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  • Dragons and Mountains

    This workshop is inspired by this year of the dragon. You will learn to paint dragons, clouds, mountains and pine landscape and will be guided into the realm of Japanese ink painting and explore your creative artist way and its evolvement. The workshop will take place and Talia’s studio in Mallorca and you can enjoy the peace and beauty of the island. Studio opens at 9am and workshop begins at 9:30. We will work till 1:30pm. All basic tools and materials will be supplied for the duration of practice. You are invited to bring your own kit, and you will have the opportunity to purchase various tools and materials at the studio. Each day will begin with calligraphy and other brush practice. Learning how to paint and creating your own compositions. Work on various types of paper and learn to mount your own work in the traditional Japanese way. Worksheets to form your notebook for the workshop will be offered. Light refreshment will be served throughout the day. Day 1 Intro to the workshop / Dragon calligraphy / One line dragon / How to paint a dragon Day 2 Cloud calligraphy / Clouds / Dragon amongst clouds painting Day 3 Mountain calligraphy / On rocks and mountains / Ink landscape Day 4 Mount your paintings Day 5 Tree calligraphy / Pine dragon / Pine dragons landscape / Outro of workshop *This is a general plan and may change slightly according to need and time. What to look for : Introduction to Japanese brush, ink, paper, colours and the artist tool set. Preparing the artist workspace, and making your own ink. Learning how to hold the brush, body posture and mindset. Guidance on brush strokes, lines and marks to understand the way of ink, brush and paper. Learning various painting techniques such as line work, free style (mokutse), dry brush and washes. Practicing active meditation with your painting journey as part of empowering your artistic creative self. Observing skills and sketching practice, finding inspiration in the almond grove outside the studio. Viewing and learning about ink paintings by various Japanese ink masters, from the rich history of Japanese art and Talia's research and library. Understanding in depth themes on composition, mounting, signing and sealing your artwork. Create your own original one to five completed ink paintings. Learn how to mount your artwork in the traditional Japanese way.

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  • Ink Dragons

    7 roles of dragons in Japanese painted art of the Edo period Originally from India and China, dragon images were mentioned in early kami worship folklore of Japan. Although not quite seen by the naked eye, dragons were popular in folklore and tradition, associated with powerful forces. Protectors of the universe and the dwellings of man, in service to Chinese emperors and Taoist Immortals, rulers of wind and rain, lords of precious stones and representatives of the creative yang force in Tao. After being incorporated into Buddhism, dragons humbly assumed the position of protectors of divinities, guardians of temples, and bringers of rain. And yet one has to take into account the possible religious manipulation of dragon images and roles to fit with the indoctrination of new religions upon older ones; and look for what actually is rooted in true appreciation of the world of phenomena. In a culture so inclined to visual images, Japanese art serves as a major source for historical appreciating of the forces at play in the belief and configuration of its culture. The Edo period (1600-1868), particularly the 18th century, was a time of revival and development of the arts, expansion of thought, visual dimension and language. In tandem with its official art schools, scholarly and religious art, there evolved a growing movement of individual artistic expression, and the development of paintings and prints of the floating world (Ukioy-e). During this period visual language provided richness and variety of thought and style compounded, in a relatively short time, to meet the creative needs of a changing culture. Taking into account the rich experimental atmosphere of Japanese art during the Edo period, this writing will highlight usage of dragons as part of the visual language in the arts of Japan.  Also will be included a consideration of the dragon’s role as a motif for political, religious, folkloric and decorative contexts. It is part of an extensive explorative essay on the subject, that can be found in full with bibliography and notes on ArtBrush Online library HERE. Unseen dragons River and lakes, waterfall and streams, clouds and rain, storms and typhoons, are climatic powers, created by the constant movement of the permeating elements of water and air with different intensities and combinations. They have repeated patterns of curves, swirls, ellipses and spirals, with no sharp lines. Dragon images were visualised from the pattern of these natural forces. When painted as part of the elements dragons are mostly up to two-thirds seen while the rest of their shape blends with the elements. Kanō Michinobu ink painting, who was heading the Shogunate’s official painting school at the time, shows a dragon and a waterfall that merge to the point where it is one entity. In accordance with the Japanese local belief that every waterfall has its guardian deity, Michinobu depicts an image that follows the patterns, shapes and boundaries that the waterfall presents. Ascending and descending at will, moving freely through the elements, dragons were held accountable for natural phenomena, causers of changes. The dragon’s characteristic of transformation was considered to be the very spirit of change, a time when good luck and success were indeed needed. Time dragons Dragon symbols were used often as measures of the twelve-year cycles. They were also used to measure the hours in a twenty-four-hour cycle divided by two to form a unit for each of the twelve animals of the Asian Zodiac. The dragon represents the hours between 7-9 am. Early in the morning, which for some working people is the brightest time of the day, yet for others, like the working girls of the Yoshiwara quarters is time to rest. In Kitagawa Utamaro print, part of a series of twelve compositions showing scenes from day and night life of Yoshiwara courtesans, Utamaro depicts two girls under the same futon waking up, but not quite. Time is depicted in a clocklike structure on the top right part of the print. The Portuguese introduced clocks to Japan in the late 16th century. By the 1780s, pocket watches became common amongst the merchant class and standing clocks appeared in wealthy