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  • Japanese Ink Painting

    Based on simplicity and minimalism, this work is a form of active meditation, a training of discipline of hands and mind. It enhances self-confidence and flow with the brush, promoting new sets of drawing skills. With each subject you will learn about its core feature and ideas, alongside key brush strokes, using traditional brushes, ink and fine paper. • Fees include your study work-sheets, plenty of practice time, all your tools and materials, 1-2-1 tutorial, group discussion and light refreshment. • Intermediate students are welcomed to learn advanced level themes or work on a personal project. • Professional tools and materials are all supplied for your workshop as well as light refreshments. • Professional calligraphy sets, brushes and paper can be purchased direct from the studio during workshop time. • Spaces are limited. 1 - 5 students per session. Fees are €95- / £75- for a one-off or €360-/ £280- for a bundle of 4 consecutive workshops. Fee may be paid online or in-person. Please add your whatsApp phone number to receive the studio pin-location after booking as it is rather rural. To be notified of future Japanese ink painting workshops, please sign up for our newsletter below.

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  • Painted Poetry or Poetic Painting

    The unique genre of haiga in Japanese ink painting Within the rich tradition of Japanese ink painting the painted image and written word have always been interrelated. The artistic training included both writing beautiful calligraphic characters, as well as painting various themes and subjects with minimal strokes. Painted ink poems has evolved as a unique artistic format that has come to be known as haiga. What is haiga? Combining the three arts of calligraphy, painting and poetry, haiga is a unique form of Japanese artistic expression. It is a composition of a painted image and an inscribed three lines poem, known as haiku. Hai as in haiku poem, and ga for picture, thus haiga- 'haiku picture'. Haiga aesthetic intends to convey a moment in time that has captivated the poet’s heart and mind, giving it expression with few strokes of ink-brush on paper. Such haiku painting developed from the 17th century in Japan, out of a long tradition of hand written poems and paintings, which evolved earlier in the Heian and Kamakura periods (791-1336). But it is only in the middle of the 19th century that the term itself came to be used to signify an artistic genre when it appeared in a block-print album by Watanabe Kazan (1793-1841) called ‘Album of Kazan’s haiga’ (Kazan haigafu). The affinity between painted images and written words is Chinese in origin. In a colophon attached to a scroll, dated to the Tang dynasty (618-906), it stated the three arts of calligraphy, painting and poetry, to be considered by the emperor, as the ‘The three perfections’ (san chueh) and were highly regarded. To follow on, during the Sung dynasty (960-1279), both calligraphy and painting, were two of the arts known by Neo-Confucian scholars as 'The four accomplishments’ (kinkishoga) - painting, poetry, music and gō (or chess). They were valued as part of the stature and standard of a person’s capabilities. This influence was transplanted to Japan, and mastership of word and image was developed and cultivated from as early as the 10th century. The belief that handwriting reveals the inner virtue of the writer was a source of emphasis both in poetry and literature such as in the famous Tales of Genji. From waka to haiku poetry Poetry was practiced by aristocratic class of emperors, courtiers and court ladies, as well as by Buddhist monks. Known as waka (or tanka) poems, they were most popular in the Heian and Kamakura eras. These court poetry were written to a meter of 31 syllables with a rhythm of 5-7-5-7-7. By the 15th century it had become popular to compose poetry by groups of poets working together, making chains of waka poems, called renga, keeping to the rhythm of 5-7-5 then 7-7 syllables and repeating it. Each poet added another layer of meaning to the chain, which could continue for hundreds of lines. Eventually each link became a format in itself, especially the 5-7-5 syllable poems, which was the beginning of haiku. Haiku, emerged from an interaction between the new popular, largely urban commoner and samurai-based cultures that came to the fore in the 17th century, and the residual classical official courtly poetry tradition, which haiku transformed into a contemporary language and form. It was different from court poetry, which was restricted to the literate intellectual class who mainly used natural imagery to express emotions, often related to love, its joys and sorrows. Haiku evolved when education and cultural experience became more widespread, drawing less from romantic notions, it infused humour and insight into life with a lack of pretension. The shift from court poetry to haiku influenced the shift from poem-painting to haiga. The first was detailed, elegant, accurate and refined in style, while the latter was free and minimal, using expressive brush strokes. Now, lets look together at two quite different haiga examples: 'Melon Blossom' In ‘Melon Blossom’, the viewer first takes in the visual image, followed by reading the poem. The making of haiga starts the other way around; usually the haiku is put together first, even if not finally inscribed until the visual image is brushed in. Matsuo Bashō, the most distinguished Japanese poet, presents here his talent and control of the three arts. Mostly painted in soft colours, the black ink marks of the melon’s branch and leaves lend a contrast to the work, giving it tenacity and balance. Resembling the calligraphy lines, they shift the viewer’s attention from the bottom left of the composition to the top right of the poem. 'Neither to evening Nor to morning does it belong - The melon blossom.' 