We just finished our summer break at Kyoto Seika University. During the break, various departments run short courses as part of the “Summer School” program open to the public offering things like printmaking, papermaking and ceramics. This year was my last chance to participate so I signed up for the 5 day course in Nihonga – Japanese style painting. It turned out to be great fun, and the longest I’ve EVER spent observing broccoli.
先週、京都精華大学の夏休みはやっと終わりました。夏の間に精華で「サマースクール」が開催され、ロクロ体験、木版画体験とかの短期コースが提供されています。今年は最後の京都の夏なので、五日間の日本画講座に参加することにしました。とてもいい経験でした。しかも、ブロッコリーを眺めるにはこんな長い時間を掛けるのは人生初めてだったと思います。

Kyoto Seika’s 2014 Summer School courses.

A good friend finished her Master’s degree in Nihonga last year so I had the chance to peek inside the Japanese Painting studios at Seika and see some of the materials and processes they use. She also came to see me working in Textiles and it struck us both how many similarities there were between Nihonga and Senshoku (textile dyeing). I’ve also read a little about Japanese Painting and the movement of Kacho-ga (“The Art of Birds-and-Flowers”) so I had been keen to try out working with the mineral pigments for myself.
去年、日本画の大学院から卒業した友達がいます。彼女の作業スペースへお邪魔しに行って、日本画の素材ややり方をちょっとだけ見えました。テキスタイルの院部屋へ遊びに来た彼女も、日本画と染色には共通点が多いと気づきました。前に日本画やその中の「花鳥画」に興味を持って少し研究したので、今回、岩絵の具を実際に使って見るのを楽しみにしていました。

When I say “Japanese-style painting”, I don’t mean paintings of Mt Fuji or Geisha or ink-work scrolls or gold-leafed panels, or kneeling in kimono to paint (although all of these may be part of it!),

it’s a term that has come to refer broadly to the traditional Japanese way of painting with mineral and powdered pigments, animal-based glue, gold leaf, Japanese paper, silk, and more.

Just a small selection of the Nihonga pigments we were let loose with.

The name Nihonga just means Japan (Nihon) Paintings (ga). Speaking with Murabayashi Sensei who led the course, he explained how the term Nihonga never existed before the Meiji Period. It came into usage as a way to differentiate it from the new, introduced form of Western Oil Painting/Youga, abura-e. Prior to that, Nihonga was defined more by the movements and schools of painting, such as Rimpa, Kano or Tosa.
日本画っていう言葉は、明治時代に輸入された油絵・洋画と区別できるように使われて来ました。その前に「日本画」というジャンルではなく、何々派(狩野派、琳派など)というふうに呼ばれました。

Nihonga is still taught in Universities and it tends to be categorised as this very traditional, nature-worshipping, almost spiritual study. Just see the English description of the course at Kyoto Seika here to see what I mean! I first saw Nihonga paintings in 2008 when I was an exchange student at Kyoto Seika University. My first reaction was that they appeared so pale and chalky. As someone who was scarred by my primary school teachers telling me “It’s too pale! Use darker colours!!”, I was inclined to think that a sign of poor workmanship. See below some examples of the kinds of paintings I first saw.
日本画は大学で学べます。自然、伝統、精神を重視しているコースというイメージが強い気がします。初めて日本画の作品を見たのが交換留学生の時でした。小学校で美術先生によく「薄すぎ!もっと濃い色を使ってごらん」と言われた私には、色が薄い日本画が分かりにくかったです。その時下のような絵を見ました。

Works from the Kyoto Seika Japanese Painting department

But I think that judgement was due to the fact that I didn’t know what I was looking at (and also, they were works by 2nd year uni students..so, you know).
Now that I’ve experienced the layering of pigments and texture that comes from these, I have a better appreciation for the texture and colour quality of these paintings. Let’s have a look at the process we went through in the short course.
でも、その時は日本画のこと全然知らなかったし、学際の展示だったから1、2年生の作品はずでした(1,2年生に失礼かもしれないですが)。5日間はとても短いけれども、日本画の色合いや砂のような感触をちょっとでもわかるようになった気がします。さて、講座で習った工程を見てみましょう。

