31 March 2009


An interior detail of the new Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi, photo by Imran Akram
A plate from "Art arabe : mosquée de Qaouâm el-Dyn: détails du tombeau" (1

My fascination with Arabesque ornament... may have begun in Prague many years ago, when I first saw the Španělské Synagogy "Spanish Synagogue", built in 1868 in the Moorish Revival style. Inside it is completely covered in geometric Arabesque designs. Seeing the architectural ornamentation on such a scale made me want to run home and encrust every surface I could find with pattern.

It's not just that it's pretty, but it resonates with the math geek in me. The division of space, the arrangement of color, the... fractals!

Arabesque art developed in regions where Islam has been dominant; such as Morocco, Moorish Spain, India, Turkey, and the Arab states; and embodies Muslim precepts in its themes, with the focus on patterns rather than on figures. The depiction of the human form is forbidden, considered too close to idolatry, and so the art tends to be decorative and ornamental in style - geometric, floral, calligraphy.
The style has inspired and influenced non-Islamic ornament and architecture in Europe and elsewhere, particularly in the 19th century with the trend towards in Orientalism in design, and romantic "revival" styles of architecture.
Kevin Dean's inlaid marble floor at the magnificent Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi, photo by Imran Akram
The incredible new Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi is a project that I have been watching with interest. It was completed in March, 2008, and I am especially gleeful over the work of British designer Kevin Dean included in the massive courtyard's inlaid marble floors (above) and archways, a fantastic modern take on the floral elements of this style. More gorgeous pictures of this splendid new mosque can be found on the photography site of Imran Akram.

"Islam Ornament" (mosaic ceilings) photographed in Pakistan by Judith Barath
Mosaics can also play a prominent role in the ornamentation of buildings. In addition to the overall appearance of a colorful pattern, the play of light over the surface of thousands of tiles adds another level to the message of this art: this all fits together in an infinite pattern... do you see now, how you too are part of a larger pattern, how you belong?

original painted and gilt arabesque ceiling by Tania Seabock

How envious I am of my friend and colleague Tania Seabock, for this incredible ceiling she created for a client in the arabesque style, which includes tens of thousands of gold faux mosaic tiles!

I have a room set aside for my own spin on arabesque ornament, and look forward to sharing my inspiration and progress.

Some internet resources:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery

Islamic Art photo set by Flickr member Sir Cam

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia

IAAO: Islamic Arts and Architecture

Some recommended books on Arabesque ornament:

20 March 2009

Brush Shopping in Kyoto

Cabinet full of watercolor and calligraphy brushes, porcelain palettes, at Saiundo Fujimoto.
While in Kyoto, I paid a visit to the shop of Saiundo Fujimoto, very well known for hand-made watercolors, and "special materials for Japanese-style painting." This is a lovely little shop, crammed with special brushes, paper, and supplies: glue (nikawa), chalk (gohun), and powdered mineral pigments (iwa-enogu), everything for Nihon-ga and other forms of Japanese painting.

Ms Fujimoto added my card to the guest artist book. The drawers behinds her are full of bamboo handle brushes, and trays of watercolors.

Here is my lovely new set of handmade watercolors, each in its own little ceramic tray. What a gorgeous palette, just as it is.

A display of sumi-e paint brushes at Kyukyodo.
Just up the street from Saiundo Fujimoto is a wonderous store called Kyukyodo. They specialize in calligraphy papers, brushes, incense, and lovely gifts. Trust me it took all of my will not to buy one of these giant sumi brushes.

Next time you are in Kyoto, Visit Saiundo Fujimoto: Anekoji Fuyacho Higashi, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto.Here is a little map to help you find it (click to enlarge.)
Kyukyodo is only a short block away here (map)

19 March 2009

Waltzing through Life

Erling Wold composed these two waltzes for me. This performance of the SFCCO, conducted by the Maestro himself, at Old First in San Francisco.
*sniff* I think I'll keep him.

13 March 2009

The latest FAD in Tokyo

No, I am not talking about Gothic-Lolita fashion!
stencils taped to the window create a lovely surrounding for a presentation
While in Tokyo last week, I had the opportunity to pay a visit to fellow decorative painter Yaeko Kurimata, of F.A.D. Faux Arts Design.

I met Yaeko  at the SALI convention in San Francisco, and again in Chicago last summer where she demonstrated her talent and expertise at the International Decorative Painting Salon. In addition to being a fantastic artist, she is also a teacher and successful entrepreneur with a thriving business in commercial interiors.
When she heard I was coming to Tokyo, Yaeko-san invited me to participate as guest speaker at a "World of Decorative Paint Introduction" she was giving to major design firm. What an honor to be included as the "out of town expert!"   A dull employee lounge was transformed with FAD's many gorgeous samples and stencils on the walls and windows, creating a beautiful environment for this presentation.
Yaeko explains decorative painting to a group of professional designers
beautiful stencil sample by FAD
Yeako-san gave a thorough talk about the possibilities and advantages of faux painting. I especially liked that she had 5 unique samples all made with the same stencil, to demonstrate how different a pattern can look depending on the materials or colors used.

Yaeko-san translating for me.  At least I hope she is.
The design group was interested to know what is  trending in American decor, and I asked the designers about their color preferences (they are liking earth colors, and pastels) and we briefly discussed how color trends and choices vary with light and location. 

FAD's busy design studio- by Tokyo standards, this is a huge space.
I was then treated to an amazing sushi lunch, and we spent the rest of the day talking shop and taking care of business at the large and busy FAD studios. What a wonderful day with an inspiring, energetic, and accomplished woman!

Later in the week, Erling and I made the trek out to the aptly named Tokyo Big Sight and the huge GEISAI event, to see some of the work of Akira Ishiguro, a member of the FAD team of artisans. His latest paintings take the "ideal beauties" painted by Ingres to another level, by substituting anime Manga girls with big eyes and elongated figures, for the (equally impossible) goddess-like figures of the early 19th century European ideal. They were beautifully painted and, he sold all of them. Congratulations, Akira-san!

Yaeko Kurimata will be demonstrating as a participant at Salon this April in Bergamo, Italy, and teaching some of her special techniques at the 2009 IDAL Convention in Memphis TN in July.

Lynne Rutter Studio

12 March 2009

Totoro Fan

One of my favorite anime films is the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki classic Tonari no Totoro. I spied this "20th Anniversary Commemorate Fan" in a shop in Tokyo and was overcome with glee. If you look closely, you can see in its design soot sprites, and even the cutout shapes of little totoros in the spokes of the fan.