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  • 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

  • Water Dropper in Ink Painting and Calligraphy

    A water-dropper, known in Japanese as suiteki - 水滴 , is a unique container made especially to hold water for usage in ink painting and calligraphy practice. This container design vary in size, shape and material, with the single intention to allow only one drop of water, at a time, to be poured out onto the ink or colour pigments palette. When you think about it, water is the main substance used with ink for painting and calligraphy. And so its container has a significant importance. It is the water that connects together the ink, the brush and the paper, known as the 'treasures'. The water is the plasma that allows for beautiful ink marks, and flow of calligraphy writing. Thus the water-dropper, even though it has not officially been included with the traditional ‘four treasures’ tools of painting and calligraphy, is of great value, and is known as an essential part of the calligrapher desk and the ink painter studio kit. How does it work? Although small and humble, water-droppers are highly sophisticated objects. The container has to have two holes in its design, one to allow drops of water out, whilst the other allow air to go in. In this way the pouring of water is controlled by the artist. The angle with which the water-dropper is held, determine the speed and how many drops will flow. The design of a water dropper Considering its function, the design of a water-dropper is quite challenging. To create a small container with two holes that can be held in the palm of the hand. It needs to be simple and practical to function. These small containers have become objects carrying symbology and meaning. They have evolved as miniature sculptures of complexity and a collectible highly valued items. The materials used for making these fine objects are multiples. From metal such as bronze, copper, silver or brass, to various types of stones such as jade and amber. Most popular are water-droppers made of ceramic with decoration and various motifs. The design of the pouring spout can be with a handle, or just a drop like hole. It can also be a more open shape with larger opening. The shapes of the container has many times a reference to the value of water. It may be from shapes of traditional water container designs, such as a gourd, a tea-pot or even a water droplet. Or a shape with references to plant or an animals living in or by water, such as a lotus flower, a water-frog, a dragonfly or a fish. Other designs carry a particular symbolic meaning relating to the nature of the year, such as the year of the hare or other zodiac animals. Or it may be a reminder of well known Zen teaching, like the boy and the ox motif, reflecting on a well known zen lesson about the nature of enlightenment. These unique containers can also be engraved and painted with fine landscape decoration, or a reference to a source of water, like reeds by the river, a waterfalls, a mystical landscape with water source. Even cracked ice as in the sample here. How to fill up a water-dropper ? The way to fill up a water-dropper is by dipping it in a larger container of clear water. Once you place your water-dropper inside, you will see air bubbles coming out. That means it is getting filled up. When no more bubbles coming up, it is full, ready to be used. Take it out of the larger container, wipe it dry on the outside surface and you are ready for your practice. Care for your water-dropper To care for you water-dropper, make sure you keep it clean and wrapped with a piece of cloth when you travel with it so it does not crack or break. Every so often you can place it in a bigger container with water and few drops of vinegar. This will clean any scaling that may have built up. You can leave it overnight and make sure to wash well and refill with clear water. Further research As you can see from this brief introduction, water-droppers hold a world within them, not just water. With quite an ingenious, simple and ancient technique, they have become a unique collectors items. You can further your study of water-droppers by visiting selected Asian art museums fine collections around the world, usually they can be found in the calligraphy or ceramic display section. Also, you may find them coming up from time to time at Asian art auction houses and galleries. So when you next see these kind of little sculptural objects with two holes in them, you will know what they are and what they are used for. Getting your own tool-set As an ink practitioner you may wish to have your own water dropper. In the three sets, curated by Talia for students, you will find water-droppers as part of the tool-kit. * STUDIO SETS - Quality Japanese MADE sets Traveller Set This set has a small blue and white rectangular water-drooper with flowers and water reeds elements painted on it. Celedon Set This set has a beautiful circular celadon water-dropper. Blue & White Set This set has a circular blue and white water-drooper painted with a mountain landscape surrounded by water and a boat. To read further comprehensive essays on the ink artist practitioner tools-set and more - check out ArtBrush Library Find out your favourite Japanese ink painting courses with ArtBrush Online HERE

  • A secret about being an artist

    Notes to self on the artistic journey Being an artist is not about some kind of a chaotic state, it is about an internal order that makes very clear sense. It is creating light from within by understanding the greatness that is possible. Being a student of the arts, means that we are interested in beauty, aesthetic, shades of light, proportion and glorious images that enhance and graces our being. And whilst practicing our skills, the big secret is, that we are learning this about the way WE are. About what moves and makes us who we are. By practicing art, we are exercising these very spaces in our being. Allowing our lives to glow a little more, with the feeling of beauty, finesse and powerful serenity. And so, even if for a short while, WE become part of it. And so it is not the art that is the journey, it is our own life that is the journey. When asked once, what is the difference between being a professional artist and an amateur one... well, I could say, it is to do with making a living out of ones art, or if you exhibit or show your art, or if it is a full time occupation. As much as all this is true, within the persona of what being an artist is, on a deeper level, any one who is touched by the creative mode, is an artist for that time. It can be in the way that we articulate and put our words together, which is the same way as blending ink on the palette. Or it can be in the way we look at another person and make it count, or not. The way we make a single brush stroke on paper count, or not. So really, when you are practicing art, you are the artist of your life, no less. It really is so, whatever shape and form you choose to do it with. The secret is, that it is within this glory of the moment that we are the power of what can happen, we harness our lives to make sense of it. To make it beautiful, to make it a useful struggle. To make it poetic, and romantic, and fantastic. To overcome the fear of non relevant, non important, or not good enough, or impressive enough. Once this bridge is crossed, over and over again, it is the art of living well that is celebrated in many moments of crossing, and finding new aesthetics to dwell in, to enjoy, to celebrate and to be part of. Find out More > You can find out more about Talia's art in the GALLERY or connect direct for interior design projects and commissions HERE. > The journey with ink paintings have allowed me the discipline and practice to journey the path of art. You are welcomed to explore highlights of this journey with ArtBrush Online tutorials and read more writings on ArtBrush Library > For Japanese ink painting foundation course 'The Four Noble Ones' Sign up for a one-time payment of £220 > > For other individual painting tutorials check ArtBrush Online HERE

