This month we will explore the long but somewhat convoluted and controversial history of nikawa (animal skin glue).
Nikawa is a solid substance traditionally made out of animal (cow, rabbit, deer, etc) skins or bones or a mixture of both. Primarily used in art and art restoration, nikawa can be melted down into a liquid form to mix with pigments for Japanese painting (Nihonga), sizing papers or mixed with soot to manufacture sumi sticks. Interestingly, one of the main uses for nikawa in the 1900s was for match-making. A mixture of potassium chlorate, sulphur and nikawa is used to make the match tip, but with the invention of the disposable lighter in the 1970s, the demand for nikawa in that field slowly diminished.
The origins of nikawa can be traced back to almost 5000 years ago in the northern Eurasia region. Traditionally, the production of nikawa in Japan was done all by hand by descendants of premodern outcast hereditary occupational groups. Any work that dealt with death was considered unclean or tainted in Buddhism and Shintoism and was thus designated to these discriminated communities. Although nikawa making is enveloped in a dark and unfortunate history of Japan, the standard of the nikawa that was made during this time is recorded to have been of exceptional quality.
The hand processed nikawa (wa nikawa) contained many essential nutrients that were otherwise removed from the later machine processed (yo/western nikawa) ones. The industrial process removes all ‘impurities’, including sodium, potassium and phosphorus which are naturally occurring in the animal skin. These chemical elements aid in moisture absorption as well as water retention which is crucial for traditional nihonga painting and restoration of historical/cultural assets when an artifact needs to be remoistened to remove old adhesives. Wa nikawa is also known as sanzenbon, which translates into ‘3000 strips’, because that is the amount of nikawa sticks that are produced from one cow. The last manufacturer of traditional sanzenbon closed down in 2011, and now only the industrial version (with most chemical impurities removed) of nikawa is being made.
The Nikawa that we carry at Hiromi Paper is made industrially, and uses a unique process to mitigate the strong smell that traditional nikawa would otherwise have. The quality of the nikawa is similar to that of the wa nikawa, and is widely used amongst artists and conservators in Japan as well.
How to make nikawa:
Nihonga artists swear by the ratio of 1 nikawa stick to 100cc of water.
Place the cut up nikawa stick into water, and leave overnight
Heat up the nikawa in a separate pot of hot water; do not place the nikawa on direct heat.
Make sure the temperature does not exceed 60℃ / 140°F. Because nikawa is a gelatin/protein, thermal denaturation starts to occur around that temperature and drastically starts to lose its adhesive strength.
*This change is irreversible; much like once an egg is boiled it cannot go back to its previous form.
My love affair with Japanese papers is nearly lifelong going back to when I first saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s collection of Japanese art many decades ago. It also stems from the concept of wabi-sabi (侘寂), or accepting, if not delighting in imperfection, something which was essential to me when I was a painter and sculptor. It’s ironic that years ago, when I first visited Hiromi Paper Inc. in search of Japanese papers to try with inkjet printing, I used printers loaded with custom grayscale inks, and used exotic workflows and drivers in quest of the perfect digital fiber-based “silver” prints, no wabi-sabi allowed. It took years for commercial printers and papers to evolve, but now we have the ability to make beautiful archival fiber-based BW and color photographic prints. But in spite of all of these “perfect” prints that I produce on a daily basis, I still crave wabi-sabi.
Recently I’ve been working on printing work from three different series of art (Moving Meditation, Take the No. 9, and Collision of Moments) that both formally and conceptually called out for Japanese papers that partner with the images to make them more than just photographic prints. I’ve tested more than 30 different Hiromi papers at this point including both machine and handmade papers made from a variety of fibers both inkjet coated and uncoated. The papers range from tissue thin to more substantial washi. Currently I’m printing in both color and grayscale using Colorbyte Software’s Imageprint Black RIP with a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 17-inch printer.
In this article we focus on prints from my Collision of Moments series which are color. The images are light-painted time exposures that I began to experiment with about two decades ago. They involve collaborating with movement artists (yogis, modern dancers, belly dancers, or artist’s models) who move through space for up to 10 seconds. During their movement I hold the shutter open and watch, triggering several flash heads placed around the room to punctuate moments, glimpses of mindfulness, in a stream of movement. The process is very rich and I’m forever grateful to my collaborators for their experimental spirit.
An essential aspect of this project, and also of my love for photography, photographic printing, tea, and all things Japanese is a now more than 20 year friendship with Antonis Ricos. I trust Antonis’s eyes (and brain) more than any other human to evaluate a print both technically and artistically. He’s been more than generous to pour over my print samples, evaluating the papers, profiles, and most of all the wabi-sabi to give you a glimpse into what you can expect from inkjet printing on Japanese washi. He has also beautifully photographed the samples to demonstrate all of these features and provided detailed observations on what he sees. See his comments as well as demonstrative photographs here.
