Saturday, 8 March 2008

time for a tipple

Well...I think I've had a productive day. It's 9:48pm and I've just finished up so I think I deserve a little sake.

I'm babysitting. My lovely wife, Jo, and sister-in-law, Lorna, are out with the girls, dancing. At least that's what they tell me they will be doing?! The children are asleep and it's a peaceful and warm night.

I'm going to sit outside in the garden, look up at the stars and drink a toast to you all...Kampai and Namaste.

this is where I'm at today

After spending far too much time on the computer this week, sorting out the forum, I needed to get back to hammering today. This is where I'm at. The larger one is now at the stage where I begin tuning the bottom under, not much more to do...thankfully. The smaller stone resting on top, and upside down, is black because I've just normalised the steel and it's got a covering of fire scale on it. I pickle the pieces in hydrochloric acid to remove the scale prior to raising to that I can see better what's happening to the metal and so that I don't get quite so filthy. Hydrochloric acid removes the scale fairly quickly but is very slow acting on the bare metal.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Table mountain

This is the classic view of the mother city, Cape Town, nestled at the foot of Table mountain. Rumour has it that this great lump of rock is here, at the very tip of Africa, to stop the continent curling up in the hot sun. Occasionally, the mountain gets a tidy layer of white cloud over the top, which for obvious reasons, is called the table cloth.

There is a folk tale here that tells us that the mountain is really the giant Umlindi Wemingizimu, "the watcher of the south", turned to stone by the earth goddess Djobela to serve as protective deity to the land. There is reason to doubt the indigenous origin of this story and it's quite probably fairly modern. I won't go into the political myth making that this suggestion points to though.

It's been a beautiful day here today, although I've had my eyes glued to this pc screen for a lot of it :-( ....still trying to set up the style and look of the forum. If only I could hit it with a hammer I'm sure I could knock it into shape in no time. Anyway, rest assured yours truly won't rest until we have a forum, and not just any old forum either ;-)


a delicate piece of kata-kiri bori by Natsuo

This is a small shibuichi pill box with an iron inset top. The design is cut using the kata-kiri technique and has a few tiny touches of gold inlaid. It is about 4 cm across and 15mm high. Signed "Natsuo" with gold inlaid seal.

a word to the wise

a quick word of warning! I have just deleted a comment left by a registered blogger calling themselves "Faujora", this person is listed as Rahul Dravid in the blogger stats. If you click on the links he offered in his comment post or try to see his own blogspot you are immediately directed to a piece of spyware that begins running in an attempt to access your machine.

It "appears" to be running a scan of your pc looking for spyware in fact. Personally I like to be in control of what goes on in my pc and who directs it and I don't think this a legitimate situation so would suggest avoiding clicking on any thing this person posts, or anything else that you are not certain of.

Me you can trust but there are some nasty b........... out there, so be careful.

a bit more on the flying Kiwi.

The top image is of a 1920 Indian Scout, similar to the machine Burt started out with. The images below shows what it ended up looking like. I reckon this might qualify as "fine art metal work" ;-)'s certainly the fastest!
If you're interested in reading a little more about this remarkable man and his obsession you can go here.

the fastest Indian

This is an severely modified 1920 Indian motor bike driven by New Zeelander, Burt Munro. That's him in the picture above, I don't know how to place images where I want them within the body of text yet...sorry.

My wife and I have just finished watching the film "The fastest Indian" which is the tale of this man's mission to go really fast on a motorbike.

It's funny how everyday things seem to almost co-incidentally crop up and add to our understanding. There is a whole story to follow but first I want to tell you about what been going on here.

I've just spent the last 48 hours ( not a lot of sleep ! ) getting to grips with the complexities of forum hosting. I had been staring, incomprehensibly, at 30 pages of instructions from a recommended program provider ( I will spare the blushes of the recommender ;-) ) for at least a month when Lorenzo ( somewhere in Italy ) directed my attention to a free program called php, that is quite bit more up to date and user friendly. Thanks so much Lorenzo.

Anyway, this program, which is open source and free, is a pretty decent system to deal with. I must admit at this point that I am, despite appearances, a bit of a Luddite, but with the very generous help of Brian Robinson ( of Nihonto Message Board fame ) I am very close to being able to launch our very own, dedicated, forum.

I really am hoping to develop, with your help, a totally new " virtual" interaction. Those of you who already know me may have an idea of where we may be heading but I will admit that I genuinely don't know where that may really be. We're all in this together... if you care to join us.

So,...back to the movie. "The fastest Indian" is the improbable, but true, story of a man who sets his heart to achieving a seemingly impossible goal.

Burt Munro, 67 years old, set a new world record for motorbikes under 1000cc, in 1967. H e drove his machine to a top speed of 190.07mph on a bike with a severely rebored engine of 950cc.

This record still stands.

He started modifying his engines and motorbikes in 1926 and achieved numerous local titles but he wanted the ultimate confirmation, a recognised record at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah in the USA.