  • Chrysanthemums by the Stream

    From Jackuchū to Murakami This hanging scroll of chrysanthemums by the stream was painted by Itō Jackuchū (1716 – 1800), one of Japan's most ingenious artists of the 18th Century. He is presenting an ethereal range of chrysanthemums flowers by a stream that seem to grow out of an old ragged trunk covered with moss. Four little song birds can be discovered as one observes the painting, adding sound to the flowers fragrance and the movement of the water. And suddenly, our senses are fully engaged within this scene. It is part of a series of thirty scrolls painted by Jackuchū over a decade, known as 'The colourful realm of living beings' (dōshoku sai-e) , created around 1765 when the artist was in his fifties. This painting, on silk, is a wonderful demonstration of the artist versatility in mastership the way of ink. On the whole, it may seems like a traditional theme, but on a deeper observation, you may begin to find the work reveals itself as almost abstract, and does not really make 'sense', in the logical way. For example, the white flowers at the top could not really, physically, be held by its fine dark branch. And the background river, itself designed as three shades of decorative patterned ink, is really only reminiscence notes on the flow of water. This abstract format and the realistic images somehow come together to make sense in our imagination. Itō jackucho (1716-1800) Jackuchū is one of the most prolific artists of Japan. He is loved and revered by the Japanese, and his unique style does not fall really into any school of practice. That is why he is often relates to as one of the 'eccentric' artists of the 18th Century. And yet, one can challenge the notion of eccentricity. As it can only be related to, if there is a 'norm' to be eccentric in contrast to. His extraordinary mastership of the brush demonstrate both strength and finesse. Manipulating the brush and ink in creating beautiful original compositions. A true pathfinder of the art of ink painting. Born to a wealthy family of fruits and vegetables merchants in Kyoto, Jackuchū, as the eldest son had to handle the business for the first part of his life. Although he painted throughout that time and was already well known, he has began his first most ambitious work when he was forty two and well into his fifties, creating the series of thirty large hanging scrolls of which this painting of chrysanthemum is part of. Jackuchū was a devoted buddhist, follower of Zen. His work range from the most wild abstract like images, such as, his well known cranes and roosters, to the refined detailed of buddhas images and the natural world around us. From seashells to landscape, from flora to fauna, his work essentially carry a deep sense of the buddhist belief in the universal unity of all things. The chrysanthemum The chrysanthemum is one of the four main subject to be mastered by the ink practitioner, known as the 'four noble ones'. It has a history within ink painting tradition which originated in ancient China. It is said that when an artist can master painting the leaves of the chrysanthemum, they can paint anything at all. In the two chrysanthemum painting here, we can see Jackuchū mastership of the two main schools of ink practice. Both line strokes of the flowers, on the left scroll, as well as the free brush stroke as seen on the flower on the right. Playful, detailed and ingenious, shifting our perception from the known to the imaginary (no flower grows in this fashion really), he is working the narrow space of the scroll format to its uttermost. The flower represent the season of autumn, the air is getting colder, time to prepare for the harsh season ahead. Chrysanthemum painted by the stream, carry a reference to deep healing, strength and longevity. It was told of a hidden water stream, in a small village in Japan, which had chrysanthemum flowers growing alongside it. The petals would fall into the water, and it was believed that they transformed the quality of the water so that those who drank it lived well for many, many, long years. We can find three styles of Jackuchū chrysanthemum painted here. Using white for the largest flowers, with a hint of green in the centre. Jackuchū only paint the edge of the white petals, creating an illusion of a whole flower. He then uses the same white with a hint of green to creates a smaller flower, adding orange red to define its contour edges. And in the third design, he picks the orange-red to create yet another type of chrysanthemum using the two painting styles of lines and washes together. Dream world Jackucū's creates a unique dream world and invites us to dwell in it. If you look carefully you begin to unravel the way he does it. We actually view the painting from multiple view points. To begin with, we view the stream from a bird's view, and the flowers from a side view. Oh, but then, some flowers are seen from above, as well as below, and from the front flower as well as the back, revealing all sides of the flowers as well as the sculpted trunk. We are not outside this dream world, we are inside it. The stream runs in a beautiful silhouette of a wave. It goes from the top of the paintings down the bottom of it. The stem of the chrysanthemum does the same movement, but mirror the stream. Together they make an eternity like sign. The dark trunk with its radiating malachite green, repeats yet again the wave shape, bringing it to a pause at the bottom centre, where we find a little bird. The artist invites us to look more carefully and find the song bird, and then another and another, like the very hidden soul of the painting. Each bird, glance to a different directions as if to make sure it covers the whole universe of the artwork. With this unique style of his, using no western vanishing point or shadows of any kind, Jackuchū creates depth and layers to the work as a whole. His dream world is alive and vibrant. Takashi Murakami chrysanthemum by the stream This circular print 'jumped' at me when visiting by chance an auction house in London many years ago. It was hang amongst a mix of contemporary western prints, and was clearly very different. At the time, I did not know the artist, however, I did recognised the theme of chrysanthemum by the stream. As the only bidder, on a rainy London day, I was delighted to walk home with it and hang it on the wall amongst my own artwork collection, only to discover later on it was actually the work of contemporary Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami. Born in 1962, Takashi Murakami is one of the most well known contemporary Japanese artist of today. In keeping with the Japanese ink painting tradition of following the footprints of masters of the past, Murakami has taken up Jackuchū theme of chrysanthemum by the stream, giving it his own unique signature interpretation. Using the latest print technology of colour and gold, and a good amount of humour with his flower faces, His skilful executed print echo the theme of Jackuchū's, exploring it afresh some two hundred years later. In a way, like the longevity essence nature of the chrysanthemum, both artworks are timeless. Perhaps their reflected atmospheric feeling rises from the same timeless source. Learn More > For an in-depth tutorial on how to paint chrysanthemum, using Japanese ink and water colours painting check it out here Sign up for a one-time payment of £65 > > And for the complete foundation course tutorial 'The Four Noble Ones' , which includes the chrysanthemum lesson, you are invited to join ArtBrush Foundation course Sign up for a one-time payment of £220 > > For other individual painting tutorials check ArtBrush Online HERE Images details * Chrysanthemum by the stream - hanging scroll / ink and colour on silk / 142.8 x 79.1 cm / ca.1766 age 51 / Sannomaru Shōzō-kan Museum, Imperial Household Agency, Japan * Portrait of Ito Jackuchū - by Kubota Beisen (1852-1906) / colour on silk / 55 x 35 cm/ Shōkokuji, Kyoto * Two chrysanthemum (from a set of three) - hanging scroll / ink on silk / 94.3 x 32.3 each / Kyoto national museum

