Kobayashi Hake on Japanese Brush making

Hello, World of Washi readers!

My name is Kohei Tanaka, brush maker of Kobayashi Hake.

Kobayashi Hake was established in 1907 by my great grandfather in Ueno Ikenohata located in Tokyo. The studio primarily made brushes for bookbinding but transitioned into brush-making for conservation use. Now Kobayashi Hake is run by my father (third generation) and myself. Today I would like to share with you the brief history and production of hake (brush).

(From left: 4th generation (me), 5th generation (?), 3rd generation at the studio)
  1. History  of  Hake

  Originally, hake is a variation of fude (in English, both are generally translated into “brush” but, when the two need to be distinguished, they may be referred to as “hake brush” and “fude brush,” respectively) that began to be used from the Heian period by craftsmen who mounted sutras and paintings in the form of hand scrolls, a process which required joining of paper and lining.

  Among documents and other bibliographic materials there are many paintings (Senmenkyo, a national treasure in the collection of Shitenno-ji temple, a national treasure, to name one) in which people are depicted washing or drawing water at the side of a well or the water side or washing a box, which appears to be coated with urushi (Japanese lacquer). In one of these paintings, two hake can be seen.

  In the Muromachi period, especially at the time of Yoshimasa(1449~1473), mounted hanging scrolls became indispensable items in the alcoves of shoin-style rooms. In paintings depicting artisans of various trades, craftsmen are seen using hake to mount paintings or calligraphy. It seems that around this time the craftsmen made their own hake, while in the Edo period people who specialized in making hake first appeared in areas around what is now Kyoto and then in Edo, today’s Tokyo.

  According to documents, Kyoto-style hake was soft while Edo-style hake was firm. In order to make hake, hair with tips were selected and bundled. The root of the hairs was wound with several layers of washi that had been glued together to a certain thickness. This was then pressed between boards and finally bound with thread, in the past made from human hair and in later days from silk thread used for shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument).

Binding the hake brush

2. Materials for making hake brush

  Hair

   – Animal hair : horse, goat, raccoon, weasel, pig, cow, deer, etc.

   – Plant fibers : coarser bulrush, hemp palm.

Several more types are used in addition to the above, but all high quality hair (mane, chest, tail) is chosen.

Horsehair is firm and will absorb paste well. Goat hair is soft and will absorb paste well.


Boards

   – Cypress, spruce(pine),etc.

   – Water-resistant, easy to process.


Thread

   – Silk thread for shamisen.

  – Strong, tends to tighten when moisture is absorbed, easy to process.

 Cherry bark

  – Water-resistant, will not weather easily

Making the finishing touches

3. Process for making hake

1. Boiling

Hair that has been sorted in step 1 is tied tightly and boiled in a big pot to undo any unmanageable characteristics and to get rid of oiliness.

2. Sorting

Hair is selected according to quality and grade of the material as well as to the purpose for which the brush is to be used.

This is one of the most important steps in the process since it will determine the overall quality.

3. Sorting

A comb is used to sort the hair tips. Then hair is separated into bundles of long hair, short hair, etc. and further sorted by cutting the roots to make bundles of same hair length.

4. Assembling, mixing

Several types of hair are assembled and then combed together according to use.

This is a time-consuming work since hair must be assembled uniformly.

5. Straightening with heat

A heated iron is used for straightening hair. Oiliness of the hair will ooze out when heat is applied.

6. Rubbing with ash

Ash made by burning rice husk is used to rub the hair well to remove the oiliness that has oozed out in the previous step.

Hair will become less slippery through this process, making the process to follow easier.

7. Suretori

Hair is arranged in the same direction and hair with split ends or no tips are removed by using a small knife.

This is a very important step. The tips of hair will be aligned straight when paste is applied.

8. Sandwiching

Hair that has been thus adjusted is sandwiched between two cypress boards in uniform thickness. Then the left and right ends of the sandwiched bundle of hair are secured with  barks of a cherry tree.   

