Snail on chestnut, Work in progress

netsuke

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.

Reishi netsuke.  

netsuke

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.

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Smokey Fox

netsuke

I just completed my fifth netsuke, this time representing a fox which hopefully appears calm and tranquil.  It is made from the root section of an old scrap of walrus tooth so the shape, and to some extent to composition of the netsuke was dictated by the material.  20150725_162525This netsuke also gave me the opportunity to experiment with ibushi or fumigation staining using incense smoke to enhance the materials depth and finish (though eradicating the smoky odour after is proving difficult).  Overall this has been a project I quite enjoyed working on and I will definitely be returning the fox as subject matter in future netsuke.

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Carving: bits and bobs

crafts

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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.10835441_10153203526981070_9130146975899042148_o 11083781_10153203526976070_7838797487906785420_o 11083815_10153203527051070_1484919753308701539_o 11121517_10153203527181070_7633907743962156298_o

New Netsuke completed, Usugi moon

netsuke

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).

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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.

Christmas Toto-nut

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Now I have a walnut. Ho – Ho – Ho

Getting into the festive spirit I though it would be nice to share a few pictures of a bauble I carved this year. It started life as a walnut netsuke based on studio Ghibli’s classic character Totoro but I abandoned it after I noticed a hairline crack.

After erecting our Christmas tree the inspiration hit me to salvage the failed netsuke as it would look rather festive on the tree.  After drilling a few extra holes and threading some ribbon through them my Toto-nut bauble is complete and looks rather grand on my tree.

I think I may make some more festive nut baubles for next year.

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Slow Going: Work in progress

netsuke

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For a while now I have been working on a new netsuke.  I decided to try my hand at a manju netsuke and do a bit of relief carving.  I also wanted to try doing some inlay work, juxtaposing the dark cloudy ebony with silvery mother of pearl.

The photos here show the piece as it currently stands.  The basic form is complete and the clouds have been carved so that the inlay could be fitted.  I spent a long time deliberating over how the clouds should be represented and sketching different forms.  In the end I took inspiration from Manju netsuke attributed to Ryûsa and others by Kou which can be seen here.

The next stage will be to add the critter I’m planning in the bottom right.  I’m carving it into the wood to start to see how it looks.  If it isn’t defined enough I might try inlaying it in a dark material, possible jet of black horn.  The background will require more texture to give more depth and then the base of the manju will be textured to make it more interesting.  How long I expect this to take me isn’t clear.  I’m working full time in a new job so I don’t expect it to be finished before Christmas really.  Once it is it will be posted here, and may be for sale!

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A Star buy. Unfortunately I can’t read it…..

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Background 

My recent exploration into the world of carving and netsuke has seen me take a far more in depth interest in Japanese art than I had previously ventured.  This is an effort to understand the motivation behind many famous netsuke artists from the Meiji period and earlier which should in effect influence my own work.  I often pondered how many of the artists developed their style and very Japanese interpretations of their subject matter.

After reading a lot and thinking on it further the whole style of the netsuke, especially the more abstract ones makes a lot of sense.  In the context of a world where there was no, or very little photography and travelling places took extended periods of time, seeing new things or exotic animals was difficult for the majority of people.  Netsuke artists would often use prints from other artists and illustrators.  These artists would have been constricted by the same restrictions so their prints were based on other artists prints or from descriptions in books or from people.  There was no google images so finding out what stuff looked like could be hard, or seeing what aspects of a common animal looked like still had to be done through direct observations as there was no photography.  This combined with artistic flare led to the art we see today.

The point

I decided that if my carvings were to feel authentic then I need to take a similar approach so I have been compiling many Japanese prints.  I recently found in my favorite second hand book store, Barter Books, a great book of Japanese bird prints.  Only problem is it is an original (for only £6.60) and is in Japanese so i am unable to read it. A bit of research has revealed this to be one volume of a 3 volume set of 100 Japanese birds by Bairei dated to around 1890.

 

enjoy these wonderful prints.

