Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Native American Indian Paintings

For my first project for 2012, I decided to do a series of watercolors featuring native American Indian Chiefs. I picked the subject mainly because I like the colorful outfits, accessories and headdress they wore and thought that they would be a good challenge for me to tackle.  Again, I searched the Internet for inspiration but ended up using some black and white postcards I purchased at the famous Wall Drug during one of of our road trips to South Dakota. Because the reference postcards were black and white, I felt it gave me the freedom to use any color. I really wanted to make these in the style of contemporary southwest artist John Nieto whose bold, colorful approach to painting I admire very much.  But, alas, I chickened out.....maybe next time.

An example of artist John Nieto's work
I always have had an affinity for the Native American Indians. I actually can not explain why. It was cemented in the late 1970s when my husband and I drove from Phoenix to Las Vegas with a stop at The Grand Canyon and Sedona. During this trip, we came across an Indian reservation which was off limits to tourists. One of the guys from the reservation, invited us in because he thought I looked very Native American. We got to visit the homes of members of the tribe as they were making pottery, baskets, rugs and dolls that are going into the tourist trade. I was absolutely thrilled. Later, I actually found one of the same dolls at a gift shop at the Grand Canyon and bought it for my mom who was a doll collector.

I painted four Native American Indian Chiefs for this series. What was important to me is that I approached the paintings with the sensitivity and respect these great men deserve. These images are small, measuring 4" x 4". With each painting, I added an inspirational native American Indian saying. I think I will have these matted to fit an 8" x 10" frame and will be selling them individually on Etsy
Preliminary sketch of one of the Native American Indian Chiefs.
American Indian Chief III, 2012
Watercolor on Watercolor paper
4" x 4"
by jojo sabalvaro tan
American Indian Chief II, 2012
Watercolor on Watercolor paper
4" x 4"
by jojo sabalvaro tan
American Indian Chief I, 2012
Watercolor on Watercolor paper
4" x 4"
by jojo sabalvaro tan
American Indian Chief IV, 2012
Watercolor on Watercolor paper
4" x 4"
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Here are some of my earlier works featuring the Native American. These were inspired by one of our road trips to South Dakota.

Indian Dancer, 2004
Watercolor on Watercolor paper
Approx 4.5" x 6.5"
by jojo sabalvaro tan
This is one of the first paintings I did with the Native American Theme, It was done in 2004, inspired by a fully costumed man we saw at Burger King in South Dakota.

Native American Indian Women at Pow Wow, 2005
7.5" x 9.5"
Watercolor on Watercolor Paper
by jojo sabalvaro tan
And I'd like to share this prayer.

Great Spirit Prayer
By Yellow Hawk, Sioux Chief

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me. Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others. Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me. I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy - Myself. Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Quilts of Gee Bend

Housetop Quilt,  51" x 62" 2012
by jojo sabalvaro tan
based on the traditional log cabin design, the red square represents the hearth of the home.

The first time I came across quilts made by women from Gee Bend  was in a magazine article. I was immediately taken by the very graphic, modern, contemporary, and colorful designs that were also folksy, simple and traditional at the same time.  Gee Bend is an all black community in Alabama that was the site of a cotton plantation in the antebellum days. Sometimes using unconventional quilt fabrics such as corduroy and denim, the women of the town developed quilts in a distinctive bold yet sophisticated style based on traditional quilt designs. They did not work with patterns and relied on their instincts to put together shapes and colors.  The geometric designs were reminiscent of the Amish quilts and are evocative of works by modern artists such as Matisse, Klee, Kandinsky and Rothko, to name a few. They were primarily made for utilitarian purposes but are now collected as great works of American art. For more information, please visit www.quiltsofgeesbend.com/



On a trip to Connecticut to visit a high school classmate almost 10 years ago, I bought a postcard book featuring quilts from Gee Bend hoping to get inspiration to make a similar quilt based on the designs of the original Gee Bend quilt. Then, about 3 years ago I found a kit inspired by a Gee Bend quilt sold at one of my favorite quilt shops, A Touch of Amish. It was produced by Windham Fabrics.  I finally, tackled the quilt and finished the quilt top in less than 2 days.  I may have even been able to pull this off in one day. The quilt gods must have been smiling on me while I was making this quilt because I did not have to use my seam ripper once. If you are a quilter, you know that this is as close to a miracle as you"ll ever get. I think this is a great quilt for a beginner. My first quilt was a log cabin and this is even easier since it is actually just one giant block.