  • 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 the top part, with Kunisada beautiful designed round, red seal on the bottom right. Calligraphic poetry The two poems are placed carefully above the crab, as if coming out of the blue water. They are so well engraved that one may confuse them with calligraphy brush strokes. The first poem by Bunsō Takemasa on the right reads: 'The warbler sings to the moon and stars at Susaki Bay as the sun rises auspiciously at the dawn of spring.' The second poem is by Kubo Yasujūrō (1780-1837) , one of the many poets who came from samurai family and of the first to make a living out of the kyōka poetry, by holding competition and compiling anthologies of amateur kyōka poetry: 'Morning arrives in a sea of mist the giant crab crawls ever more slowly as the day goes by.' Both poems indicate the season and hour, describing Susaki Bay on the outskirts of Edo, which was a traditional place for gathering shells and seeing the first sunrise of the year over the sea. Time in poetry and painting was represented often with relation to a specific place, in defining not only the moment but also the emotional mood caused by that place and hour. In conclusion And so, a crab is not just a crab, it is part of the great clock of the natural world and was carefully chosen to be depicted here in this print. Although only one single crab is painted, its image alongside the calligraphic poetry, reveal to us, if only in our imagination, a whole landscape of the disappearing night time with its moon and stars, and the coming of the first New Year sunrise by the silver blue seashore. More on Japanese art history and painting crabs - For a selection of essays relating to Japanese art history and aesthetics as well as ink painting practice recommended resources and artist contemplation - You are invited to subscribe to ArtBrush library - HERE Sign up now for a one-time payment of £55 > Learn how to paint crabs (and shrimps) with Japanese ink and brush in this easy step-by-step tutorial - HERE Sign up now for a one-time payment of £65 >

