I have been working on a netsuke in boxwood of a snail on a chestnut which started out promisingly. This was inspired by the many antique chestnut netsuke with a dark rich stain and patina which i wanted to replicate.
Carving a chestnut is deceptively difficult. One has an assumption that such an item would be easy to reproduce but once you start examining a chestnut, their undulating form, striation, asymmetry and satin gloss finish it quickly becomes a complex task. The second challenge is to replicate the above with exactly reproducing every impression and contour like for like. I wanted it to appear realistic whilst each cut would give an impression of the form, deceiving the eye to make it appear real. The third challenge is replicating the patina and stain of the beautiful antiques I have seen whilst also mimicking the colour and polish of a real chestnut.
Not one stage has gone exactly as I would have liked it.
The shape I achieved I am happy with but it not exactly as I set out to make. The detail is adequate but is not as impressionistic as i would like. I have a habit of trying to carve every detail rather than giving an impression of detail and I need further work to find a method of achieving this which suits me.
The staining has almost undone the whole project. The boxwood i used appears to be very unstable. After a warm bath in yashadama a number of hairline splits appeared and then closed again. I then tried a cold stain and the same happened to a greater degree and the splits did not close as well. After this I tried filling them but then had to find a way of covering them so used urushi to achieve a finish. The humidity in the curing process for urushi caused further splits to appear. I have not yet finished allying the urushi but these pictures show my progress to date. after the urushi is finished I need to to the gloss of the finish and polisg the rest of the piece. I am unsure if this will work and if anything this has been an exhausting learning exercise.
Since returning from my travels in Japan in October 2015 my work on netsuke has not been as prolific I would would haveliked. I have yet to produce a new fox priest after the last one escaped and only now do I feel like I am starting to get back into carving after that setback.
This is one of the netsuke which I have made to keep myself busy since last year.
It id a group of reishi fungi depicted in mountain mahogany which was inspired by the many different fungi and I saw in Japan last autumn (there are pictures of them on my instagram). This has a light staining to finish using yashadama. Spurs on the underside of the fungi heads have been depicted using ukibori technique.
It has been a long time in the making but I feel I am at a point where I can call this piece finished. A 37mm by 37mm manjū style netsuke made from polished ebony with mother of pearl, abalone, horn, hippo tooth and gold inlay. It represents a dashing hare at night under a clouded moon. On the back can be seen a cut piece of equisetum arvense (horsetail).
When I started this I had a vague idea that a hare and moon were a rather Japanese looking subject matter but it all became a bit more than that. The further along the netsuke got, the more I discovered and the more I added to the design. At first it was just going to have a plain back but I found out from volume one of the Trumpf collection that Hares represent the 2nd month and the hours between 5am and 7am. A happy coincident for my black netsuke but then further reading revealed that in Japanese legend the hare is responsible for keeping the moon clean and shining. A second coincident! I’m on a roll. Not only is my hare running around in the dark at 6am in February but it’s running to clean the moon which is being covered by clouds. The third element helps to tie it all together. The hare cleans the moon with horsetail (equisetum arvense) Which is apparently used as a metal polish because it contains silicic acid. This gave me the concept for the design on the back. So after a lot more work then I originally envisioned, and after cutting and re-cutting each piece inlay 3 times each It is done.
It is by no means perfect. The inlay on the moon is rather ill fitting. Following the original one breaking when it was set in place I had to re cut and each time more wood material was taken out. I didn’t want to attempt to get the inlay any tighter in fear of it getting slightly worse each time. For my first real go at inlay though I’m happy with the results and see this as a good foundation on which to build. It has also bee a learning curve in relation to polish and finishing which has taken many hours.
I have a few ideas for my next piece already and I may get around to taking some better pictures of this one.