July 31, 2014

What I Learned in July

It's hard to believe July is over. 

Today, I'm going to share what I've learned this month. Are you ready for some random happenings here at northfield gate? Here we go!

1. I can eat a salad for every meal. 
I've always liked salads. But lately I found myself having a salad almost every meal and sometimes even for a snack. I just can't get enough of it. I think the combination of summer vegetables, leafy greens, and lemon based dressing is refreshing and perfect for summer.

Baby Kale + Tortellini Salad

2. When you compare generic vs. name brand pure vanilla extract, the name brand wins without a doubt.
I've been baking a lot this month and this is what I learned. The generic kind just doesn't have the vanilla scent I want in baked treats. Any thoughts? 
3. I believe in the power of packing tape.
Let me start by telling you this: I like pretty things and I love decorating our home. But not-so-pretty things can happen in our household, well, more often than I'd like to admit. This is what happened. My electric piano broke and I used packing tape to fix it. (gasp!) I know.

It works just fine for now. And yes, I'm still practicing the piano almost every day.

4. My cat loves my piano.
Speaking of piano, my cat Margo loves to sit by my feet when I practice. I think she gets comforted by the music. It's nice my furry daughter and I share the same passion. I love her to pieces. 

5. Want to discover your creative genius? I've learned embracing imperfections is the best way to unleash your creativity. You don't want your fear holding back your creative energy. You can read more about it Here.

6. Kids eating popsicles in the bathtub is not a bad idea.
My boys are not usually allowed to eat outside of the kitchen. Yes, I'm that kind of mom. But the other day, I let them have their popsicles while they took a bubble bath just because. All the drippings ended up going in the tub and I didn't have to clean up the mess afterwards. The boys were happy and I was happy. Sometimes it's good to be spontaneous.

7. The sound of rain comforts me.
It's been quite rainy here in upstate NY, but I don't wish for sunny days. I think of my mother in Japan when it rains. I think of the time she told me the sound of rain calms her mind. Listening to the rain instantly transports me to that moment in my childhood. I like it when it rains. 

8. If the blog is a car, then your kind comment is the fuel.
I feel so blessed to be able to share what I'm passionate about here on the blog. Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. Your encouraging comments have fueled me to keep on going.

You can read more about what I've learned this summer Here. 

What have you learned so far this summer? 

 * * *
Today I'm linking up with Emily at chatting at the sky for her What We Learned series. 

July 28, 2014

How to Unleash Your Creativity

I did something a little out of the ordinary this past week. 

I took a watercolor workshop. 

I've used watercolor in my artwork (you can see them here), but I've always combined it with other media. I was never comfortable enough to use this medium alone. It was time for me to get it right and expand my creative repertoire. 

The extremely talented artist Kirstin Malone shared with me some of the techniques and experience she has acquired over the years as a watercolorist. I've learned so much more in this two day workshop than a semester long watercolor class I took back in college. You can see some of her stunning work Here

Besides the watercolor techniques, I've also learned the secret to unleash our creativity. Do you want to know what that is? Embrace the Imperfections. 

2 Ways to Embrace Imperfections & Unleash Your Creativity:

1. Let go of your control. 

Unlike pen and pencil drawing, watercolor is a very challenging medium to control. Sure, you can control some details, but in the end you have to trust the water and let it do its job. 

Doesn't watercolor painting sound a lot like life? When you know what you can and you can't control, you approach life more effortlessly. You just do your best with what you can control and let the rest unfold on its own. 

       practice no. 1 | jelly beans

This is exactly what happened when I worked on this piece, jelly beans. The two colors, orange and yellow, blended beautifully on the paper while the water settled. 

I couldn't have achieved this if I overworked with the brush. The water moved the pigments around and left me a little surprise. When you let go of your control and let things unfold of their own, something amazing happens.

2. Reinvent

Since I'm relatively new to the world of watercolor, my paintings are usually, well, not that good. But I hate to give up on something I've spent hours working on. Instead of giving up or throwing a temper tantrum (also a tempting option), I try to get creative and reinvent my artwork. I take something imperfect and turn it into something beautiful.

      practice no. 2 | tomatoes + chives + pie crust

I wasn't too happy when I finished this piece - I think it's the pie crust. My husband even mentioned the pie crust was crooked and weird. Oh well.

I really liked some of the details though. I wondered how I could make this work...

Luckily, this art came alive with a simple styling. I paired it with a white frame and a Panton chair, and somehow the pie crust doesn't bother me anymore. All I needed to do was to place it in a right setting. 

       practice no. 3 | chives

This piece was a little more challenging than the one above. I was so close to put this one in a trash can. I thought this was boring and a little too pastel to my taste.

