A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
One of the delights of being a student is access to unique classes as visiting scholars visit Leiden. Last month, the Japanese department hosted renowned painter and lecturer at Tokyo University of the Arts, Professor Saito Norihiko, as part of its Artist in Residence Program. Professor Saito gave a series of nihonga painting classes during his time here, and I was lucky enough to take part.
Lesson 1: Back to Basics
We got to grips with using a brush and ink, holding the brush at different angles to produce particular types of lines and effects. After so many years of kanji practice, I was fairly confident that I could conquer this skill, but I felt like a beginner again as my Japanese characters scrawled awkwardly across the page.
Lesson 2: Tracing
We arranged leaves on some paper, and then traced around them. We then copied these outlines onto the beautiful, gold-rimmed cardboard we were going to paint on. The quality of the materials we used was extraordinary.
Lesson 3: Getting stressful
We then used black ink to go over the leaf outlines. This was quite therapeutic, until it became clear that half the lesson was gone and we still had to mix paint and apply it to our leaf shapes. This is where it all got a bit stressful! We used traditional pigments, ground from such things as semi-precious stones, plants and beetles to create a autumnal under-layer of paint. First we had to mix the pigment with animal glue, with our fingers. Once the mixture was sufficiently sticky, and our fingers were suitably muddy, we added some water. Getting the right consistency was really difficult, and once we had finally got it correct, it was a race against time to apply this paint by brush onto our leaves. I almost made it in time…
Lesson 4: The Final Countdown
Our final lesson. Not only did we have to finish painting the undercoat, but we had to mix new pigments (emerald and mint green), apply these over the undercoat, and then fill in the background. Eek! This time trial was not aided by the fact that the night before I’d had my dancing shoes on at Indiecation…
I really liked the autumn yellow and orange, and was loath to paint over it. But, I did as I was instructed, and the result was OK. The dark green pigment was like sand, so it was difficult to apply. I like bold colours, so I piled on the pigment until my autumn shades were covered, but others had the foresight to simply place a thin layer of green over the orange. This looked great. Finally, the BLACK background. This went against all my ‘artistic’ instincts, as I couldn’t imagine the greens and the black sitting together well on the paper. The black paint was made partly from crushed mother of pearl, so it had a sparkling sheen to it. I had about 10 minutes to add the whole background, and in my haste and morning bleariness I fear that I made a bit of a pig’s ear of it.
That was it! Brushes down, time was up. We took our paintings to the East Asian Library in the Arsenaal building, where they are on display for the winter. Go and take a look! Some are really, truly beautiful. Maybe you’ll spot mine too.