  • The Four Treasures of Ink Painting

    Known as the 'Four Treasures', these are the main tools and materials used in the practice of Japanese ink paintings and they are — brush, paper, ink stick and ink stone. Each, carry a long tradition of craftsmanship in its own right, as the quality differ from simple student kit, to highly prized, hand-crafted collectible items. Paper was made traditionally with kozo fibre (the bark of mulberry bushes), and can vary in thickness, shade and size. The brush, made of natural animal hair, ranges in hardness, size and shape. The ink stick is made out of soot or coal dust, traditionally mixed with essence oils and natural glue to form a solid stick. This black solid ink has a variety shades of black, and gradations of translucency. And finally, the ink-stone which is made usually out of slate, is there as a rough surface upon which the ink is grind. Japanese brush - 筆 fude The Japanese brush, known as fude, has been used in Japan for over a thousand years for writing and painting. Originated in China, its usage goes even further back into ancient history. It is one of the oldest painting tools known in human history. The brush is not just a brush. It was considered a magical instrument by the ancient calligraphers and artists of the East and is still revered for its capabilities today. It is a tool that facilitate the very flow of the creative process. It is used as an ‘extension’ of the hand for writing and painting. Like a magic wand, it gives expression with spirited ink mark, to the world as it is being experienced. A transformational object, no less. As one of the four treasure of ink painting, with a single brush the artist can make a thousand different ink strokes. It is in the mastering of the special qualities of the brush that a rich expression of forms can be achieved. What is the brush made of? The brush is made of natural materials. The handle usually made out of a piece of bamboo or wood. While the bristle is formed out of various types of animal hair. These are cut and strung together in a particular format, then glued, and attached to the handle. The bristle hair can range from animals such as horse, goat, sheep, weasel, badger, even chicken and peacock feathers. What is the difference between western and Japanese brushes? The preferred shape of a brush is that of a water drop like, a round full body with a sharp, neat tip. This formation allows a variety of rich lines and ink marks to be painted with a single brush, whilst using western brushes one may need different brushes to achieve the same result. Because of its unique structure, a Japanese brush, in difference from a western brush, can hold three times more ink. A high quality brush is made in such a way that the longer hair is strung on the outside, and the shorter hair is on the inside. Sometime made of different kinds of hair so that the inside ‘hold’ the ink for longer when used. Horse tail, weasel, deer and badger’s hair, are commonly used for the shorter, central part of the brush. While softer hair, used for the longer, outside part of the brush and can be made of goat, sheep, cat, and softer parts of horse and deer’s hair. These longer hair get wrapped around the central core of the brush. The softer hair tend to absorb more ink and the hair keep together when wet, and tight around the hard core hair of the brush. Types of brushes Although artists can use one brush to create all sorts of brush strokes, once practiced with, you may wish to have a selection of brushes of different size and hair type to use for various projects. Here are the main brush features to look out for - Size - brushes range from exquisite fine brushes, to small, medium, large and mega brushes, the size of a broom. Choose the sizes you are most likely to use. Firmness - the choice of which brush to use, follow on with its size, is how springy, or elastic the bristle is when used with ink on paper. For example, softer brush will have a fine flow for long orchid leaves, while a more springy brush will facilitate bamboo stem strokes in a powerful way. Function - selecting the right brushes is determined by the function you would need it for. And so from the range of brushes used for ink painting, choose your brushes according to size, theme of painting and firmness. There are other specialised brushes, such as those used for calligraphy, be it fine sutra texts or flowing large poetry scrolls. And then there are other specific range of brushes, such as those used for background washes of painting; professional mounting paintings; and layering alum to size paper. Japanese ink - 墨 sumi Japanese ink, known as sumi or boku, is an organic, natural material, that has been used in Japan for over a thousand years for writing and painting. Originated in China, its usage goes even further back into ancient history. It is one of the oldest painting material known in human history. Because of its unique quality, painting with sumi ink can creates beautiful variance shades of black and translucency that range from soft greys to deep black, making ink painting so powerfully spirited and sublime at the same time. What is sumi made of? Sumi ink traditionally comes in the form of a solid ink stick in various sizes and qualities. Made of compressed soot or coal dust, mixed with essence oils and natural glue to form the solid stick. Soot was collected either from burnt wood, like pine, making coal dust. Or soot collected from vegetable oil lamps burning, usually in caves, after which, the soot forming on the rocks surface of the cave would be carefully scratched and collected. When sumi is made of pine soot, it will produce a more matte, cold, lighter, bluish black, where when it is made of oil soot, it will be more glossy, brighter, deeper reddish black. The quality of the ink depends on the type and age of the wood used for coal dust, or the quality of the vegetable oil. Higher quality sumi, has good weight about it, as there is no air formed between the soot and glue. It would have a smooth surface texture, as all the materials are well bonded. And it will carry a quality fragrance to it, especially when grinding it for painting. Ink-stones - 硯 suzuri Ink-stones, known in Japanese as suzuri, originated in China as early as the 3rd C. BC. As it is used as a surface for grinding ink on with an ink stick, a good quality ink-stone is as important as an ink stick in producing high quality ink. It is the right consistency of ink particles and water that is required when ink is ground on the stone surface. If the surface is too flat, the ink stick will not get well ground and the ink will be watery and weak, if the surface is too rough, the ink will be coarse as it will consist of large particles, making it impossible to paint or write with. And so, it has been an ingenious long term quest to make the perfect surface that will produce thick ground ink. A tool that produces beautiful, fine, fluent ink for painting and calligraphy. This quest has made the production of ink-stone a refined craft throughout the century, both in China and Japan. How does it work? An ink-stone will usually have a flat surface upon which the ink is rubbed, known as the ‘hill’ (oka). It will also have a deeper part, which is known as the reservoir, where ink will be collected and form up as it is ground. It is known as the ‘well’ or ‘sea’ (umi). The making of ink is done by gradual rubbing of the ink stick on the ink-stone, while adding water to it. Please see video ‘how to make ink’ for full demonstration. Types of ink-stone Ink-stones are made in various sizes and shapes. Some are circular, others are rectangular. There are ink-stones with lids to match, which keeps the ink clean in between sessions. And some stones have a specially design to size wooden boxes, to protect the stone. As ink-stones production has been developed throughout thousands of years, the materials used for them varied from clay, bronze, iron, porcelain, to a variety of rock formations. Today most students and artists ink-stones are made of slate, which offers an excellent textured surface upon which ink is ground. Yet, the connoisseur of ink-stone may be keen on those made of unique rock formation, which produces particular beautiful textured surface. The duan ink-stone, with its beautiful purple/red or green colour is one highly sought after ink-stone. The mountains in the Duan prefecture in China, are known as volcanic tuff. The rock formation from this place produces fine surface, perfect for ink rubbing. The ink-stones were made of rocks from the lower part of the