Surihaku and Washi Workshop at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center

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Mikado Suzuki demonstrated Surihaku techniques at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington, Indiana.

Japanese artist Mikako Suzuki led an engaging hands-on workshop to 14 participants, including IUB art students and Bloomington community artists, at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington, Indiana, on Friday, September 1st from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. The workshop was translated by Rowland Ricketts, who is a professor in Textile at IU School of Art, Architecture + Design, and who has spent years studying Japnese indigo techniques in Japan.

Surihaku is a Japanese art of gold foil painting. Eacho of the participants learned to create stencil designs and transfer the design to three Washi paper postcards using gold foils. The Washi paper postcards were made in Japan in Professor Shibazaki’s papermaking lab at Aichi University of Arts. Professor Shibazaki also gave a talk on Washi paper during the second part of the workshop. The participants learned about the difference in the fibers that are used to make different types of Washi, Gampi, Mitsumata, and Kozo.

The video below shows Mikako demonstrating how to apply the Nori, a type of Japanese adhesive to the stencil.

 

The video below shows Mikako demonstrating how to apply the gold foil to the stencil.

 

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.

 

Paper Making at Aichi University of Arts, Nagoya, Japan

I had a very special and fruitful paper making workshop with Professor Koji Shibazaki at his research lab (labo.z-mz.com) at Aichi University of Arts in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, Japan this summer. Professor Shibazaki’ researches and creative activities are centered on the traditional Japanese Washi paper, a type of paper that is hand made from the barks of various mulberry pants, such as Kozo, Gampi and Mitsumata. He has been giving workshops and lectures on traditional Washi paper making and exhibiting his amazing lighted art pieces that are made out of hand-made Washi paper in Germany and France.

I arrived at Aichi University of Arts in mid-July and the temperature during the day had been in the mid 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Though it was not the ideal temperature for making traditional Washi, Professor Shibazaki and his students had managed to conduct a very successful paper making workshop. We made a variety of paper from outer barks of Mitsumata, a mixture of outer barks of Mitsumata and inner barks of Kozo, and from fine inner barks of Kozo, using several different techniques Professor Shibazaki demonstrated. The papers that were made from outer barks of Mitsumata and the mixture of Mitsumata and Kozo were used to create three large tapestries that were finished with gold and silver foil printings and were later exhibited at Ozu Washi Gallery in Tokyo.

Though I have learned about paper making by reading and watching videos before this workshop, I had no idea how time consuming the entire process took, from the preparation to the actual paper making. However, after this experience, I realize that how important it is for an artist/designer to start at the material level. Working with the material directly opens new opportunities for me to discover novel ways and new processes to design, a topic I hope to focus in the near future.

To speed up the process, Professor Shibazaki and his assistants had prepared different batches of the raw material before I arrived in Nagoya as this part of the process typically took about two to three days. To prepare for Kozo paper making, about 1.5 kg of raw material Kozo and 300 g of soda ash, another name for Sodium Carbonate, were combined and soaked in a large water pot for one day (it would have required two days of soaking during the winter months). These Kozo fibers were then boiled for about three hours and were left to soak in the water pot overnight.

When I arrived in the lab, we started the process by washing the Kozo fibers to get rid of yellow and brown coloration and other impurities.  The results were the soft, long and strong Kozo fibers with beautiful off-white color. I could hardly believe that these raw fibers were able to be turned into beautiful translucent sheets of paper at the end of the process.

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Washing Kozo fiber (Photo Courtesy: Sachiko Shibazaki)

After washing, I learned the most labor consuming process of breaking down the fibers by hand using large wooden mallets that were made by Professor Shibazaki himself. According to Professor Shibazaki, this labor consuming hand process couldn’t be simply replaced by machines as the hand techniques would produce finer and stronger fibers than the machines. Several of us took turns pounding and smashing the fibers for a few hours using two different mallets.

Preparing Kozo fibers ( (Photo Courtesy: Sachiko Shibazaki)
Preparing Washi fibers (Photo Courtesy: Sachiko Shibazaki)

After we prepared the Washi fibers we then worked on preparation of “Neri” by crushing “Tororo Aoi” and then by beating and mixing it with water. We put the “Tororo Aoi” in a cloth bag and squeezed it to remove sticky liquid that was then used in the paper making. This sticky and gooey liquid was the true secret behind all papermaking. It was hydrophilic with a negative electro-chemical charge, helping to suspend the paper fiber evenly in the water and produce strong molecular bonds between the fiber, water and “Neri”. Besides obtaining “Neri” from “Tororo Aoi,” Professor Shibazahi also used ready-made powders he purchased from handmade paper shops to simplify this process. The “Neri” was then added to a large water vat, also called “Sukifune,” with a mixture that was made of about 400 grams of Washi fiber and 200 liters of cold water. Before the “Neri” was added, the mixture had to be stirred skillfully so that the fibers could be separated evenly.

