Tag Archive | Japanese art


met light 3s

Shapes appear
reflected, freshly
into place
like the Fool’s card—zero played
openly, surprised.

met light 4s

I’ve been neglecting the Secret Keeper’s prompts the past few weeks for lack of time, not interest.    They are always like a puzzle for me, coming together in unexpected ways when I start to write.  The appearance of the Fool, after a few drafts of ideas, was definitely a surprise.  But serendipity is always part of the work I do.  The end is never where I thought I was going.

lunatic s

I took the photos of Japanese ceramics with the beautiful window light reflected on the glass display cases at the Metropolitan Museum last spring.  I was reminded of them by Marcy Erb’s post a few weeks back of a photo with reflected light on a Buddha, and I think they fit with this poem.

met light 2s

And I’ve resurrected a few Fools from past posts.  The Fool (Zero in the Tarot) represents for me a capacity to be surprised and delighted, to leave an empty space to be filled by life.  Wonder is everywhere; we just need make some room for it occasionally.

joker s


Turtle Netsuke

turtle octopus netsuke s

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.

turtle monkey netsuke s

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.

Netsuke #10: Kinko Sennin

kinko sennin s

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.

Netsuke #9: Tekkai Sennin

tekkai sennin s

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.

More Hannya Masks

hannya mask comp

You may recall that these masks are used in Noh theater to represent a woman betrayed by love, whose jealously has turned her into an angry demon.  But the best masks also include sorrow and torment, reflecting the complexity of human emotions.

You can see my other drawings of Hannya here.

Netsuke #7: Snakes


coiled snake netsuke  nib pen s

Coiled as
if lightning, as
if combining brightness
and death.  Revealing suddenly:

coiled snake netsuke  sharpie s

Cosmic bridge
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.

Netsuke Skeleton

ghost of the buddhist priest danka s

Thought I would start Halloween Week with The Ghost of the Buddhist Priest Danka as a Skeleton banging on his drum.  I couldn’t find out much information about the subject, but it seems to be one that is depicted in netsuke fairly frequently.  Perhaps keeping other ghosts at bay.

Ink and pencil.

#Inktober: More Netsuke (and more pens)

netsuke comp 2s

Three more netsuke done with 3 more different pens.  You can really see the differences when you put them side by side.

old woman with hannya mask s

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!

demonic mountain god s

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.

fox dressed as a nun s

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.

Netsuke #Inktober

netsuke comp 2s

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.

pigment liner pens s

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.

gama sennin s

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.

skoki s

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.

kasane s

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.

kappa s

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.

Netsuke of Masks

noh mask  humans

Teresa Robeson recently informed us that it’s #Inktober.  I’m not doing ink drawings every day, but I’ll scatter a few in as the month progresses.  This is a netsuke consisting of Noh masks.  Masks also seem appropriate for the month of October.

Ink with colored pencil on top.