水曜日, 12月 01, 2004

Learning Some

    Last Saturday, I went to Rokko Island High School to learn some (or somemono), a traditional technique for dyeing pictures on silk. Think of stained glass on cloth, and you know the general look of it, art that is all bright colors and nothing else. The medium seems to lend itself especially well to the portrayal of cuteness, flowers and hearts, unicorns and rainbows, the whole cute pantheon from my 4th-grade sticker collection reproduced here as a modern handicraft. Seeing the students' art projects displayed on the second floor of the high school inspired me when I visited the school for a speech contest recently. Nice people that they are, they invited me back, which is how I wound up there at 9 a.m. last Saturday with a sketchbook in my hand for the first time in years.
    Since I hadn't brought a sketch with me, I spent my first hour and a half just trying to draw plausible chrysathemeum petals. The teacher, who is in charge of the fashion design department at the high school, had me choose a picture to copy from an illustrated encyclopedia. Although I eventually want to try to dye animals and insects, perhaps a blue butterfly to photograph and put on my blog and a turtle emblem to use as an avatar for the KoL forum, these are long-range plans. I thought starting with a flower would be easier. After all, I haven't tried to draw anything difficult for years, but anyone can draw a cute flower.
    I chose a hanawagiku from the encyclopedia, an unusually colored chrysanthemum with a ring of yellow and a ring of red tipped by white. White is the one color you can't use, since the cloth is white to start with and it will look stupid without any dye. Later I wound up using purple for white, thereby creating a monstrous flower unknown to man or beast. Anyway, my first sketch was dismally bad, and the teacher, though very encouraging and without a hint of blame, showed me how to fix it by making the petal outlines more complete and sharply defined. The design needs to be traced, after all, so a plain, clear outline is best.
    Me: "I'm done!"
    High School Art Teacher: "OK! Now, how many more do you want to do?"
    Me: "???"
    High School Art Teacher: "How about 3 or 4? Because one flower will be lonely!"
    He took me to the hallway where a framed student somemono of lotus blossoms was displayed. "See, these are all the same flower, only she changed each one to make it slightly different. Some bigger, some smaller. See this?"
    Me: "OK...I'll do 3 more."
    I was slightly more successful with my second, third, and fourth flower, outlining all the petals completely the way he told me too. A word of advice: small chrysanthemums are easier to draw than huge chrysanthemums. Next, we cut them out and he asked me to put them together in the way that I wanted. I made a rather symmetrical display, to which he said "That's boring" and tilted it off-center a bit. Then we taped them together and carried them to the other room.
    In the next room were many students working on pottery and dyeing projects. One girl came in wearing a shirt she had made herself. It was cute, with kind of a necktie in the same fabric as the cloth and red flowers dyed all over it. There was a really good atmosphere in there. The teacher asked one of his students, I'll call her Ms. I., a third year fashion student who was nonetheless in the unoriginal attire of a school uniform, to teach me the basics. She put my flower drawings on the table and sprayed them with glue from a can. Then, she unrolled some white cloth over them, carefully smoothing out the wrinkles with both hands. I asked about the cloth. She told me that some should ideally be done with silk, but because silk is expensive the school uses this synthetic fabric instead, and it takes the dye just fine.
    With the cloth sticking to the paper, the outline of the flowers faintly visible, the next step was tracing the outline with nori--the glue, not the seaweed!--from a squeeze bottle. This was the hardest part for me--it was so hard to squeeze from the small bottle, it made my hand ache in no time. Slowly, petal by petal, taking turns when my hand got too tired, we outlined the first flower in glue.
    "Shall we just dye this one first, to see how it looks?" suggested Ms. I.
    "Sure," I said. (By then it was almost noon and I was only supposed to be there until 1:00. I was frightened by a brief daymere of having to stay there without food and drink until it was completed, squeezing glue around the clock until Monday.)
    Ms. I. taught me how to use the dyes and the usumezai, which will lighten the color. (It's dye-thinner, I guess.) She is quite good at delicately tinting each part of an outline in a second color. This is the most fun part of the process for me, watching the color spread quickly over the cloth, and if you dab the dye on just right, you can create stunning effects in seconds.
    With her help, and making my share of mistakes, I managed to complete the first flower. We were happy. The teacher came in and admired our work. Some of the dye escaped the lines of glue that had sought to confine it, dabs of wine color from the center leaking out into the petals, but the overall effect, even with that, wasn't half bad, and the first thing I wanted to do was take a picture with my mobile phone. Next, we agreed on a time I could go back to finish the job. It was too much work for one day. They let me leave the whole thing there to finish some other time. Going home on the Rokko Liner, I had a delicious afterglow from the experience. Ideas for future some projects, ambitious and improbable, flooded my mind. Best of all was the kindness the teacher and students at Rokko Island High School showed me. It's not even my school, and they were wonderful to me.