Thursday, September 6, 2012

Una de St.Luc's Pelican Scroll (August 2012)

Birds and Flowers Japanese Ink Wash Landscape

This was shortly after completing the painting portion of the picture. It is taped to a board with artist's tape to prevent warping and rippling from the water and ink. I hope to eventually get a picture of the piece completed with the calligraphy that I did on it.  

I used Arches 140 lb hot pressed cotton water color paper and black ink. I did some initial sketching with pencil to get the basic layout of the picture and then did a lot free painting with the ink.

There is something very organic about ink in that once it is placed there is little you can do to change it a whole lot. An unintentional mistake has to suddenly become an intentional object or shadow.  There is no looking back, only moving forward.

Una has wanted a Japanese scroll from me for some time now, but she didn't specify what exactly she wanted for her scroll.  I have been looking at many of the "Birds and Flowers" screens done by the Kano school for quite some time. 

The Kano school was a school of artists in medieval Japan started by Kano Masanobu (1434-1530) who trained his two sons Kano Motonobu (1476-1559) and Kano Utanosuke (also called Yukinobu) (1513-1575) and from there the techniques and ideas were transferred down through the family as well as through adopted members of the family and through marriage.  It grew to become one of the best groups of artists in medieval Japan.  They were frequently recruited for pieces in many of the castles and palaces of Japan by the aristocracy. Many of Japan's treasures are pieces that have been painted by the Kano school. (Personal note: At some point I would like to write a whole entry on the different members of the Kano school and their influence on each other, but that is for another day)

My primary influence for this piece was done by Kano Utanosuke, younger son of the founder of the Kano school.  It is referred to as "Birds and Flowers in a Landscape".

Birds and Flowers in a Landscape by Kano Utanosuke, Momoyama Period (late 16th century) Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Set of two folding screens.

 There were many elements to the painting that I liked, but there were also some that I wanted to change due to my personal aesthetic taste and also to include things that Una would like.  While Kano Utanosuke did this beautiful piece with color I actually preferred the look of the greys from just plain black ink as was also done during this time.  A very good example of this is below.

Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons by Kano Eitoku (1543-1590) Kyoto National Museum
 Kano Eitoku, the artist for these fusuma, or sliding doors, was actually the grandson of Utanosuke's brother, Motonobu. This piece uses black ink and gold.

There are different techniques that are used when only working in shades of grey instead of color.  Attention has to be drawn to the eye by sharp contrast of light and dark rather than using a bright color in contrast to dulled hues.  I had to change some of the plants and animals from what Kano Utanosuke had chosen simply because they wouldn't work in a black ink wash painting.

Una likes cranes a lot so I wanted to make sure to include them in the painting. I usually found only one or two cranes per painting even though Japanese aesthetics often calls for groups of threes or fives.  I looked at numerous examples of Kano school paintings with cranes and none of them in particular appealed to me.

Here is one example of a Kano school crane.  "Birds and Flowers" by Kano Shoei (1519-1592)  Idemitsu Museum of Fine Arts
 (FYI- Kano Shoei was Kano Motonobu's son, Kano Eitoku's father, and Kano Utanosuke's nephew)

This is a close up of the right side of the painting for Una that has the two cranes.

What I did instead was to look at photographs of Japanese Red Crested Cranes and drew my own based off of those. I am actually pretty pleased with how they turned out.  A few fun things that I enjoyed with this portion:
  • The crane that is bending down toward the water: towards the end of painting I decided he should have something that he is focusing on.  A few quick wisps of ink gave the impression of something moving in the water.
  • Una likes Irises, which do show up in many of these types of drawings, so I added a few in the background by the stream.
  • I did add a dragonfly (my maker's mark since I was a teenager) to one of the plants in the bottom right and a snail is hiding in there somewhere as well.  Una loves snails. 
  • There is a grouping of ducks swimming in the center of the painting.  Ducks appear in Eitoku's sliding doors above and also in many of the Birds and Flowers paintings of the Kano School of the time. Una enjoys frequently taking walks by creeks that have numerous ducks.
  • I really enjoyed making the misty background of trees and mountains with a very light wash.  This is something that frequently appears in these paintings and seems to add a lot of depth and texture.

This is a closer image of the left side of the painting for Una. On this side I included two Japanese Hares (bottom left).  I haven't been able to find many pictures of period landscapes with the hares in them, but usually two are shown; one white and one brown.  I assume that this is to show the rabbits with their winter coat and their spring coat. Again I used photos for reference to help with painting these.

There are a few small birds scattered throughout the painting, and there is a Japanese pheasant tucked into the background in a similar spot to where Utanosuke placed his.  I chose not to have a peacock in the painting because I wanted the focus to be on the cranes in the right front foreground and I also did not want to detract from the waterfall.

Why I chose to use Arches 140 lb hot press water color paper:
     The original size of one set of screens is 60 15/16 x 140 inches. So these screens were meant to take up most of a wall.  I had to shrink my painting down to a more transportable size that could also be framed. Since I was working at about 1/5 of the size I chose to work with the hot press watercolor paper because it has a much tighter weave and less bleeding than other papers traditionally used by the Japanese providing more control and showing more fine detail. It also stands up to significant amounts of water when doing large areas of washes.  I have worked on rice paper but I find that it is mostly useful for larger, less detailed painting.  I have also done some experiments painting on silk which has a tendency to bleed easily as well depending on the thread count (the looser the weave the more bleeding from ink).

Part of the "anachronism" portion of the scroll is that I had to add words at some point, so I left the middle area fairly barren other than a few of the light washes to allow myself some room to place the calligraphy (kanji).  I hope to have photos of the completed piece with the calligraphy soon.  My photos of it from Pennsic did not turn out. My friend, Lady Minamoto no Taikawa Saiaiko wrote the words and translated them for me.