There is still much to do in the project including selecting the final paper for each series and fine-tuning profiles and images, but the journey so far has been most rewarding, and I look forward to showing these once we are again free to roam the planet.
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).
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).
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.
– Cypress, spruce(pine),etc.
– Water-resistant, easy to process.
– Silk thread for shamisen.
– Strong, tends to tighten when moisture is absorbed, easy to process.
– Water-resistant, will not weather easily
3. Process for making hake
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The brush is placed on a tightening tool and bound with silk shamisen thread.
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.
Written by Yoshinao Sugihara / Translated by Yuki Katayama
In Japanese, kami can mean either god or paper. Every spring, the annual Kami Festival (honoring the paper goddess Kawakami Gozen) takes place here in Echizen’s Okamoto Otaki Shrine. Usually the paper goddess and the two local gods that live on top of the mountain will travel down to the Okamoto Otaki Shrine to stay for three days (May 3rd-5th) during the festival. Every year, this festival brings together the entire Echizen Washi village, and many visitors from all over the world. However, due to the effects of the global pandemic, this year’s festivities were limited to the minimum number of participants donning face masks.
Although the state of emergency order has been lifted in Fukui Prefecture, most people voluntarily continue the stay-at-home protocols, and not going out unless it is necessary. The usually bustling Echizen Washi village has fallen silent in the past month, with zero outside visitors. The paper museum and shop reopened this week, with hopes to gradually attract visitors by having workshops and exhibitions.
Many of the papermakers in the village have been hard hit by the current situation, experiencing a drastic decrease in orders, along with multiple promotional events/projects being canceled in the coming months. Yet, no matter the situation the paper making artisans still head to their studios everyday, diligently making their papers with a positive attitude and smiles on their faces.
Above, the Yoshino river, with its pebbled edges, flows elegantly through Nara, where our Uda Gami and Nara Natural Dyed paper series are made. (pic: Yukako Ando)
Every two years, Hiromi Paper staff lead a tour through Japan visiting papermakers, toolmakers, and conservationists to gain further understanding of the world of Washi. The tour is heavily focused on conservation, thus we visit mostly the artisans who are producing papers used for conservation and restoration. As usual, the tour began in Kyoto, then traveled on a chartered bus through Japan visiting prefectures like Kochi, Shimane, Fukui, Gifu, and Nara. Participants stay in nearby accommodations and eat what is locally available. During the tour the artisans show how they are making the papers that many of our customers have come to know so well. Here, HPI staff Yuka presents what she saw and what she heard during this year’s tour.
Washi was not made in the summer because the tororoaoi (neri) would lose its viscosity…
In a lightly air-conditioned traditional Japanese house, with the back and forth motion of rocking the suketa (papermaking mould), traditional handmade Japanese paper is made.
The light that shines through the studio windows are ever so warm and subtle, glistening on the water surface. The well water is cold to the touch. Inside the vat are the soft kozo fibers, floating in a solution of tororoaoi and water. The papermaking studios are quiet and calming, and draws us in.
Contrary to the stillness of the studio, the scorching sun continues to heat up the outdoors, with an uncontrollable amount of sweat rushing out. This year’s Hiromi Paper Washi Tour took place in the lingering summer heat, for seven days in the beginning of September. We visited six regions, twelve studios, and four paper museums.
The hot summertime is an ideal time for papermakers to accept visitors, due to the lack of papermaking work (papermaking is primarily done in the cold months), but the participants and Hiromi Paper staff felt as if we were all on a summer camp, battling the heat and humidity, unique to Japanese summers.
Upon visiting six different regions and twelve studios, I realized that there were various styles in papermaking. The preparation work, materials used, how the suketa (papermaking screen/mould) is moved, how the papers are dried, are all a bit different depending on the region. Due to this slight variation, it’s not possible to simply group “washi” into one category.
Each papermaker or region’s unique papermaking style has been passed down for generations and will be passed onto future generations as well.
THE YOUNG GENERATION ALSO HARD AT WORK
IN BETWEEN THE OLD AND YOUNG GENERATION ARE: Hiroyoshi Chinzei of Hidaka Washi, Kiyoko Urabe making Usu Mino paper, Masayuki Fukunishi of Uda-gami, Uekubo san of Hon Misu gami, and Norimasa Abe making Izumo Mingei paper.
I don’t want to reveal what the subtle differences in papermaking styles are just yet, but perhaps you’d like to consider finding out for yourself on the next Washi Tour…?