homes and established shops. Although the structure of the clock in the print keeps the general form of it, it does not attempt to represent a real clock (the Japanese kept to their own time count), it represented social status. It was not the working of the machine that mattered as much as displaying wealth, success and order. New adaptation of Western technology in Japanese artistic representations of time reflects sophistication of style and class. The name of the hour (that of the dragon) is written on the bell at the top, the bottom is the name of the series title; the middle part depicts various flowers of the seasons. Temple dragons One of the first painters reputed to depict dragons was a third century Chinese artist, Ts’ao Pu-hsing. It was said that he learned to paint the dragon from an actual red dragon that resided in a lake, and the painting, even two centuries later, had the power to bring rain by causing clouds to gather when held over water. Ts’ao Pu-hsing was considered the first to use dragons on walls and ceilings of Buddhist temples. As if descending from above, dragons on temple ceilings were designed to fit in an egg shape circle around the ceiling. Adopted by Buddhism as guardians of the faith and as bringers of rain and protection from draught. The dragon in Honji-do , the biggest temple in Nikko, the compound mausoleum of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieasu (rin-no-ji), is an enormous image painted on the ceiling. Made in black and white, the dragon covers most of the main hall (21x14 meters). It serves as a prime example of an ‘official dragon’, in service to the Shogun. It is powerful, authoritative and serious in its guardianship. Still a widely practiced custom today, when a person enters a temple where a dragon is painted, they clap hands under its head. The echo of its roar, when heard, confirms their success and grants their wishes. While official dragons were fierce and dramatic, yet showing submission and duty, a whole body of expressive, personal, highly sophisticated and eccentric work was intensively developing in the studios of individual artists, mainly around Kyoto, but also in Edo and Osaka. Their dragon images exhibited a similar excitement, humour, mystery and lively expression. Exaggerated and overdramatic at times, they reflected above all the growing artistic freedom and originality of the era. Official dragons “His horns resemble those of a stag, his head that of a camel, his eyes those of a demon, his neck that of a snake, his belly that of a clam, his scales those of a carp, his claws those of an eagle, his soles those of a tiger, his ears those of a cow. Upon his head he has a think like a broad eminence (a big lamp) called ch’in muh. If a dragon has no chi’n muh, he cannot ascend to the sky.” Wang Fu (Han dynasty 206BC-221AD) Of humble origins, when Liu Bang seized the Chinese throne during the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD) he could not compare himself with kings and princes of the Six States period before him. To consolidate the authority of his rulership, a tale was invented about his mother being conceived by a roaring dragon. Incorporating the symbol used by Taoism for geomancy and divination practices, dragons became, from then on, directly linked with the emperor. When Buddhism was introduced to China, it adopted the dragon to promote its superiority over Taoism. The embracing of the dragon’s image as part of the Shogun’s official school of painting, also adopted the ideas associated with the dragon by Taoism and Buddhist belief. It appears as a powerful authority, beyond human reach, reflecting the character of its patrons. While Buddhism influenced the themes of freedom from suffering and the quest for enlightenment in medieval Japan, the Tokugawa discourse was concerned with the achievement of a stable society. The adoption of Neo-Confucianism as a state philosophy was an attempt to promote social order, ethical life and a hierarchical system based on adherence to authority, the Shogunate attempted to control and rule the growing population and massive urbanization of the Edo period. Kanō Sanraku was an established figure, the head of the Kyoto branch of the Kanō school and a student of the famous Kanō Eitoku. The dragon’s image is powerful and fierce, confronting a pair of tigers on an opposite screen. The composition is heavy, and although it attempts to depict the vicious whirls of strong wind, the gold background makes it quite heavy and arresting. Kanō school decorative styles and themes, offered confirmation of the ruler’s authority and legitimacy. The dragon, of course, was very useful, seen as powerful protector of the nation, provider of rain guaranteeing good harvest. Its image in backdrop screens for the Shogunate presents its powerful obedience to the ruler. It implies the greatness of the leadership, by being reflective of the ruler’s knowledge and education in relation to history, the natural world, Chinese literature and religious ideas. In contrast to dragon motifs in the latter part of this essay, which are personalized, full of emotion and heartfelt spirit, the ‘official’ dragons occupy a moral behaviour and intellectual philosophy. Tokugawa rulers were afraid of fires, not only because of its destructive force, but also because of its social upheaval and disorder that it caused. The great fire of Edo in 1657 destroyed daimyo estates, parts of Edo castle, and left more than 100,000 dead. Following this disaster, the Shogunate authorities ordered the establishment of permanent firefighting units (jō-bikeshi). This was the beginning of a new organized system of fire brigades. A fireman’s costume was first designed with a dragon and tiger design. Not indigenous to Japan and depicted as big cats; tiger images were imported from China. Strongest of the beasts, and quick as the wind, tigers were used in the feng-shui (‘patterns of wind and water’) system of reading and regulating nature’s influence, as representing powers of the wind itself. Coupled with the dragon, they symbolized the forces of wind and water and their interplay in nature. Their images painted on the Shogun’s fire brigade uniform, were considered protective powers of the elements of water and wind. They represented control over fire where the wind could shifts the direction of a fire, and the water could divert and extinguish it. Furthermore, by combining religious and folk belief in the dragon images, its depiction implied the enforcement of law and order that the Shogunate was aiming at. Decorative dragons Decorations included in prints and books offered an insight into popular images of the period, the mood on the streets of the big cities, the dreams and hopes of people as well as their humour, general knowledge and major attraction. Dragon images were used, for example, as decoration on the costumes of high-ranking courtesans , and kabuki actors , incorporated in the visual language of the entertainment districts as well as in general education and folklore.  