Monday, May 18, 2009

the dawning of the age of asparagus

Hokkaido, the northernmost and second-largest of the main islands of Japan, is a prefecture unto itself, unlike the other three main islands which are divvied up into multiple prefectures, or southernmost Okinawa, a prefecture consisting of a chain of hundreds of small islands spread over 1000 kilometers. Hokkaido accounts for 22% of Japan's forests, and nearly one fourth of Japan's total arable land. It ranks first in the domestic production of a staggering number of agricultural products, as well as marine products and aquaculture. More importantly, Hokkaido is my home. So you can believe me when I say we have the best asparagus in the country. One of the many pleasures of spring is the eating and the drawing of fresh asparagus spears. (Actually I draw them first, then I eat them.) My very first asparagus etegami was of a single, very thin spear taking up only a sliver of space across the middle of the card. It was so thin, it was difficult to place any color between the lines. That was when I first discovered that with thin subjects, letting color spread beyond the outline of the drawing can produce pleasing results. Since then, I've drawn all manner of asparagus. Thick ones, straight ones, curved ones, twisted ones, tall ones, short ones. They're all gone now, except for one from last year and the one I drew just this week. I posted them side by side so you could see the differences in technique, style, and concept. The one on the left is from last year. The straight thick spears were drawn with a reed pen (which explains the many inky blotches). The one on the right is this year's attempt. The thick, curved spears were drawn with a writing brush. The friction of the writing brush against the paper, and an unforeseen jerk in my arm muscles, affected the angle at which the spear in the foreground bends, making it look a little surreal. At first I was disappointed, but later, I decided I liked it.


  1. What kind of ink do you use to make the thick, dark lines? Black watercolor paint does not work so well, and neither does my Chinese ink stick mixed into water.

  2. Hmm. I get my ink in a concentrated liquid form and dilute it as I use it. But it's supposed to be the same stuff as the Chinese ink stick. We call it "sumi" whether in liquid form or stick form. It's the same ink used in Japanese/Chinese calligraphy. Maybe the problem is the paper, and not the ink. It should be soft and absorbent washi paper to get the same effect as my drawings. At the same time, there's nothing wrong with using non-traditional materials and getting a non-traditional result.

  3. I think I am using too much water with the ink stick. But then I am using watercolor paper. I must practice more. I am taking a sumie lesson next week!