child of the river
I will bow to you, turning
the trick backwards, breath
of knowing healing spirit
spilling water into air
Continuing the turtle theme, I’ve drawn another Kappa netsuke. I still think Kappa was an inspiration for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though I can find no evidence online to back this up. A river deity and trickster who tried to lure people and animals into water, he could himself be tricked into helping humans because of his obsession with politeness. You can read more about Kappa in this post.
And see all my netsuke posts here.
You may notice that the turtle doesn’t look too happy here…that’s because Octopus, the attending physician of the Dragon King, sent him to steal a liver from a monkey, and he did not succeed. In some stories the liver is supposed to cure the king, and in some the queen, but in all the monkey is able to fool the turtle and escape.
At least I think that’s what’s behind these netsuke. There are many netsuke that feature other creatures on a turtle’s back. It could just be that the tortoise is a symbol of good luck and longevity in Japan, and the other animal and its attributes are along for the ride.
More turtles to come.
And don’t forget Draw-A-Bird Day is tomorrow, March 8.
The last netsuke I drew was Tekkai Sennin, one of the Eight Immortal Gods. Kinko Sennin is also an immortal being, a magical hermit of the mountains, but of a lesser rank. He is quite often represented in netsuke though.
An artist who specialty was painting fish, Kinko Sennin would neither kill nor eat them. As a result he was given a giant carp to ride, and invited to visit the Dragon King of the Sea. On the way back, Kannon, the goddess of mercy, gave him a scroll illustrating the Buddhist principle of protecting the lives of all living things. In netsuke he is both shown riding his carp, as above, or receiving the scroll.
Carp, known more poetically as koi, are symbols of luck, prosperity, and good fortune.
More of my netsuke drawings here.
One of the Eight Immortal Gods, Tekkai Sennin is often shown as a cripple, exhaling his anima and carrying a walking stick. His soul had gone traveling one day, leaving his body behind. Passers-by thought the body was dead, and cremated and buried it. When Tekkai Sennin returned, he was forced to take another body; the only one available was that of a lame beggar. Gods: they’re just like us!
I’m not totally sure this is the 9th netsuke post, but close enough. The rest (at least the ones that show up when I search for netsuke) can be seen here.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
This Sleeping Shojo was drawn with a Sheaffer Viewpoint calligraphy fountain pen with a 1.0 nib. Good for a loose and bold drawing I think.
Shojos are sea spirits with a red face and hair, who often wear skirts made of green seaweed. They love to brew and drink sake. If a good person drinks this sake, it will be delicious and healing; but if a bad person drinks it, it will be poison and kill them unless they repent at once. It seems Santa is not the only one keeping track of your naughty or niceness!
The fox mask netsuke was drawn, in contrast, with a .3 nib. Here the details are easy to produce, but solid darks not so much.
You many remember that Kitsune the fox is a shape-shifting troublemaker that likes to disguise himself as a nun. This mask definitely seems to take the frightening side of Kitsune seriously.
With my quill pen I drew Oni Nenbutsu, a demon in the guise of a Buddhist monk. These Onis have horns and fangs, and often wear tiger skins as they wander the country banging the gong on their chest and begging for money. My advice: be generous.
Another Oni, done with brush and ink.
You can see my other netsuke drawings here.
if lightning, as
if combining brightness
and death. Revealing suddenly:
connecting regenerating transforming
healing poison hollow
Jane Dougherty‘s poetry challenge this week was to write a cinquain, a five line poem. It can take many forms, like the snake. I did one with 2-4-6-8-2 syllables and one that was descriptive.
Snakes as pure symbols of evil are a Christian invention. Most cultures, including the Japanese, see snakes as creatures of duality, containing aspects of both good and evil. Magical emissaries of the gods, they travel between the worlds of water and fire. Fertility, death, luck, misfortune–opposition finds integration in the spirit of the snake.
And continuing my exploration of different ink drawing implements: the top drawing was done with a nib pen I found in a box of miscellaneous pens and pencils. It’s my favorite nib yet–a Hunt extra fine 512, evidently intended for calligraphy. I’m going to purchase more of these. The second snake was drawn with an Ultra Fine Point Sharpie. Also good for drawing, although it bleeds through the paper much more than anything else I’ve tried.
You can see my other netsuke drawings here.
Three more netsuke done with 3 more different pens. You can really see the differences when you put them side by side.
The center figure, which shows an old woman holding a hannya mask behind her back, was done with a Pentel RSVP fine pen. It was really easy to draw with, but obviously does not produce darks well. Great flow though. You may recall that hannya is the ghost of a jealous woman. Perhaps this woman wanted to scare someone, although she looks a bit scary even without the mask!
The figure on the left was labeled “Mountain God with a Demonic Aspect”, although I could find no further information about him. He, too, does not look like the pleasantest character. I used a Uniball Gel Impact 1.0, which as you can see, produced very good darks. It was hard to get subtlety with it though. I also got tired of all the detail in this netsuke, which is why the bottom is unfinished.
My favorite of this group is the fox dressed as a nun. There are many aspects of Kitsune, the fox of Japanese mythology, one of which is magical transformation. Supposedly after a fox reaches the age of 100 it can take the shape of a human, although they still seem to retain a fox-shaped shadow. Kitsune like to appear as women, to trick, scare, and seduce men. But they also like to take the form of a nun, and as such are often the subject of netsuke. Would you be fooled by this disguise? Seriously.
This was drawn using a Zebra Sarasa Clip 1.0, a Japanese pen recommended by my daughter. It does produce an expressive line.
You can see the rest of my Japanese netsuke and masks here.
Over the years I’ve acquired lots of different inking implements for different purposes, and I’ve also bought a few recently just to draw with. I decided to make a comparison by drawing a netsuke with each one to see what I really liked the best for drawing.
These four were done with Staedtler pigment liners; I bought a set I saw at Staples when I was shopping for printer toner (a reason I stay out of art stores…) and I really like them for drawing.
They range in size from .1 to .7, and the difference is most noticeable when you compare the finest to the thickest. Gama-Sennin, above was drawn with .1. You can get really delicate lines, but no darks. I’ve drawn Gama-Sennin before; he’s the immortal mountain god that can change himself into a toad.
With the thickest pen I drew Skoki, the Demon Queller. A physician who was rejected because he was so ugly (in one legend, anyway), he committed suicide but was honored in death by a remorseful emperor. His spirit then vowed to protect the ruler and his heirs. Depicted in netsuke as a large ugly man who wears a hat with a broad brim, his image is thought to protect against evil and illness and expel demons. This pen provides great darks, but not fine lines.
My favorite, and the one I’ve evidently used the most since it’s starting to run out of ink, is the .5 width. I drew the “Ghost of the Murdered Kasane”, who is a character in a kabuki play. She is one of many vengeful female spirits, caught between life and death.
The .3 pen also gives a good range of line and depth. I drew Kappa, a water deity, who is a trickster but also quite frightening, as he kidnaps and eats children. But he also likes cucumbers, and they are thrown into water in an attempt to appease him. He has webbed hands and feet, a beak, and a turtle shell, and reminds me in some netsukes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If you meet one, bow: he will bow back, and the magic water that gives him his power on the top of his head will spill out, allowing time to escape.
I guess a future project should be one drawing using all 4 pens. Put it on the list. And more samples from my collection of inking implements to come.