Earlier this year I started a small netsuke based on the traditional Japanese Chidori motif. Chidori are a small plover bird and simple designs of them can be seen on modern and antique Japanese goods. I had a small piece of baltic amber I wanted to use for a bird related design and decided to make a chidori as a short project. It was also an excuse to have a play and combine different materials I have collected.
The main body is sculpted from baltic amber, the beak and feet are made from red coral, the aye is made from mother of pearl and Whitby jet, and the himotoshi collar is made from red dear antler. The detail on the tail was completed using Japanese urushi.
This netsuke is the smallest i have made to date and only measures 25mm nose to tail and is around 8mm thick. I signed it discreetly on the back as it is too small to take a bold signature.
Although I mainly concentrate my carving efforts on the Japanese art of netsuke practice and doodle with scraps of material all the time to improve my skills. Occasionally this leads to a commission of small items which spark my imagination.
My two most recent commissions comprise of a fox eared ring made of box wood and two troll beads to fit on a Pandora necklace.
Here are some photos of the pieces. The ring was the most enjoyable to make. The beads were quite stressful without the aid of a lathe.
I mentioned in my previous post that I was working on a new netsuke of a rabbit (hare) and as I am currently unemployed and seeking work I have had plenty of time to work on it. As a result, it is complete, I think. This represents my 3rd netsuke. I feel I am making decent progress with my carving skills and plan to continue their development.
How It’s Made
Unfortunately I did not think to take any photos of the process of making it but I will give a brief overview now.
The netsuke is made from Hippo tooth. I purchased this from ebay.co.uk from someone selling them as items they had purchased whilst on holiday during the 60s or 70s. Hippo tooth can be difficult to come by as it is a CITES listed and controlled substance. It can be purchased with greater ease in the USA where there are a number of dealers who import it with all the proper permits. The enamel on the tooth is extremely hard and an angle grinder was required to remove it (safety goggles recommended). When doing this you have to be careful not to overheat the tooth as it can cause splitting. Once de-enameled the tooth can be sawed by hand quite easily.
Once I had removed a bit of tooth I decided on a subject matter. I went with rabbit as I quite like them. I’m not that fussed on them as pets but find their form interesting to work with. Once decided I started drawing on my bit of tooth until I had a rough design I was happy with then then started roughing out the shape using a dremel multi tool. This is the only stage along with one small one at the end where I use electronic tools. Once I had the rough shape I started using scrapers and chisels to work over the piece and refine the shape. Once I had the shape right I started on the fine detail (eyes, paws, ears ect.) and when that was completed I used the edge of a fine chisel for creating fur across its entire body. This was something I decided to do toward the end as I had not intended to do this when I started out. I then drilled out the eyes using a drill bit between my fingers (I wouldn’t trust a power drill because if I had slipped it could have ruined the whole thing). I then used the same drill bit to attach some amber to the base using superglue. I then used a file to round the amber off to the same diameter and the drills shaft. Once rounded the end of the amber was squared off and a smaller drill bit was used to create a pupil which was then filled with acrylic paint (drilled by hand again). A second bit of amber was then glued on the end of the first bit (over the pupil), rounded off to the same diameter and then sanded convex. All manner of wet and dry papers and micro mesh were used to polish and finish it.
The last thing I did was drill the himotoshi. I used the dremel again for this and a series of different attachments. I took my time with this as if I had messed it up at the last stage I can’t imagine how annoyed I would get. In all this is probably about 80 hours work I think, but I can’t be sure as I didn’t keep track.
it’s 38.5mm head to tail, 24mm at its widest point, and 24.5mm tall.
Photos! For gods sake yes, photos!