Slightly Irregular

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Yesterday I got another furikaekyuujitsu (振替休日), or ‘day off in exchange’, because Sunday was the gasshou konkuuru (合唱コンクール) – ‘choral contest’. Note that konkuuru was written in katakana because it is a foreign word; coming from the French concours. In Japanese this word is used for most singing and poetry contests.

Making best advantage of my weekday off, I arranged to visit Iwata-sensei and practice making rakkan (落款). Mrs. Iwata is a former student of mine who lives in Touin Chou (東員町), which was my most distant class. Not to say that the students were impersonal and closed, but that the location was very far away.

Her husband is a retired public worker, who has many interesting hobbies. I have been meeting with him every so often to learn about making rakkan – stone seals for signing or marking artwork – in a process called tenkoku (篆刻). The last time I went I learned about making seals with red characters and white negative space; previously having made the simpler seals with white characters and red negative space. This time I hoped to learn about using irregularly shaped stones.

Most seals are on square or rectangular stones. I have picked up some round and oval stones as well; all of these being very common and inexpensive. For yesterday’s activity I picked up a special stone with a triangular cross-section; although, neither equilateral, nor isosceles. All of the corners are very round and the stone tapers up to a round peak as well. The rich gray and orangish-brown coloring gives it the feeling of a mountain.

Planning out placement of the characters on the stone gets a bit interesting. Thought is given to appearance of the final mark on the paper, but also to how the stone fits in the hand. Fortunately I had decided on the topic when I purchased the stone or that would also have taken some time. I can’t reveal the topic or show a picture until I am done and have presented it as a gift to a friend (who might chance to read this.)

Another challenge was figuring out how to secure the stone in my vise-like holder. It is made of wood and has several shaped and notched pieces that can be slid into place. Formerly I marvelled at the simple design that required no mechanical parts. Now I am pondering how to modify it. I will snap a couple photos for a later description showing how we wrapped the stone tightly with a tissue and set it between some step-cut pieces. This final solution was good; when I arrived home late at night the stone was still secure. My trip home included boarding trains and cars and a little running with the pack on. Before bed I carved out another character and cleaned up the first couple as well.

One important lesson yesterday was that you can make an irregularly shaped seal using a square stone by carving away unneeded material at the bottom. More on this in another post. Off to class…

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