So, I pulled out my white oil pastel and wrote "embrace your imperfections" all over the background. Then I applied a light gray watercolor wash all over it. This process gave this piece a slight sepia tint and toned down the pastel hues I wasn't happy with. It also made the message pop against the darker wash. 

Next, I made a mat using cardboard and burlap. Once the wash was completely dry, the art was mounted to the burlap mat. 

I'm thrilled how this turned out. 

When you're ready to embrace imperfections, you finally become free from fear - the fear of making mistakes. Sure, the fear will always be there, trying to find its way to enter our soul. But when you live boldly in spite of fear, your creativity comes to the surface.

And it's okay to make mistakes. Remember, you can always reinvent the imperfections and turn them into something beautiful.

Let's roll up our sleeves, embrace imperfections, and unleash our creativity.
Shall we? 

July 19, 2014

DIY | Bubble Art


As promised, today I'm going to show you how I created the DIY gallery wall art. It's DIY Bubble Art! I'm so excited to share this project with you. It's such a fun DIY and looks great when you group them together in a gallery display. 

As an artist, I'm always looking for unique ways to create art. My love for decorating home also motivates me to create the types of art I want to decorate my home with. When I come up with a simple art project that has a big impact and can be easily recreated, I get really excited. This is one of the ways I can share what I'm good at with others.

The inspiration for this project came from the time my boys and I painted together with bubbles. I remember it made such cool geometric shapes on paper. How I could translate that into artwork that's more refined and tasteful? 

My answer was to restrict the color palette and add shading to create some drama. 

But there's no right way to do this project and I can only give you a general guideline. So feel free to make some changes, add more colors (make them colorful!), get creative and have fun! My only suggestion is to try different ways - let it be the strength of paint or color combinations - and see if you can achieve the look that suits your personality and home decor.

Without further adieu, let's get started!

* * *
Things you'll need:
- Paper
- Dish detergent
- Plastic cup or container of your choice
- Plastic straw 
- Watercolor paint of your choice 
- Water
- Charcoal pencil (optional)  
- Paint brush to mix the paint and test the color 

Paper: I used 9 x 12 in. heavy weight drawing paper for a mat frame with an 8 x 10 in. opening, just because that's the only paper I had at hand. I thought this paper might be too thin for the project, but it worked just fine. You might want to experiment with different types of paper you have and see what works best for you. 

Container: I used a takeout food container for this project. You can use any type of plastic cup or container as long as you can blow bubbles in it. It may be fun to mix different sizes of containers to create various designs.

Watercolor Paint: I used cotman's ivory black for the black color and cadmiun red pale hue for an accent (red dots). But again, you can use any colors that suit your style and decor.

1. Dissolve the black paint in water. Test the mixture on paper and adjust the amount of paint until you reach the desired strength. I ended up using a lot more paint than I thought I would need, about a third of an 8ml tube to the water about one-third or less of the container. You want to have a dark, black ink like consistency or bubbles won't stain the paper.

2. Add detergent to water-paint mixture and blow bubbles. (warning: if you use a shallow container like I did, you might want to blow gently to avoid splatter.) 

3. Gently lay your paper over the bubbles.

4. Let the paper sit until the paint starts to seep through the paper. This creates a darker and more defined effect. I probably waited about 30 seconds to one minute before gently removing the paper. If you want a darker effect, you can always add more paint here.

This is how the back side looks like with the paint is seeping through the paper. 

And this is how the painted (front) side looks like. 

5.Get creative and design. I made more than 10 different designs and chose four best ones to be framed.

6. Once paint is dry, add some shading using a charcoal pencil (optional). The more contrast you create, the more dramatic your art will be. I simply traced the already darker areas with the pencil without adding too much pressure. You can always start with a lighter touch and make it darker as you go.

7. Add finishing touches (optional). I added a red dot to each piece to give it a focal point and an unexpected touch. I simply applied the paint directly from the tube to the paper. Allow the paint to completely dry and it will be ready to be framed. 

 * * *
Here are the close-ups of the framed art. They are similar yet uniquely different, which makes them perfect for a gallery wall like this. I also painted the mats with house paint, Iron Mountain by Benjamin Moore. Yes, I painted the mats with house paint using a roller. They look pretty good though, don't they? 

no. 1

no. 2

no. 3

no. 4

Grouped together.

With a simple vignette.

I'm loving the red dots. What do you think?

Have a wonderful weekend! 

July 16, 2014


I love blue hydrangeas. 

Every year, I tell Steve (my husband) I will turn our pink hydrangea bushes into beautiful shades of blue, but that hasn't happened yet. They are pink again this year. 

I guess pink isn't that bad, after all. I'm growing to like them more.
* * *
I baked Ina Garten's brownies, and these are hands down the best brownies ever! I'm making another batch for a family picnic today. Mmmm.