Prints and book illustrations reveal the public taste and more so, what people believed in and how they presented their beliefs. While dragon images used on costumes by Edo fire brigades were considered to hold protective powers against the city many fires, the courtesan’s fashion of late Edo was flourishing with extravagant colors and incorporation of rich folk symbols, not always with the obvious meaning. Dragon images painted with black ink on silk, contrasted by the very colourful overlays of printed patterned kimono became very popular. Kuniaki, a pupil of Kunisada who produced actor and genre prints as well as paintings of Edo beauties, painted an overly dressed courtesan with flamboyant hairstyle, trying to walk on very high heels with her attendant (kamuro). The dragons on both figure’s kimono, are almost the only appropriate theme to match the overly decorated costume. The big dragon on the courtesan’s costume coils around her body, with its tail peeking out on her left side. He is staring at a smaller dragon, which is coiling itself around the younger attendant’s kimono. Her sleeve, hiding her hand, reveals a painted claw. The intersection of glances creates tension and humour. As the courtesan and attendant exchange looks, so the dragons stare at each other. Who is looking at whom? The dragons, no longer formal and fierce, are comic and amusing. Laughing dragons The need for new intellectual ideas and artistic updates in a growing, changing society caused renewed interest in Chinese legends and literature. Copies of Chinese paintings served as inspiration for eccentric artists like Shōhaku in their discovering of new boundaries of artistic expression. Taoist Immortals were known in Taoism as beings that began their lives as humans, underwent physical and spiritual transformation, and then lived beyond the bounds of governing laws (yin and yang). Free spirits who could move through the elements, and serve people and circumstances, they interacted on behalf of mortals with the gods and the Tao. Often depicted as unconventional in appearance, emphasizing their rejection of norms and rules, their transcendent state of being, as well as their supernatural capabilities. A water dragon traditionally served as a vehicle to the Chinese immortal Lu Dongbin, but Shōhaku treatment of the theme of Immortals is extreme and amusing. The Immortal seems to be reclining on the head of a rather confused dragon. He is hardly able to balance himself amongst the dragon’s swirl of clouds and water, while holding a bowl which could be magic or for begging. He is stretched to the side in an attempt to keep stable, while the dragon force moves forward. Strong black ink brushstrokes contrast the detailed blue garment and its red sash. With fine details of comic facial expression, both Immortal and dragon convey the wit and humour of Shōhaku’s thought and brush, evident in his extravagant artistic expression and wild character. Transforming dragons It was told that during the 4th century another great Chinese artist, Ku K’ai-chih, painted dragons without eyes. When asked why, he said “My dragons are live and if I draw their eyes they will fly away.” From then on, eyes were the last to be painted, for if the painting was real enough it might cause all sorts of natural disasters provoked by dragons. Many stories were told of painters whose work was so real and animated that their dragon flew away. The supernatural powers of dragons come to life with painted art. In the same way as coming in and out of water and air, dragon images seem to use the paper to appear in the world of our vision, only to depart again. Kōin, a student of Goshun and a kyoka (mad verse) poet, turned to legendary subjects in his work. According to traditional belief, an image of a dragon emerging from a bowl surrounded by people, has a hidden message in it, referring to a phrase ‘a dragon out of a spittoon’ (hifuki kara ryū),  meaning that the unexpected in life may happen at any time. In conclusion Embedded in storytelling, religious legends and folklore, the dragon’s image is mystical and mysterious. Not given to obvious definition as an animal nor a dreadful creature, it remains unseen. Likened to the element’s flowing traces of curves and spiral with no sharp lines, its image follows these formless shapes, created by the patterns of water and wind. Similar by nature to climatic change, and to the transforming quality of the planetary water cycle, dragon images offer boundaries of artistic representation of the natural world phenomena and its powers. Despite the fact that the dragon’s image is absent from the painting on the left, its ecology, habitation, arrival or departure, can be seen in the dragon’s cloud. The painted waves of the sea, suggests the unseen forceful energy of a dragon – without the dragon itself. The wide range of dragon’s visual characteristic of power authority and efficiency, as well as, playfulness and transformation of states, reflects on the very nature of forces at play during Edo period and its artistic expansions. Originated as a powerful symbol of natural forces, protectors of the universe and in service to sages and rulers, dragon images were incorporated into the Shogunate’s and temple’s empowered symbols, as well as used in the counting of the hour, the season and the year. The 18th century art demonstrated the expansion of the image’s role into decoration and folklore symbols in print, costume, and tattoo, even to be exhibited on the commercial market. The visual language of dragon images of that time, is kaleidoscopic and rich in its role, style and mode of expression. “The bright moon pearl is concealed in the oyster; the dragon is there.” Shi King Learn More > Learn to paint ink dragons with Talia at her Mallorca studio - June 2024 Details and booking > > For the comprehensive essay on 'The Visual Language of Ink Dragons in Japanese Art of the Edo period' with Bibliography and notes and other writings on Japanese ink paintings sign up to ArtBrush Library Sign up for a one-time payment of £55 > Get > A selection of ink dragon paintings by Talia is available for you to purchase direct from the studio collection check out the portfolio collection Ink Dragons > Images credit copyrights All efforts were made to respect copyrights owner where possible.