The fabrics provided in the quilt were all hand dyed and I love them because of the nuances the hand dyeing gave the quilt. I used a a sharper needle than usual, #70/10 needle size, since the fabric is of a more high thread count, Similar to batiks, there is no right and wrong side to the fabric which made it less likely to sew the wrong sides together.

The start of my Gee Bend quilt
I did some important preparation prior to starting the quilt like change the needle on the machine, clean the machine, change thread, fill the bobbin.  I used 100% cotton black thread. I also changed the blade on my rotary cutter. I did not need to prewash the fabrics,  but I did press them prior to cutting. As per instructions, I cut all the strips from each color and kept them together by color,  labeling each strip width with sticky tape. The instructions also told me to sub-cut each strip into smaller strips but I decided to do the sub-cutting as I went along. I think that helped me make less cutting mistakes. What also helped is I did not stress about putting the strips together exactly as instructed as long as I maintained the correct measurements in the end. If I had to 'fudge',  it was no big deal.

The kit came with a placement chart and I numbered each block so I can keep track of the sequence of sewing the strips together. I also colored each block on the chart as I finished sewing it.

Placement chart of quilt which I colored as I went along

At one point, I was working with long strips and I pinned my strips together to keep my seams straight and measurements accurate. I decided , I love the colorful  flat flower head pins. They are of a thinner gauge, sharper and glided through the fabric effortlessly. I think they are made by Dritz or Clover.  The flower head is white on one side and blue, neon pink, green or yellow on the other. After sewing each strip,  I was vigilant about pressing to set the seams and pressed them open. I also made sure I trimmed off my loose threads.  I have thread catchers by my sewing machine and cutting area and they came in handy.  After I finished the quilt top, I ended up with a neat sewing and cutting area. Another miracle!! I am also proud of how neat the back of my quilt looks.

Thread catcher/pin cushion I made 
The original quilt top this was based on was called House Top and was made by Rita Mae Pettway.

I do hope that the spontaneous, freeform creative spirit of the women of Gee Bend will rub off on me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chinese Ancestor Painting

Chinese Ancestor Portraits 2011
by jojo sabalvaro-tan
Watercolor on Arches 140# watercolor paper
4.5" x 6.5"
These are my  last paintings for 2011 and they are my interpretation of the Chinese Ancestor paintings genre. Shopping for accessories for our home, we went to an Asian antique and rare artifacts in downtown Chicago called The Golden Triangle. As we browsed through the store, we came upon a large scroll featuring a seated Chinese man and woman, who we assumed were husband and wife. We were told it was an example of Chinese Ancestor portraits painted from the 16th to late 19th century depicting ancestors and used by the Chinese as an object of worship. This particular piece was in good condition but at almost 6 figures, rather pricey.
I was intrigued enough by this genre and did more research on the subject. Painted on large scrolls, they were precious family heirlooms that ensured a family’s continued good fortune. I like these paintings for their luxurious costumes and the mixture of sophistication and simplicity in them. The best link for more information on this genre that I found is: Chinese Ancestor Portraits 

Examples of Chinese Ancestor Portraits

Ancestor portrait painting gradually declined with the advent of photography.

These paintings were done in watercolor on 140# Arches watercolor paper. I also used gold gouache paint for accent. I matted the paintings to fit a standard 8" x 10" frame. On the painting of the female, I wrote the Chinese character for Harmony and on the male painting, the Chinese character for Happiness.  since those characters go well with the marriage theme of the paintings. I am selling these on my Etsy shop and I thought they were going to be an excellent shower or wedding present and hope that they bring good fortune to the lucky couple who will receive it. It is also great as an all occasion gift and since the heritage of these paintings make them fit for any decor, be it traditional or modern, they are in tune with the mixed cultural styles popular today.

Male Ancestor detail
Female Ancestor Detail

Monday, January 2, 2012

Welcome to my Studio

My Studio, 2011

Happy 2012!!! I thought I'd show you around the area where I do my creating. I took over one of the small bedrooms in the house as my studio/workroom/craft room/atelier. A Tibetan monk who came to the house and did Feng Shui analysis told me it was the best area for me in terms of creativity and productivity. My neighbors might have been wondering why I had a group of saffron robed monks parading around the house. I am convinced that following the monk's advice has helped me and my husband. The room I use as a studio is in front of house and faces south and gets quite a bit of sun so it is nice and cozy in the winter but a little warm during the summertime. I am also not so cut off from the world as I see my neighbors coming and going from the windows.