mountains. These mines, opened since the 7th C. onward, are no longer active. Therefore making these ink-stones highly sought after collector’s items. A well sough after Japanese ink-stone is the akame ink-stone, known to be produced since the 11th C. in Japan, at the Yamaguchi prefecture. The stone allows for smooth and fine ink with excellent texture. Akama stones, contains large amount of quartz and iron, making it easy to carve on. And so ornamental design and lids are often made for these ink-stones. Another well known ink-stone is the ogatsu ink-stone, made in Miyagi prefecture in Japan. Its colour is beautiful smoky black, made of hard slate, which is known for its texture and low water absorption. The traditional crafts of making ogatsu ink-stone dated back to the 14th. C. and it is still active today. Japanese paper - 紙 washi Japanese paper, known as washi, is a fine yet strong, hand made material made from the bark of mainly mulberry bush. Because of its unique qualities, painting with ink on washi can creates beautiful variance shades of blacks and translucencies, ranging from soft greys to deep black. It is one of the ‘four treasures’ materials, which together with the ink, ink stone and brush, have been making ink painting a powerful spirited and sublime practice at the same time. Washi was first known to be made in 105 AD by a Chinese official, and introduced to Japan in 610 AD by a Korean Buddhist monk. The process of paper making in Japan has been refined throughout the years, to a most sophisticated high level production, with over 230 types of paper made at the hight of this hand made industry. Today only few hundred families still making paper in this unique tradition. What is Japanese paper made of? Washi is made from the barks of various shrubs. In a process of steaming, or long wetting time it is transformed into fibre used to create fine paper. The most common bark used for paper, is from the bark of mulberry (broussonetia), known as - kozo. This plant has been growing in the wild for centuries in Japan. It takes two to three years for the bark of the kozo to mature enough to be used for paper making. Harvesting occurs in late fall or early winter after the leaves have dropped. Shoots are cut near the base of the plant and are tied into bundles that can weigh over forty-five pounds. A second type is - mitsumata - known as Oriental Paperbush (edgeworthia chrysantha) typically cultivated on hillsides, interspersed with Japanese cedars and cypress trees. It is harvested in much the same way as kozo, except the tied bundles are often placed in rivers after harvesting to preserve freshness. Mitsumata produces fibres that are soft, absorbent, and insect resistant. It is often used in combination with other fibres. Pure mitsumata produces fine writing paper. The highest quality fibres are used in making paper that Japanese bank notes are printed on. The third type is - gampi - which is harvested in spring, when the plant is saturated with water and sap. Gampi can neither be steamed like kozo or mitsumata, nor cultivated with much success. Gampi plant grows in the wild and its extremely tough, long fibres, must be harvested from February to May. The naturally damp-resistant and insect-resistant fibres are excellent for making long-lasting paper. The slick, lustrous paper makes a distinct crackling sound when handled. The scarcity of gampi fibres and the high quality of the product makes it a rare and expensive paper. It is often used as calligraphy paper or in the pounding of gold leaf. Types of paper There are two main types of paper used in ink painting. One is raw paper, slightly rough texture and soft. This paper is absorbent and will react with the ink and water. The second type is sized paper, which has a layer of alum solution coat, making it non absorbent and resisting ink and colour. It usually has a smooth and fine surface texture. Unsized paper was loved by Zen monks and artists as it reacts well to free style painting and calligraphy. It echo the bold, free brush strokes and requires an experienced usage of ink and brush. The raw paper will reflect variety shades of ink fine hues and colours. Sized paper was used as early as the 10th Century in Japan, by poets and artists, for poetry and story telling scrolls. The paper was used for detailed artwork and fine sutra copying and decoration. The ink ‘sits’ on the surface of the paper, and will not ‘run’ on the paper. It is used today for delicate line work, especially with figures and fine landscape. There are additional varieties of absorbency grades and textured paper, including semi-sized paper, where depending on the artist’s subject and desired effect, the paper is chosen. Format, Size, Texture and Sound of paper Paper can be found in three main formats. As individual sheets of different sizes, where the common largest sheet size is 69 x 137 cm. As rolled paper, which can come in variety of sizes, such as 34 x 69 cm and 46 x 69 cm and can be rolled for few meters. And third, paper which is already mounted on cardboard, ready to paint on, known as shikishi. Handmade Japanese paper, despite its delicate feel is very strong and supple. It has one smooth side and the other slightly rough. Painting is done on the smooth side, for good absorption effect. The rough side is used for the mounting of finished artwork on a backing paper. You will also find that paper comes in different thicknesses. This reflects the making process and does not necessarily relate to the actual strength of the paper. You may choose different thickness according to the way you wish to present your artwork. If you want to mount the painting, a thinner paper is preferred. If you wish to frame it in the western style then you may wish to work on a thicker paper, where you may not need to mount it. Paper has different crackling sounds when handled. Get used to listen to that sounds and begin to recognise different quality of paper according to its sound. Getting your own set As an ink practitioner, you will discover in time, your own preferred brushes, size of paper and inks you enjoy working with and create your own set. As a beginner, you may wish to try a beginner’s set. See below recommended sources in the U.K. and the U.S. However, if you are drawn to keep working in this medium, you may want to invest in a good quality set to last you a lifetime. * STUDIO SETS - Quality Japanese MADE sets - curated by Talia ArtBrush comprehensive Sets - curated by Talia - Made in Japan Traveller Set Celedon Set Blue & White Set U.K. Sources - Recommended for beginners - Affiliate with Jackson’s Art Supply PAPER Papaer Pads 30x40cm 20 sheets Paper Pads 24x32cm 20 sheets INK Liquid Bottled Ink 180 ml Liquid Bottled Ink 60ml If you want to grind your own ink - Ink Stone Ink Stick BRUSHES Medium Size Brush Medium Size Brush BOX SET - Made in Japan. Ink stick, ink stone, single fine brush, water dropper in a beautiful box. You will still need another large or medium brush to add to your painting set. OTHER TOOLS FOR YOUR SET Ceramic Flower - For mixing colours Brush Rest Brush Mat - fudemaki - to keep safe and well your brushes WATAERCOLOUR Watercolour Set of 12 Colours Watercolour Set of 18 Colours Watercolour Set of 24 Colours U.S. Sources - Recommended for beginners - Affiliate with BLICK PAPER Newsprint for Practice Japanese Practice Paper - Sketch pad 48 sheets Hanshi paper - Loose sheets 24 x 33 cm Pads - 24 x 32 cm 20 sheets Pads - 30.5 x 40.5 cm 20 sheets Paper Roll - 20 x 50cm length Individual sheets Okawara - Sized paper 30.5 x 40 cm Awagami Mingeishi - 63.5 x 94 cm Mulberry - 63.5 x 85 cm INK Liquid Bottled Ink If you want to grind your own ink - Ink Stone Ink Stick BEGINNERS BRUSHES Large and Medium sizes Yasutomo Bamboo Brush - Size 6 Yasutomo Bamboo Brush - Size 6 Yasutomo Bamboo Brush - Size 5 Yasutomo Bamboo Brush - Size 4 Yasutomo Bamboo Brush - Size 3 Detail Fine Brushes Yasutomo Bamboo Sumi Brush - Size 2 Yasutomo Bamboo Sumi Brush - Size 1 Yasutomo Bamboo Sumi Brush - Size 0 OTHER TOOLS FOR YOUR SET Ceramic Flower For mixing colours Brush Mat - fudemaki - Keep brushes safe and dry Brush Mat - With sleeves Brush Rest - White brush rest for six brushes Watercolour - Set of 12 Watercolour -Set of 18 Watercolour - Set of 24 Metallic Shades - Set of 6 To read further comprehensive essays on the Ink artist tools-set and for a list of quality tool-sets sources - check out ArtBrush Library Find out your favourite Japanese ink painting courses with ArtBrush Online HERE ** First image is by Katsushika Hokusai -A surimono for the year of the horse 1822 ✥ ✥ ✥

