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).

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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note: if I am working on something for an SCA project, I will usually also try to find some style examples from extant historical documents.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”

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

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

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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:

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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.

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

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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

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10_hyaku_practice_sosho_form

KA

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SEI

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HOU

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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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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.

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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!

Prepping for Inktober

Decided to try Inktober this year as a way to encourage me to get into a daily art habit. I’m sure there will be challenges, as this is always a difficult time of year for me, and moreso this year, but in art is solace.

I don’t intend to follow any prompts. My only goal is to do something inky. And some of it will be modern and not SCA-related, because I get a bit weary of how SCA takes over all my hobbytime. Anyway, I intend to try different media and different types of things. There will be shodo, sumi-e, regular ink drawings, maybe some knotwork? I just want to play with the medium. Most of my drawing experience has actually been with graphite and charcoal, so there is a learning curve.

Here are some sketches I did today (to ink during October):

hats_in_high_wind_sketch

kali_sketch

samurai_sketch

veil_roman_sketch

I also prepped by finding several yojijukugo (four kanji compound sayings, kinda like shorthand proverbs) that I want to brush out. Probably in sosho, but we’ll see how I feel on the day of. I’m using the book Yojijukugo: 4 Character Compound Reference Source for Japanese Brush Calligraphy by my shodo teacher, Tony Skeen. He’s been urging me to do this anyway, so Inktober is a perfect excuse.

With the calligraphy, there is a lot of prep that goes into each finished project. I get the kanji from the book, but then I need to look it up in Nelson’s Japanese/English dictionary, then cross-reference it to one of my exemplars (different sources based on the style). This is to get the stroke order and also get a sense of what the stylized kanji is supposed to look like. Next comes the practice, where I get comfortable brushing out the kanji and also working out size and spacing. I’ll brush the whole piece out a few times before doing a final one.

(Arrgh, that reminds me, I still need to finish designing my inkan stamp!)

With the sumi-e, I have some instruction books with some exercises to work through. While I would love to do some color work, I think I’ll stick with black and white for this month. Same thing with the knotwork. I’ve done some knotwork on scrolls in the past but never felt very comfortable with it, so I’d like to play around with it a bit. Maybe mess about with some vinework, too.

Really looking forward to this. It’ll be fun!

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!

The Alamo, a Poem

So while digging through bins in the garage, I came across this ancient treasure. My first epic poem (and illuminated book–although badly illustrated would probably be more accurate) from when I was 12 years old. Done on index cards and bound with glue and a black ribbon with yellow flowers. I give you–THE ALAMO!

The Alamo
A Poem by Maria Szabo

The Alamo was a Mission
A mission that was a success
In short, the Mission Alamo
Was the very best.

The Mexicans did not trust
The Americans, who were harrowed
Then the Decree of 1830
Added upon their sorrows

Sam Houston was a general
Who called the men together
So Houston said to his men “Give up?”
And the men replied “Never!”

General Houston appointed a man named Travis,
Who was told he had a job,
He took 183 men to the Alamo
To await the oncoming mob

With Travis was James Bowie,
Whose knife had his name,
Also Davy Crockett
About to go in his fame

At dawn came General Santa Anna
And 2000 men did he bring
The Texans looked on soberly
And didn’t say a thing

“Surrender to us!” said Santa Anna
“And we will let you go!”
Travis fired his largest cannon!
Clearly, the answer was NO!

The fight was on and started
Bloody and 13 days long
But the time was given to Sam Houston
To make his army strong

At the Battle of San Jacinto
The world was shocked to see
Texas win independence
With the death of 183

So wherever you are, whenever you are
Above earth or below
Remember the death of 183
And Remember the Alamo!

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Cover. Bound with black ribbon and yellow flowers (for the Yellow Rose of Texas). Death looms in the shadows of the Alamo.

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Cover page.

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Looking back, I’m impressed that I put little illuminated letters to start almost every page.

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So of course, Mexicans meant sombrero and pinata. Hey, I was 12.

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Historical fact: The Texans really had a flag with a cannon saying “Come and Take It!”

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And there’s the Alamo. I’d been there on a family trip a few years before. There were actually more than 183 people in the Alamo, but I didn’t remember that at the time.

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Bloody Bowie knife. I was a weird kid.

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You can’t really see in the picture, but Santa Anna with his big hat is marching in on the very left bottom of the page. I didn’t take into account binding when I drew the pictures.

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Okay, you can see Santa Anna and his big hat a little better here. I was a little obsessed with that hat of his.

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The bloody battle. I somehow forgot to mention that the Texans lost the battle? But that the battle was important because it gave Houston time to organize his army. Still, how the heck did I forget to mention they lost?!

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And a sudden jump to the Battle of San Jacinto. In the men’s thoughts (big faces on the right) are Davy Crockett (with his coonskin cap), James Bowie (with his muttonchop sideburns) and William Travis, who was boring looking and didn’t make much of an impression on me. The Mexicans are shouting “Me no Alamo!” and “Me no Goliad!”, which actually did happen. The Goliad Massacre on March 27, 1836, was overshadowed by the Battle of the Alamo, but twice as many men were killed there.

