I do not know how to construct a story. I can barely string a blog post together. Comics are apparently 99% creative writing and creative writing is so, so hard.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make another one – maybe if someone gave me a story to draw? – but I’m glad to have tried it.

Sylvia portrait

I recently finished a painting¬†for a small show at a nearby assisted living facility, featuring portraits of residents and staff. ¬†I don’t usually (ever) do portraits.

I’ve been painting out of the Jean Henry School of Art in San Francisco once or twice a week since last summer, learning oil paints. I’m really enjoying it.