Elegance on Paper… and Cookies :)

I’ve always found various types of calligraphy to be beautiful art forms. So it’s been great seeing a friend of mine, Lillian Liming, share her wonderful brush lettering based calligraphy designs via inspirational quotes, an assortment of decorated items, and instructional workshops. I recently attended two of her workshops and wanted to share thoughts on them here.

 

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Decorated canvas tote bag.

 

My only previous experience with any sort of calligraphy was a (thoroughly enjoyable) Shodo class at Tenri Cultural Institute taught by Tomoko Furukawa. The Japanese calligraphy I was taught there focused on writing kanji and paper decorating, so I had no previous experience with English lettering.

 

 

 

The first workshop I took of Lillian’s was Introduction to Brush Calligraphy (held in partnership with Artsi Workshops). As indicated by the title this was a beginner’s course designed to convey the basic strokes and concepts behind brush lettering and let participants practice them. The format was great as getting right into trying things out is the best way to start learning most artistic pursuits. A lot of important, interesting information was shared regarding things like how to hold and move the brushes/brush pens to properly form the lines and letters, good places to order supplies, and the effects of using different types of pens and paper. A bit difficult to get the hang of, but even by the end of the class practice had made things much easier.

 

 

The second workshop I attended was significantly different as this time the theme was cookie decorating for the holidays. It was again really interesting to hear about things like different types of food coloring and edible paints, the effects of using a faster evaporating solvent for diluting, etc., and tons of fun trying to transform that knowledge into actual festive looking decorated cookies.

 

 

Lillian’s workshops are a wonderful combination of informative and comfortable. The atmosphere is calm and welcoming, with light refreshments served and an unpressured environment, but she still conveys a lot of great information and instruction during her intros and explanations and keeps things moving at a good pace that allows a lot of time for practice/writing with her providing individual help and tips as needed.

 

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My creations.

 

I had a great time at these workshops above and beyond the added bonus for me of catching up with a good friend. I highly recommend checking out any future ones Lillian holds if you have any interest in brush lettering.

All the Paths of Shadow Review

“That’s the sound of history being made, lads. Something I hoped never to hear.”

A king’s orders don’t have to be reasonable, and mage Meralda Ovis is fuming at her latest ridiculous assignment of moving an ancient tower’s shadow for an upcoming speech. But she may have even more to worry about as sinister magic seems to hang over a historic meeting of delegates from throughout the Five Realms and beyond.

 

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I’d previously read Frank Tuttle’s short story Saving the Sammi, and enjoyed the small glimpse into the world of Mage Ovis and her amusing assistant Mug, an “enchanted dandyleaf plant who sees the world through 29 bright eyes” (Best. Sidekick. Ever.). I found this longer adventure even more fascinating.

The world surrounding Meralda exists somewhere between steampunk and fantasy, and the combination works wonderfully. Tuttle provides an internally consistent “scientific” framework of magic at the center of his story that provides and interesting and logical foundation. From there he builds an engaging narrative off of good characterizations among a complimentary diverse cast and a reasonably paced, intriguing plot that’s well balanced among predictability and surprises. Tuttle has a great gift for making his creations understandable and relatable, as well as for properly conveying tension and other important emotional context.

If I have any criticism to offer it’s that All the Paths of Shadow would have benefitted from less contemporary shorthand for describing “unknown” cultures. Hinting at the inspiring culture’s influence via descriptions and connotations rather than flat out using real world terms would have done a lot to eliminate the awkward loss of immersion that often accompanied them.

All and all though this was a creative, enjoyable novel and I’d love to see more from Meralda and her unique reality.

Glimpses of the Stars, the Past, and the Present

Tenri Cultural Institute, in addition to its language school, concerts, and various other cultural events, hosts an art gallery that is always home to a variety of incredible exhibitions ranging from demonstrations of traditional Japanese techniques to innovative displays of multinational modern art. I’ve spotlighted several past showings, including Chika MacDonald’s Mugen exhibit and Nobuko Tsuruta’s 12 Years.

Here I’ll be talking about last month’s Pseudoastronomy by Kiichiro Adachi and the currently ongoing The Art of Japan: NOW, with the Past by the
Alumni Association of Tokyo University of the Arts.