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So the stick figures are shouting “Victory or Death!” Again, I forgot about margins when drawing this.

Okay, not an epic for the ages, but hey, I was 12! Also not great at drawing. This was a school assignment for my Texas History Class and I don’t remember what grade I got, but did remember getting points for creativity.

I only have bits and pieces of my poetry from that time, mainly things I published in the school newspaper. I stopped writing poetry for a long time after my 8th grade English teacher told me that my poems were “stupid.” She was a horrible teacher. You should never say that to a child. I didn’t start writing poetry again until I was in my 30’s.

Peasant Perspective- Participating when Life gets Busy

saigyo_kana_calligraphy_example
Nakatsukasa-shu (Collected Works of Poet Sadayori) (Detail) Attributed to Saigyo. Japan. 12th Century. Important Cultural Property. 13.1 × 15.2cm. Idemitsu Museum of Arts.

Something that I’ve seen a number of my friends post about recently is being overwhelmed by their activities in the SCA, trying to fit that in with what is happening in their mundane lives, and the frustration of not being able to do so.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, because I have been there, more than once. SCA (and the sub-hobbies that come with it, whether that being martial arts, physical arts, or both) tends to be an encompassing activity, or as one person succinctly put it, “all-in”. As I have dealt with this before (and am currently having to deal with it now), I thought I might offer some advice.

First, if you want to avoid frustration, remember that the SCA is a hobby, not a career. I’ve heard many people complain about peers who tell them not to be ambitious, but the fact is, the peer is trying to save the person some pain. For good or for ill, the SCA Award structure is imperfect. Even if you do everything “right” (whatever that means), the fact of the matter is awards are given by the whim of the Crown, and with peerages, they are aided by the advice of the respective Orders (Chivalry, Laurel, Pelican, Defense). So a lot of the decision is out of a person’s control. So I would advise not to be so attached to the outcome of your labors. Instead, focus on the Doing of things, and find happiness in that.

The SCA is a social hobby (it does, after all, start with “Society”), and so getting out and going to events or even local meetings is an important part of it. And sometimes that can be very hard, especially when you are trying to balance work and family life with it. When I started in the SCA, I was in my mid-20’s, single, living in an apartment, and doing temp work that allowed me the flexibility to be very active. Now I’m in my mid-50’s, dealing with a chronic illness, a husband who prefers other hobbies, a house to take care of, and elderly parents who need more of my time and attention (my husband and I skipped the kids part, but several people have to work that responsibility in as well). And that makes a huge difference on how I am able to play SCA.

I often marvel at what I was able to accomplish back in my younger days, on a pitiful income. But I was young, had a lot of energy, and not much in the way of responsibilities. Nowadays, I do have to take better care with my health, as well as managing our money so that we can pay our mundane bills plus save up for retirement, which isn’t so far away anymore. So I’ve had to change how I play my SCA game, and frankly, ratchet back my ambitions somewhat.

And that’s hard, because there are so many interesting things out there I still want to do! I truly love this hobby that allows me to mingle with so many other history enthusiasts, even if we don’t all focus on the same time or place. There is that tangible enthusiasm for learning, not just from reading books (although yeah, I love that too), but by physically attempting to either recreate or adapt the material culture of the Medieval world, and by doing so, create a tie to those who lived in those times.

So what do you do, when faced with these circumstances? First, I would say, don’t quit. Even if you have to back-burner a lot of your SCA activity, try to get out to an event or local meeting once or twice a year. There are many robust online communities, which can be very helpful in many ways, but there’s nothing that replaces face-to-face interaction. Second, try not to focus so much on what you are missing out on than what you can do. Keep up with at least one of your interests. Remember that circumstances do change, and while you may not have the time or money to participate as fully as you would like right now, that doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

Encourage others on their journey. I’ve found I enjoy seeing the progress made by many of my fellow Shire members, even as they surpass me. I won’t lie, I do get a little jealous, but I see them putting in the work and they’ve earned their recognition.

Look forward to the time when you can participate again more fully. In the meantime, take joy in smaller things, and keep learning and exploring at a level you can manage. Don’t let the imagined glory of some nebulous tomorrow steal the enjoyment of your hobby today! In this way, you can still enjoy the SCA, and the Society in turn will not lose the gifts that you have to offer.

Arts and Sciences Streak–start over!

100_day_as_mata_1_reisho

Life happened and I had to start my 100 Days of Arts and Sciences from scratch. I’m on Day 6. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far:

Day 1: practiced Reisho style in Japanese calligraphy, sewing on kosode sloper (working on a new pattern), research on tanka poetry.
Day 2: tanka poetry research, hand sewing, recorder practice
Day 3: hand sewing
Day 4: hand sewing, garb research
Day 5: hand-sewing, kanji radical practice
Day 6: Tanka poetry research, started on new hyakushu (100 poem sequence) project, practiced soprano recorder, hand-sewing on kosode sloper