Gold and Silver Foil Painting with Mikako Suzuki

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Gold and silver foiling painting is a very special traditional Japanese art form. One of the masters in foil painting is Mikako Suzuki. A graduate of Aichi University of Arts, Ms Suzuki has been practicing foil painting in her studio in Nagoya for almost of a decade. I was very fortunate again to learn the technique from her during my visit to Aichi University of Arts in the summer of 2016.

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Detail of Mikako Suzuki’s gold foil painting

Before I arrived at Aichi, I designed a set of abstract and generative diagrams for the making foil prints on hand-made Washi paper. The first step of gold and silver foil painting was to use silk printing technique to print a very thin layer of Nori, or Japanese paper glue, to the Washi paper. A small amount of yellow oil paint was added to the Nori so that the original pattern would be visible after silk screen printing. The next step involved transferring a foil sheet and layering it on top of the silk screen printed sheet, a process turned out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined.

A pack of silver foil of 50 pieces usually costs over $100. Comparing to silver foils, gold foils are a lot more expensive and precious, often costing twice as much. Separating a single piece of foil sheet and picking it up without breaking or tearing it required very special tools and very soft and steady hands. Ms Suzuki uses sets of bamboo tweezers. She first burnished one of the corners of foil stack to separate sheets of the foil and then picked a single sheet up using the bamboo tweezers. She then moved gracefully and laid the foil on the top of the silk screen printed patterns. Since this process needed to be accomplished before the Nori dried, Ms Suzuki, Professor Shibazaki and I had to work simultaneously together. As we worked on the foiling, several of Shibazaki’s assistants were working on the silk screening simultaneously. Since the foil was so delicate and could break easily, I learned never to directly touch the foil using my hands. I learned to blow on the foil slightly so that the foil would stick with the Nori glue patterns.

The next day we were ready to brush off the part of the foil that were not glued to the Nori pattern. By doing this, the initial patterns with the design were revealed as the foil painting. We then pieced together hundreds of the foil painted Washi to make large tapestries to be shown at Ozu Washi gallery in Tokyo.

 

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