My studio is where I do my painting, my quilting and every other arts and crafts that I dabble in and is crammed to the rafters with all my supplies. I keep saying to my husband I need more room, but I am sure the minute I move to a larger space, I will still say I need more room. The carpet was changed to wood floors for ease of clean up. Arts and crafts can be quite messy, as you all know.

 A Madonna and Child painting in progress

A big work table sits like a peninsula in the middle. This is where I paint, cut my fabrics and experiment with different projects. On the table, I keep some of my most used supplies - pens, pencils, markers, rulers. My IPad also sits on a player for easy access to inspirational music, reference to patterns and information on what I am working on. I used to also have my Apple MacPro laptop computer but now that it is extinct, I use my IPad or the Apple Mac Mini for any computer work such as my blogging and writing. A big easel tucked in a  corner is used for larger works and to review paintings in progress.

I have a couple of bookshelves where all my reference materials, books, magazines and patterns are kept. Above one of the bookshelves is a small flat screen TV where I can watch how to shows and videos. I was so used to working around chatter when I was at the office that when I retired,  I kept the TV on one of the shopping networks to keep some kind of chatter going while I work, Now I am more used to the quiet and can work with just some light classical or jazz music playing.

Quilting and painting supplies

I keep all my paints on a wall shelf arranged by type (watercolor, acrylic, oil) and color. Some of my painting supplies are stashed there too. Additional painting supplies including my brushes are on my taboret next to the work table. All my quilting supplies and fabric stash are in the closet. The fabrics are organized by color and type (civil war, batiks, Asian, 1930's).

The Sewing Center.
The teak cabinet is on the right.

Behind my work table is my sewing area with my Bernina QE 430 sewing machine holding court. I even have an embroidery module for this machine which sadly, I rarely use. I'll have to tell you about my collection antique sewing machines and thimbles in a future post.

Some of the jewelry making supplies
A mid-century Scandinavian teak cabinet my daddy bought at a garage sale (it may have been a buffet cabinet in its former life)  is where I keep my portfolios of paintings, more painting supplies and stuff for scrapbooking. The other half of the cabinet is filled with paraphernalia for my jewelry making. I normally use the top of the cabinet as an ironing surface when I am quilting. There's a bulletin board on the wall above the cabinet where I tack my ideas, patterns, work in progress and reminders. A wood shelf hangs above that displaying some of my completed works. This time,  my nutcrackers are on display.

My favorite little corner of the room.
A lot of ideas come to me here.
I have a favorite little corner in the room where there is a comfy upholstered wing back chair. On one wall next to the chair is a my design wall for my quilts and a rod where I hang some of my finished quilts.  This chair is where I daydream, think about what to create next, plan, design in my head and do my reading. This is also where I do my knitting, crocheting and hand sewing. Recently, it acquired another function, as I use it to photograph the items I post on my new Etsy shop (Please visit my shop at www.etsy.com/shop/PassporttoCreativity).

With the current set-up of my workroom or atelier (if I am in a fancy mood ;-)), I can only pretty much work on one project at a time. I get frustrated at times because I never know when inspiration to do one thing or the other strikes. And that's where my UFO's (UnFinished Objects) come into play, cause I sometimes have to abandon something I am working on to chase my muse, so to speak and start something else.

A few of the watercolor palettes I own.... What can I say, I love color!
My favorite palette is the large one shown that I purchased at Dick Blick and an equal favorite is an enameled metal one from Daniel Smith (right upper corner) that was given to me by my dear friend, Ginny who encouraged me to paint with watercolors.
My brushes and watercolor pencils.
I have a treasured brush that I bought at the Sennelier store in Paris, the same place where  Renoir, Monet and many famous artist bought their art supplies. I hope their vibe rubs off on me.
The jugs, jars and mugs I hold them in where mostly picked up during my travels as souvenirs.

There you go, a little tour of where I work and play. I won't apologize for the mess. I believe it comes with the territory. I do not know how to be creative and neat at the same time. If you can give any ideas on how I can maximize my space, please holler.