Saturday, October 22, 2016

Arts 'n Crass

(Alternate Title:  Dye Another Day)
(Other Alternate Title:  Another Fun Thing to Do with Hot Wax!)

I love being an art teacher.  I love having the skills to make cool stuff, and understanding what went into the making of other peoples' cool stuff.  Sometimes I wanna laugh all the way to the bank on payday, because I have the best job in the world.  Spend time with smart-aleck teenagers showing them how to make their cool stuff even better and get paid for it?  That's not even "work."  They say find a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life.  I don't know if I can say that's true - there are days when I run myself ragged, no matter how much I love it - but it's a pretty kickass situation.
I almost always hit up art museums on vacation.  It's my equivalent of meeting new people (and, in my opinion, a much better option, since you never have to feel awkward about not keeping in contact with a paintng...or deal with a painting that just won't stop trying to contact you).  However, it's only been within the last few years that I started making art when I travel.  I sometimes drew in my sketchbook or journal, but by and large I didn't learn new techniques or traditions.  That all changed when I took the brats to Istanbul, and ever since, I've tried to find some sort of workshop to do on my journeys.  Kyoto, however, beats them all.  I am spoiled for choice, to the point where I struggled to decide what I really wanted to do.
What I decided on, in the end, was a dyeing workshop and printmaking.  Dyeing because I've been jealous of Blondie's noren ever since she first invited me to her apartment, and I love the indigo fabrics, ai-zome.  Printmaking because I LOVE ukiyo-e prints.  The dyeing workshop took place at Yamamoto Roketsu Studio, which is in a small neighborhood in Western Kyoto that very fortunately I could get to with one bus, just down the street from the house.  It cost me 3,000 yen to make my own little curtains, which seemed pretty reasonable to me.  You could also make a pillowcase, wall hanging, t-shirt - there were lots of choices in what to dye...and even more choices in patterns.  They had animals, plants, subjects from the aforementioned, much adored Japanese prints, but my decision was made long ago - one of the photos on their website showed a Totoro design.  I just introduced the niblings to My Neighbor Totoro this year (yes, in English.  It's blasphemy to watch dubbed anime, but Disney does a pretty good job with the voice-overs, and the niblings don't read enough to introduce them to give them subtitles), and they all loved it...and I love them, so a little something to remind me of them on the other side of the world.
Once you have your design and your cloth, you create a dye resist (called roketsuzome) using melted wax.  It's very similar to batik - paint or stamp the wax on, and then dye it.  There are techniques that yield different results, though.  I was told to paint all the lines.  Then I had to paint them again to make purer white areas.  Then I painted a little more wax in some places to get a lighter shade of blue when it was dyed.  Finally, my sensei looked at it and said I could dye it.
He had me trade my Chucks for rubber boots, hung an apron around me, and put me in arm protectors and rubber gloves.  This seemed a little overkill to my devil-may-care art teacher heart (put an apron on a kid and they feel like you've just given them permission to make a mess), but then, I really didn't want blue hands for the next few days, so...  We soaked my white cloth and then dumped it into the black-as-night vat of dye, the surface speckled with bits of cast off wax.  He showed me how to manipulate the cloth within the vat, but something must have been lost in translation, because when he saw me later, he said that I was stirring it too fast, and the cracks in the wax would be to big.  With all the changes you could make, I really wanted to live here, so I could come back every month or two to try things differently.
It took a while for the dye to properly soak in, and then it was "washed" (sort of), left to oxidize (it looks kind of greenish when it comes out of the dye), boiled to get the wax out, washed (for real, with lye or some other agent), ironed, and finally, the little red ribbon thing was stitched into the middle.  My noren was finished - I'm pretty proud of the design I created, even if the execution could probably use a little work.
That was then...This is now.
The Kamigata Ukiyo-E Museum is actually a place I've walked past before.  In July 2008 Azhaar had a workshop in Osaka, and brought me along as her assistant.  At night, we wandered Shinsaibashi, having ice cream and taking weird pictures.  This was one of those pictures.  When I started looking for a printmaking experience in Kyoto, I saw that cat again, in one of the prints the Kamigata Museum offers to have you make.  I went back and checked the photo again and, sure enough, it's the same cat.
Printmaking was my favorite art form in college - after all the work you put in, you can make multiple original pieces of art.  However, I mostly worked with intaglio printing, which pulls the ink out of the marks you put on a metal plate.  I worked on one woodblock project, which never got finished, although I did linocuts before and since, being the kind of printmaking most accessible for art teachers (never trust a teenager with acid!)  But one of my favorite art styles is ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock printmaking.  You can think of it as a gateway drug to anime, if you want...you see the same fantastic use of color and brilliant compositions in each.  So I'm fairly familiar with the subject, if not an expert.
Well, two years ago when I went to Tokyo, I managed to make it to the Ota Museum, which has a pretty spectacular collection.  They had a very nice display about the process of creating a print from beginning to end - first the artist designs it, then a specialist creates the woodblocks from the artist's designs, and finally, the printer does his part.  This is different from how I was raised as a printmaker...I did the designing, I did the cutting, and I did the printing.  It is also different in the tools that are used.  In the west, we apply our inks with brayers.  The Japanese use a variety of brushes.  Yesterday I got to do the printers job and use the tools firsthand.  The Kamigata Museum offers three different printmaking experiences - beginner, intermediate, and advanced - and since I wasn't sure about my skill level as an ukiyo-e printer, I chose all three.  This took less than an hour, and with admission to the museum cost 2,800 yen.
The museum itself was not huge.  Its focus is on Osaka prints, which are different from the more famous Edo prints because they focus almost exclusively on Kabuki, rather than pretty girls and landscapes.  The area where the museum is now was once a huge theater district, and the actors were the superstars of their day.  Since artists gotta eat, their work reflects this.  Most of the explanations are in English, and although it is a small collection, I found it to be really well curated.

The printmaking workshop took place on the fourth floor, in a tatami room decorated with photos of the old theater district.  There is a little coloring station, and when I made it up there, a girl was coloring while her mom was watching a video (fun fact I learned from the video - a huge, full-color 3-panel print back in the late 1800's cost the same as a bowl of noodles.  If you've ever wondered how these pieces of art ended up as packing material in boxes sent to Europe - which is how Western artists became exposed to them - now you know.  They were super cheap).  After my teacher had set out the materials - we used acrylic paint, rather than ink.  I'm assuming it's because acrylic dries hellafast, but she didn't speak English, so I couldn't ask - and I'd started my first print, I had to look over and see what she was doing, because I felt the table shake.  And then I realized it wasn't just the table - the whole building was shaking.  There were three waves of shaking, and then nothing.  Life went on.  I tried asking if that had been an earthquake, but the small amount of Japanese I've gleaned from anime doesn't include the right words.  Later on, when I met up with the Kawaii Kid, he asked if I'd felt it. Apparently in Japan you get texts when there's an earthquake - at the epicenter it was 6.0, according to his intelligence.  I've been present for earthquakes before - in Italy, Beijing, and even Mongolia - but never actually noticed.  I don't think that this is the sort of experience people hope to have on vacation, but I liked having it.  If I can manage to work here, it's one I will probably have again, so it's good to know what it is like.

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