9. Binding

The brush is placed on a tightening tool and bound with silk shamisen thread.

10. Finishing

A small knife, sandpaper and the like are used to adjust the shape of the handle.
Hair tips are adjusted.


Current Situation of Hake Brush Making

In recent years, it has become more and more difficult to obtain the animal hairs used to make the hake brushes. It is especially hard to acquire high quality deer hair used in Mizubake (water brush) and horse tail hairs.

More so than before, it has become important to inspect the hairs and distinguish their quality.

On the other hand, there has been increased demand from sushi restaurants that use small hake brushes for sauce application. The brush handle is made of bamboo and the bristles are Japanese weasel hairs. Fortunately, these brushes are becoming increasingly popular within sushi restaurants around the world.

 We at Kobayashi Hake will continue to make hake brushes of the highest quality for our customers in various fields around the world.

From Gifu to Yamagata: Catching up with Satoshi Hasegawa

Drying boards outside of the Hasegawa Washi Kobo–Hasegawa’s papermill.

 

Written by Satoshi Hasegawa with translation by Yuki Katayama

Satoshi Hasegawa is known for making some of the world’s most coveted Japanese conservation papers, the Shoinshi and Usu-Gami series (formerly named Hon Mino and Usu Mino papers), made of 100% Nasu Kozo cooked with soda ash and dried on 150 year old wooden drying boards made from the horse chestnut tree. Here, Hasegawa-san reflects on his shifted practice of papermaking.

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Careful not to tear the damp sheets of freshly formed and pressed sheets of paper, Hasegawa expertly starts to peel the top sheet of the stack.

Due to a record-breaking warm winter, many parts of Japan have been
experiencing a decrease in the amount of snow compared to past years. Having
lived in Yamagata until I graduated high school at 18, I feel that the past three
winters have had considerably less snow compared to forty years ago. The
climate in Yamagata and Gifu Prefecture (where I previously lived) is very
different. Yamagata is along the coast of the Sea of Japan whereas Gifu is near
the Pacific Ocean. Gifu Prefecture is blessed with sunny days in the winter,
suitable for papermaking and papermakers who utilize the natural sun when
board-drying their papers.

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Before being transferred to the final drying board, the damp sheets are inspected for quality.

In that sense, papermaking in Yamagata seems a bit
irrational because of the climate difference and lack of resources nearby but I
try to adapt my papermaking methods to the new environment, and not the
other way around. Yamagata is known for the drastic change in weather
conditions, with extremely cold winters and scorching summers. Gifu has
plentiful access to natural water and not many regulations for water drainage
whereas water preservation and drainage is quite strict in a rice-producing
region like Yamagata.

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Once the still damp sheets are stuck to the board, Hasegawa must carefully smoothen each sheet. Making sure that any air bubbles that might have been trapped underneath while transferring the paper to the board are released, is important for avoiding any warping during the final drying process.

There are still many obstacles to reach a comfortable, sustainable level of papermaking in Yamagata but I find value in the journey to achieve my ideal papermaking studio. Tsuruoka, the city I live in, is a part of the UNESCO Creative Cities network and has been recognized as a Creative City of Gastronomy.

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Each board can dry two sheets. Here Hasegawa happily walks outside with two papers mounted to this board. Soon they will find a place in the sun.

The city has great interest in all agricultural or farm products made locally in Tsuruoka and I’ve slowly started to become conscious of the possible connections between food culture and washi. Being in a city that is so strongly tied to food culture on a global scale, I’m considering the new potential for washi and Japanese papermaking in conjunction with gastronomy. Of course my main focus will always be making washi, but being that food is such an approachable and familiar theme for everyone, it will be interesting what future collaborations we can come up with.

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Some drying boards are reclined against stands in the yard while others find comfort laid against the house in which the papers are made. it is in this position, facing the sun, that Hasegawa’s papers will finish drying before making their way to Hiromi Paper, Inc.

