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Inktober Day 1

day_1_hyakka_seihou

百花斉放 ひゃっかせいほう HYAKKA SEIHOU “A hundred flowers blooming” A blooming of the arts and sciences. I thought it was a fine sentiment to begin Inktober with.

I won’t be doing this every time, but I wanted to show a little of the background work that goes into this seemingly simple piece. Alas, I had no one around to take pictures as I actually brushed things out, but here’s an outline of the process.

百花斉放 is a yojijukugo, a four kanji character compound that acts as a proverb. There are thousands of these in the Japanese language, many of which came from Chinese works, which can make them a little challenging to translate. Jim Breen has a collection of them here, although I’m not sure what order he used. I found mine via this book here which was put together by my shodo teacher, Tony K. Skeen. In this book, the yojijukugo are in kana order (a,i,u,e,o/ ha, hi, fu, he, ho…etc) and therefore easier to find.

The first thing I do when I find a phrase I want to brush out is to cross-reference. In doing so, I double-check the translation, figure out the stroke order, and find examples of the style I want to brush out. This takes me across at least 3 or 4 dictionaries (or the internet if I can’t find what I need in the books).

1_prep_materials

I use the New Nelsons Japanese-English Character dictionary, Hadamitsky/Spahn’s A Guide to Writing Kanji and Kana for stroke order, and a 3-style Japanese Calligraphy Dictionary 現代書道三体字典 : コンパクト Gendai shodō santai jiten : Konpakuto (Modern shodo in three styles dictionary, compact version) by KISEKI Motohashi for the style examples.

Side note: if I am working on something for an SCA project, I will usually also try to find some style examples from extant historical documents. I know that there are some historical Japanese calligraphic dictionaries (I have seen a few), but with my middle-school Japanese, it’s hard for me to track them down easily.

So in the next four pictures, I cross reference each kanji from Hadamitsky/Spahn to the Gendai shodo santai jiten. I skipped taking pictures of looking up things in the Nelsons as it is a thick book and I couldn’t balance the camera!

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Hyaku 百 meaning “100”

3_ka_hana_stroke_order_and_style_ref

Ka 花, which is the ON (Sino-Japanese) pronunciation of hana, meaning “Flower”

4_sei_stroke_order_and_style_ref

Sei 斉 meaning “equal” or in the case “all at one time”

5_hou_stroke_order_and_style_ref

Hou 放 meaning “release” or “set free”

So literally, one hundred flowers released at the same time, or as we might say more poetically in English “one hundred flowers blooming” or “a hundred flowers blossoming”. Translation: it’s both an art and a science! In this instance, the phrase is referring to a blossoming of the arts and sciences, like what we might call a golden era or renaissance.

I’d like you to notice a few things in these pictures. Compare the computer kanji that is in this entry to the written kanji in the larger book, and then the three examples in the smaller book. THIS is the difference between just writing kanji and doing calligraphy. One of the things I see so often is people using computer kanji as their basis for kanji used in SCA scrolls. NO. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS. It’s like using the Times New Roman font as an exemplar for a 14th century scroll!!

If you notice, the smaller book shows three types of writing for each kanji. From right to left (and remember, the Japanese read right to left, not left to right), the styles are Kaisho (block script), gyousho (semi-cursive script), and sosho (cursive script).

While I chose to use sosho for my phrase today, I still practiced the kaisho. The reason for that is to get the stroke order correct and notice how some of the elements transmute when used in cursive. The gyousho is very helpful for seeing how the change happened, and while it was and is a widely used form, I don’t like it much.

So next, I had to consider the paper I was planning to use. A merchant had sent me some samples of this handmade washi paper and I thought it might be nice to try. However, I had to take into consideration that the size is smaller than the paper I usually use, as seen below:

6_chosen_paper_versus_normal_paper_size

I often use phone book or newspaper to practice kanji on when I am trying to get a sense of the shape. Here’s a comparison of my small phone book paper to the sheet I wanted to use. I would have to keep the size difference in mind as I practiced.

7_chosen_paper_versus_small_phonebook_practice_paper_size

Again, I apologize for the lack of in-situ pictures. Here’s my normal set-up when doing brush calligraphy:

8_normal_set-up

Examples to the left so I can see them, brushes and suzuri (ink stone) to the right, paper up top. Bunshin paperweights hold the paper in place and below the paper is a shitajiki, felt that absorbs ink since it tends to seep through the paper. The garish plastic placemats are extra protection since I’m doing this work on my dining table!

