Saturday, November 23, 2013

熱心がある間に On running with the stroke of inspiration

It's been coming to my attention more and more recently that making good work is all about running when the inspiration hits.

There are enforced arbitrary deadlines set by my professors where I have to come up with new work and often I really struggle to get a new work done in time. Sometimes it just doesn't flow and I struggle with the design stage for weeks before even starting in dyeing. Sometimes you just have no creative juice whatsoever and making new work becomes a real task.

Which is why it's so awesome when inspiration strikes and you suddenly know exactly what you want to try and make and you're actually excited about it. I've found these moments often come when I'm already in the middle of working on something else, so it's easy to just think, oh well I'll write that awesome exciting idea down and save it for the next work; for when I'm done with this. But you know, I have a notebook full of those saved-for-later ideas. 

What if you just act on them as they come? Sure, it might mean you are doing multiple things at once and sure, it might mean you don't sleep properly for a weeks and sure, you might not get all that plan done BUT! I think if you don't act on that idea and start making or start doing some preparations on it, the moment is lost, the freshness of the idea is gone and most likely you'll never come back to it. 

So what spurred all this was a recent body of work: a set of hand cut decorative stencils. I was in the middle of making work for our recent exhibition (which I'll write about soon!) and had this idea to make a set of katagami stencils that depict various endangered and vulnerable parrot species. I was inspired by old Ise stencils and I wanted to use katagami (persimmon juice strengthened stencil paper made from washi- how's that for long winded?!) in a way that Japanese people wouldn't; to do something surprising. And I had a great idea for it. 
この話を考えさせたのがとくにこの型紙シリーズです。展覧会へ向けて(もうすぐその写真などもアップロードします!) 他の作品を染める最中で、絶滅危惧種のインコを描写している装飾的な型紙も彫りたかったんです。日本人が思いつかない風に型紙を生かしたかったですね。
Some inspiration. Very delicately carved katagami stencil depicting an abacus and documents. 伊勢型紙からインスピレーション
Another inspiration image. This stencil uses the very fine metal punches to get these effects with dots. 細かい点々を使った型紙からインスピレーションを受けました。
I had the idea, I had most of the materials, I had the skills and tools, 
I just had very little time. A week to be exact. It was a fight or flight moment: Do I preserve my sanity and just take it easy for a week leading up to this exhibition and display what I have already made? Or do I run, and work right up to the last minute to create this work I'm excited about and exhibit it with all my other work? I decided to run.
ideas!!! at my desk at school 大学の机で。アイディアいっぱい!
Here's some images of the work installed. I called them 'Red Listed' as these 5 birds are all on the IUCN "Red List" of threatened species worldwide. I wanted to depict the birds as if they were fading out or being hidden. I tried various ways of showing this.完成した作品の写真です。「red listed - 消えてゆく」というタイトルをつけました。それは、この型紙の五種類のインコは前に説明したIUCN Red Listに書いてあるインコです。鳥が無くなっている・隠されているように描写しようとしました。
Paradise Parrot (Psephotus Pulcherrimus) 
Swift Parrot (Lathamus Discolour) オトメインコ
Orange-bellied Parrots (Neophema Chrysogaster) アカハラワカバインコ
detail of Orange-bellied Parrots stencil アカハラワカバインコの学名
Bit hard to see but this one is a Superb Parrot (Polytelis Swainsonii) ミカヅキインコ
Golden Shouldered Parrot (Psephotus Chrysopterygius) キビタイヒスイインコ
I had wanted to make 8. Then resigned myself to the fact that I only had time for 6. Then ran out of time and made 5. But I think the point is that I acted on that idea.

In making these, I was able to try out some new techniques, in particular using these tiny sharp circular stamps and to challenge myself on just how detailed I could cut. These are things that will help me in making new work. I also tried a different way of displaying them by having them up on windows in the gallery space so that they were backlit. This way you could see the intricate detail and it also brought out the warm brown colour of this traditional stencil paper.These days you can get a paler more plastic-y stencil paper that is less prone to shrinkage and more water resistant but this katagami stencil paper is the real deal that has been used for hundreds of years and it really has a different feel all together.

practicing using tiny punches on modern (less expensive) stencil paper.
I actually cut three layers at once, one of the traditional katagami for display, one of coloured paper as a decorative paper cut and another from modern plastic-like katagami for using to dye textiles with. Here you can see the design in ink on rice paper stuck to the stencil paper and cuttting through the whole lot. 同時に三枚も彫りましたー渋紙、洋型紙、色紙。墨で薄い和紙にデザインを描いて型紙に貼ってから全部彫っていく。
cutting three stencils at once and here peeling them delicately apart 一緒に彫った三枚を丁寧に引き離している。
detail of paradise parrot stencil with little house motifs 小さい家のモチーフを入れたゴクラクインコの型紙。
Since I made them just in time to exhibit, I was also able to receive feedback from my teachers and from the public about them. I got some good reactions and I think I even impressed the one hard-to-crack traditionalist professor who's always telling me I'm copying too much and need to find my own style.

Stencils as installed on the windows in our exhibition at Rissei Former Elementary school in Kyoto. 今間京都にある元の小学校「立誠小学校」の教室に型紙をこういうふうに展示しました。
stencils on the windows with the afternoon sun coming in 窓に貼って、陽射しが入ってくると暖かい感じですね。
It was nice that there was a small gardern just outside the windows so you could see real leaves through the leaf sections of the stencils too. 型紙の葉っぱの部分に、そとの実際の植物が見えて面白かった。

I've since caught up on the lost sleep and cleaned up the tornado that swept through my apartment in the week of non-housework and I want to encourage people who are making and creating to give in to the challenge and make what you want when the fancy takes you.


  1. Melinda, that is so inspiring, beautiful and impressive! I am curious; if the Japanese wouldn't normally choose to use shibugami for a project such as this (or did you mean for a subject such as this), would they instead use the plastic type stencil paper? I look forward to seeing the resulting pieces!

    1. Hi Kit,
      Thank you!
      What I meant was that, at least in the case of the students and artists I see around me, they are always using 'modern day' katagami, which has that sort of plasticy finish and comes in single sheets or in a roll up to 110cm wide. The traditional shibugami that has a matte finish and retains the smell of the persimmon juice, is quite expensive in comparison and only comes in small sheets (90x50cm or so).
      They use the modern version because it is cheaper, a bit easier to work with and allows big works all on the one stencil.
      But that paper is sort of light brown or a yellow colour and doesn't have the same effect of warmth when backlit. Since I was only making small stencils this time I thought I'd splurge on the more expensive but more beautiful shibugami. I have to say it really is nice!

  2. Beautiful idea: a stencil pigeon. Airy and aeriform. Good for summer!