Our main focus in the 5 days was to get a feel for using powdered pigments so the subject matter was not of such great importance. Thus, we were to choose from an array of vegetables and spend a day sketching out our composition. I chose a big head of broccoli and a red onion. 
講座の目標は日本画に独特な岩絵の具を体験することだったから簡単な主題として野菜を描かせました。私は丸くて面白いブロッコリーと綺麗な紫のレッドオニオンを選びました。
After sketching our vegetables, we proceeded to paint the colours of our vegetables onto the sketch with watercolours. I was a bit confused as to why we would paint the image in one medium, only to trace it onto another surface and paint it again…but I went along with it.
野菜を丁寧にデッサンしてから、水彩絵の具で色を塗りました。岩絵の具を描いていく野菜を一回水彩絵の具で描くというやり方はちょっと面倒くさいと思っていたが、岩絵の具を選ぶ時に参考に水彩スケッチが参考になりました。

Clockwise from top left: My broccoli and red onion, sketching, watercolour on sketch, and tracing the watercolour. 上左より、主題のブロッコリーとレッドオニオン、デッサン、水彩スケッチ、それをトレース紙に写した後。

So once we had our colours down in watercolour, we traced the design onto a gold edged paper panel. Because the panels had flecks of gold and were a bit shiny, we applied a base coat of go-fun (white chalk powder) to the areas where we would paint our vegetables. After that dried, it was finally down to the fun part of applying colour!
彩色してから金箔っぽいのパネルに移しました。パネルがつるつるだったから、一回胡粉(白い粉)を野菜のところだけに塗りました。それでやっと絵の具の楽しい段階へ行きました。

Gold panel with a base coat of go-fun chalk painted on. 胡粉を野菜のところに塗った後

Murabayashi Sensei brought in a huge array of Nihonga pigments for us to look at and have a go with. He showed us this amazing tray of bits and pieces of minerals and creatures that are the very base form of the most expensive tennnen iwaenogu Natural Pigments.
先生が色々な岩絵の具を見せてくれました。その中、こういうめちゃくちゃ高い天然磐絵の具の素材の鉱物もありました。綺麗でしょう!

they just LOOK expensive don’t they? lapis lazuli, malachite, cinnabar… 貴重な天然岩絵の具の素材:朱、孔雀石、ラピスラズリ...

These materials are mechanically washed, filtered and ground to various particle sizes, used to obtain different effects. The larger the number (11-13 etc) the finer the particles, and the lighter the colour. Coarser particles like 5 or 6 produce a darker colour. This effect was strikingly obvious with the box of shinsha : natural cinnabar (isn’t this stuff toxic?!) . The deepest colour is a crimson and the lighter shades appear closer to orange.
この鉱物は機械で細かく砕いて、色んな細かさの粒子に分級されます。5番から13番で粒子の細かさを表示します。低い番号(5,6番)は粗くて色が濃い、高い番号の11,13番は細かくて色が薄いです。辰砂の天然岩絵の具を見たら、同じ素材なのに色調が異なるだとすぐに分かります。

Cinnabar Mineral pigments. Coarser and darker on left ranging to finer and paler at right, all from the same base mineral material. These could set you back $20 per 15grams. 辰砂の岩絵の具。細かい粒子(11-13番)はオレンジ色なのに、同じ素材が大きい粒子(6番とか)だと濃いピンクになります。

To actually apply the powdered pigments to your painting surface, they are mixed by hand with an extracted animal collagen called nikawa. This mostly clear liquid is a little thick (depending on individual preference) and it’s got a bit of an animal smell, though not overwhelming. Using your finger you work the powder into a smooth liquid with an appropriate amount of nikawa.
岩絵の具を塗るために、指で「膠」を使って溶けます。膠がちょっと動物の匂いがするけど、慣れてきたら気にならないです。

