Note for the TL;DR crowd: You can get a shorter summation of why I have started this project website over here.
In 2003 I participated in a Maymester study abroad program in Kyoto, Japan. The program was designed for fabric artists and ceramicists. But when I was accepted into the program I was allowed to do a small, self-directed study of mokuhanga – Japanese wood block printmaking – at Kyoto Seika University. In an afternoon the head of the printmaking department, Mr. Akira Kurosaki, walked me through the surprisingly complex process. When he was satisfied that I understood everything, I noticed plastic bottles and containers covered in cling wrap on the other side of the room. They looked like paint or another kind of water-based printing medium. Professor Kurosaki was an older gentleman who exuded an air of academic authority. He turned his head to see where I was pointing and said, “No. That’s for third year students. You will use gouache.”
And I did. I was able to execute one or two series of prints in the three weeks I had access to the studio. During my self-appointed breaks in the afternoon I walked around campus. I found myself returning several times to the nihonga department. The layout of the area was interesting because this building was completely separated from the Yōga – Western-style painting – classes. Exploring the nihonga studio space I saw large paintings on panels with elaborate cradleboards, students who heated binders on hot plates in the studio to make their own paint and an aviary for life drawing sessions.
Excited by what I saw I took careful notes during conversations with my Japanese peers on campus. I used this information as a shopping list and bought the constituents for nihonga paint making and brought them back home. As I write this, those materials are still sitting in a storage unit near my father’s house.
Surprisingly this project isn’t as easy to tinker with as I originally thought. My barriers to entry are the same as those you might encounter:
* Study abroad options are expensive and degree-granting institutions require a high level of Japanese language skill.
* Books – if you can find a seller who will ship overseas – they are very expensive and are peppered with technical jargon, artspeak and historical / cultural points in Japanese. This is great for a cultivating a deeper understanding of what you’re doing, but such texts are difficult for someone of low to medium skill in Japanese to scan for technical details and get to work within a reasonable amount of time.
* Materials can also be cost prohibitive. This is especially so if you are unaware of more local sources, and possible substitutions.
Late last year I had to pass on an opportunity to study at SCAD Atlanta as part of the MFA Painting program due to my concerns about the cost and loans. So in 2014 I am developing my own “program of study” and constructing a roadmap a more creative professional life. So far I have attended a business seminar for artists, a figure painting intensive and I have successfully applied for inclusion in the C4 Atlanta’s Fiscal Sponsorship. This is where I return to the study of creating nihonga paintings.
As you may have seen on my “About” page, I have laid out plans to study Japanese painting and to develop a methodology which would allow artists to plug in materials ranging from high-end traditional items to materials which can be more easily (and usually more cheaply) obtained near one’s home or easily ordered online. If you check back often you will be able to follow me on this journey. Please do!