  • A Shrike on a Barren Branch

    Taking a closer look at an ink painting by Japan famous warrior Miyamoto Musashi This ink painting of a small bird holding onto a long barren branch, looks like a most serene traditional nature theme, but is it? Lets observe a little deeper. This simplified artwork was painted with few minimal brush strokes and yet attention is given to each single one. Every stroke carries a flow as well as clear discipline of its place within the whole. Nothing missing, nothing added. The balance is just exact. The stem is painted with a single determined movement crossing the space from top to bottom. With only few mid-tone ink marks, foliage is hinted of at the lower section of the painting. Light-wash of horizontal brush lines at the painting lower part, suggest a nearness to a source of water, perhaps a stream or a lake, giving a feeling of depth to the composition. Placing the shrike at the top of the stem creates a sense of hight and long distance view. And suddenly, the flat scroll become alive with depth and hight, creating a three dimensional effect. Only few details, like the eye of the bird and the moss on the main branch, are dotted in dark black ink with a precise manner, giving focus and power to the whole artwork. More so, let us not be fooled, this is not a mere decorative kind of painting. What gives power to this composition is the inside story. There is a life drama going on! The shrike is on full alert, focused, and quietly waiting. Can you detect what it is waiting for? Yes, the answer is in the middle of the stem. A  small black worm is climbing up, marked by a fine black line for its body and a single dot for the head. And now, our perception changes, to become a story, that of a hunter and its prey. We are witnessing the moment before the bird attack, seconds of preparation and alert. The suspense is in the air, who is going to make it? the hunter or the hunted. The shrike is a small hunting bird that is known by its dark, masked-like eyes area. It uses its beak to nail its prey onto branches and by doing so able to dissect it in small pieces. In its practice the shrike fly high up to observe its prey from treetops, and then fly right back down to capture it. This moment, before attack, must have been of interest to the artist of this painting. And the theme does offer a clue as to who this artist is. Definitely no mere painter. Considered the greatest Japanese samurai of all, a fierce warrior who has claimed to have never lost a battle in his life, this is an ink painting by Miyamoto Musashi. Miyamoto Musashi (1584- 1645) Born in Miyamoto village into the ilit warrior ('samurai') class of Japan 16th century, Musashi's father, who was a master swordsman, died when he was only seven. The boy was adopted by his uncle and began practicing the warrior martial arts. From a young age he challenged himself to become the best swordsman in the land. He claimed to have won his first battle at the age of thirteen, and by the time he was twenty-six won over sixty contests. In his adult life, Musashi became a 'ronin', a masterless warrior,  specializing in the two swords technique. He offered his service to different masters, living mostly like a hermit. Never having a bath or cutting his hair, he would wonder the land in all weathers on his perilous adventures. His life story is rich with tales of heroic battles, of which, off course, he always won. He has become a legendary warrior. Musashi devoted his time to the perfection of the 'Way of the sword' known as kendo. Pursuing the ideal of the warrior through the path of kendo was not only practicing the sword but abiding with the code of the warrior life. Its moral code stem deep from both Confucian philosophy and Zen practice. These practices also included calligraphy and ink painting of which Musashi mastered. Two years before his death, Musashi retired to a life of seclusion in a cave, where he practice calligraphy, painted and culminated his life philosophy into a single book. The 'Book of five rings' (go rin no sho) as it was named, is a summary of his warrior skills, life experience and wisdom. He described it as 'a book for men who want to learn strategy' . Divided into five segments, titled - Ground, Water, Fire, wind and Void, each part presents a different aspect of the 'Way of strategy' as he called it. The book of five rings has become one of the most well known martial arts instructions manual through the generations, and still today. Although being a thin book, somehow, the more one reads it, the more truth and wisdom unfold from it. It is a book for the spirited warrior. The Spirited Warrior 'In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm. Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit settled yet unbiased. Even when your spirit is calm do not let your body relax, and when your body is relaxed do not let your spirit slacken.' (-'Water book') Musashi's teaches that one needs to 'become acquainted with every art' and 'know the Ways of all professions'. He himself was talented with many skills. Amongst them, he was a metalsmith, a painter, a poet, a philosopher and an author. The following instructions about timing in strategy, could well be applied not only in martial art training, but as a set of life skills in general, and within the artistic creative process in particular. Here is Musashi : 'Do not think dishonestly The Way is the training Become acquainted with every art Know the Ways of all professions Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything Perceive those things which cannot be seen Pay attention even to trifles Do nothing which is of no use' (-'Ground book') The Way of Brush and Sword 'The worrior's is the twofold Way of brush and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways'.     (-'Ground book') Musashi considered the way of the warrior in similar to the way of the artist. He was a master of ink painting and calligraphy, and although only few of his artwork survived today, the precision and mastership of his brush can be clearly seen and felt. Each ink mark demonstrate his warrior spirit at play. In this ink painting on the right, Hotei, the famous god of good luck and fortune, is carrying his bag of abundant gifts on his back, while observing intensely at a pair of roosters fight. This kind of observation, which Musashi called 'the gaze', is a vital part of his teaching. He gives firm training instructions as to how to develop superb observation skills, and use one's vision to increase perception of the world, inside and out.