 

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Kiichiro Adachi sees his art as a way to explore the “distortion” of using made man things to “control or simulate nature.” His Pseudoastronomy exhibition (which ran from November 9th to the 22nd) sought to capture a small piece of the grandeur of  the universe via light reflections of off intricate, carefully constructed mirrored apparatuses.

 

 

 

The exhibit was tailored to the space available at TCI and the effect of the moving reflections through the darkened space and added light smoke effects was captivating. In comments about the exhibit Adachi mentions he likes “the absurdity of using mirror balls to simulate the sacred universe.” This perspective and his creativity created a striking piece of art with a thought provoking theme beneath it.

 

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Tokyo University of the Arts Alumni Association of New York’s “2nd Art and Music Collaboration Exhibition,” entitled The Art of Japan: NOW, with the Past, features an art collection by several artists, along with musical performances and workshops all focused on highlighting a combination of modern and traditional Japanese influences.

 

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The opening reception featured shamisen music by Yoko Reikano Kimura and tango/jazz by Machiko Ozawa (violin) & Ayako Shirasaki (piano). Both performances were excellent.

 

 

There are also workshops related to this event, including the still to come “NOH WORKSHOP: VOYAGE TO NOH” with sessions for both children and adults on December 10.

 

 

 

The varied and distinctive pieces that comprise The Art of Japan: NOW, with the Past exhibit can be viewed at TCI until Monday, December 11.

 

 

Elemental Beauty: Perna Studios’ Elementals

I’ve previously written in general about the excellent card sets available from Perna Studios, as well as spotlights on their Witchcraft set and Artist Proofs. Here I’d like to focus on their set that was released in Spring of 2017, Elementals.

 

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Water AP by Peejay Catacutan.

 

For me this was perhaps the most highly anticipated set they’ve done yet. The concept of fantasy cards dedicated to people and creatures embodying the four classic elements is fantastic, and lends itself to endless variation and interpretations.  The 20 card base set is a wonderful example of this, with a multitude of artists providing numerous unique, captivating visions.

 

 

Also included were four striking spot foil cards by Soni Alcorn-Hender, as well as gorgeous metal and lenticular chase inserts.

 

 

As always Perna’s sets shine shine with their one of a kind sketch cards and Artist Proof’s.  Each artist’s individual style, choice of subject, composition, etc all make every card distinct and all of them together result in the extremely high quality these sets consistently achieve.

My favorite elements are wind and water, so those were the main focus of my collecting. I got wonderfully diverse sketch cards featuring each including a gloriously semi-abstract piece by Mick & Matt Glebe (my first of theirs), Danielle Gransaull’s vivid mermaid, Arwenn Necker’s air elemental with a classic fantasy feel, and a hauntingly etherial work by Sean Pence.

 

 

 

Artist Proofs (APs) are generally directly commissioned from the artists and thus provide an opportunity to request something specific (within the guidelines and theme of the set).  In a couple of cases, such as the incredible half formed female elemental made entirely of water by Peejay Catacutan at the top of this entry, I gave just a general subject then chose between more specific ideas provided by the artist.

For the rest, instead of a common base idea for my APs as I’ve done in the past this time I tailored most of them a bit more individually based on other cards the artists had done. Stacey Kardash’s sketch cards featured recurring elementals of each type, and I requested an AP with those wind and water elementals. She gave me a number of great compositional options, and I ended up with a fantastic metal AP of the two face to face.

 

 

I was lucky enough to pull two of my absolute favorite sketch cards from the pre-release previews (and pick up more later). One of the pulls was Achilleas Kokkinakis’ geisha themed air elemental making tea. I adored the idea and execution so much I got two APs inspired by it. One with a water elemental against a gloriously colored sky (prompted by another beautiful sketch card he did) and a wind elemental forming a dragon made of air. I can’t say enough about all the exquisite details, including the intricate borders, small thematic scrolls showing the kaiji for the element, etc.

 

 

 

My other pull of a sketch I’d been eyeing in previews was Alexis Hill’s striking wind elemental gathering lightening. After I’d added her mermaid and earth elemental sketches to my ever growing collection of her cards, I decided to request a fire elemental AP to complete representation of all four elements. Doing a pairing with water was an idea I’d been batting around, and the resulting metal AP from Alexis is great.