Supported by the presence of beautiful mountains and natural water, there is great significance and depth in the traditions of papermaking, passed down from generations past. To meet the people that make the papers and to learn about the backstory is helpful in becoming one step closer to washi. I am grateful to all of the papermakers and craftsmen that I met throughout the tour, and wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
Washi Tour Route: Tosa Washi Museum / Hamada Washi (handmade Tengucho) / Hidaka
Washi (machine-made Tengucho) / Mr. Yamaomto (Japanese papermaking tool maker) /
SHIMANE: Abe Eishiro Memorial Hall / Shinichiro and Norimasa Abe (Izumo Mingei
papermaker) / Otaki Shrine (Paper shrine) / Iwano Paper Mill (large-sie handmade papermaker)/ Yamaki Seishi (Gampi papermaker) / Ichibei Iwano (National Living Treasure) / Igarashi Paper Mill (large-size handmade papermaker) / Kiyoko Urabe (Usu Mino papermaker) / Mino Washi Museum / Masayuki Fukunishi (Yoshino Uda-gami papermaker) / Ryoji Uekubo (Hon Misu papermaker) / Mr. Sekichi of Bokusendo (Conservation studio)
For more information about our Biannual Washi Tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALL IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT HIROMI PAPER, INC. For use of images you can inquire at email@example.com. All photos taken by Yukako Ando.
Our 30th Anniversary Reception and Workshop Extravaganza is fast approaching! The second of our FOUR workshop stations that we’ll reveal today is Chigiri-e. The Japanese art form of Chigiri-e is now well over 1,000 years old dating back to the Heian Period. Chigiri-e neared death in the 1800s but the creation of Tengujo/Tengucho provided a new way of approaching the method. In Japanese chigiru roughly translates to “tear” and e translates to “image”, “picture”, or “painting” thus Chigiri-e can be roughly translated as “torn picture”. More accurately though, Chigiri-e is, an image made of thin pieces of Japanese paper torn and shredded and then affixed to a stiffer surface, such as board or thick paper stock, and adhered with PVA, Funori, Fueki-kun nori, or Jin Shofu.
Thin layers of Washi (Japanese paper) allow the artist to build depth, perspective, and value in the image. Skilled Chigiri-e artists can achieve a sophistication reminiscent of watercolor paintings, however, it can be an art form suitable for all ages–from children to older communities. All of the different kinds of Washi (Japanese papers) possess many characteristics that lend themselves well to different techniques.
Tengujo/Tengucho, Color Kozo, and Color Gampi, for instance, can be used to layer on color and value due to it’s highly translucent nature. It can be used to quickly and subtly cover large swaths of space with color or texture.
The fibers of Kinwashi,Unryu, and Amate Swirl can be easily dissected from their surfaces to create gestures that resemble branches, stems, flower stamen, hair, etc.
Now available in store only is the Cavepaper Scrap Pack ($9.00) which comes filled with ends and bits of Cavepaper’s experiments and left overs, often one-of-a-kind pieces. These are helpful in adding unusual textures and patterns to your Chigiri-e.
Originally from the UK, photographer and artist Sal Taylor Kydd has lived all over the world, before settling in Los Angeles. Formerly an editor, Sal has been developing her photography for the last six years, both as an editorial and a fine art photographer. Sal will be showing her work from her series “Just When I Thought I Had You” at Gallery 169 in Santa Monica. Check out her amazing prints done on our Mohachi paper.
“Origins” artist statement:
Growing up in a small town in England, I had a childhood that was in many ways typical of its time. In the 1970s children led relatively unfettered lives and were free to explore the world with a large degree of independence. In my work photographing my children and family, I find myself revisiting my childhood through their experience, playing by rivers and ponds in the summer, idling the days away, discovering a real connection with nature. Every year we spend our summers on a small island off the coast of Maine. It has become a touchstone for us as a family, a place for us to connect with nature and with each other. For my children these are times of growth and exploration that are strongly tied to a sense of place, of roots and authenticity.
This series is entitled “Origins” because through these images I am attempting to understand what defines that sense of connection and understanding of where we come from, what ties us to a place and tethers us to what has come before?
The processes I have used in this series is Salted Paper printing, in which I use a combination of antiquarian and contemporary technologies. I use a digital camera to capture my images, but then I create a physical negative from the digital file, which is then printed in a contact frame, using the same techniques pioneered by British photographer Henry Fox Talbot in the 1800s.
With these processes, the element of time is not inconsequential, it takes time to make a print, a process that gives opportunity for discovery and serendipity. You coat your paper, you expose it to the sun, you wait. It is a contemplative and mindful undertaking. In each of the steps, from sizing the paper, to exposing the negative and developing the print, there is a tangible connection with nature and the natural elements brought into the print, which again mirrors the content of my work. The artistry of “making” a photograph becomes itself an act of becoming and invention.
