Thursday 13 March 2008

What’s in a name?

Following the iron brush, or Zuiteppitsu in Japanese. A few words of explanation are probably in order as I'm sure you're wondering about this, seemingly whimsical, name.
When I was considering what to call my web-site, and indeed my studio, I had initially wanted to call it simply, Iron brush. This being a poetic, Edo Period (1615~1868) reference to the chisel we use. One occasionally finds inscriptions on sword fitting indicating that they came from the "iron brush" (teppitsu) of some, or other, artist. Unfortunately for me, another group of artists also use, what they regard as, an iron chisel. Naturally, I'd have to indignantly protest that claim. A brief search on the internet for "iron brush", delivered a host of tattoo artists!

It was then that I remembered the term "zui-hitsu"; this is a very old (9th cent. Heian Period) literary term meaning "following the brush". The term refers to a genre of writing characterised by "stream of consciousness" jottings and expressions of personal and intimate responses to the natural and sensual world. It also hints at a certain lack of choice in the matter. I have always felt that I didn't so much choose to follow “the way of the chisel” as it chose me. It seemed an obvious solution to combine these two, old expressions to coin my own, new one.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

More hamered iron

This is also raised up from a sheet of iron, about 1mm thick to begin. This is by Kurose Sosei, 1886 ~ 1944, and is 14.7cm high. This artist was of a long line of armour makers from Kanazawa. This a bit like beating swords into plough shields; beating armour into art.

Is this an expression of wabi and sabi?

Hand raised tea kettle, with a silver liner, 20cm high Yamada Sobi. 1871 ~ 1916.


well it's been a heady couple of say the least! The forum is up and running, or should I say speeding along like a runaway train. It seems we are in a constant state of evolving, behind the scenes.

I'm really grateful for all the encouragement and wholehearted support our members have shown.
I couldn't have hoped for a better start to our new project.

The essay I've posted below was part of an introduction I gave as a lecture in Japan. It is a very personal, and idiosyncratic view perhaps and as such I didn't feel it appropriate to post my philosophy on the ironbrush forum.

It might provoke some discussion though, so please feel free to have your say.

Some personal thoughts on traditional Japanese metalwork

With regard to my work as a metalworker I am often described as
being a traditionalist. While in most respects this is probably very accurate I feel that the term tradition or traditionalist ought to be defined a little more precisely. It often seems to me that the modern conception of a tradition is of something static and unchanging. The question must then be asked, if the tradition is unchanging how then did it evolve to its present form?

Even a very brief overview of the history of Japanese decorative metalwork will show very striking developments in all periods. This is not to say that the natural evolution of any artistic tradition occurs without resistance. There will always be, in all societies and at all times, those individuals who regard the new as being a threat to the established order. Thankfully for us, most truly creative individuals seem possessed of a tenacity which sustains them in the face of opposition or disregard.

When I'm described as a traditionalist I imagine what is meant is that I follow apparently old-fashioned methods and my techniques and tools are the same as those of my predecessors.
While superficially this may appear to be the case it does miss the point to my particular approach, which is my desire to achieve the kind of mastery exhibited in the works left to us by the great artists of this tradition. I've tried to study and understand the working methods and expressions
in metal that are in many cases the only evidence we have of the practicalities of the work of the past.

Naturally, this approach I've adopted does not mean that I reject
the very many helpful modern conveniences.
You'll be relieved to know that I don't work by candlelight and I'm
happy to use modern, jewellers magnifying glasses. I have been forced however,
to grow my own diakon, this is traditionally used in preparing metal for

As a result of my own experience I have concluded that the methods employed in the past, while initially requiring effort and time to develop adequate skill and sensitivity, will always ultimately yield the finest results. I am well aware that my philosophy is very much at odds with contemporary attitudes towards skill in fields of arts and crafts. The predominant attitude seems to be that technique, or skill, can simply be acquired when it is needed. I think this misses the point. That being, that in acquiring a skill one develops a better understanding of the potential of various techniques and one is better able to express oneself using those techniques.

I think it fair to say that the general tendency among modern man is to continually strive for quicker and more efficient ways of doing things, however we would all generally agree, I'm sure, that some things simply take time. I believe very firmly that any attempt to learn from the past which ignores the ways of the past will result in a superficial, if not entirely inaccurate, conception. I have seen many attempts to replicate the effects and techniques of Japanese metalwork and I'm always struck by the tendency to look for shortcuts. If I'm honest I will confess that I find this approach to be both arrogant and ignorant.

From my very first encounter with fine Japanese metalwork I have experienced a genuine sense of reverence and awe. As I have progressed in my own investigations and studies of metalwork my respect and regard has grown. I feel a genuine sense of responsibility to those who have gone before me in this path. I am striving to produce work of my own which, I hope, will in some small way help to maintain the standards of the past from which I have learned so much.

Ford Hallam

Katsuyama, Japan

Autumn, 2006

Monday 10 March 2008

Following the iron brush .org

The forum is very nearly ready to go live, we're hoping by this evening! To be honest this mainly thanks to Lorenzo and Brian's generous assistance. Thanks fella's

If you want to beat the rush ;-), you can register now at this address;

We're still working on the banner and setting up the different sections so you can't get in yet but that will all change very soon.

see you there.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Humpback whale menuki

This is a pair of menuki I started making more than 14 years ago. I think they got put on the back burner once I started getting inundated with restoration work. They're shakudo and are made using classical uchidashi technique. At this stage they need the addition of some inlay, (okigane and kisegane in Japanese) and some more refinement. The surrounding metal would be cut away once they were day. The actual menuki measure about 7cm in length, O-menuki ;-)

The noren makers shop in Katsuyama

This is the shop of my friend, Yon Chan, in Katsuyama. She designs and hand dyes noren for the doorways of local businesses. That's one, with the white disc on it, in the image. The town has become quite famous for these curtains now and this particular street is made very picturesque by the presence of many different designs and colours. One day I'm going to ask her to make one for me. She generally designs them to reflect the owners business so I'm interested to see what she comes up with. You might also just make out the poster, second from the right, which seems to have a tsuba and a snail kagamibuta on it. Guess who's work that is ;-)