getting into it, mixing pigments with “nikawa” 膠で溶けた新岩絵の具

The next step down from the Natural mineral pigments is Man-made mineral pigments. That is, mineral bases that have been chemically altered to give a broader range of colours than are naturally occuring. Apparently these only really took off after Western Oil Painting became more prevalent in Japan because artists working in Nihonga wanted a broader range of colours to rival the strong and colourful expressions of Oil Painting. These offer a really beautiful range of colours. They are cheaper than the all-natural pigments and they have awesome names too! “Back-of-leaf Green”, “Red-bean”, “Japanese Nightingale”…
次の種類は「人造岩絵の具」。つまり、鉱物などを化学的に変化させたものです。色は天然岩絵の具より多彩です。先生の話によると、明治時代に油絵が日本へ入って来たとき、日本画家は油絵の色や強さに印象を受けました。それで、同じような強さを表現したかったから色数を増やして欲しかったらしいです。色が並んでいるとすごい綺麗ですね!色名も面白かったです。「鶯」、「あづき」、「裏葉緑青」というような名前を読んだら、どういう色かはすぐに頭に浮かびますね。

So-called Manufactured Mineral Pigments. AMAZING colours. And all with great names too. 新岩絵の具。素晴らしい色だけじゃなくて、色名も面白い!

And next down the rungs in the nihonga pigment hierachy are the ones we were actually allowed to go nuts with, suihi enogu. These are what beginners usually start with and are also used for underpainting (shitanuri). Some of these were quite beautiful and others were just…argh! They reminded me of some of the really acrid chemical dye colours in textiles, especially the horrible yellows and pinks. Which makes sense because the cheap nasty ones like these are just go-fun chalk white that has been chemically DYED!  Apparently students are advised not to use these because they tend to bleed and stain if used in the underpainting!
次に来るのは水干絵の具です。講座で下塗りにこれを使いました。綺麗な色多かったけれども、下のような生っぽいの色もありました。安い染料のような色だと思ったら、化学染料で染められた胡粉らしいです!やっぱり。下塗りにこの水干絵の具を使うと表まで滲んで来るから使わなように学生に教えっているそうです。

EEEW! Nasty Chemical-looking suihi enogu dyed pigments. 生っぽい水干絵の具...
slowly adding layers of suihi enogu  
copying colours from the watercolours we had painted. 水干絵の具を塗っていく途中。水彩スケッチは役に立ちました。
下塗りが完成。base layers of suihi enogu complete

Once we had painted the vegetables in with the basic suihi-enogu we moved on to adding layers of the iwaenogu, with their coarser particles to add brilliant full colour and highlights. The iwaenogu layers remain see-through and the base colours show through. Of course, there are many ways to use the various pigments of nihonga and this is just the order we were taught over the 5 days.
水干絵の具で下塗りを完成したら、上に光に綺麗に発色する岩絵の具を塗りました。何回も塗って、粒子の粗いものも塗りながら完成に近付きました。

very coarse iwaenogu applied to my red onion in the final stages. 最後に塗った粗い岩絵の具。

完成したオニオンのクロースアップdetail of the onion with coarse iwaenogu in areas

Broccoli details. I was SO OVER BROCCOLI by this point! ブロッコリーのディテール。五日間目になったらもうブロッコリーを見たくないになった!

I was interested in the way Murabayashi Sensei was guiding us to use colour and describe form. He told us that it was probably hard for us to stop trying to add highlights and shadows but that in nihonga, its all about describing the weight of the object; it’s fullness and presence. This is also acheived by leaving the background empty. Well, empty space in nihonga is not thought of as empty but as endless imagined space. We were also encouraged to use not only the colours we could see but colours that we wanted the viewer to feel.
先生の色や野菜の形についての説明も面白かったです。日本画では、物の説明より、重さや空間の方が大事だと説明されました。空間の使い方、色の濃さで存在感を描写する作業になります。それと、見える色を使うだけじゃなくて、「感じたい色」も入れたらいいと言われました。水彩絵の具が一番馴染がある私にはこういうのが難しかったですが、それこそいい経験でした。

“Broccoli & Red Onion” Melinda Heal 2014, haha. 完成!
In closing, I was talking to my friend about how nihonga is starting to be less popular in Japan or is tending towards Pop-art/manga. Then I realised that there is this long history of things that Japan adopted voraciously to the detriment of what was perfectly adequate before that. For example, chemical dyes almost completely replaced natural dyes, suits and western dress overtook kimono, vinyl floors are replacing tatami etc etc. And yet it is these original things about Japan that the world is so intrigued by and in love with. If nihonga gets swept aside too that’s a real tragedy for Japanese art and culture.