Keiji Oki is the third generation Mohachi papermaker. Mohachi is an extra heavy weight yet soft paper. It is sized internally, making the papers suitable for printmaking, painting and ink-jet printing.
Can you tell us a little about the history of Mohachi paper?
From the Edo period, the Oki mill originally made only Hosho papers. It was only from early Showa period that first generation Mohachi Oki became interested in making a Japanese watercolor paper for western painting. The beginning of WWII prompted the development of a thick Japanese paper, since the supply at the time was all western papers that could not be imported during the war. This type of paper was invented with guidance from Mr. Hakutei Ishii (painter and print artist, one of the fathers of the sosaku hanga (creative print) movement) It was named “MO” paper, from the first two letters of Mr. Mohachi Oki.
Post-war, once the production of MO Mohachi paper normalized, the production of larger sized papers and printmaking papers began. These papers were not for mokuhanga, but for methods such as lithography, etching and silkscreen.
Any new papers that you’d like to try making?
I’d like to try making papers using the same materials as the Mohachi paper, but cater to new needs of artists or printmakers. That is how the largest size 31″ x 47″ Mohachi paper was developed, because there was a higher demand for larger paper for artists to use.
What is your view on the future of washi?
I’d like to focus on promoting the large variety of papers that Echizen has and showing the world what Echizen Washi has to offer. Also, I am still in the process of thinking of ways to keep Mohachi papers relevant and increase demand.
Any hobbies outside of papermaking?
I like to climb mountains and run marathons in my free time. My current goal is to climb as many mountains as I can in the “100 Famous Japanese Mountains” list.
See artist feature to read about how artist Sal Taylor Kidd uses the Mohachi in her printing.
During the CBAA conference held in Nashville, I had the pleasure of visiting Lisa Jennings at her studio and ask her a few questions regarding her work:
Can you briefly explain your art concept and media?
I refer to myself an artist, painter and sculptor. My art concept has evolved over 18 years as a professional artist and long before that I used papers, found objects, watercolors, acrylics and acrylic mediums. I have known since I was a child that I am artist. My work technique as it is right now evolved from working with watercolors, acrylics on and with pre-pigmented hand made papers that I created paintings with on canvas when I first started as professional artist.
How did you start working with washi and how does it compare to other paper? As I evolved further into my career I wanted more control of my surface texture, color palettes with my my painting, that is when I started purchasing Washi/Mulberry Papers from Hiromi about 8 years ago. I started with using mulberry thin and thick papers and pigmented them with liquid acrylics and acrylic dyes. This evolution set my standard and quality of work way above how I was using the other papers before in my paintings. I also use the pigmented mulberry papers on the wood sculptures that I create. The paper used on my sculptures really connects my paintings and sculpture as definable as a Lisa Jennings trademark and people identify my work because of my unique technique process in both my painting and sculpting processes. I get totally lost and am so passionate with the all the experimentation that I have done using Hiromi quality papers. I started ordering this past year some of the thicker Nepal Lhakpa Thick and thin Natural, Khadi and also DHM Triple Thick Paper. I love to work with these papers with the the liquid acrylic and acrylic dyes plus sewing and batik resist.
What are some characteristics that you like about the washi that you use? I love the versatility of the thick and thin mulberry papers. I love the strength of the thick/thin mulberry papers and how it holds up when I pigment it also using batik resist and sewn areas, then applying it with matte medium to the canvas or wood. The papers don’t easily tare or wear off with brushing on the matte medium. I trust the quality of the papers that I use as a professional artist that I am using something that is archival with my techniques for both my paintings and sculptures! I love the organic look and feel. My work is referenced to as primitive modern so the organic texture that lends itself with the Lhakpa thick and thin papers is so luscious to integrate into my works. I love being able to sew and batik resist on the thick and Lhakpa papers.
Do you have any advice for people starting to work with japanese papers? Firstly, I would suggest that people interested in papers research about papers and what their uses are for, how they are made, how archival and versatile they might be for different outcomes. Research is the key for me in anything that I do to integrate something more into my art practice. I would suggest that people who want to experiment more about using Japanese papers should use smaller sheets at first, perhaps use different types until they find the specific ones that work well with their techniques, mediums or purpose of what their desired outcome is from using the papers. Lastly play! Let your creative inner child come out! There are no mistakes when it comes to creating!
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.
In 2015, Deffner & Johann presented a video on “Parchment Restoration” with paper restorer Maren Dümmler, using washi from Hiromi Paper.
“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.”