Laura Viñas revisited

 

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Lejania by Laura Viñas. Watercolor on Tengucho paper.

We’re looking back at work by Laura Viñas this month. Through her work Viñas explores the psychological reality about self-contextualization and memory. Painting Tengucho 5g and 9g papers with watercolors, Viñas transforms the seemingly delicate sheets into powerful haunting images of landscapes alluding to the Pampa region of South America– a vast expanse of low-lying flat fields that unfurl in every direction that you look towards the horizon. Viñas work asks us to look into the image on the surface of the Tengucho paper and once there to try to look past it and get lost in the illusory expanse, and to consider the space behind the paper as part of what’s directly confronting us in each painting or installation.

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In the words of the artist:

My subject matter deals with  the perception of  landscape in order to create new places.
These new places are a mental construction, and in them the object of my work is embedded: time deposits, memory and distance.
At the same time, it allows me to research into the concealed and enigmatic side of these objects.
I choose my materials with precision: thin rice papers, watercolors and photography.Furthermore, I restrict the color palette, the vanishing points, and materials in order to fully develop my creativity and concentration.
I manipulate nature and light  as an abstraction, to generate a mirror where the viewer finds himself.  –Laura Viñas’ artist statement

Take a look at more of Laura’s work here: 

Deffner & Johann Spotlight

This month we are excited to introduce Deffner & Johann, German distributor of Hiromi Paper’s conservation papers, materials, and more. Deffner & Johann’s dedication to product innovation has made them a great partner in promoting special papers and materials across Europe. 

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Photo: taken by Hiromi Katayama at the IADA Berlin congress of Ralph-Uwe Johann & Maren Dummler

 

In 2015, Deffner & Johann presented a video on “Parchment Restoration” with paper restorer Maren Dümmler, using washi from Hiromi Paper.

View the video on youtube here.

“Deffner & Johann is a leading supplier of materials, tools and equipment for conservation & restoration, care of historical monuments and for those practising traditional craft techniques. We also supply design solutions for fitting out workshops and studios. In over 135 years of its history, the company has made a name for itself far beyond the borders of German speaking countries as a specialist wholesaler of products for use in all aspects of the conservation of cultural goods.

Our customers include well known museums at home and abroad, public and private archives, restoration & conservation studios, trades and crafts workshops and discerning artists as well as universities and research institutions specialising in conservation training.  We refine our range continually in close consultation with our customers. This co-operation drives us forward and forms a substantial part of our company’s philosophy.”

https://www.deffner-johann.de

Rembrandt’s Etchings and Echizen Paper

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Sugihara-san and Fukui paper makers attended the opening of the much anticipated exhibition: Rembrandt’s Etchings and Japanese Echizen paper at the Rembrandt House Museum!

The exhibition will be open to the public until September 20th, 2015.

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The Rembrandt House which once was his home is now a historical monument and museum, commemorating Rembrandt’s life and work located in Amsterdam. He lived and worked in this house from 1639 to 1658. Although the interior has been reconstructed since then, the overall architecture remains the same as it was in his time.

IMG_3889 Continue reading “Rembrandt’s Etchings and Echizen Paper”

Jennifer Moon x The Fire Monkey for Hammer Museum

Artist Jennifer Moon and bookbinder George Busby of The Fire Monkey have collaborated on a book project, a part of the “Made in LA” exhibition at Hammer Museum!

This is an especially interesting collaboration for Hiromi Paper as well, because when Jennifer had been searching for a local bookbinder, we were the ones that first recommended George at The Fire Monkey; whom we’ve had a close relationship with for many years. We are so glad this collaboration worked out, and together they created such a wonderful book!

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The book itself is a half leather-binding with a gold leaf pressed emblem on the front, a logo that Jennifer had made especially for this show.
Inside papers are inkjet prints on all Amate Solid Natural. Continue reading “Jennifer Moon x The Fire Monkey for Hammer Museum”

Larry Bell: custom-made papers

Last week, we delivered special ordered papers to artist Larry Bell, and saw his new studio space!

