On August 17, 2019, I took part in an event for the Setouchi Triennale 2019. It was the “Making a coaster by ‘Cho-shitsu'”, or carved lacquer. It was done at Maison de Urushi, one of the art houses on Ogijima. You can read all about Maison de Urushi in my previous post but the event itself was so memorable that I will remember it forever.
Cho-shitsu is basically “carved lacquer”. It is where they take a piece of wood and apply various coloured lacquers. You do this over and over to create thick layers of lacquer of each colour and afterwards you can carve down to each layer to create a design. It is very hard work and you really have to work hard to do it right.
The event was limited to 10 people, and I signed up by e-mail the day before the event. My group only had 9 people but I think they could have added a couple more if needed. They used a small room with air conditioning but it was still pretty hot when you were working there. They had the event a week before mine in the main tatami area, but it was so hot they decided to move it into the official work space with air conditioning.
The start of the event involved checking in, payment, and picking a spot around the table. They then told you a little about the lacquer. If you go to the artwork beforehand, you’ll know what it is about. They then tell you how things are done. You basically start by choosing a design. You then use carbon paper to trace the image you chose. You can even draw directly on the carbon paper. After the image is transferred to the coaster, you outline it with a marker to prevent the image from being lost as the carbon trace easily rubs off with your hands.
After you have your design, you can then start working on your coaster. There are a few sample blocks to help you get an idea of how it works. I highly recommend using them to see how much pressure is needed and so forth. You then have to bite your teeth and go for it on your final product. You only have 3 hours, and depending on your design it may take a full 3 hours. I took 2.5 hours and I was the last person to leave. The first was a kid who took about 30 minutes. Some of the other guys did simple designs, and others did geometric designs that were nice but simple.
My design was a wave pattern with a hop in the middle. It was challenging as it was almost all done free hand. I started with the border. I used a ruler to do it and it was pretty simple. It is a good way to get started on the design. I then worked on the waves. I was pretty slow at first but after 30 minutes I started to get used to it. I also realized that using a lot of pressure was not actually the best way to do it. My technique was not always good and I often used too much pressure but I did a good job at times.
The biggest problem was time. I felt rushed and when we had our break after 1 hour; I noticed I was the slowest of the bunch. I only completed about 1/4 of my coaster and others were over half way done. I ended up rushing after the break but it also helped me understand how to do it better.
The last part I worked on was the hop. The coloured layers go from black, blue, yellow/green, white, before you hit wood. It wasn’t difficult to get to the blue layer but for the hop I wanted a yellow/green colour. The hop was also the most difficult part as I needed to be very precise with it. I had to be very careful in how I carved the lacquer. If you have ever carved wood, I’m sure you wouldn’t have such a difficult time, but for me it was pretty challenging with many mistakes.
During the entire process of making the hop, I kept telling myself; “there are only happy accidents”. It was a very calming effect as I made many mistakes and I worked on figuring out how to fix them. Thank you Bob Ross for your wonderful “Joy of Painting” series; it showed me how to enjoy making “art”.
I am extremely happy with the end result and I don’t regret doing it at all. My hand hurt a lot after and my index finger was swollen a bit. While I may have had some stress in making it, it was a wonderful experience and if you ever have the chance to do it, I highly recommend it. Just remember; “there are only happy accidents”.