* We can see his 'gazing strategy' reflected in his ink paintings. Just like in 'Shrike on barren stem' painting, where the watchful eye of the bird creates the tension of the storyline, so is in this ink painting, we have Hotei intense watch of the fight. His head rests on both his hands, which are nested on his rod. Attention is given to his quiet watchfulness, empowering the scene. And then there are the two roosters watching each other in a moment of pause. Perhaps not such a quiet one, but the tension is there. The contrasted shouts of the birds verses the intense stillness of Hotei is a wonder. What goes on in his mind? How can Hotei keep still? Obviously he cannot offer his gifts to the roosters as they are not paying attention. Yet, he is not taking sides in this fight either. He is patiently waiting a resolve. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here. A lesson that suggests that even when in struggle, one can allow luck to play a part. Not just any luck, but the kind of good fortune represented by Hotei, that of natural flow of the connective universe, with its abundance of gifts, that can guide anyone out of conflict, if only one pays attention. And perhaps like the god of good fortune in this painting, finding in oneself a neutral position in times of struggle is the best action. A place that rely solely on the magic rod of balance. The warrior heart, our soul, no matter what we claim to carry in our bag. *For more about the gaze strategy and Musashi practical teaching see full article on ArtBrush library Ink Composition 'The way of strategy is the way of nature. When you appreciate the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of any situation, you will be able to hit the enemy naturally and strike naturally'. (-'Ground book') Back to 'Shrike on a barren branch'. This artwork is a wonderful example of Japanese ink painting at its best. It carries essentials core elements of what makes an excellent ink painting. Lets look at them - Usage of space - What is not painted here is as important as what is painted. The usage of space is essential in conveying this. There are minimal brush strokes that divide the empty space to create a landscape in a most brilliant way. Less then a third of the scroll is actually painted, while more than two thirds are empty. But this space is not 'empty' as such. It is a conductive space, an essential part of the composition. It is the dream world of storytelling. Connecting the gaze of the shrike, the movement of the worm, the foliage and the water together to tell us, the viewers, the tale of the shrike on a barren tree. Composition balance - Much like in Japanese flower arrangement, known as ikebana, where a good arrangement would have a neat balance of three main parts, so does division of subjects 'weight' in a good ink painting, is into three. Creating a rhythm of movement, the first most essential weight, the secondary weight and the third. This can be easily identified by becoming aware of the way your eyes move on the artwork. Do not think about it, just witness the flow as your eyes travel the painting and you will find this rhythm. And so we have the shrike at the top branch as the first essential part of this painting. Then our eyes flow with the branch to the bottom left corner of the base of the tree and water as a second weight. And thirdly we move to view the central part of the branch, to discover the black mark that is the worm. Coloured ink - The masterful usage of ink shades in this scroll reflects the talent of its maker and its deep understanding of the flow of ink. The light ink is used boldly and confidently. The darker marks added, are accurate and use the ink in a well preserved manner. Flow - This kind of flow in an ink painting is to do with its 'chi' - the energy movement of the artwork. First, there is the movement of the artist brushwork itself to consider. The confident versatile range of brush strokes reflect a masterful brush. The brush move on the paper with freedom and flow and yet it has the discipline and experience of usage. There is no hesitation nor unnecessary pauses. Secondly, we have the theme itself to consider. There is a strange and wonderful range of movement in this painting, created by what is seemingly not moving. The one or two wide brush stroke that suggest still reflection of water, yet we know water are in constant flow. The same goes for the shrike, we know the bird can fly, but it is depicted waiting, quietly. The branch, with its strong solid brush stroke, may be barren in solitude, yet must be moving with the weight of the bird on it, or perhaps with the flowing wind. The one clear movement that we do see is the worm. It is climbing up, seemingly oblivion to the danger above and below. So here we are, experiencing different time lines, different rhythms and movement in the one scene. And the scene itself is in actual a suspense of what is yet to happen. It is about the moment before action. True to the warrior way of Musashi - being always at the ready. In Conclusion - On Bravery and Courage 'I take up my brush to explain the true spirit'     (Introduction 'The book of five rings') Every artist is a warrior. Fear is one of the most common buffers to creativity, perhaps it acts like a filter, which requires the inner warrior to take oneself through this filter to arrive safe on the other side. A person who picks up the brush, like a magic wand, become for that time the artist, the warrior, the pathfinder of their way. It is a unique individual journey and no two are the same. As Musashi demonstrates in his writing and painting, his brave and courageous attitude is an inspiration not only to the warrior martial artist but also to the creative exploring artist. The artistic creative process has many dimensional facets to it. Sometimes it is an active and full-on mode. at other times, it is a sparkling solitude of precious silence. The artist, like the warrior, is brave in embracing the journey as it unfolds. Each to their rhythm, pace and timing. Like the painted branch of this scroll, one brush stroke with intention can hold a world of wisdom. Recommended Read The book of five rings / Myamoto Musashi/ Translated by Victor Harris *Victor Harris was a curator of Japanese art at the British Museum and specialised in swords and armors. His introduction and translation of the book are highly recommended. Images credit copyrights 1. Shrike on a barren tree 125.6x54.3cm / singed Niten /Kuboso memorial museum of arts, Izumi 2. Portrait of Miyamoto Musashi From a series of woodblock prints titled 'Fidelity in Revenge' by Utagawa Kuniyshi c.1848 3. Hotei watching a roosters fight size 70.3x31.3cm / signed Niten / Matsunaga memorial museum, Kanagwa Images are from public domain sources. All efforts were made to respect copyrights owner where possible. Learn More > For the full essay and more writings on Japanese ink paintings sign up to ArtBrush Library Sign up for a one-time payment of £55 > > For an in-depth foundation course on Japanese ink painting check it out here Sign up for a one-time payment of £220 > > For other individual painting tutorials please check the link HERE

