Taking the wind as cue for this year’s cherry blossom season.

Cherry blossom clouds, Zurich, 2023
Ink painting composition with cherry blossoms (in progress), ink, color and gold-leaf flakes on Japanese paper, 2023

Only a couple of days ago I could see full blossom clouds for the first time this year, and today the spring wind and rain are already undressing the lonely cherry tree.

It will be a particularly short season this year. If I want to capture it on paper I cannot delay anymore.

Searching for a different type of cherry blossom

There are many ways to depict wind in ink painting, but this season I want to start with a slightly more abstract expression in the background. I also have the urge to go back to a “tiled” approach for a composition. Maybe it’s a spring thing. Two years ago I painted a first spring-themed diptych that way.

The concept I have in mind for this cherry blossoms painting requires a mix of multiple techniques. These include rudimentary ink printing, color ink painting, as well as sunago (砂子) – sprinkled gold-leaf flakes.

There are a lot of tools on the desk right now to bring the first layer of this idea to life. The ink printing with a light ink-dipped thin thread creates some interesting shapes and lines. I have little control in this first outcome, other than a rough area of surface to cover and the tone of ink.

Composition with cherry blossoms (in progress), ink, color and gold-leaf flakes on Japanese paper, 2023

The sunago is next. I apply a thin layer of glue before sprinkling the gold-leaf, but the glue is drying too fast on this particular paper. Doing my best to keep up with the paper, but I will need to come back to this technique again in the final stage of painting.

I add the first cherry blossom clouds in pink coloured ink, followed by a few falling petals.

I love this stage when each brush stroke is still wet, adding a small relief onto the paper. After the work is flattened these impressions will disappear.

In store next: adding the center on some of cherry blossoms, and puzzling out the location of a key element.

A small tribute to a nature scene master…

I thought of adding some background elements first, but this would “crowd” the composition without bringing clarity to a key element’s placement. Key things first.

I am going to take a certain Hiroshige original drawing image for another spin this spring.

Bird and cherry blossom after Hiroshige, ink on paper, 2021

You might have seen this image twice before:

This time I have mirrored the original drawing of the bird and made a couple of sketches with a finer brush. One of these I cut out and move around the composition to determine a general placement area.

I want the bird to look quite prominent, I will have to grind my ink long enough to get its richest black. As always, something is ever so slightly different after placing the first strokes. The scale is just a fraction larger than the sketch, and the tit’s tail and left claw will cross over the “tiles” divide. I love it when this happens, but it will make the next stage a tad harder…

… with some contemporary liberty

I finish the eye with a couple of strokes. My eye is intentionally different from Hiroshige’s. I left a little white space inside the iris for the light reflecting spot. Hiroshige paints his birds in a style reminiscent of the Shijō-school, with much dynamic realism in the individual elements. But his songbird eyes still seem to be taken from observation of dead specimens, fully painted in, opaque black.

This cherry blossoms ink painting is taking shape nicely. We are nearing the “all or nothing” stage now. This is the stage when a particular important element is still missing, and a single stroke can make or break the composition. In this case it will be the perching branch connecting the bird to the tree.

There is no time for that this weekend anymore. A spring thunderstorm is underway, stealing the light and most of the cherry blossom petals away. Wish me luck, I want to show you a fully finished painting by this same time next week.

Part 03 of “A month in Japan” is well underway but not quite complete. I am still trying to find the right balance between painting and writing again, after a year mostly filled with “Autumn in Japan”.

How are you enjoying these longer posts on creative process this year?


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