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Preparing “Neri” ( (Photo Courtesy: Sachiko Shibazaki))

The last step in the preparation of paper making before actual paper making was to prepare “Shito,” or the plate to put web paper. Professor Shibazaki used simple alignment methods to make sure that the set up would allow each wet paper sheet to be aligned and separated properly. In one instance, he used thin gauges to separate the paper in a grid, and in another instance he used nylon threads to keep each of the wet sheets of paper separated.

After all these preparation, we finally started making paper. The goal here was to keep the paper fiber to spread evenly and smoothly on “Su”, or the bamboo blind that used by Japanese traditional paper makers. The “Su” were in various of dimensions, depending on the sizes of the paper one was making. There were only a very few handmade paper artisans who could produce high quality “Su” these days and the one that Professor Shibazhaki used in the workshop could cost up to $2000 and would allow us to produce two pieces of A2 paper simultaneously. Using “Su” to make paper was a very artistic, rhythmic and beautiful process. I was told that I must listen to the sound of the water movements. Smooth water movements would produce beautiful and smooth paper. After about twenty tries, I felt that I was finally able to adjust the forward-back and left-right movements of “Su” and hear various sounds of the water splashing and flowing. And I knew I was far from being a paper making expert.

Wabi Sabi in Japanese Art and Paper Making

Wabi Sabi is a concept of Japanese aesthetics that is expressed through the integrity of hand-made process and nature. Wabi Sabi aesthetic is characterized by imperfection, incompleteness and ever-changing. Through collaborating with many Japanese artists at the International Art Festival in Toyota Civic Center of Aichi prefecture, I became more fascinated with Wabi Sabi aesthetic in Japanese art and design.

Well-known artist Satoru Kato, a practitioner of Ikebana, uses natural materials such as straws, stones, wooden sticks, flowers, etc. to create the mesmerizing and impermanent installation. He described his work as “making spaces” by “sacrificing the lives of plants to give new life to the surroundings.” At the exhibition,  Mr. Kato created a large wall installation using dry straws and dyed sponges in about 6 hours.

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Satoru Kato working on his large installation at International Art Festival at Toyota Civic Center

Artists Hisashi Kano and Tomomi Kano created an ephemeral display of whispering dresses using Washi paper/fabric that was hand-made. They used one of the most traditional techniques that were passed down in the family at their studio in Obara. Mr. Kano said that they intended to create a new textile for clothing that was effortless, nonrestrictive and free. They used three different types of fiber, including Kozo fiber, to make the paper that is soft and super strong. Hisashi Kano’s father, Toshiharu Kano is a very well-known artist who has exhibited around the world. I was very fortunate to visit Toshiharu Kano and his family at their home studio. Toshiharu’s teacher is Fujii Tatsukichi, one of the most prominent figure in the contemporary arts and crafts in Japan.

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Artists Hisashi Kano and Tomomi Kano’s installation at International Art Festival at Toyota Civic Center
Mr. Kano holding up a bundle of Hibiscus root that has been soaked in water at his home studio
Mr. Kano held up a bundle of Hibiscus roots that had been soaked in water for a year at his family studio
Mrs. Kano holding up sheets of Washi paper that are hand made at the family studio.
Mrs. Kano displayed sheets of Washi paper that were handmade at the family studio
Details of hand-made Washi paper, The texture was created by spraying the water on the wet paper during paper making
Details of hand-made Washi paper. The texture was created by sprinkling the water on the wet paper during papermaking process

Artist and professor Koji Shibazaki and his student Suzuki Mikako created a serene lighted spatial installation. Professor Shibazaki teaches art and design at Aichi Prefecture University of Fine Arts and Music, a state-funded public university in Aichi. Professor Shibazaki’s lighted work is also made of Washi paper, some of them were hand-made in his studio. He intends to “rekindle the aesthetic sense” found in traditional Japanese houses with fusuma and shoji. Professor Shibazaki’s said that Escher inspired the patterns and illusions found in his lighted work. Suzuki Mikako used silkscreen method to create her intricate mural pieces. The simple geometric forms are silkscreened onto hand-made Washi paper in either gold and silver, creating an exciting shimmering under Shibazaki lamps.

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Professor Koji Shibazaki and his student Suzuki Mikako’s installation at the International Art Festival at Toyota Civic Center
Detail of Professor Shibazaki's lighted art
Detail of Professor Shibazaki’s lighted art
Professor Shibazaki at his paper making studio
Professor Shibazaki at his papermaking studio
Professor Shibazaki's paper is made from the plants found in his farm and outside of his studio on Aichi University of the Arts campus. The paper showed here is made of Mirabilis Jalapa flower and Kozo
Professor Shibazaki’s paper is made from the plants found on his farm and outside of his studio on Aichi University of the Arts campus. The paper showed here is made of Mirabilis Jalapa flower and Kozo