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The hare with the stake and ale pie

netsuke

New netsuke

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.

preview

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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.

Dimensions

it’s 38.5mm head to tail, 24mm at its widest point, and 24.5mm tall.

Photos! For gods sake yes, photos! 

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Netsuke. A new passion for an indecisive mind

netsuke

Background

I have spent the last 3 years studying Occupational Therapy at university.  This is not my first degree though, my first was Art and Design.  I specialised in product design, even though I was much better at fine art and this has always been a curse of sorts as I always want to do something new and different, rather than stick to what I am good at.  Between my degrees I worked but design jobs were thin on the ground during the recession so I was a model maker, and then a tax man, and then I lost the will to live and no longer had the time for drawing or creative things.  This is why I decided to study occupational therapy, a change of career, something new.

What I had not expected when going to study healthcare was I would go full circle back to fine art.  I quickly found on my new degree that writing assignments was not my strong point.  For me writing essays and papers it like drawing blood from a stone.  As a result procrastination became my best friend and for every major assignment I developed a new interest or hobby.  At first this was just drawing again, something a had not done seriously for years.  Then it was building models like the one shown on my previous post.  In the second year I started designing jewellery and set up a business which is still ticking along https://www.etsy.com/shop/FireTheLaser.  I also took an interest in prehistory and started engaging in local archaeology and flint working.

Netsuke

In the third year I had fewer assignments but they were fairly epic in size so I needed something new and really exciting to engage in whilst ignoring my work.  This took the form of the Japanese art of Netsuke (pronounced netske or netski).  I had recently purchased two netsuke from someone in the local area.  I was fairly certain they were authentic and had this confirmed by the International Netsuke Society.  This inspired me to have a go at making one of my own as I had some wood lying around from when I was a model maker and from my first degree.

My first netsuke was done slightly blind.  I hadn’t done any reading up on netsuke or subject matters and just started carving.  It turned into a rat and was mainly carved using a scalpel and some needle files.  It tuned out ok but wasn’t the amazing result a had imagined it would be when I set out.  However feedback I received on it was positive and encouraging so I started on something new whilst writing my dissertation.

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I decided to go down the route of more modern subject matter for my next piece but with some traditional elements.  I have always loved the movies produced by Studio Ghibli and I especially love Spirited Away so decided to base my carving on one of its characters.  In the movie some of the frog men can actually be seen wearing netsuke and inro.  I chose No Face.  This is a character I am always unsure if I like or not.  I don’t get how some people think No Face is cute or a  ‘nice’ character.  It eats other creatures to gain their abilities and does so by deceiving them, I am unsure on how this is cute.  I had some offcuts of ebony and decided to use this for his main body.  I had purchased some more tools at this point as well, larger files for shaping, sand papers and some offcut bone from ebay to use for his mask.  I also found some guides on carving forums about making your own small chisels so also did this.  Carving and finishing the piece took some time and was a major learning curve.  Getting a good finish is hard when not using any polishing products but well worth it.  Learning about composition and the attention to detail for a flawless finish is also not something I have done before.  I was also taught to consider other non visual sensory aspects of carving such as the feel in the hand (netsuke are supposed to be handled) and the temperature of the piece from the materials.  Fortunately I was given some expert advise on this.    Essentially there are no shortcuts in producing good quality work.  After a couple of months of working on No Face I think I can say it’s finished now.

Photos!

Here are the final results and some of the process shots.  It might be worth explaining what I have done a little.  I have tried to give the impression of No Face’s mouth under its mask.  I started by doing a wooden mask but didn’t like how it looked so used bone instead.  I then inset the mask and made a impression round the back of the head to allude to something holding the mask on.  The last few pictures show the finished result.  At this point I have made a matching ojime with a mask showing a different expression on each side and both have been connected using silk inro chord  passed through the himotoshi holes.

Also, it is worth mentioning I did pass my degree in Occupational Therapy and am now looking for a relevant job but I think my love of carving is here to stay and I am already working on several more pieces.

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