  • The Mad Poet and The Wind

    Taking a closer look at a drawing by Hokusai The whimsical drawing of a barefooted man dancing whilst papers and leaves scattered to the wind, took my breath away when I first saw it many years ago. It still is an unfolding mystery today. As a student of Japanese art history at the School of Oriental and Africa Studies in London, which was just behind the British Museum, I used to wonder into the museum to view original art as often as I could. I loved hanging out at the student room which was dedicated to students who wished to look at particular artworks. I wanted to get a feel of the brush strokes of the masters of ink, and this was the place to see just that. Amongst a selection of 18th century drawings by Japanese master artist Katsushika Hokusai, was a very similar drawing to this one here on the right. At first sight I couldn't quite figure out what was going on with this figure. Can you? The rather small drawing of 27x40 cm, was made with many fine lines, yet depict only few actual body details. The lines are not quite anatomically correct nor the posture is realistic at all, is it? Check it out for yourself. Can a figure hold its full weight on one bent leg in such posture? Can a head turn around in this odd angle to the sky ? And although this drawing make no sense as a reality, we believe it. It works. How come? We are also led to believe the wind is scattering papers from an open sac, whilst maples leaves flying away. And somehow, the figure is dancing carelessly and free, oblivious to anything around it, present at the moment full heartedly and happy. And we are with him. The man is holding his whole balance on the tiptoe of one leg in a rather extraordinary way, and the suggested parts that are painted, somehow, make up the contour of the body. And thanks to layers and layers of his robe, we are given a sense of him dancing in elated joy in the wind. By challenging the powers of gravity and balance he is able to be in the moment so much so that we can almost hear his laughter, and the swirling sounds of the wind. Whether the man has opened his bag and threw the papers to the wind, or perhaps the sac has fallen and he is trying to collect his poems back into his bag, is questionable. But it does not distract his free spirit dance. And although we cannot see nor read any writings on any paper, he does have, quite mysteriously, a bag full of them. The autumn season is noted with maples leaves scattered amongst the paper, and the character for wind - 風 at the bottom right, reminds us, if we are still not sure, that it is a strong autumn wind that is blowing away. Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and the human figure Hokusai, amongst his great many talents as an artist, painter, calligrapher and printmaker, was a master in drawing the human figure. Be it saints, priests, warriors or servants, brick layers, martial artists, fine ladies or ghosts, he painted them all. He did not seems to care so much who they were, as much as what they were doing. Hokusai was investigating how people moved in their daily activities, the muscles of their bodies, the shifting lines of their garments folding, angles of their fingers, feet positions, facial expression and so much more. With an insightful curiosity, his drawings reveal a genuine sympathy for people, as well as a humility to his own artistic craft in his never ending will to perfect it. Hokusai inquisitive eye was observing in details the finest of body movement in action. His bold, determined brush would easily shift from sketching a samurai shooting a bow and arrow to dancers performing a folk dance. You name it, Hokusai and his brush were there. So much so, that we can learn much about 18th century Edo period of Japan and its culture thanks to his detailed sketches. The ways, style and mannerism of all sorts of people, from all walks of life, as they have been going on their daily lives, noted and drawn with his skilled brush. Many of his sketches were grouped in booklets, and have become to be known as 'Hokusai illustrated books' or manga. They were published over time, beginning in 1814 with over thirteen volumes being published during his lifetime, packed with many wonderful drawings. These drawings offer a detailed insight into anything Japanese. They demonstrate Hokusai discerning eye and determined hand in depicting anything and everything that was around him, and in capturing the movement and vitality of his subjects. Amongst these drawings, we can discover people in all seasons and in various weather conditions, giving us the storyline not only of the person, but of the time and atmosphere within which their story takes place. One of the most enigmatic and complex weather condition to paint is the wind, as it is unseen. So how did Hokusai draw the wind? How do you draw the wind ? The wind is about the only subject that to be able to paint, one needs to master drawing everything else in nature, as it in itself is unseen. And so, if you want to paint figures, animals or landscape in the wind, you must understand human anatomy, animal movement, and the way trees, branches, and objects, move and sway when blown away. Just like the spirit of life, the wind can be felt and seen by how it react with everything around it. Perhaps this is the magic and challenge that Hokusai was up to. More so, it looks like he was enjoying exploring this theme with much humour and originality. Be it a strong wind, a sudden wind, autumn wind.. his attention to the