October 2018 – Japanese

The wind is rustling
through the yearning-bamboo
                  on the reedy meadows:
      now people will realize
             that autumn has begun.
(“Autumn’s Beginning” by Prince Munenaga)


Calligraphy and Illumination by Lady Mariette de Bretagne

Persona: So, my persona is ~technically~ 14th century French, which I chose back in the mists of time because I am a Francophile, but I do very little with that outside of poetry. I wind up in Indian, Viking, or Japanese clothing far more often than I actually do Western European.

Why did you choose this culture? Japanese aesthetics have always appealed to me. The lines are deceptively simple, but that simplicity is so hard to reproduce. Also, Japanese depictions of nature employ such a strong use of white space. It really embraces the “less is more” mentality of minimalism, which forces artists trying to reproduce the appearance of period pieces to exercise restraint. Could I have put more bamboo on the page? Sure. Would it have made sense to do so? No.

What is the inspiration for your piece and why did it appeal to you? Mundanely, I am a poet and an English professor, so the words almost always come first for me when working on a scroll. For this project, since it is a calendar and seasonal imagery came to mind, I went right to a compilation of uta (31-syllable lyrical poems) from Japan’s late medieval age. The selections in the book contain many references to the seasons, and the poem about yearning bamboo rustling and autumn beginning evoked a clear image of what I wanted the visual to be; I knew that would be the poem I used for the calligraphy. From there, the meditative aspect of sumi-e painting, and the spare, impressionistic view of nature it portrays, felt like just the right match to the poem.

Materials used: I used black sumi-e ink thinned down varying degrees to accomplish the gray scale in the finished piece, and used various sizes of sumi-e brushes to achieve the differing line thicknesses for calligraphy, leaves, branches, and stalks. I worked on watercolor paper, because that is what would be best for reproduction (even though rice paper would be more appropriate, and more conducive, to this genre of painting.)

Other notes of interest about your piece:  In addition to countless practice pages of bamboo stalks, bamboo leaves, and Japanese calligraphy, there are actually 6 drafts of this piece. Two of the drafts are ones that I consider completed pieces of art, and got signed by me and marked with a chop. The version that will be in the calendar is #4 of 6.

What drew you to participate in this project? Honestly, I loved the idea that the calendar would show work representative of all the different cultures in the SCA. While the SCA was founded with a focus on European medieval history, it is always encouraging to see acknowledgment of the wonderfully rich cultures of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Europeans had connections to these places by the end of our period, and one of the things we can do as SCAdians in the 21st century is to embrace and celebrate those cultures in a way that many Europeans in period could not.

What is your favorite medium to work in? I love working with thinned-down metallic gouaches as inks. It takes significantly longer to do the calligraphy, since I am constantly cleaning the paint out of the nibs and waiting for sections to dry before moving on, but nothing beats that “ooh” sound when people see the pop of metallic letters on a dark background when a black hours-inspired scroll goes out in court.

What is a C&I technique that is challenging to you, or not your favorite? Anything involving the recreation of people in a realistic way is something beyond my ken. Portraiture done well is an amazing talent, but one that I absolutely do not possess.

What is a piece of advice you would give a new scribe? Practice as much as you can stand it. Before I became an “actual” scribe doing scrolls for the Signet’s office, I spent years copying letters in cheap ink in notebook after notebook of graph paper. I still have some of those notebooks. When I am disappointed in my calligraphy, I pull one of those books out and remind myself how far I have come. I still have much to learn (So many hands! So little time!) but every single assignment involves at least a page of practice letters in the combination of ink and paper I will actually be using for the final project. Don’t expect to put pen to paper the first time and expect perfection; it is a process.