After my fifth consecutive year of not learning how to play chess, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions. Rather than taking on the pressure of hitting goals and the disappointment from falling short (I know the knight can jump but what does the rook do again?), I like to jot down some reflections about the past year and set intentions based off of them. These intentions frame the mindset and spirit I want to embody throughout the year and anchor me during the times when I feel disconnected or stuck. They’ve remained fairly consistent over time, with creativity, gratitude, and community as my mainstay guides. Shifting from resolutions to intentions helped me realize that practicing the craft feels more delightful and sustainable than doing the goal. For me, the framing of practice allows for more intention, self-knowledge, play, and collaboration. “Doing” often feels like going through the motions to check off a box.
In December of 2020, I wanted to express the deep gratitude I felt for the friends and family who got me through the year with some kind of creative project. I also wanted to honor the ways that art kept me afloat and connected to people during one of the most isolated times in my life. I decided to make my own nengajo, traditional Japanese New Year’s postcards, and expand it into a larger design. When I was in Japan last month, seeing the New Year-themed decorations and stationery displayed in all the department stores reminded me of how much I loved making my own nengajo. The immense gratitude I have for this year and for the people who keep showing up for me inspired me to write them again.
For this last post for 2022, I’m thinking about how gratitude is a creative process.
One of the brightest silver linings from 2020 for me was learning how to spray paint—a medium I taught myself during quarantine after many years of wanting to try. That spring, my dad and I constructed a make-shift plywood wall in my parents’ yard so that I could practice. Spray painting became a curiosity-turned-obsession. I book-ended my days with morning and evening painting sessions. At the end of that year when I started brainstorming ideas for my project, I knew I wanted to incorporate spray paint and all the joy it brought me. The theme I came up with was “Keep Ya Head Up,” a nod to the 2Pac song with a message of encouragement for the year ahead. For the art, I decided to go literal in concept, but abstract in execution, and made a stencil of neck vertebrae. I love looking at x-rays and anatomy textbooks for drawing inspiration, so I gathered some reference images and started sketching out some shapes.
I cut out 2 layers of stencils, separating the background from the detailed vertebrae shapes. As I sprayed each one, I realized I could add more colors within each layer, creating different gradients and splatter effects depending on the speed I moved my hand across the paper and the pressure I put on the spray caps. I made 18 of these vertebrae paintings, experimenting with new techniques and color combinations for each one.
Seeing the evolution from my first painting to my last felt so satisfying, that I went back and added more techniques that I learned to my earlier attempts. I didn’t start with a plan, instead, I considered the colors—which ones reminded me of whom, and why. As I sprayed each one, I let the emerging color palette guide those connections between memories and relationships—I thought of the friends who would eventually receive them, the memories we shared, the last time I saw them, and when we would meet again. Maybe it was all the fumes, but it made me feel giddy thinking about my friends opening their envelopes. It added another layer of warmth while spray painting outside in the snow.
The repetition of this project felt meditative, more oriented in process, like a yoga flow you repeat and adjust until it’s one continuous movement. It put less emphasis on achieving the one perfect outcome and allowed for more experimentation, more mess, more opportunities to evolve. The best part of the process was the moment right before lifting the final stencil, not knowing how it would all come out. Would the color palette make sense? Would the lines look blurry or crisp? Would I need to go over the stencil again with a different color or technique? It reminded me of the concept of wabi sabi and how the unexpected imperfections bestow a unique value. Every time I lifted the stencil, I was surprised and delighted, even if I ended up redoing parts. Midway through, I stopped trying to picture the result in my head and just let go of any expectations. How rare and freeing it feels to give yourself that permission.
Here are the 18 paintings:
While my intention centered on giving thanks to the special people that supported me in 2020, I also received so much in this process—the time dedicated and knowledge gained felt like a gift to myself, in addition to my friends’ surprised and happy reactions. Practicing gratitude in a way that combined community and creativity made the work feel that much more meaningful. I write this newsletter with these intersections in mind, and I’m incredibly grateful for the support and community it’s brought to my life this year.
My nengajo this year aren’t as ambitious or involved, but rather, store-bought and semi-customized. And knowing me, they will likely arrive closer to Valentine’s Day than New Year's Day. (As long as it gets there, right?!) I’m especially excited since this year is the Year of the Rabbit—aka my year, so I’m going in hard with the theme. Your zodiac year is meant to be a lucky one, so to all my fellow bunnies: Toshi onna / Toshi otoko.
On a final note, as I was writing this, my friend (and Creative 20 partner) Felipe sent me an illustration by Yumi Sakugawa. It reads:
“What if creativity is less about doing and more about receiving and allowing?”
The timing of this text felt uncannily apt and in sync with some of the themes that emerged out of my year-end reflections. Like gratitude, what would happen if we considered creativity as something to express and receive? Both require an openness and exchange of shared experiences, ideas, and vulnerability that flow both ways. How does our creative process change when we allow ourselves more permission to try, more time and space for our ideas, more opportunities to play, and more grace to put ourselves out there?
I think my intentions look a little different this year. They’ve evolved into questions.
I hope you all have a joyful and gentle close to 2022. Wishing you the best for 2023.
And keep ya head up! Thank you so much for reading.
From my couple botched attempts at spray painting, it certainly would have helped to lean into the wabi sabi mindset! Lovely post