Saturday, April 19, 2008

Turtle of the Day - Japanese Water Turtle

When I was living in Japan as an exchange student, I was able to convince my host family to let me study Japanese calligraphy. I soon learned that learning to write characters with a brush was as much an exercise in learning to "paint" as it was to think, and breathe, and be. Kneeling at a low table with my back straight, and the brush forming an extension of my arm, and my heart, I slowly and carefully learned the rudimentary basics of this art. My goal was to gift each family with a frameable piece they could keep. My teacher helped me along, and at my farewell party I was able to make such a presentation. Imagine my amazement when I returned to visit 4 years later and found that one family had theirs still hanging in the living room. To my more educated eyes at that point, it looked very rough and erratic, but they said it truly showed my effort and my heart, and that is why they kept it all these years.

Although I chose not to pursue the study further when I returned to Japan to teach, I always found a fascination in the paper, brushes, inks, and other accouterments of brush calligraphy, and bought some for myself, although they sit unused. According to my teacher, the tools which are essential to a brush painter are called "THE FOUR TREASURES". These are the Ink SUMI, Grinding Stone SUZURI, Brush FUDE and Paper KAMI.

The ink is not ink at all but consists of a formula of soot from burnt pine wood and lamp black combined with glue and camphor which is then molded into a stick. The ink stick is dipped in water and ground in a figure 8 or circular motion, always in the same direction, on the ink stone until it forms a creamy black ink. This takes about 25 minutes and is a time of contemplation. While preparing the ink, the artist focuses and prepares himself mentally to paint. The artist's mind should become tranquil, reflecting on the painting, the brush strokes to be used and the subject. (When I was a student we shortcut through this due to the short time frame of my lessons, and used bottled ink)

Other tools that are beautiful to look at include the paperweight to hold down the paper, and the water bottle to hold water to mix with the ink stone. This turtle is a water turtle - with a small hole to fill in it's shell, and a small spout in it's mouth. Little bits of water are poured onto the ink stone, and then the ink stick is dipped and ground. He is made of iron and very heavy, and lends a quiet air of contemplation to any session of calligraphy.


Deb (vtquilter) said...

I love reading your stories behind the turtles... I actually saw a turtle on tv yesterday and thought of you!

Pollyanna said...

I'm so not surprised that you are interested in Japanese calligraphy. You have a creative soul and this just seems like a good fit for you. Love the stories behind the turtles;) And how sweet to have someone love something you made so much to frame it and put it in their house.

Barb said...

Wow! I love hearing these wonderful pieces of your life. How fortunate you have been to be such a part of another culture. I can only dream of such things. Thanks Regina.

Moneik said...

Such an interesting thing to learn, even if only for a little bit. I'm sure you'll always remember that.