I have always had a fascination for netsuke. I love the wonderful combination of art and function that they can display; I also like that many of them are carved in boxwood - my material of choice for engraving.
Last year 2010, the BAREN group of printmakers organised "Inspired By Japan", a portfolio of prints to raise money for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami that struck on 11th March 2011. The prints were to be sold through exhibition as well as online. Most of the printmakers involved practice traditional Japanese moku hanga techniques but I sometimes contribute my own engravings to the print exchanges that BAREN organises and I wanted to take part in the fundraising effort but could not find a subject that seemed appropriate and also suited the technique of wood engraving. I knew that I wanted to include a fragment of a map of Japan but that was all I could come up with.
During a visit to the Victoria and Albert museum, I was examining a case of fine netsuke when it struck me that here was a theme that would work for me. Several of the netsuke had damp or watery connotations which would be interesting to engrave. I was particularly struck by a snail on a lotus leaf which a friend kindly photographed for me:
Back in the studio, I researched netsuke images and the snail was joined by a water buffalo, a duck/swan and an octopus. I had my design.
Unusually for me, I decided to engrave this work in maple. I had a block which I brought home with me from my visit as a guest artist to the Wood Engravers Network in Chicago. I had been waiting for a suitable project.
Here is a detail of the octopus:
The background became a map of the area of Japan where the earthquake struck shown as a white surrounded by engraved watery waves:
While I was engrossed in this task, I was being interviewed for a feature in the UKHandmade on-line magazine and a photograph takes at this time shows the work in progress:
Here is the finished engraving after being taken through eight states:
The "Inspired By Japan" prints have been exhibited several times (details and on-line sales are here)
For a long time, I have been planning engravings with the theme of collection - either created by myself , other people or occurring naturally. This engraving seemed to me to fit into this group and I decided that the image would have a subsequent life, albeit in a changed form.
It seemed to me that the design was a little tall and unstable. This is a purely personal response but masking off the top of the image convinced me to take drastic action and I sawed off the upper portion and re-engraved the top, removing the water buffalo completely.
I have given this engraving the title "Three Netsuke" but then added text along the sides: "Thinking about the Tohoku Earthquake 11th March 2011". It has been printed in a smaller than usual edition of fifty. It has been accepted for the current Society Of Wood Engravers touring exhibition.