 

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Wind and water AP by Juri Chinchilla.

 

And of course I was thrilled to add another AP from Juri Chinchilla, this time a playful meeting between a mermaid and her friend made of air. As always Juri’s work is gorgeous, brought to life with her vibrant shades of soft colors. What I really adore about this one in particular is the sense of motion she’s achieved on a small 2D card with the mermaid’s bubbling hair and the (pardon the pun) windswept curls in her counterpart’s.

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Hope everyone enjoyed my look at the Elementals set. Of course there are MANY more phenomenal artists featured in it and other excellent sets from Perna Studios to check out..

The NXT Step for a Pirate

The signing of Stardom’s Kairi Hojo in early 2017 by the WWE created immediate buzz and excitement. It was wonderful to see that feeling build in anticipation as the Mae Young Classic and her debut as Kairi Sane approached.

 

Kairi is a masterful ring technician, measuring everything she does carefully and exerting expert body control for maximum visual impact. Her trademark diving elbow from the tope rope looks as beautiful as it does devastating. Her excellent selling draws the audience in and invests them emotionally in her matches, yet she always believably feels like a threat to her opponent no matter how much punishment she’s taken or how much bigger her opponent is. She brings something special and unique to WWE, and the hype surrounding her debut as it approached showed they realized it.

 

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My own perspective on Kairi’s pre-WWE career was bit different from when I wrote about Kana (NXT Step for a Legend) and Johnny Gargano (NXT Step for an Icon) heading to NXT, as I’d only seen her live on two occasions (though she essentially wrestled twice on each show). Even from that small sample it was easy to see the command she has of her craft.

 

My first time seeing Kairi live was under unique circumstances, as she was involved in Act Yasukawa’s retirement match at Climax 2015.

 

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Act’s retirement match and ceremony had an incredible atmosphere around it, and the entire spectacle was awesome to be at live. Kairi teamed with Act & Haruka Kato vs. Holidead, Kris Wolf & Kyoko Kimura in a match that went on for about 10 minutes, with back and forth action that saw Act and her teammates, particularly Kairi, more and more at odds. Both Act and Kairi did a phenomenal job at portraying two people who thought they had reconciled but were just never meant to get along. Things eventually exploded and the two fought into the crowd with everyone else along for the ride, resulting in a double countout.

 

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Then the “real” match began, as Act rejoined her former Oedo Tai stablemates leading to Act Yasukawa & Kyoko Kimura vs Haruka Kato & Kairi Hojo. This was a fitting send off, with Act and her teammates clearly enjoying themselves against long time rivals. Kairi was clearly genuinely emotional as she helped bid farewell to her fellow wrestler’s career.

 

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The following year I was back for Climax 2016 and saw Kairi in a pair of equally impressive matches at opposite ends of the spectrum. In a special contest model Nana Suzuki made her debut in a singles match against Hojo, one of Stardom’s aces. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good, due in no small part to Kairi playing her own role of dominant veteran absolutely perfectly. She knew exactly how to rightly control most of the offense and avoid reducing her own standing yet still make her rookie opponent look strong. That takes an incredible amount of skill and a deft touch, and the two told a great story here.

 

 

Later that night Kairi told a completely different story as she and partner Yoko Bito looked to regain their Goddesses of Stardom Titles from Oedo Tai (Kyoko Kimura & Kagetsu). This time Kairi was in some sense the underdog, as there was a lot of interference from the Oedo Tai entourage outside the ring. The stacked odds and again excellent awareness of the story being told combined to generate quite the conquering hero reception for Hojo & Bito when they finally overcame it all and took their belts back. It was a treat not only seeing Kairi perform twice, but in such different (but complimentary and consistent) circumstances.

 

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Fast forward back to a few months ago and Kairi entered a WWE ring for the first time as part of the Mae Young Classic. It was certainly no surprise when she provided several of the best matches of the whole thing, including a show-stealing first round encounter with Tessa Blanchard, great bouts with Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, and Toni Storm, and a fitting finale to the whole thing against Shayna Baszler. Seeing her joy at becoming the well deserved first ever MYC winner was wonderful. Since then she has become an integral part of NXT’s women’s division, and is likely to feud with Shayna Baszler and eventually progress to a one on one challenge to champion Ember Moon.