The film presents a colourful account of his journey to Bonneville from New Zeeland, the land of the long white cloud. Naturally, he meets the usual compliment of eccentric characters along the way, all of whom are won over by his decency and integrity and help him towards his goal. He seems to have been quite the charmer, but never the less, the spirit of his quest is well presented.

You may also notice the subtle sub-plot in the film. This is the story of a man, who without any real financial support or brilliant technical advantages, has the determination to challenge the most advanced racers of the day on his shed built contraption. To quote Lance Armstrong; "it's not about the bike". Of course the bike had to be up to the job but you get the impression that a big part of what makes it go so fast is his sheer will power.

This is an important lesson for us all, I think, especially in these times when we are lead to believe that excellence can't be achieved without the finest, and most expensive equipment. As the saying goes; " if there's a will...there's a way".

Anthony Hopkins does a credible job in portraying Munro, at times I even forgot that I was watching the great Hopkins!, Sadly though, his pathetic and confused, attempt at an antipodean accent ( I dare not even be too specific here...) was a real distraction. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. You may even find yourself, like me, cheering the old codger on with a tear in your eye!

The point, I suppose, and what seems to touch us, is this sort of wholehearted commitment. The little man against all the odds. We speak so easily of work that has heart, or of the effort that people have made in producing their art but how many of us can really present this sort of integrity? Are you prepared to put your life on the line to express your most genuine truth or expression...

or must you be reasonable and make sure you keep paying the bills?

As always, I will be the thorn...there is obviously much more to be said on this challenging issue so I will wait to hear from you, with a bit of luck we might continue this on the new forum.

Namaste to you all.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Kamishimo, Samurai court wear

This is essentially the kind of attire I mean by kamishimo. The skirt like culottes are called hakama and the oversized shoulder wings are kataginu. The swords had glossy black lacquered scabbards and the hilts had white ray skin wrapped with black silk braid. The tsuba were generally plain or nanako shakudo but plain iron plate tsuba were acceptable. The kashira was of polished buffalo horn with the braid crossing over the end rather than through it like with metal kashira. The fuchi was of plain or nanako shakudo. the only decoration permitted was the family crest ( kamon ) either in shakudo, gold or often, a combination of both.

Some very fine nanako

If you were determined enough to read through that whole essay I just posted then I suppose you deserve some eye candy. So here you are, nanako as perfectly executed as it gets.

This is one of the fuchi from the koshirae I described in the post below. Shakudo with gold foil rims and gold kamon ( family crest ) of kissing butterflies ( mukai-chocho ).

more nanako, this time on a tsuba.

This is one of a daisho pair that is on a kamishimo style koshirae. That's the formal regulation dress wear that was required of samurai when attending court. I'll dig out a photo rather than describe it. This is of shakudo and has a gilt rim. As the copper inserts ( sekigane ) in the tanghole ( nakago ana ) indicate, this tsuba was mounted on at least 2 different swords.

The nanako in this example is arranged in vertical rows, some authorities claim this to be an indicator of quality.

Commentary by Cpt F Brinkley, circa 1904

Karl Wunderlich, in Berlin, sent me a copy of the following piece of text which I think may be of great interest to some of you who . It comes from volume 7 of Cpt F Brinkley’s “Japan- Its History arts and Literature. Vol.7 . pictorial and applied art. London 1904”

The writing style may be a little old fashioned and some of the ideas he expresses are perhaps considered outdated today but I still think there is a lot to consider here. I’ve taken the liberty of inserting the odd explanation of some of the less common words, mainly for the benefit of some of you for whom English is a second language.

It is a saying of the philosopher Amamori Hoshiu that “in art there are four grades, The inferior ( heta ) , the skilled ( kosha ), the expert ( jozu ) and the master ( meijin ),” and that “ the same classification applies to the conduct of the gentleman.”

In such wise, also, may be distinguished the merits of carvers. Adopting that principle in compiling this work, I have divided the carvers of sword-furniture into three ranks.
Natural talent combined with the skill acquired by long practice constitute the" master," who stands, at the highest point of his art.
Next comes the "expert," concerning whom, however, a triple subdivision must be made ; namely, the expert who ranks next to and immediately after the master, then the expert who, though originally of "inferior" ability, has nevertheless by zealous ( enthusiastic )
and patient effort developed the skill which ought to be the aim of every student;
finally, the expert who by conceiving and executing some attractive novelty, obtains the passing plaudits ( praise ) of a curious public, but whose works ultimately lose their charm and stand revealed as unworthy of lasting admiration.

All artists that do not rise to the rank of " master " or " expert " may be classed as "common," There are certainly gradations ( levels or steps ) among these last, but the sum of the matter is that they belong to the "inferior" order and are persons of vulgar endowments ( common or crude abilities ). In every art the idea is first conceived, and the hand thereafter moves in obedience to the mind. The loftier ( more refined or higher ) the mind, the nobler the execution. An artist who produces inferior work should be ashamed rather than proud.The connoisseur of art objects must apply the same principle in forming his judgements. Nobility of mind, absolute impartiality ( not to choose sides ) , and entire disinterestedness ( not judging on the basis of your own taste ) are the three essentials of a sound critic.