* * *
I made this DIY art and turned it into a gallery wall. 

I will show you how I made them when I come back later this week.

What have you been up to lately?

July 13, 2014

What I'm learning this summer

My five-year-old son has been home for almost three weeks now. It's been nice to have him around for the summer and my youngest son loves having someone to play with besides his mom. 

I just forgot how busy it is to spend an entire day with these two little guys. They would be playing together for one moment, and then fighting with each other in the next. We never have a dull moment around here.

Even though my hope for the lazy days quickly turned into the crazy days, I'm still enjoying the easiness of summer. I think we're finally moving into this new rhythm - a more relaxed 'go with the flow' approach with no particular expectations. 

Today, I wanted to share a few things I've learned so far this summer.

1. I can't go without decorating our home.
I ran out of our decorating budget a while ago and had to take a little break from decorating. Well, I've missed it very much. I realized for the first time I simply can't go without decorating.

2. You'll eventually find a perfect paint color, only if you don't settle for something less.
I came across this medium-dark gray paint, and I instantly fell in love with the richness of its color. 

I'm so glad I didn't settle for the paint color I wasn't a 100% happy with. I just finished the first coat and it already looks amazing. Can you tell which room I'm working on? 

3. Relaxing on a hammock is the best way to spend a summer afternoon.  
While watching the boys play outside, I try to find my inner peace lying on this hammock, 

and savor the beautiful nature this season offers. 

If the boys are preoccupied with each other, I get to enjoy my favorite book for a few minutes. 

This is what I am re-reading right now. A perfect book to read on a hammock.

The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach - waiting for a gift from the sea. 
Gift from The Sea
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
4. Homemade lemonade is my favorite summer drink. 
We've been making lemonade almost every day this summer. I like this recipe for regular lemonade. I've also tried this jalapeno lemonade and I found the hint of spiciness quite refreshing on a hot summer day. 

5. I literally live in our kitchen.  
Have you read a book, Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto? I think I'm a lot like that main character. I'd be happy just spending the entire day in our kitchen, cooking or scrubbing down the counters. For me, the kitchen is the place of comfort and happiness, and I spend a great deal of time during the day in the kitchen (weird?). There has been a lot of cooking and baking happening in our kitchen this summer and that simply makes me happy.

We made Cinnabunnies!

6. My favorite ratio for strawberry rhubarb pie filling is strawberry 3: rhubarb 4.  
I prefer savory over sweet, but I do enjoy freshly baked fruit pies. I use 3 cups of diced strawberries and 4 cups of rhubarb for an 9 inch pie. This creates the perfect balance of tart and sweet for my taste. And if someone likes it sweeter, I would just add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. The flavors from roasted rhubarb and vanilla ice cream complement each other beautifully.

What about you? What have you learned so far this summer?

July 1, 2014

Let Your Ordinary Gift Shine + New Art | Captivating no. 2

I recently had a chance to talk with one of the moms from my son's school.

I've always felt somewhat inadequate as a mom, and she immediately picked up my insecurity about how I parent. She gently assured me I was doing a great job with my boys and encouraged me to give myself credit because I work so hard for it. She was friendly, warm, and glowing with confidence. I was drawn to her charisma right away and absorbed her wisdom like a plant thirsting for water. 

But then, something unexpected happened. As soon as our conversation turned to what we do for a living, her confidence shrank to the size of a golf ball. "Oh," she said in a trembling voice, "I'm just a stay-at-home mom." 

I'm just a stay-at-home mom. 

This mother with an incredible ability to encourage fellow parents didn't seem to acknowledge what an extraordinary gift she has.

I wonder sometimes our gift may not feel like a gift at all, because it's buried within our ordinary days. Perhaps you don't see it as a gift because it doesn't seem important. Or even though you know you have something special, you're not sure if you're good enough.

But it's not up to you to decide if you're good enough or not. Because someone who needs your gift can spot it from a mile away, like finding a tiny piece of diamond catching the sun in the midst of desert.

You can't hide it from us - your story, your gift.

Your helping hands, your smiles, your art, your songs, your writing, your warm hugs, your ability to guide and teach...

If there's one person out there who needs to hear your story, it is good enough.

There are mornings I would wake up and wonder if I should stop sharing what I create on this blog. Because some days, I just feel inadequate and what I can offer seems insignificant. 

But it's not up to me to decide if my gift is good enough to share. 

What you may consider humble could be an extraordinary gift to someone who needs it. 

Just like this mother's words changed the way I view motherhood, we all have an extraordinary gift to share only if we let it shine. 

I'm forever grateful she generously shared her gift of encouragement with me.

Captivating no. 2: Ink pen, watercolor, charcoal, soft pastel

Would you share your gift with us, your extraordinary gift hidden in the ordinary? 

Would you let it shine?

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