Saturday, November 22, 2008

Japanese Art: More Design and Adaptation

Adapting a design to needlepoint canvas is a matter of also researching the origins of that design. It is important to understand colors, symbolism etc., so as not to leave out anything important, or to emphasize something that isn't. Japanese art, particularly the antique porcelains, has been the mainstay of my portfolio since I first began painting needlepoint canvas.

This picture is of a woodblock print of the great artist of the Edo period, Suzuki Harunobu. (1725-1770) After centuries of warfare and unrest, Japan had finally settled into peace and productivity, and arts begain to flourish. Harunobu was the first designer of woodblock prints
to use a series of blocks to apply multiple colors onto a rice paper ground. He primarily made images of beautiful women and Kabuki actors. More typical of this period was a lot of negative space, which gave a feeling of serenity. (this particular print is filled, however)

I never worked from these wood block prints, as I don't do people well, and am better at doing my own thing. Gail Hendrix, however, has done some lovely canvases from them! It's easier to really appreciate and understand her design work and adaptations, knowing the source. Be sure to visit Chilly Hollow, where Jane is stitching one of Gail's canvases at the present time. Lovely thing, it is!.

Of course I had to investigate the porcelains of the period, and found the gorgeous Kakeimon, which was produced in this time period - by a man who learned from a Korean potter after a deposit of the pure white kaolin porcelain clay was discovered. There was a lot of kidnapping of Korean potters in those days, as their work was superb and they knew many secrets - and Japan was late to begin producing pottery. The Chinese had already been doing it for centuries before.

I wasn't able to do but one or two pieces in needlepoint from this style, as the design elements are rather small, and with the amount of negative space left to show the beautiful snow white of the porcelain body and glaze, it would have been extremely boring to stitch. Small pieces, even on 18 mesh canvas, were not an option, as the detail of the little motifs would not have stitched well.
In the next century, the Imari was produced and marketed - and by the early to mid 19th century, some totally gorgeous ware was made to export to the western markets. This is what I enjoyed most in my designwork. Not only is it beautful "organized chaos" with little or no negative space, but it was a joy to adapt to canvas and a challenge to maintain the design elements and put them onto canvas so that they would stitch properly. This canvas is one of a pair - the other had cranes on it, but I have lost the picture, as well as the plate I designed from. The date on them was ca. 1820. I had to make the design on canvas 15" diameter on 18 mesh in order to get all the small and significant elements.

The central "peach" (immortality or longevity) is one of my favorites. On the porcelains, it is conventionalized to usually the half navy, and half diaper pattern as on this one. The six divisions is typical of this period, and is an ancient format that also traveled the silk road through the Ottoman Empire to Spain to become the Spanish Talavera - which was Maiolica, the in-glaze firing of color into the lead white glaze that covered the red clay body - in imitation of the white of the Japanese porcelains.

The rectangle is a little over a quarter section of a pillow I designed from an Imari bowl - again, mid 19th century. It had a pedestal on the bottom with the design I took for the border. The central "flower" was in the bowl itself, and the fretwork was around the inside of the bowl. The rest of the design was on the outside of the bowl - beautiful thing! ( I sold it a while back to raise funds to buy more antique porcelain.)

Anyway - this is how a needlepoint designer goes about adapting a design from a source! I'm doing the same thing these days with the Pueblo pottery, but have much research to do first - I'm especially intrigued with the "fetish" critters of the Zunis.


Nancy L said...

Lovely! Thank you for the background information on the creation of your beautiful adaptations.
Nancy L

Nina said...

Wow! I really enjoyed that article. Super! Gorgeous stuff.

NCPat said...


The Chilly Hollow Needlepoint Adventure said...

Thanks for the nice mention of Blog, Judy. This background information is especially interesting as I stitch Gail's Three Geishas and a Peach. I had no idea how designers approach sources for ideas and I learned a lot from you. Thanks!

Cyn said...

Hi Judy,

Thanks for sharing all of the info.

Beautiful designs!

Windy Meadow

g said...

i couldn't of put it know your stuff...