subject in his landscape paintings and prints is truly remarkable. We can examine his playful practice in the figure drawing below from his manga. We can see on the left a monk desperately clutching his rod against the wind as his hat covering his face, and another monk loosing charge of a paper scroll. At the bottom right, a servant is desperately trying to keep the weight of his tray, as he is covered blindly by a map that was meant to cover that tray, which holds an important letter in a customary black lacquer box. At top right, a lady struggling to keep up as she just lost her umbrella to the wind. And, bottom centre, a figure very much like the mad poet chasing papers lost to the wind. Just like in the mad poet drawing, we do not see much of the actual body parts or facial expression, apart from one monk, yet, we are compelled to believe in the movements of everything around them that suggest the wind is blowing all away. And much like in the mad poet drawing, the character for wind on the top left part of the print, blends with the maple leaves, as the wind swipe them all away. Mount Fuji and the wind Hokusai implementation drawing of humans and objects relations with the wind can be seen at its best within his famous series of 'The Thirty Six views of Mount Fuji'. Here in the 'Gust of wind in the rice field of Ejiri', we can see how sketches from the manga were integrated into this high quality woodblock print. A group of travellers are desperately trying to hang on to their hats as they walk against the wind. Whilst a flying hat, leaves, and paper are up in the air and the rice fields and trees suggest the direction fo the wind. There is a natural flow and movement to the whole scene, yet within the drama of it all, painted in a single line in the far background is Mount Fuji in its stillness. This contrast gives this print its power. So how do you draw the wind? The answer Hokusai must have known well is simple. You cannot draw the wind. You can only draw the wind by drawing everything else that interacts with it. More then one version of the same drawing ? My unfolding tale with this drawing continued, when I discovered few years ago, in a book by the art historian Jack Hillier, a similar drawing. In Hillier's book, the drawing was titled 'The Mad Poet' and is said to have come from the collection of Huguette Berès in Paris. It was almost similar to the previous drawing I have seen, similar and yet not. The drawing on the right was the first image I have seen many years ago at the BM, while the new image from the Berès collection, on the left, is a clear brush sketch of the figure in ink. It looks vibrant and free, with various width of brush strokes, while the BM copy looks like it was carefully painted with even lines. It lacks the free stroke feeling as it is cautiously following the lines in a softer, accurate way. The calligraphy character for wind on the bottom right gives it away as well, as it is finely written, not as calligraphic and fluent as the one on the left. Having realised that there is more then one copy of this image, I was wondering how come and why? To answer this question, we need to understand the process of Japanese woodblock print of the 18th C. When making woodblock prints, the master would paint an original drawing and a workshop practitioner would copy it for a woodblock print. There may have been more then one copies made for the same print. So You can see the drawing on the left, painted with free ink brush strokes, varying in thickness was probably the original, and the drawing on the right, probably was used for a wood block prints for one of the many manga books of Hokusai. The latter was most probably made by one of his students or apprentices working at the woodblock print studio, which was a major productive line at the time. It was also not uncommon for students of ink painting to copy originals of their teachers. So there are copies of Hokusai's drawings that can be found still around, making it not always straightforward to tell which is an original, and which is a copy. So a comparison like this can be useful for further research. In conclusion - Why I love this drawing The mad poet drawing tells us life's most valuable lesson in a rather plain, direct way. Standing strong within ones power, being present at the moment amidst great change, is a way of being. A skill that can be mastered. Whilst the very nature of the wind is change, the only stillness that can be found in its presence is within oneself. This position is both an inspiration and and an ongoing practice. When becoming a master of it, like the mad poet, it is effortless. Just like the way this drawing seems to have been created by the masterful brush of Hokusai, so effortlessly. Recommended Read Hokusai drawings / Jack Hillier/ The art of Hokusai in book illustration / Jack Hillier Hokusai sketch book / James Michener Hokusai and his age / John Carpenter Images credit copyrights 1. British Museum with permission at the student room 2000 2. National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden 3.4. Artist library collection 5. Metropolitan Museum of Arts NY 6. Huguette Berés collection- from Jack Hillier book - Hokusai drawings, published 1966 Learn More > For the full essay and more writings on Japanese ink paintings sign up to ArtBrush Library Sign up for a one-time payment of £55 > > For an in-depth foundation course on Japanese ink painting check it out here Sign up for a one-time payment of £220 > > For other individual painting tutorials please check the link HERE

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  • ArtBrush Library

    A selection of writings, essays and contemplations to guide you with your Japanese Ink painting studies. Welcome to ArtBrush Library, a hub for learning about the history of Japanese ink painting, created to assist in expanding your knowledge and appreciation of this traditional process. The library is a growing source of writings and essays, covering a range of subjects including - tools, materials, ink masters, contemplative notes for the artist, viewing paintings and exploring ink painting within Japanese art history. ArtBrush Library will continue to grow with new material, so be sure to visit often to harness this tool within your ink painting journey. All of the material on the library is downloadable, allowing you to print and create your own reference book at home.