'Melon Blossom' / Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) / Hanging scroll, 32.8 x 48.5cm. Ink and watercolour on paper The poem is written in a fluent, balanced grass (sōsho) script. Also known as ‘reed handwriting characters’ (ashide-moji), grass script uses kanji and kana characters to form a particular style, favourite by calligraphers and artists alike as words became image. The calligraphy frames the composition and brings attention back into the painting. The signature and seal on the left side nicely balances the whole. Affinity with nature is created in a sensual way, smelling the blossom, sensing the daylight or darkness of night (nor evening nor morning). Bashō presents harmonious existence within the natural world, rather then standing in awe of it, as a philosophical idea, as was the case with court poetry of the past. He involves the viewer by revealing an inner meaning and perhaps his own feelings as well. Linkage between the painting and the poem is made by the melon’s image and the melon blossom associating with each other. Big and round on the outside, it is empty inside, drawing attention to the undefined illusive moment of blossoming in contrast to the grand blossom itself. A fragment of a bigger scene, the fact of being ‘unfinished’, is a virtue of the poem, rather then a fault. In keeping with the nature of haiga, it allows the viewer to be involved and complete the story/image in their own mind. With the strong, solid calligraphy balances, the background is left open, empty and unformed. It remains a mystery. Haiku evokes rather than states; haiga minimalist information suggests a scene, a place, and a form. Using hints and sensitive details, it echoes into the viewer’s perception and understanding. 'Moon' 'Through the ages Rising above the mountains - Tonight's moon.' 'Moon' / Inoue Shirō (1742-1812) / 31 x 50cm. Ink on paper Inoue Shirō, a follower of poet painter Yosa Buson, was a doctor by profession from Nagoya whose highly simplified work is unique. One fluent brush line marks a whole mountain, with a changing tonality of colour; perhaps like ‘the ages of time’ in the poem, it flows to meet the haiku on the right top part of the haiga. Where is the moon then ? The calligraphy itself changes tonalities, like moonlight shadows, and the character for moon, tsuki, in Japanese, is somewhat elongated and isolated from the rest of the poem, like a moon rising above the mountain. The empty space, which is most of the haiga, can be considered as whiteness of snow, or as darkness of night, or as reflected light of the rising moon. The suggestive language of word and image corresponds to the empty space, giving the viewer’s freedom to meditate on the images proposed. Simplicity is an important character of haiga. Executed with monochrome ink, it is sometimes described as a rough or ‘abbreviated sketch’ (ryakuga). The visual image seem to be quickly executed, and it stands at the borderline of literal representation. The painting- poem presents an exact combination of minimal information of the mountain’s silhouette and the calligraphy, transferring the essence of nighttime and the atmosphere of the rising moon. Haiga aesthetic and artists The way a poem is written and the image that is associate with it, creates a new imaginary world. A world greater then each art form in itself. Making more then anything, a new rhythm and pace, a dwelling space invitation to the viewer. The achievement of complementary or confronting connections, or even linkage by absence of word or image, between painting and calligraphy to evoke the poem’s atmosphere, is part of the virtuosity of haiga artists. Haiga is a lyrical, expressive fine art. It is the result of a myriad of influences. Drawing from Chinese aesthetics, and the traditional Heian court poetry, it was also impacted by Zen thought, and ideas of traveling poets. And so those who practiced haiga were equally diverse in styles. Men and women artists, poets, painters, travellers, Buddhist nuns and Zen priests, all worked within the genre. Although not as easy to define or categorise, haiga aesthetic has evolved with a stylistic criteria of abbreviation, selectivity, and simplicity along with the corresponding minimalist brushwork of calligraphy and painting. It heightens the awareness of nature, including human nature, with a hint of a season or other specific time. Using everyday scenery as subjects, and encompassing the senses, haiga leaves empty space for the viewer to engage in a process of a suggested art rather than a confronting one. In conclusion In haiga we can see how the painting amplify the poem's emotion and add layers of context and insight. It offers a slight change of focus, a shift in attention and so invites us back to the inner appreciation of beauty. Rather then seeking it outside, reflection of the inner life might resonate in the beauty of external things, but it is essentially evoked from within. The different intensity of atmosphere and feelings, from solitude to longing, to awe-inspiring joy and humour, expressed in a variety of styles and ways, makes haiga a truly unique genre of artistic expression. Learn More > For the complete essay on haiga with a selection of 5 more artworks, discussed by Talia, you are invited to subscribe to ArtBrush library - HERE Sign up now for a one-time payment of £55 > In the library you will also find various essays relating to Japanese art history and aesthetics, as well as notes referring to the practice of ink painting, recommended resources and artist contemplation. > For an in-depth painting course tutorial '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 > Recommended further read - Haiga, Takebe Sōchō and the Haiku-Painting tradition / Addiss Stephen and Fumiko Y. Yamamoto, exhibition catalogue. You can get your copy on this affiliate link > Purchase on Amazon HERE > Recommended further studies - In depth FREE, U-tube recorded series of lectures on 'The three perfections' in Japanese art history, by Dr. John Carpenter- Japanese art curator at the MET, and Talia former Japanese art history professor you are invited to view - HERE * Waka image - Calligraphy by emperor Go-Yōzeione one of a set of 12. Written over decorated paper in gold and silver powders and cut foil, colour, and ink. MET museum collection. ** Portrait image - Matsuo Bashō by Katsushika Hokusai. Woodblock print from Hokusai Manga.