  • 21 Books Every Ink Painting Practitioner Should Read

    There are many great books on ink painting and art history that can help practitioners improve their skills. This is a list of 21 art-related and Japanese ink painting history books. Each has been part of my own journey with ink through the years and impacted my understanding and appreciation of art. They are essential for any artist who wants to learn more about ink painting. I full-heartedly recommend these books to ink painting practitioners. They cover a variety of topics, from the history of Japanese ink painting to the artist practice and meditation. Few are catalogues of museum exhibitions and may be out of print. See if you can get them second hand, or direct from the museum. They are all well-written and filled with beautiful artwork that will inspire you to create your own masterpieces! This list is being updated from time to time, so do check it up or sign up to the mailing list to get updated. History of Japanese Art By Penelope Mason This book is one of the most concise works of Japanese art history you will ever need. It covers history from early Jōmon time (10,50-300bc) and up to Meiji and Shōwa (1868-1945). The book looks into the art forms of each period, mainly painting, ceramic, architecture, and sculptures. Purchase on Amazon HERE History of Far Eastern Art By Sherman Lee This book was given to me by a dear friend who was an avid Japanese art dealer and collector in London. He said to me, "This is the only book you need on Asian art. Take it!" It includes work from the early stone and bronze age and up to 18th c. Japan. And it covers the art history of China, India, Japan and South Asia and Indonesia. Purchase on Amazon HERE How to Look at Japanese Art By Stephen Addiss Any book by Stephan Addiss is a book I would recommend. He is one of the leading, passionate scholars of Japanese art, and I was lucky to be in few of his lectures when he visited London. This book helped me begin to understand how to view Japanese art. And although rather thin looking, it offers essential guidelines as to how to approach and begin to appreciate Japanese art aesthetic values. It covers ceramics, sculptures and traditional Buddhist art, zen ink painting, calligraphy, woodblock prints and gardens. Purchase on Amazon: HERE Empire of Signs By Roland Barthe A very personal book on Japanese aesthetic by Roland Bathers which touched me deeply in its feeling descriptions. As is said in its promotion, "If Japan did not exist, Barthes would have had to invent it…" Purchase on Amazon HERE The Art Lover's Guide to Japanese Museums By Sophie Richard This well-designed book, with many images, covers prominent art museums in Japan and is quite recent. It includes tips and advice with detailed addresses. It can be a great source of information for those of you who wish to view original art while travelling to Japan or viewing the museums' websites online. Purchase on Amazon HERE The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting Translated by Mai mai Sze A latest printout of 17th C. manual of how to paint. Originated in China and adopted by Japanese artists as well. It has various different volumes. Original copies can be found in museum’s displays, like the British Museum. The manuals have many lessons and examples of how to paint according to various masters of the time, with core notions and reasonings. An essential manual to guide and inspire the ink painting practitioner. Purchase on Amazon HERE Buddhism and the Arts of Japan By Richard B. Pilgrim A short concise writing with a chapter on Zen art and Zen aesthetics Purchase on Amazon HERE The Art of Zen By Stephan Addiss A beautiful book of paintings and calligraphy by Japanese monks from the 1600 - 1925 with notes and translations by Stephan Addiss. Purchase on Amazon HERE Masterpieces from the Shinenekan Collection Los Angeles County Museum catalogue This catalogue presents a selection of Japanese paintings, of the 18th C. Edo period, from the collection of Joe and Etsuko Price. I was lucky enough to meet with the collector himself, and view original artwork both at his home and at the museum. The collection holds valuable Japanese ink paintings, in particular the eccentric ink masters work of 18th C. Jackuchō, Shōhaku and Rosetsu. Purchase on Amazon HERE Haiga By Stephan Addiss Exhibition catalogue book of the haiku painting tradition, known as haiga. This book may be of interest for the ink painter, calligrapher and poetry lovers. Purchase on Amazon HERE Haiku - Japanese Art and Poetry By Michiko Warkentyne & Barry Till A sweet little book of Japanese haiku poetry according to season, with accompanied artwork and calligraphy. Purchase on Amazon HERE Under the Seal of Sesshū By Jon Carter Covell Read about the life and work of 15th C. master monk-painter Tōyō Sesshū, considered one of the founders of Japanese ink painting tradition. The book was written by Jon Carter Covell in 1941! So if you can get your hand on a copy, you may just discover overlays of history interwoven. It covers the life of Sesshū, his styles of paintings with attention to his landscape, figures, bird and flower and animal painting. Purchase on Amazon HERE Wild Ivy - The Spiritual autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin Translated by Norman Waddell Translation to English of the spiritual autobiography of Zen master Hakuin. The book includes Hakuin own Zen experiences, paintings and advise to students. Purchase on Amazon HERE A book of Five Rings By Miyamoto Musashi Known as Japan’s greatest warrior, Musashi was also a master of the brush. Although only few of his paintings survived, they are well known and unique to his character. He is the one to coined the phrase - ‘as the brush so is the sword’. Towards the end of his life he put together his experience in a simple five chapters book. An essential read for the ink painter and the martial artist alike. Purchase on Amazon HERE The Uninhibited Brush By Jack Hillier Jack Hillier is one of the pioneer scholars of Japanese art and his writings are so very insightful and well written. In this (big) book, published in 1974!, you will find essays about the great masters of ink of the Shijo style, to include the literati movement, Ōkyo and his followers and many others. Purchase on Amazon HERE Designing Nature - The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art By John Carpenter A beautiful exhibition catalogue book written by my London university professor, Dr. John Carpenter, now head of the Metropolitan museum of art. We have always shared the passion for Rinpa school and aesthetic, and it is worth while reading his notes in this catalogue with his excellent example of how to research Japanese art. Purchase on Amazon HERE Silver Wind- The Arts of Sakai Hoitsu By Matthew P McKelway A beautiful exhibition catalogue book presenting highlights from the exquisite artwork of ink painter and Rinpa school master Sakai Hōitsu. Purchase on Amazon HERE Sea of Ink By Richard Weiha A most poetic, beautiful short story based on the autobiography of Chinese ink master Shin-t’ao of the 17th century, who was committed to capture nature with a single brush stroke. For the ink painter, the poet, the dweller and art historian. Purchase on Amazon HERE Anam Cara - Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World By John O'donohue Well, yes, I know this is not Japanese related, but it is one of my favourite books of healing, wisdoms and calm. Always like to read from it, whichever page opens. Purchase on Amazon HERE Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain By Betty Edwards The is the one and only essential drawing skills course you will ever need. With super practical exercises to develop your drawing skill as far and high as you like it. You can use the Japanese brush and paper for the practices. Purchase on Amazon HERE Think Like an Artist By Will Gompertz I stumbled upon this pocket book at Daunt bookshop in London and couldn't resist it. It is full of humour, brightness and intelligent tips for all you artists out there. Purchase on Amazon HERE Learn more in the ArtBrush Library Membership View a growing list of 48+ recommended books in ArtBrush Library. The ArtBrush Library is a membership with a selection of writings, essays and contemplations to guide you with your Japanese ink painting studies. Sign up now for a one-time payment of £55 >