  • 4 Essential Japanese Ink Painting Tutorials

    4 Essential Japanese Ink Painting Tutorials Of the many wonderful Japanese ink painting themes, there are few that have come to be considered essentials for the artist practitioner. And so, if you would need to condense the whole teaching of ink painting into four lessons only, then you would probably want to learn to paint wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and plum blossom. While every ink painting theme has its own unique value, why, and how, have these four become to be known as the foundation lessons for the practitioner artist? 'The Four Noble Ones' Known as 'The Four Noble Ones' or 'The Four Gentlemen' - wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and wild plum hold within them together, like a pearl, the essential brush strokes practice for ink paintings. Each lesson, highlight different usage of line work and ink marks, offers an understanding as to the usage of ink and water to create shades of ink, and teaches core ideas of composition as well as careful observation of the ink masters paintings of the past. 'The Four Noble Ones' carry the perception of time flow and the elements, as well as main qualities and notions for the discipline of ink painting practice. Origin of 'The Four Noble Ones' The origin of these four plants as the 'Noble Ones', is somewhat of a mystery. Their tale goes back to Chinese literati ink painters of the Song dynasty (960–1279), hence their title also as 'The Four Gentlemen'. Ink painting and calligraphy together with music, used to be practiced by Chinese scholars as a mean of improving oneself and cultivating ones character. Chosen not only because of their beauty, wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and wild plum also have come to be considered as representing essential qualities for the scholar-painter character. The qualities of humility, purity, resilience and forbearance. These various literati painting subjects were collated as compilation of knowledge over the generations, to include, instructions and details ranging from how to make ink and colour, to understanding composition, appreciation the artist observation skills, and samples of the masters. Thanks to the development of woodblock prints around the the 17th C. these compilation were turned into printed painting manual instructions for the discipline of ink painting. One of the early well known manual was the Chinese manual titled 'The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting'. It was divided into various books and devoted a book for each of The Noble Ones' plants. As the manual became available and more popular, various copies were printed reaching other countries including Japan. It is recorded that the Japanese Tokugawa shogun exchange in 1724 his copy of the manual with a 1679 edition which belonged to an artist in his employ. The manuals made ink painting more accessible and must have inspired Japanese artists to create their own painting manuals as well. Today there are various version and editions to these kind of painting manuals. (see link below) And so, 'The Four Noble Ones' have become the foundation and essential practice themes for the ink painting practitioner. Unfolding seasons of 'The Four Noble Ones' Each subject represents the arrival of one of the four seasons and convey different feelings and emotions. The orchids suggest early spring time and the bamboo of summer time. The chrysanthemum tells of autumn into winter, and the plum blossom of winter into spring. Each plants display, in different way, its hidden beauty in spite of the hard weather and condition it grows in. Thus the study of these four will unfold the hidden beauty in ones painting. Wild orchids The spring blossom, blooming up high in the faraway mountains tops creaks and rocks, is this wild orchid way. It is as if the plant touches the sky. Access to it, is almost impossible. Because of this, it has become a symbol for hidden beauty. With its fine blossom, rare and graceful, it has also become a symbol of humility, elegance. Bamboo Bamboo is one of the most loved subject of ink painting. It is the beauty of the line that comes through with the painting. It represents the season of summer and the quality of resilience. As it is the fastest growing woody plant in the world and an ever-green plant, it gets its power from adaptability rather then strength. And so it came to represent flexibility and inner power. Chrysanthemum The royal chrysanthemum suggests the end of autumn and the coming of Winter. Fields of yellow chrysanthemum were considered as precious as gold. Its golden beauty represents purity and a determination. The power of anchoring in truth even in the face of the withstanding changes of season. Plum blossom The end of winter is snowy and very cold. The bare trees are well covered with snow, and it is the plum blossom that succeed in-spite of the cold weather to bloom and cover the tree with beautiful pink, red and white blossom with fine fragrance and delight. This power overcomes the cold and bleak weather, represents inner beauty and humble display of courage and bravery, in the face of difficulties and hardship, and this is plum blossom painting. In conclusion The wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and plum blossom have become an essential themes for the beginner apprentice of ink painting, as well as of deep value to professional artists. Each lesson trains ones hand and heart with specific brush movements, allowing the student to learn, practice and remember these and connect with the profound flow that comes when executed well. Just like playing scales on the piano, or warming up for a dance, practicing these with harmony, can immensely enhance the artists skills and quality of line. Learn More For an in-depth painting course 'The Four Noble Ones' you are invited to join ArtBrush Foundation course Sign up for a one-time payment of £220 > For individual painting tutorials please check the link HERE For the contemporary Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, translated by Mai mai Sze you can get your copy on this affiliate link > Purchase on Amazon HERE *Images in this article are taken from the mustard seed garden manual of painting

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