Naturally 

After a long days stitching I decided to take myself to the local park for a bit of relaxtion. Of course my sketchbook came along, but I did forget my paintbox. These sketches were done with some water-soluble pencils that I did remember to take. 

The egrets were most obliging, standing so still waiting for their dinner

Black Cormorants, a Great Egret, along with a Grey Heron

These birds were roosting near to the small Shinto shrine which is situated on a small island in the upper pool, or Kami-ike (which roughly translated means the Shrine pond). 

Pencil sketch with colour added after I got home.

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Tokyo and other distractions

​It’s a cliche but time is going by so quickly at my residency that I am torn between making work and taking in all that the city has to offer. So the decision has to be made about going to exhibitions and events and working in the studio. 

My compromise is to use my travels through the city to collect material that I can use in my work. More importantly  I cannot stitch for extended periods of time without running the risk of causing muscle strain so regular breaks are necessary. (OK that’s my excuse). 

Sketches on the subway

I wouldn’t even try to count the number of galleries in Tokyo, there are just too many. In my first two and a half weeks I’ve seen exhibitions of Venetian Renaissance paintings, works from the Pompidou Centre in Paris and an excellent retrospective of Japanese-born photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto at the recently re-furbished Tokyo Photography Museum. 

Sketching at the sumo wrestling

In parallel to the stitching I mentioned in the last post I  am also working with photos I’ve taken, adding to them to make new images and making collages from catalogues and other things I have found. 

Collageof a beauty catalogue

Don’t ask me where this is all going, that’s the whole point of making new work while on a residency!

What do you do at an artist’s residency?

That’s the question I have been asked the most before I came to Japan. In short it’s an opportunity for an artist to produce whatever work they want over a specific time. It’s rather like a writer’s retreat, but with more messy fun stuff to play with. In my case I have two months at Youkobo to spend doing pretty much whatever I want to and therein lies the challenge.

Pedestrian mall in the nearby suburb of Kichijoji

I don’t have to produce anything specific while I am here, but some artist’s use the time at a residency to prepare for an exhibition or complete a specific body of work. At the end of my time at Youkobo I will have an ‘open studio’ where anyone can come along and see the work that I have been making. My goal is to produce new work that will also be shown when I return to Australia.

Some of the work I am making is related to what I have made before. I am also open to new ideas and already I have made some different types of work to my previous pieces. That’s the fun part, seeing where those ideas take me.

The laneway near the Igusa Hachimangu Shrine

I didn’t prepare specific work to take with me to Japan, because I wasn’t sure what I would find when I arrived. I certainly bought lots of art materials along! I had one large packing cube of sketchbooks paint and the like and a smaller packing cube of material threads and general sewing stuff. 

What I do have are some strategies to get me started. I have my ‘working wall’ where I stick up things I’m working on. I also a few pieces for inspiration that I  brought from Canberra. 

The ‘working wall’ a work in progress

I’m currently working on a piece of stitching which is like a diary of some of the things I am seeing around our part of town. I love taking photos of odd bits and pieces, the sort of thing that you may not think of as subject matter for stitching. I like road repairs, decaying buildings, rusty things and odd stuff, like the large goldfish you can see in the picture of my ‘working wall’. (We found the goldfish lying in the middle of the footpath near our Canberra home one day – you see, quite odd). 

I will work on this piece most days, as it takes a lot of time to stitch something this size, even when it is quite narrow. 

My daily stitching piece another ‘work in progress’

Of course I don’t sit in the studio all day either. A whole other part of being here is to get out and about to all sorts of activities, explore  and be inspired by the city, but more of that in another post. 

Chatting with the Peach Girl at the Momoshi Elementary School Autumn Festival

First week in Tokyo

You may be thinking that Japan is the land of rickshaws and ninjas but that’s only in the tourist areas.

Asakusa

A rickshaw passes as the ninja watches from above. Asakusa is tourist central in Tokyo!

Out here in the suburbs life is quite different.

I am on a two month Asialink artist’s residency in suburban Tokyo. That means I get to make art, whatever art I like, and go to exhibitions, lots of them, in one of the most interesting cities in the world. My partner is also here and we are ready to explore the city!

I’ll just do a little introduction to our part of town. We are in Suginami-ku, a city in it’s own right, which has been swallowed up by greater Tokyo. Suginami-ku is 15 minutes by train from Shibuya, you know the place with the busiest pedestrian crossing in Tokyo, the one that you see in all the movies. 

Out here the pace is slower and there’s not much by way of highrise buildings. At the corner of our street is a small shrine with a number of jizu statues. Jizu is a (Buddhist) being who chose to help people on the earth after attaining enlightenment. He is considered to be the protector of many people including travellers, pregnant mothers and, in particular, very young children who have died prematurely. As one of the most popular Buddhist ‘saints’ statues of him are found all over Japan.

shrineoncornerJizu statues on the corner

Ours is a pretty normal street. Quite narrow by Australian standards with a narrow footpath indicated by the white line painted along the side of the road. ourstreet
The powerpoles are masterpieces of contemporary installation art, draped with wires and additions sprouting from every direction. powerpole

The powerpole outside our window

Our building was in a former life, a sanatarium for tuberculosis patients. It has now been repurposed as an arts residency that houses artists from Japan and around the world in a number of studios. There are another two adjoining buildings in the complex housing two more studios. On the ground floor of this building is another space which currently houses two young Japanese artists. Youkobo

My studio and our living space occupies the entire top floor of this building. There is plenty of light and space in the studio. the living section is more compact, but not bad compared to other places we’ve stayed in Japan.

The biggest difference we are finding here is in the amount of noise and light. Our place back home is on a quiet street so while our the studio looks like it’s on a back street this actually a main route to a nearby station. The traffic is busy! Plus we have a large primary school next door. Yesterday I realised I was hearing the school assembly, which sounded just as long and boring as any I sat through as a schoolkid. The single light pole outside our house has been replaced by 5 or so as this building sits near two intersections and apart from the living space the studio has virtually no window coverings (the glass is frosted). These aren’t complaints rather it just shows what we take for normal until shown otherwise.

Nearby are restaurants, quite a good supa (supermarket) an electronics and a hardware store. There’s even more interesting shops a short bus ride away. It’s quite a dense landscape compared to an Australian suburb, but the locals are friendly!Friendly local