  • Wabi-Sabi and the Practice of Ink Painting

    ‘To those who awaits only the cherry blossoms, Let me point to the spring in grassy patches amid the snow of a mountain village’ Fujiwara no Taika This poem has been used to explain the very essence of wabi-sabi by Sen no Rikkyo, master artist of Japanese tea ceremony. Wabi-sabi as an aesthetic concept evolved with the tea ceremony in Japan by Sen no Rikkyo during the 16th century, yet it is rooted deep in Zen Buddhism already in the 12th century. Although strongly embedded in Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi as a concept is not always easy to define. It can however, be felt. This is perhaps its most clear element, the use of the senses for the aesthetic experience. While the 21st century is riding into a digitalisation of the senses, wabi-sabi takes us back to the touch and the taste, the sound and the fragrance of things, as well as their visual experience. To hold a tea cup with both hands and be touched by its textured material is the heart of the experience. While sipping tea, to feel the tongue sticking a little to the fired clay, these sensual feelings are woven into the ceramic beauty impact. In similar way to the tea ceremony, the ink artist takes a step back from the mundane daily world into their own rhythm, holding a raw ink stick and grinding it on an ink-stone to make ink. Feeling the rough texture of the stone and taking in the fragrance of the ink as it blends with water, the artist dip the brush to make that first brush stroke - this preparation time creates a unique intimacy of nearness to the natural materials. The love of the textured material and its simplicity, define wabi-sabi artistic aesthetic, where possible, keeping materials not fully processed, so one can still get a glimpse of their original state. The soot of which the ink is made of, kept its true nature for many years whilst being exposed to the elements. Be it fire or rain, heat or cold weather, it gifts the sense of humility and humbleness away from pretension and arrogance. The power of simplicity Wabi (侘び) carries the idea of elegant beauty that is reflected in simplicity itself. Simplicity that has its core in humbleness. A will to be with the essence of things and not their external cover up. ‘Get rid of the non essential’ - is the wabi-sabi artist most valuable instruction. The interaction of modest intelligence with a clean, efficient arrangement, allow wabi-sabi artists to keep with the integral component of its creation, and avoid unnecessary details. Ink painting will reveal just enough details for the viewer to identify the subject painted, but not more than necessary. The ink painting is intended to echo the very nature of its subject matter, not to copy it. Rustic beauty Sabi (寂び / 錆び) translated from Japanese, to mean ‘rust’. It suggests the nature of the ever-changing experiences and things that weathered, fade away or dissipate. It signifies not the ending of things, but actually the flow and continuity of the creative process. Sabi aesthetic does not find a need to ‘hide’ the ongoing ageing of the art created, on the contrary, the moss on the stone sculpture, the rustic wood pillar inside a home, or the ragged ink brush stroke on textured paper - are all part of cherishing the beauty of time passage. The way ink becomes even more distinct as the paper ages, turning yellow in time, is part of the magic celebrated by the aesthetic of sabi. This ever-changing state of materials far and beyond the artist work, emerges because of time throwing its magnitude flow upon everything. And while doing so, revealing a tranquil beauty within the greater creation and its ongoing powerful laws of transformation, extinction and reformation. Finding and enjoying the rustic beauty of this is the aesthetic of sabi. Cherishing the creative process Within the aesthetic of wabi-sabi , the creative process is exposed and emphasised. It is original in a moment in time, and thus a unique experience. The ink painting is not intended to be perfect. On the contrary, not the complete figure is painted, nor the whole landscape is seen. The painting will hold spaces and gaps ready to be completed with the viewer’s imagination. In ink painting, one can appreciate the aesthetics of wabi-sabi where the flow of the brush and ink emphasise the wellness experience of imperfection. It is imperfect because no hand can make a ‘perfected’ line in that sense. Each line and mark is raw and organic, rich in wonder and mystery, reflecting the nature of both artist and viewer at any given time. Wabi-sabi aesthetic practice in ink painting offers an intimate experience. It unfolds the feeling that even the minute and seemingly insignificant painted theme, can have an insight into the warmth and beauty of a growing and becoming creation. For an in-depth ink painting course you are invited to join ArtBrush Online Foundation course Sign up for a one-time payment of £220 > All paintings in this article are by Talia and can be viewed in GALLERY

