20/02/2017

Utility Art

This fire hydrant cover in Wajima displays a characteristic brevity that is common in Japanese design.
 A Very Japanese Art and Attitude
It was not long after arriving in Japan in 1976 that I began to notice various manhole covers and other utility service hatches.  They were not simply patterned nor did they have any simple wording claiming their purpose.  Gradually more and more were to appear wherever I went in Japan and the Noto peninsula is no exception.  In fact, the few that I came across while I was there in 2015 are relatively simple and a good deal more utilitarian that those that can be found on the Net.  Enjoy!

No colour but still a masterly rendering of cherry for a water supply hatch in Monzen in the southern part of the Noto peninsula.
In Kanazawa even a lowly drain hatch is beautifully adorned.
A plane and simple cast metal hatch sports a rendering of waves in Togi-machi.
To see more of this utilitarian art go to:


Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright


Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.

11/02/2017

Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Eight

The tumbler is turned zelkova wood and the three small sak√© cup are made of a type of oak called nara.  In both cases the apply-and-wipe lacquer finish has enhanced the grain to great advantage.
Lacquerware All-sorts Eight—Apply and Wipe
This series of posts continues with a brief look at lacquerware, which has been very simply finished.

The aim of this series of posts on lacquering techniques in Japan, has firstly been to showcase some of the diversities which exist and then to comment on their appearance and special features.

As we have seen, for example, Wajima lacquerware begins with a primer and ground followed by a number of applications of lacquer, culminating in decorative effects to complete what is both a robust and eminently good looking piece of decorated tableware.

Without a doubt, however, the simplest and therefore perhaps one of the most ancient ways of using true lacquer is simply to apply it directly to a lightly primed wooden carcass.  Essentially speaking, this apply-and-wipe technique makes the wood more durable and resistant to most liquids, while still allowing the grain to remain visible and enhanced in appearance.

In Japanese this technique is called either suri-urushi or fuki-urushi.  Respectively the first refers to the application of lacquer with a spatula or stiffish brush, to force the lacquer into the pores of the wood.  And then the latter expression refers to wiping up remaining surface lacquer with an absorbent paper or a cloth, preferably one which is lint-free.  The lacquer is then cured in controlled conditions of humidity—about 80%—and temperature—25˚C.  Usually after at least 24 hours the hard surface can be rubbed down either with an appropriate grit of sandpaper or a scouring pad to provide a key for another application of lacquer.

This collection of coasters and small dishes were turned and lacquered by Yasuhiro Satake.  Several coats of lacquer have served to protect the wood and to enhance the grain.   Combined with the way each one has been turned, the number of coasts and the resulting depth of colour of the lacquer has helped to give each one character.
In some cases this whole process is repeated as many as twenty times, in order to achieve a desired effect and depth of colour.  Generally speaking, the more applications there are darkens the finish but this can also depend on the artificial or natural curing conditions when lacquering.  Old lacquer may also produce a darker finish.

Given that raw lacquer is coloured and not particularly transparent, it might seem as though this technique is somewhat limited.  Nevertheless the colour and grain of the wood and the way it has been tooled can also influence the final appearance of a piece.

This is part of the complex grain of a piece of zelkova wood, a member of the elm family.  The colour is natural.
The finer idiosyncrasies of the way in which true lacquer curers need not scare off anyone from using this simple apply-and-wipe method.  It is more a case of dedication and perseverance to see what can be achieved.  But remember, some people are allergic to true lacquer and it should not be ingested.

I maintain that true lacquer can be used to great effect even on particle board, which is sometimes called chip board.  True lacquer has the power to greatly improve the appearance of what is a very ordinary material.  You cannot hide mistakes however.  Mind you, the colour of lacquer is a little restrictive but there is no reason why pigments should not be added to the true lacquer out of a tube and used in this simplest of all lacquering techniques.  Apply and wipe—try and see!

The wood of this chest drawer front is zelkova finished using an apply-and- wipe technique.  The mythical animal is made of copper which has been coated with true lacquer and warmed, allowed to harden and then buffed.  This was made by Fujisato Woodcraft in the north of Japan.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright


Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.

03/02/2017

Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Seven

The lid of this box looks like a forest floor littered with pine needles.
 Lacquerware All-sorts Seven—Sparkling, Alluring, Strong—Wakasa Lacquerware
So many pieces of Wakasa lacquerware are breathtaking.

While not being in the slightest bit gaudy, the surface decorations are complex, tasteful and alluring as well as intriguing and timeless.

While many of the items used in a tea ceremony do not demand attention, the natsume—tea caddy for the bright green powdered tea—strikes an air of magical splendour.  Just imagine how much it would glitter in the subdued light of a tearoom.
Just as in the way that a camera can capture in closeup the glittering drops of dew clinging to blades of grass on a misty morning, the overall effect of this ware is often one of natural beauty.

Sadly I do not own any Wakasa lacquerware—very expensive.  Photographing pieces is the closest I have come to the ware.

Although the finished effect is stunning, the techniques are relatively simple while still requiring great skill and more that a little patience.

Such materials as small chips of eggshell, mother-of-pearl, pine needles, rapeseeds and small leaf sprigs of Japanese cypress are used to produce multilayered decorative effects, which rely heavily on the properties of natural lacquer.

Is this lid a reflection of a starlit sky or a beach exposed by a receding wave?
Archeological evidence tells us that in ancient times lacquer was used as an adhesive and later became a coating.  It also has distinctive physical properties—a viscosity unlike that of paint and hardens under controlled levels of humidity and temperature.  It can also be polished and buffed to produce a glass-like quality and brilliance.

Explanation of the decorative techniques used are far more complicated than space allows or warrants here.  So, simply speaking, the adhesive properties of lacquer are utilised to stick pieces of eggshell or mother-of-pearl to a prepared surface before more lacquer, polishing and even more lacquer is applied.


Placing “foreign bodies” such as pine needles or rapeseed on wet lacquer inhibits the hardening of the lacquer under them.  While the blank areas of a design harden, the lacquer under such foreign bodies remains tacky.  The lacquer around the negative spaces appears to cling to the areas from which pine needles or rapeseeds have been removed.  Ultimately this produces an effect of shallow relief that is sometimes expressed by the use of gold powder colour.

Given that some pieces may take a year to produce, the high price of Wakasa lacquerware is inevitable.  Having an enduring beauty and toughness, however, makes it something to be treasured as it was, is now and hopefully will be in the future.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright


Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.