So here are some practice runs on the various kanji, in both kaisho and sosho forms:

HYAKU

9_hyaku_practice_1_kaisho_sosho

10_hyaku_practice_sosho_form

KA

11_ka_hana_practice

SEI

12_sei_practice

HOU

13_hou_practice

And a few run-throughs of Hyakka Seihou. I’m messing a bit with the placement of the kanji in reference to each other. Sei especially wants to run larger than the others and is being a pain!

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15_hyakka_seihou_practice_2

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And finally, brushing the phrase on the special washi paper. I was actually going to do a couple of runs at this (because I wasn’t sure how the paper would take the ink), but the first one came out fairly well.

x_hyakka_seihou_finished

I actually wanted to do more practices, but honestly, there’s just a time when you have to do it and be done. It’s never going to be perfect to my eyes. The one thing I might have changed is leaving a bit more room at the left side for a seal signature. However, since I haven’t finished designing and carving my inkan (seal) yet, I felt the point was moot.

Hope this walk-through helps explain the process. The result is very simple and understated but there is a lot of work that goes on in the background!

Somewhere in the Corner of My Eye

Real life has been extremely busy, although I did manage to make it to 3 SCA events in July (usually 1 or 2 is my limit, but things just worked out that way).

I’m not usually in the spotlight, but the cameras caught a glimpse of me at Coronation (at right, standing next to my Laurel, Countess Ylva):

coronation_1

At Calontir’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences, where I was helping out as a judge. Here I am talking to Master Addison from Gleann Abhann, who was visiting. Turns out he has a keen interest in Tea Ceremony and Bonsai, (of which I know very little) so it was a fascinating chat.

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And a quick glimpse of me (at left) from my own shire’s Feast of Eagles. I was part of the Server’s Auction, and also entertained playing recorder as part of a music trio. (No photos of that, alas.)

feast_of_eagles_1

The three above photos courtesy of Wilhelm Lich.

Got in some shodo lessons, as seen here, sight reading three different styles: kaisho, gyousho and sosho. SHO FU YU SHO IN “The wind brings a cleansing breeze through the pines.”

shodo_practice_20190814

Also working on getting Nelson dictionary numbers to a new Japanese calligraphy exemplar that I surprisingly found on Thriftbooks of all places! Nelson’s is the dictionary I used most for translation. Putting the Nelson reference number on the kanji helps me find things faster.

shodo_practice_20190816

Updates may be sparse over the next month or so, as I will be visiting with my family. I have some poetry that needs sharing and hope to get that typed up once I get back!

A Little and A Lot

In which someone asks a question on the SCA Japanese FB page and scrambles my brain. HE Baron Akitsuki Yoshimitsu asked about the translation of a certain modern piece of Chinese calligraphy, dated 1958, by Wing Gig Fong, a Chinese-American artist.

Here’s the piece, which is owned by the Smithsonian institution. You can see the piece here on their webpage.

1984.124.91_1.tif

Wah…abstract modern sosho! My brain! The top character is almost certainly 少 (ON: shou KUN suku/suko) which means few, little. Which makes sense as the original Chinese for the phrase the piece was named was 少则得多则惑 “He who obtains has little, he who scatters has much”). But the second one has me puzzled. Maybe 不 (ON: fu KUN: zu) which means un-, non-. But while 少不 is not a really a word, 不少 (fushou) in Japanese means “not many” while 不少 ((bùshǎo) in Chinese means “a lot of”. It could be the artist is punning and including a little and a lot in the same piece. But I’m really stretching here and could be completely wrong. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

It’s certainly not a name or anything. Considering that it is a 20th century abstract piece, I don’t think I’m too far off in my guess of its meaning. But again, not sure on the lower kanji, and I do Japanese, not Chinese. (Any Chinese I know is second-hand through my Japanese studies, and I can’t pronounce it AT ALL.)

Anyway, that killed about two hours of my day. It’s so frustrating! I got to take an intensive Japanese course about 13 years ago, and have tried to learn on my own since then, but self-study is not easy, and my chances of doing the immersive thing and staying in Japan for 6 months to a year are nada.

If I am completely off base here, please comment and let me know. It’s the only way to learn!

A few notes here: modern sosho can be quite different from classical sosho, which tends to be very thin and whispy. The style I study with my shodo teacher, which was taught by the calligraphy master Kampo Harada-sensei, tends to be of a modern bent. For SCA purposes, most of the styles (tensho, reisho, kaisho, and gyousho) are not far off, but Kampo’s sosho was very stylized and modern. He could do the classical style, of course, but a lot of what I’ve seen of his own work has a very mid-20th century feel. It’s beautiful, but something to keep in consideration if you are working on a Japanese scroll for SCA–try to work off of pre-16th century examples. Copperplate is a beautiful hand for Roman-style letters, but not something the SCA would use in a scroll since it is more 18th-19th century. Same applies here.