  • 6 Things to Know Before You Get Your Own Carved Seal

    Carving a personal seal was always considered one of the artist's / calligrapher's skills. The seal completes a painting and is an important part of it. Artists used to make their own seals as part of the creative expression and expertise. Having more than one seal to symbolise different periods in artistic progress was common. Brief historical background Seal carving has a fine history of over a thousand years in Japan. The tradition originated in China and is over two thousand years old. The ancient seal script, known as tensho in Japanese or zhuan-shu in Chinese, is still used in most seal carving today. In 221 BC the first emperor of China united the many states of the continent, and had a Jade seal made to represent sole heavenly authority over the land. This seal was passed on from one emperor to another as part of the ritual of power and control. During the 10th century upheavals, this legendary seal was lost, and from then on other seals were used throughout history by the rulers. The seal represents authority and authenticity of the author and writing. Used by emperors early on in history, it later became a tool for government officials and institutes, schools, teachers and scholars, as well as artists and collectors. With the development of paper, seals have become more important to confirm the writer and writing authenticity, be it official papers, poetry or painting. Materials and design Ancient seals were made of hard materials such as Jade, bronze, gold, silver and agate. Other less successful materials, in terms of longevity, were used, such as bones, amber, wax, clay, bamboo and wood. During the 14th C., soft stones became popular and an easy material to carve seals from. New styles and designs developed, and the craft of seal carving became an art form of its own. Poets, calligraphers and artists specialised in making seals and developing both design and technique. High quality seals have become sought after. They showed knowledge of scholarship and high aesthetics. Sourcing the right stone was important. The place where the stone came from connected the owner with that place. Therefore, ancient temples, well-known calligraphy centres, sacred mountains, and the like, were places from which seals stones were highly praised. The stone quality, like a small sculpture, would be selected according to its colour, texture, shine, and transparency. Seals would be cut into various sizes and the carved areas could be square, round, oval or a unique irregular shape. A high quality seal will have a good, precise and balanced contrast between the engraved white area of the seal and the red parts. The script could be engraved or a relief. Left: Engraving - ‘where there is a will there is a way’ Right: Relief carving - 'the years fly like an arrow - how alarming’ Content and aesthetic As the first purpose of the seal was to identify the owner, seals most commonly would have the name of the owner, their initial, chosen name, artist's name or birthdate. The birth year animal zodiac symbol was also popular. Artists seals were more sophisticated and, in particular, represented a personal philosophical idea, riddle, personal statement or sentiments. The seal and signature were considered part of the whole composition, and an integral part of the painting. Unique graphic script designs were developed, making the seal a ‘stone calligraphy’ work of art. Here are a few examples: Top left: ‘Fence’ script - ‘Who realises that books are immortals’ Top right: ‘Cloud’ script - ‘Long life of ten thousand years’ Bottom left: ‘Crooked’ script - ‘Prayer for longevity‘ Bottom right: ‘Crooked’ script - ‘To keep wealth and health always‘ Seal paste The red paste against the black ink creates a contrasting element which completes the artistic aesthetic. Traditionally, various colours have been used as seal’s paste. However, red paste has become the most popular. This paste was made of Cinnabar (mercury sulphide) mixed with seed oils and the moxa plant. Emperor seal’s paste, would have, particularly expensive mixed powdered materials, such as corals, pearls and rubies. How to use your seal Place the finished painting on a ‘semi’ soft surface, like felt. Carefully choose the area where you wish to seal the artwork, and place the seal evenly on the surface. Make sure to put even pressure on all parts of the seal. Keep pressing until you feel the seal is evenly marked on the paper. When you lift the seal, do so with an upward, firm movement to prevent smudging the paste on the paper. Allow the red paste to dry on the painting, or place a soft cloth to pick up any residues. Care for your seal After sealing the painting, make sure to clean the red paste away from the seal with a clean cloth or paper towel and keep it in a safe box. Get your own seal Get your own Japanese hand carved seal and high quality red paste on our store - HERE Order your own seal with the year of the Tiger (2022) on top from Char4U shop - HERE Or hand carved other suggested seals : LOVE DOUBLE HAPPINESS LONGEVITY DREAM DRAGON AND PHOENIX Note: Included in this article are affiliated links to Char4U seals and if you choose to use these, the studio may earn a commission for purchases you make with no extra cost to you. Thank you.

  • Are You Ready to Master Japanese Ink Painting?

    ArtBrush is a new, online school created to assist you in developing your skills in Japanese Ink Painting while giving you a deeper appreciation for this tradition within Japanese art history. The schools step-by-step courses are designed to allow you to practice brush exercises, guiding you in creating your own ink paintings while experiencing the meditative nature of the process. ArtBrush founder, Talia Lehavi, is an artist, practitioner and teacher of traditional Japanese ink painting. Following years of teaching, her love and passion for this artistic medium has now prompted her to create ArtBrush, the online school for Japanese ink painting. "My own extensive journey in Japanese ink painting, studying with mentors for seven years and completing an MA at the School of Oriental and Africa Studies in London, has provided me with a wealth of knowledge that I want to share with you. My experience has allowed me to teach Japanese ink painting Worldwide, and I’ve created ArtBrush to allow past and new students to learn alongside me and progress in their creative journey, wherever you are in the World." The school is catered to beginners and those with prior ink painting experience, to provide a valuable learning voyage for anyone with a desire to learn the foundations of Japanese ink painting. We have a wide variety of courses available, including single courses, which focus on one specific subject, called ArtBrush Lessons. Our Four Nobles Foundation Course offers an in-depth study, and our expanding ArtBrush Library provides you with writings and essays on the history of Japanese ink painting. Each course also includes a Tools and materials check-list, PDF worksheets and additional compositions for you to practice in your own time.

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