  • 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' and shikunshi in Japanese - 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. These qualities be defined as 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

  • How to Look at Japanese Art Series - A Crab Woodblock Print

    How to better appreciate Japanese art? In particular, lets explore the meaning of the crab in this 18th C. Japanese print. These kind of fine quality Japanese prints, known as surimono, were often made for festive occasions such as the New Year. They were usually commissioned by a poet or a poetry group and privately published. Although their subject matter may seem common, these prints are full of hidden meaning and subtle imaginative ideas, woven between the poem and image. Nature and its patterns When looking at the arts of Japan, flora and fauna were always integrated as part of its visual world. Their very essence quality iconography was used in conjunction with giving expression to notions, thoughts, and beliefs of a culture dependant on its visual language as communication connecting network. The composition representation of Japanese painted art, like in its poetry, seems to always be located in a particular span of time. Artists use of coded imagery as a specific set of vocabulary facilitated the expression of the transitory state of time. Observation of natural rhythms and planetary patterns is a key feature in the Japanese relation to the natural world and its phenomena and how it evolved in the painted art. In particular, the way animal behaviour reacts in specific time and responding to the changing nature of time. Be it ebb and flow, change of temperature and humidity, light and dark, as well as the magnitude of the changing seasons. This aspect of time flow, reveals to us the very essence character of the art work. The crab A particular interesting aspect of behaviour in the natural world is that of heralding time of phenomena not yet occurred. The crab (kani 蟹) comes out at the ebb of the tide, especially when the morning sun rise or the evening sun set. It waits on the water edge to feed, enjoying the early or late soft rays of light. The etymology of its name kan-i means both ‘court rank’ as well as ’bravery’, which indeed he is, in heralding dawn and dusk and in reacting with the water cycle and the ebb of tide. The crab knows to follow the ocean’s rhythm and the day and night cycle. The art of surimono This woodblock print, known as surimono - to mean ‘printed things’, is a limited edition and privately commissioned print, made for special occasions and times of the year. In particular surimono were designed as original gift cards for the New Year. The art of surimono was developed during the 18th century by top artists, usually commissioned by a poet or a poetry group. It was designed with subtle details, high quality paper and pigments, and refined technique of printing. Artist Utagawa Kunisada (1786 – 1865) was one of the most prolific woodblock print artist of the 19th C., with over 20,000 designs he has created during his lifetime. In this fine print by him, a giant crab is depicted from above, crossing the soft sand unto the water. Two poems are placed at