A link about Kuzushiji

Just putting this link here until I have more time to check into the subject. An Introduction to Kuzushiji.

Kuzushiji 崩し字 is that sosho-looking print script that was very popular in Edo-period texts. Very similar to sosho in several aspects, but lacks sosho’s elegance. Somewhere around here I have a book about the history of Japanese printing, and will look in that to see more.

I can make out some characters, due to my shodo studies, but can’t really say that I can “read” it.

Scroll: Calon Cross for Saito Takauji

So now that it has been handed out, here are pictures of the scroll that I was working on. The Calon Cross is a Grant of Arms (GOA) level award in Calontir (they do pre-prints for AOA level awards) and is given out for service. Uji is a friend, so I was very happy to be given this assignment.

The text says: That the loyal civil acts of Saito Takauji, for the Society, the Grand Council, and as Gold Falcon Herald are excellent and will be rewarded, is stated thus. We raise him to the Order of the Calon Cross.
Damien, King
Issabel, Queen
Year of the Society 52 year, 8 month, 26 day

Saito Takauji dono ha Shakai ya Dai hyougi-kai no chuusei koto to kintaka denreisha koto ga shinmyou, onjou no jou koto kuden.
Shin juujika gumi ni irareru.

Damien mikado heika
Issabel chuugu heika

Shakai gojuu ni nen hachigatsu nijuu roku nichi
斎藤高氏殿社会大評議会忠誠事金鷹伝令者事神妙可有恩賞之状如件
心十字架組入
ダアミエン帝陛下
イサベル中宮陛下
社会五十二年八月二十六日

The model I used was from the Documents of Iriki, 96-2, #83-C, from Kenmu 3, 8th month, 17th day (September 22, 1336), given to one Shibuya Shigekatsu by Ashikaga Takauji, the first Shogun of the Ashikaga line. I took some set phrases from it, and added what phrases were needed for this award. I had Foro Pallavincino (Baron Christoforo from Northshield, who has a degree in Japanese and lived there for a few years), look over my Japanese text and make suggestions, which I then modified a bit. It is all in kanji–the hiragana that would be used in particles were not usually written down in these documents. Ink on washi paper, pre-mounted scroll. The kanji is written in kaisho script (the original was in gyousho script, but I was going for clarity here). The painting is based on a portrait of the poet Ki no Tomonori (who bears an amazing resemblance to Uji!), done in the Nise-e style.

takauji_finished_scroll_detail

takauji_full_scroll

I definitely learned a lot while doing this scroll. There are some things (mainly in the brushwork) that I feel could be better, but the recipient was very happy, and that is what matters. I’m looking forward to tackling another design in the future.

English-language Tensho Exemplar

My shodo teacher Tony Skeen just published a couple of reference books that will help those looking to make inkan (seals). Both are intended to be used in tandem with the New Nelson’s Japanese-English Character Dictionary.

The first volume is to help people sound-out their (non-Japanese) names in Kanji. There are choices–you can go by meaning, but then the pronunciation will be completely different, or you can go by pronunciation and find comparable kanji–THEN you have to watch for the meaning and also double-check to make sure it doesn’t have some slang meaning in Japanese that might be embarrassing. So this first volume is a list of kanji by sound, in English alpha-order. Choosing Kanji for Use on a Seal Stone

The second volume has brushed tensho-script examples of the kanji from the first volume, both as normal and also in reverse (which is how you would carve it to make a seal). As far as I know, there is no other English-language resource on tensho-script that is this detailed. Tensho Kanji for Making a Seal Stone

Both of these are meant to be used in tandem with the New Nelson’s Japanese/English Character Dictionary. Nelson’s is one of the best J/E Kanji Dictionaries available. Here is the Goodreads link to it. They have it listed new on Amazon for $44 dollars, but seriously, shop around. I found mine new on Ebay for $18, and sometimes you can find it for even less! The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary. NOTE: Be sure and get the latest version, so the numbers match up. Also, it’s much larger than the original.

I’ve been studying shodo with Tony Skeen for over a year now. He’s a certified instructor through Nihon Shuji Kyoiku Zaidan and has been practicing shodo for over 20 years. The books are pricey, but he’s not making much of a profit–the cost is mainly due to the books being self-published on small print runs.

He let me look at the proofs when he was working on the book and the books are very to-the-point. He just wants to make it easier for people to make better inkan. The online sites that offer to create tensho often use a computer font. These are HAND BRUSHED examples.