Oh hi there, world.
It’s been a while between posts lately. I’ve been a bit stuck, uninspired and dragging my feet through the mud of procrastination. I’ve also been stewing over a bunch of posts and been too much of a perfectionist to let any of them go out into the ether. But done is better than good, so here we go…

It’s just ticked over 5 months since I came back to Canberra after finishing up my Graduate studies in Japan. Returning to Australia, I was most worried about leaving behind a supportive art network that I had built up over more than 5 years. I also felt the pressure of continuing to make work (and because I’m a perfectionist, good work) when my teachers had taught me so much and told me they expect big things from me. (gah!)

But it’s all a process and I refuse to let all the things I have learnt, practiced and developed sit shriveling in the corner out of fear.

New work since coming back to Canberra, “Call of Crimson Rosellas” July 2015. 184cm wide. silk, katazome, yuzen.

Hacking “sacred” techniques.

Katazome and yuzen and many other Japanese-conceived ways of getting dye onto fabric (and making it stay there!) are complicated.

It’s not like Painting, where you could pick up rolled canvas and paints and brushes almost anywhere around the world and you’d be set to go. That makes me incredibly jealous. It makes artists like painters ideal for artists’ residencies or Studio rental because their materials are easy to procure anywhere and easy to move. (not to mention easy to market and the fact that they are a culturally understood format/genre – but that’s another kettle of fish)

Katazome and yuzen require tools and materials that just aren’t part of the culture outside of Japan. Rice bran, used for pickling vegetables in Japan, is not a supermarket staple in Australia. Bamboo, as used in making fabric stretching rods “shinshi“, is the jack of all trades in Japanese construction, gardening and even cuisine, but it’s often considered a pest plant in Australia. As for katagami stencil paper made from mulberry fibre paper, that has been painted with astrigent persimmon juice and then smoked for 10 days? YEAH RIGHT!

Beautiful Nuka (Rice-Bran) pickles – something I came to love but they are definitely not part of Australian culture and hence, neither is the crucial ingredient, Rice bran (image by Max Wheeler)

But using the lack of perfectly suited tools and materials as an excuse not to do anything is a mistake.

I’m figuring out how to “hack” these techniques in Australia, tool by tool and ingredient by ingredient. I’m finding out which ones are non-negotiable and which can actually be easily replaced with something else. Bye-bye toxic lacquer for applying mesh to stencils, hello Dulux wall paint! (yay, washes off in water!) Bye-bye giant, beautiful bamboo sifter and oversized rice paddle for making resist-paste, hello $2 shop sieve and a Kmart giant wooden spoon.

Using Dulux house paint to adhere mesh to the front of the stencils in the foreground. Thanks to hints from a process John Marshall in the U.S has pioneered.

Even just figuring out what the real ingredient in some of the Japanese-sold auxilliaries has been helpful. Turns out funori, a shrivelled up seaweed used as a thickener in Japan is just the same as Manutex, a product we use here in textile printing and as a food thickener. Or something simply known as “Fixer 10” in Japan is actually sodium silicate or “Maypro-gum” used in thickening dye in Japan is pretty much the same as Guar Gum – a.k.a the gluten-free baker’s favourite assistant.

So it’s do-able! It may not be very travel-friendly but certainly the sketching/designing stage can be portable. It may not be as elegant of a set-up or as Japan but hey, here’s a secret, even my very successful professor just washes stencils in a bath tub and had the old guy down the street rig up a board with nails in it and castors on the base to hold her dye brushes. Done is better than good, it would seem.

Sure, the setup is a little bit “sticky-tape and cardboard” but it works!

Dining table + sticky-tape + $1nailbrush = good enough

Even though Katazome and Yuzen are traditional techniques, they are not sacred. Culture is not static, and traditions grow and change with it.

So I can’t use the lack of materials or tools as an excuse anymore. I have new ideas, some people interested in commissioned pieces, and the means to make them.

Consider this my jump back into regular posts. Less perfectionism, more output coming your way!