Happy October + Follow up on a recent Nihonga Workshop

The workshop barn at the Wisdom House, Litchfield, CT I don’t know about you, but 2014 has absolutely flown by for me. September was packed with day job tasks, cooking and a bit of travel toward the end of the month.

Toward the beginning of the month I was notified that I will be part of C4 Atlanta’s pop-up show schedule in Spring 2015. This is an on-going series of shows connected to the First Thursday Art Walk in Downtown Atlanta.

On September 17th I took a flight to Connecticut for a nihonga workshop with Judith Kruger. The weather was already a little chilly there, and I wore a hoodie most days.

My class was smaller than usual (three people instead of 10 – 12), so we were free to cover more topics in depth. Over the course of four days we watched demos and had the opportunity recreate the same tasks under Judith’s supervision.

Sizing Kumohada Paper

Sizing the kumohada paper
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)



Together my classmates and I sized a large piece of high-end kumohada paper. (How could this paper not be an expensive product? Its name alludes to the “skin of clouds.”)

After this we learned how to stretch the paper around cradleboards and pre-stretched canvases.

Judith demoing how to stretch paper, make gofun and a fancy sumi stick paired with a plain suzuri

Judith demoing how to stretch paper, make gofun and a fancy sumi stick paired with a plain suzuri
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)



We all helped to make gofun, which we used in a method similar to using a chalky white gesso. Gofun is made from one of the purest sources of calcium carbonate you can find: ground oyster or clam shells. When you apply this as a liquid to your painting surface, it can prevent paint from bleeding through your paper and possibly disturbing the wooden surface of the cradleboard.

My class made ink with a traditional suzuri (ink well) and sumi (ink) stick. Judith brought an assortment – even a stick that was 100 years old! Before painting, we worked as a group to make a mini rainbow of mineral paints.



During this class we had enough time for a crash course in paint-making and the importance of various granularities of minerals. To simplify, you can’t just buy “blue.” You find the blue that you like and, depending on the image you have planned, you might have to buy the same color in different consistencies. You can envision it almost like sugar – there’s a range from powdered sugar all the way up to larger crystals.



In my mind it's similar to baking in that you generally start with the finer particle product and then build texture, embellishments with larger pieces. Instead of mixing colors before painting on the paper, we built up areas of color which had varying transparencies.

I didn’t get to paint as much as I would have liked, but that was due, in part, to how much learning we were able to do in the time we had. I was also a smidge slower than my classmates (and teacher) who were all abstract painters.

Getting some painting done before critiques

Getting some painting done before critiques
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)



In the end I felt like this class was a great investment. We learned so much, and I feel like I can form better research questions now that I understand nihonga better than I did before. You can find more information on future workshops at Judith Kruger’s site. (You can also find her on this site dedicated to nihonga and on Facebook.)