The old-time carvers set out by learning from their masters how to handle the chisel, and when they had acquired skill in the technical processes they made their own designs and sought to develop a special style. Thus, even those that did not rise to the level of " experts" often produced work showing skill, force, and graces of composition.

So degenerate ( below a normal, decent level ), on the contrary, are modem carvers that if they find an old work of fine quality, they carefully copy it by taking an impression ( making a wax copy and casting ). But their unskilled use of the chisel easily betrays them, for their execution is invariably prolix ( taken an unnecessarily long time ) and awkward. None the less when, after long toil and much pain, they have succeeded in carving, polishing, and colouring, they fondly imagine themselves great artists, and with consummate ( skilful ?) silliness inscribe their names on these productions, pointing the finger of scorn at other sculptors.

It is with the carver as with the painter. The good pictorial artist, after acquiring a thorough knowledge of the uses of the brush as taught by his master, copies many fine old pictures and studies them earnestly, so that, when he comes to paint independently, he has always before his mind's eye a model showing the inimitably ( unique ) exquisite points of the great chefs-d'oeuvre ( masterpiece ) of the past. But he never prostitutes his natural talent so far as to make slavish ( unthinking ) imitations. Thus every touch of his brush is eloquent ( speaks well ) of original talent, and the true critic cannot fail to detect the merits of his work.

Very different is the practice of the "inferior" painter.
His solicitude ( concern or intention )is almost entirely about the motive of his
picture, scarcely at all about the brush-work. He is not
versed even in the rudimentary ( basic ) art of using the "charred
stick" (charcoal) to change the scale of a drawing, or to
alter the shape of the figures. He prefers to make tracings
of old pictures and to reproduce them with elaborate accuracy.
There are not a few of these imitators, and the connoisseur,
whether of painting or of sculpture, must needs be on his guard
lest he deceive others as well as himself.

One naturally supposes that men like Joi, Somin, Toshi-
Hisa, Yasuchika, and other masters, who, by giving birth to
a glyptic ( carving ) style of their own, achieved world-wide fame, and
whose doors were thronged by eager applicants for their
productions, must have amassed much wealth. But it is
impossible for a man to be great in art and mercenary at the
same time. The common craftsman as he bends over his
task, is forever estimating the wage it will bring. Thus the
taint of covetousness is inevitably transferred to his work,
constituting a feature which more and more repellent as time goes by,
and finally banishes the specimen to some degraded shop of a dealer in old metal.

The true artist, though conscious that he toils for a living,
has his recollection of the fact effaced ( to rub out ) by love for his work.
At times he will lay aside his chisel for months if he finds that his heart is not in his work. When the inspiration arrives, however, he becomes so completely absorbed in his task that he cannot bear to lay it aside, day or night, until it is finished.

There is vitality in the result ; it is surpassingly good. But if the question of gain be considered, it is found that although the productions of the master fetch a high price, the profit to him is not as great as that accruing from inferior work quickly executed (made) and cheaply sold.
The poet Basho says, " Pity it is that the shira-uo (a, tiny river-
fish of silvery transparency and almost colourless, Japanese anchovy) should
have a price." A great artist is injured when the price of
his work is discussed : it should be above price. Business
men would do well to lay this precept to heart; " Only to
accumulate gold and silver is to be their slave." The true
aim should be to develop an extensive trade and to achieve
a great career, just as the artist cherishes and strives for the
reputation of his art rather than of himself.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

I managed to get a bit more hammering done.

Well, Mom has been and gone...and I can finally get back to the studio. So there was me being the dutiful son and being all attentive and taking her out and about and I get hassled for not doing enough work! Seems I can't win ;-) Anyway, she wants to know that I'm now hard at work now so I've got instructions to post daily updates so she can check up on me...

This is where I've got so far with the iron stones. There are a few little bits in there to hint at what I'm planning too. It's been a pretty steep learning curve and no doubt the next large stone I do will be far quicker and less of a wrestling match. In fact I'm not absolutely convinced by the shape I'm achieving at the moment, I'll give it another day and decide tomorrow evening whether I will use it or start again. I think it's a perfectly suitable shape in many respects but I actually had a slightly different feeling in mind and as I've said before; the stone is not just an object to stick a decorative motif on it is an integral part of the whole expression for me.

Ultimately though, whether I use this particular stone or not is less important than the process I've worked thorough in terms of developing the initial idea. I'd rather get one really right than produce 3 mediocre paperweights.

Incidentally, the ear defenders are an essential fashion accessory when hammering iron or steel cold, if you wnat to keep your sense of hearing.

Monday, 3 March 2008

too good to miss!

I had to post a link to this amazing display of archery;

I used to enjoy shooting the English longbow but this is of another order.