It was nice to be able to do a scroll based off of the Kano School because Una is actually my mundane (ie blood) sister.  She and our older sister, Portia, and I all do artwork with very different styles for the SCA.  Our mother is pretty artistically talented as well, although she'd probably never admit it.  So it was nice to do a painting based off a family group of artists for someone in our family group of artists.

I truly enjoy trying to make pieces for the SCA based off of Japanese paintings of the time.  I find the Japanese works during period to be extremely beautiful.  I hope that by making these pieces that I can create more awareness of medieval Japanese art.

Sir Ogami's Millrind Hawks & Pines (Fall 2010)

Completed scroll prior to calligraphy

Below is the documentation that I provided with this scroll for the Arts and Sciences Competition at the Festival of the Passing of the Ice Dragon in March, 2011. The documentation had to be kept brief due to a limited amount of time available to the judges to read it. The piece won first place for the scribal arts category.  I also won the Kingdom of Aethelmearc Arts and Sciences Championship as well as the Populace Choice for this piece in April, 2011. 
There are additional pictures below the documentation of the originals that I based the piece on as well as some other photos of the completed piece.


Hawks and Pines
A Japanese Scroll

This is a Millrind scroll for a person with a Japanese persona during the late Muromachi period. It is based on a Japanese painting called “Hawks and Pines” by Sesson Shukei. Although the actual date of the piece is unknown, the artist lived from 1504-1589 during the Muromachi period in Japan. The original is actually two separate hanging scrolls. The hawk that I used for a reference for the top of the scroll is supposed to be hung on the left and the one on the bottom is supposed to be on the right (Sadao & Wada, 2003).  I originally found the two scrolls when looking at the Tokyo National Museum website and have since found them in other books of Japanese art. I would like to request that the judges kindly evaluate the piece solely on the painting and not the calligraphy as that was done by a different artist.

The original paintings were 126.5 cm high and 53.5 cm wide (or 49.8” x 21”) (Sadao & Wada, 2003). I was unable to obtain paper of the desired quality in this dimension and reduced the size of the painting proportionately.

Westerners refer to papers for Japanese ink painting as “rice paper” even though they have nothing to do with rice. Japanese papers were usually made from sandalwood, bamboo, mulberry, cotton or linen (Frame, 2002, p. 18).

The paper that I chose to work with was a hot press cotton watercolor paper. I chose this paper for its fine grain and smooth surface. The paper is absorbent enough to handle the amount of water that is needed for large areas of ink wash, but is fine enough to do detailed work without a lot of excessive bleeding.
Ink in Japan is made from either pine carbon or oil carbon, and glue. The inks varied in color from brown tones to bluish. Japanese inks are available in a stick form which must be ground on a smooth surface with a slight tooth to it (usually slate). After grinding the ink, water must be added. I have found the ink stick to be inconsistent and at times may leave a gritty residue. For this piece I chose to work with a bottled, liquid ink to keep consistency and have more predictable results (Frame, 2002, p. 12-13). Shading effects are created by adding more or less water to the ink.

The originals were two separate scrolls which I decided to combine into one unique piece that would be to the recipient’s liking. The original pieces do not have calligraphy as this one does. As previously stated, I was not the calligrapher for this piece, but it was translated into Japanese and Kanji was used to add to the authenticity of the piece. There are examples of scrolls with painted images and calligraphy on them dating back to at least the 8th century (Sadao & Wada, 2003).

I have not found evidence for the use of pencils in Japanese sketching in period. Sketches were done with ink directly on paper. One example that I found of a sketch showed the artist simply folded his paper, drew a single line, and created the rest of the artwork from that line (Yukio, 1960). I chose to do a basic sketch in pencil first to create the layout of the branches and to determine the placement of the hawks. From this basic outline I then added my ink.

I used sable hair and goat hair paintbrushes to apply the ink. Many Asian brushes are made from wolf, goat and hog hair set in a hollow bamboo handle (Gair, 1995, p. 115). The goat hair brushes were soft and wide which allowed for an even wash over larger areas. I used the sable brushes because that is what I owned and was more familiar with.

The hawks chosen were appropriate for the recipient as they have a martial arts background. Paintings featuring birds of prey were “popular among military men, and often featured steely-eyed hawks poised for flight, an image suggestive of the turbulence of the late Muromachi years” (Sadao & Wada, 2003, p. 150).
In the future, if I were to do a similar piece, I would like to avoid the pencil sketches and create purely with ink. Consistency with stick ink may improve with additional practice.


Frame, S.(2002). Japanese Ink Painting: Beginner’s Guide to Sumi-e. New York. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.

Gair, A. (Ed.). (1995) Artist’s Manual: A Complete Guide to Painting and Drawing Materials and Techniques. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins.

Sadao, T.S., & Wada, S. (2003). Discovering the Arts of Japan: A Historical Overview. Tokyo, Japan. Kodansha International.

The TNM Collection (2011). In Tokyo National Museum. Retrieved from

Yukio, Y. (Ed.). (1960) Art Treasures of Japan. Tokyo, Japan. Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai.

Original scrolls by Sesson 16th centruy (Muromachi Period) 126.5 x 53.5
Tokyo National Museum
(These should actually be switched left and right, unfortunately I wasn't able to do so after placing the pictures on the page.)

Close ups of each hawk that I painted

Painting taped to a board to prevent warping or rippling from the wet ink

Completed scroll with calligraphy, wording, and translation by Lady Minamoto no Taikawa Saiaiko