 

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Incredible art print depicting (and signed by) Kairi by Rob Schamberger.

 

Kairi Sane is the epitome of the cliche “a joy to watch,” and I wish her all the best as this exciting new phase of her career continues.

Shadows in Kyoto Review (First Impressions)

I adore Hanamikoji, and its designers have released another excellent 2 player game with a tied in theme / aesthetic.

 

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Gameplay

Like HanamikojiShadows in Kyoto has a classic Japanese theme to it, but this time players take on opposite sides of the Meiji Government and Oniwaban in a battle to uncover the other side’s spies and capture key intelligence without being misled.

 

Each player controls six pieces with values ranging from 0 to 3. There are Stratego-like elements of piece values being hidden from the opposing player and the “weakest” piece being able to capture the opponent’s best when attacking. From there on though Shadows in Kyoto is entirely its own game.

 

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The core of the game revolves around the concept of “key intelligence.” Two of each players’ pieces are marked as carrying their key intelligence. Thematically this means they have “real” information the enemy wants and the rest of the pieces are carrying “fake” information to confuse them.

A player wins if either of their two agents carrying real intelligence reach the opponent’s back row, or if they capture both their opponent’s such agents. However if a player captures too many (three) of their opponent’s agents with fake intelligence they LOSE.

 

There are also clever card based mechanics related to moving player pieces.  Basic colored cards relate to spaces on the board and can move any friendly piece forward (straight or diagonally) into a space of that color. Limited tactics cards add options like moving/attacking sideways or backwards, swapping pieces, or forcing an opposing piece back.  The two types of cards are drawn from separate decks giving players interesting hand management options.

 

Finally, the base game can be modified by the addition of included asymmetric character and equipment cards with special abilities that increase variability and strategic choices.

 

 

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General Thoughts

First off, there’s nothing tying Shadows in Kyoto to Hanamikoji beyond the art style and setting. But  that’s fine, as both games shine as their own unique creations and the common aesthetic is a nice enough touch.

I’ve always enjoyed the hidden information aspect of Stratego, and this pulls the best elements of it and improves them several fold with the concept of real and fake information and multiple victory conditions. The added dimension of often needing to attack yet having to be careful about capturing too many of the “wrong” pieces gives a fantastic extra layer of strategy and a strong “cat and mouse” feel to the game.

 

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The asymmetric elements seem well varied and balanced, and again add an intriguing extra layer to the solid basic gameplay that extends replayability. There are some nice thematic ties running through the powers available to each side as well, particularly given the Oniwaban player always goes first.

 

Overall

The imaginative new take Shadows in Kyoto brings to classic gameplay elements and the depth arising from the hand management and asymmetric power aspects combine to something really fun and engaging. I loved this accessible, intriguing game immediately.

 

 

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An Artificial Night (October Daye Book 3) Review

“Heroes, Toby, heroes. You’re all idiots…”

 

Children, both human and fae, are disappearing, and October Daye is about to find out not all boogeymen are myths.

 

This is the third book in the October Daye series. There is probably enough context to follow without having read the previous books, but significant depth and nuance would be lost. Best to start with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).

 

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An Artifical Night is fantastic. It revs up quick and hardly ever slows, keeping a constant sense of dread forefront. The skill with which the theme of children’s tales and the nebulous rules of farie are interwoven is masterful. McGuire drops new concepts on reader’s head constantly and abruptly, but she keeps it manageable somehow and does such wonderful things with them all is forgiven. Toby continues to be an excellent protagonist, being smart and largely self aware yet still susceptible to emotional responses and bad decisions.

In addition to compelling characters, interesting world, and strong plot, it’s the writing that shines and draws the reader in. The style is excellent, particularly in distinct, natural sounded dialogue and speech patterns rising from characters’ personalities and individual situations. I enjoyed the continued focus on a couple of my favorite supporting cast members, plus a PHENOMENAL new addition, and how they all interact with Toby.

The last third of the story loses just a touch of what made the first two-thirds so compelling somewhere, but it’s a minor criticism. There are getting to be a few too many building questions and ongoing story threads though, and while they’re all interesting at least a couple need to start being addressed next book.

Easily my favorite book in the series thus far. Highly recommended.