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Larry, with his new work on red Japanese papers

These thick papers were dyed especially for Larry, by a papermaker in Fukui, Japan.

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His beautiful new studio space!

Feel free to contact us about custom sizes or colors of papers!

Pyramid Atlantic: Sargasso Sea Scrolls

Scrolls in production – species images being screenprinted over the golden sargassum

Pyramid Atlantic and the Sargasso Sea Alliance (SSA) collaboration: screen printed Sargasso Sea Scrolls on HPR-01 Okawara Roll currently on view in the Washington Printmakers Gallery (WPG).

For more information, check out:pyramidscreenprint.blogspot.com/2012/04/sargasso-sea-scrolls.html

Five rolls of Okawara paper were ordered from Hiromi for the project, and the scrolls are now completed and are being taken to Bermuda next week for unveiling and exhibition there at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute on Thursday 20th September at 6.00pm.

The Sargasso Sea flows around the island of Bermuda in the Atlantic and is host to a wide variety of endemic and endangered sea species.  The scrolls have been made to raise awareness for both Pyramid Atlantic  and the Sargasso Sea Alliance  – which is striving to protect the Sargasso Sea and its associated marine species under international law.

The idea was conceived by 2 board members of Pyramid Atlantic, Marti Ittner and Jenny Freestone.  Artists from around the world were approached and ask to submit drawings of some of the marine species that live in, or make use of, the Sargasso Sea.  The scrolls comprise a set of 3 panels of Okawara paper, each 2’6′ wide by 8′ high

Under the direction of Gretchen Schermerhorn, Artistic Director at Pyramid Atlantic, photographic images of the sargassum weed have been digitally printed on gold on each panel.  The artists’ drawings have been converted to digital images, and screenprinted onto the panels.  The scrolls are in an edition of 5.  Six portfolios, each containing containing a full set of each marine species (on Okawara) are also under production.

If interested in purchasing or for further information, please contact Pyramid Atlantic!

Natural Curiosities Art House

Beautiful prints on handmade paper by wholesale art house studio, Natural Curosities:

Modern Circle  – [on Echizen Hanga Dosa Natural paper]
http://naturalcuriosities.com/catalog/320

This series of three-color silkscreen prints is all about color interaction. We played with the transparency of the inks, which creates numerous colors as they overlap. The ink absorbs beautifully onto the handmade Japanese paper, made in the province of Echizen, giving the prints a warmth very characteristic of this paper.

Modern Rectangle – [on Bhutan Mitsumata Natural paper]
http://naturalcuriosities.com/catalog/319

This series of one-color silkscreen prints was inspired by the paintings of Mark Rothko, in which big color fields interact with each other. The prints are on a beautiful Japanese style Bhutan Paper, made with 100% Mitsumata fibers, acid-free and unsized. These prints are pure in the way that they are all about the color and the paper. The absence of shapes allows us to experience the beauty of the isolated color. These prints evoke a feeling of Zen that is very calming in any space.

LACMA Encore Talk

Last night, Hiromi Paper staff and LACMA conservator Soko Furuhata gave an encore lecture on Washi and Youshi: Japanese and Western Paper at LACMA. It was definitely a broad topic, and we found we just have too much to say in one hour! But, somehow we got our presentation down to three basics: History of Japanese Paper (Washi), Video clips on papermaking (you really have to see the movements), and Hiromi Paper collaborations between western artists and washi papermakers. We end on a sort of serious note on Hiromi Paper’s mission in continuing to support washi papermakers, but we truly felt the support and encouragement from the audience afterward. We are so grateful for this! LACMA conservator Soko Furuhata also gave her very interesting presentation on western handmade papers and how LACMA uses Japanese paper in their conservation projects. Thank you Soko and the LACMA councils for making this night possible!