Making daiza for suiseki is hard; you need to acquire the necessary wood carving skills, you need a sensitive, artistic eye, and you need to develop an understanding of the aesthetics of the art form.
As a beginning daiza maker you will likely start with a standard daiza style and practice it first for cut stones and then with natural stones. In the process you will gain technical skills and develop your artistic eye and understanding of suiseki. As your skill develops you may start to modify the style of your daiza in order to better capture the unique qualities of individual stones.
As regular readers of this blog know, Mas will cut a stone when he feels it is right artistically for a particular stone. He does not like to do this however if the result will be just a mediocre suiseki. Cutting the stone must not only be an improvement over the stone in its natural state, but the resulting composition must meet the aesthetic criteria and “rules” for suiseki.
Finding a very good cut stone is difficult, almost as hard as finding a good natural stone. A cut stone suiseki must consist of a mineral of medium-hardness, with good color and patina; most important, it needs to follow the rule of three-sides (三面の法 sanmen-no-hou) and have a good seat (kamae 構). (You can find a previous discussion of this topic in our article To Cut or Not to Cut.)
Mas always recommends that beginning daiza makers begin with cut stones, and develop both their wood working skills and their artistic understanding of suiseki, prior to tackling the natural stones.
In this article I’m not going to show a “how to” for making a cut stone daiza. That information is widely available through workshops and books (I’ll give some references below). Instead, Mas and I want to discuss some of the different styles of daiza he uses.
Each stone is different, and you cannot use a single type of daiza for every suiseki. The shape and height of the daiza wall and legs need to be adapted in order to harmonize with the particular stone. If you click on the pictures below, you will find photo galleries that illustrate each section. In these galleries you will see specific comments about particular suiseki and their daiza.
The beginning point for any daiza maker is a “traditional” style. In Mas’ case, this is a simple daiza form that was brought to Northern California by the Japanese artists that introduced suiseki to us. These traditional daiza, which derive from those popular during the Meiji period, have a straight, horizontal rim with two levels – the inner rim is slightly higher than the outer rim.
This style is well suited to the classic “distant mountain” stones such as the one shown above. While it is strongly asymmetrical, the stone nevertheless has a quiet, reserved feeling. It does not have strong movement, there is not a lot of surface texture, and the color range is muted and subtle. The simplicity of the daiza combined with the slightly decorative touch of the raised inner rim gives this suiseki a restrained, elegant feeling.
The apparent simplicity of the daiza, of course, belies the actual difficulty in making it. While the style dictates the overall form, every detail can vary: the height and width of the daiza wall, the size and placement of each foot, even the angle at which each foot meets the ground.
In recent years, suiseki artists in Japan and elsewhere have developed a new style that has a single rim line. This style is of course less decorative and has a less formal feeling than the traditional style.
Mas no longer uses this style very often, but for the suiseki above the simplicity of the daiza harmonizes well with the stone and helps to keep the eye focused on the stone and not the base.
Recently, Mas has started exploring a new style of daiza, trying to better enhance the features of individual stones. In this “creative” style, Mas does not stick to a horizontal rim, but adjusts it with the movement of the stone.
If you look at this suiseki, Mas chose to cut the stone lower than he normally would and vary the height of the daiza rim. This lets him reveal the “valley” in the lower part of the front while filling in the undercuts at each end.
Obviously, this style requires the same wood carving skill that is needed for a natural stone suiseki. The point, however, is not to show off the artist’s skill, nor to pretend that it is a natural stone. The intention is improve the cut stone and show the suiseki to its best advantage.
This creative style does not suit all stones. In the gallery behind the photo you will see some examples where the busyness and movement of the base distracts from the beauty of the stone and a simpler, more traditional daiza would fit better.
The suiseki artist needs to appreciate the particular uniqueness of each stone and make a daiza that enhances it. As Mas says “I like to find what is best for the stone. No matter how much time I spend, once I pick it up and bring it home, whether it is a cut stone or natural, I want to do the best I can to enhance the stone. This is my way of stone appreciation.”
References for Daiza Making
The easiest way to learn how to make daiza is to belong to a local suiseki club if one is available. There are also seminars and conventions held in the U.S., Europe, and Asia where instruction can be had. Often, suiseki instructors participate at bonsai conventions and shows.
Coming up in October, 2008 is the International Stone Appreciation Seminar in Pennsylvania.
Suiseki – The Japanese Art of Miniature Landscape Stones by Felix Rivera (published by Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA)
The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation by Vincent T. Covello and Yuji Yoshimura (published by Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, VT)
Various Japanese language books written by members of the Murata family have illustrated guides (with photos) for making the older traditional style of daiza. One source for these old books is http://www.japanese-book.com/index.php .
Suiseki force et beauté (in French)
International Stone Appreciation Society
Bonsaimania (in Spanish)
I know this is a very old blog post and an answer may be too much to hope for. I have a lovely mountain suiseki with a marked daiza. This was found tucked away in an attic for almost 30 years. I am trying to find out the origin of the piece and my best hope is through the daiza artist mark. Is there somewhere I can contact to find out about it?
Hi Amy, yes, use the contact form to send an email. You can click on the tab at the top with my name – Janet Roth, but here’s a direct link: https://suisekiart.com/janet-roth/
It is very possible that someone can identify it – so once you send the email I can write back and tell you where to send the photos. A photo of the bottom of the daiza with the mark, and then photo of the daiza from the top, and photos of the daiza and stone together from the front and back (showing the legs). There are only so many daiza makers in the world, and each has their signature style, so especially seeing the legs can help knowledgeable people. The fact that the maker used a mark indicates that it’s probably a commercial maker – might be either Japanese or American. We’ll see !
This is a great bit of information on a topic I had never even considerred. You opened my eyes to a whole new level of interesting stuff. My wife can blame your for the additional hobby expenses! Thanks for puting all this together and sharing it with us!
I’m always glad to contribute to the future deliquency of another suiseki hobbyist!
it looks so cool
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Dear Mas and Janet,
It was lovely to see you, and to chat awhile. I just finished reading the article about carving Daiza, and really appreciate the effort. Trying to fit daiza aethestically to each stone is a challenge. I will suggest this article to both newcomers to Suiseki, and crusty oldtimers- there is a lot to learn, and seeing the outcome of different styles on a single stone is great. Thanks, Bob
Nice article. Thanks. 🙂 Eugene
Morten, Sam – thanks very much for your thoughts and encouragement. Mas is a professional artist, so of course his work is for sale (though like many artists he often has mixed feelings about actually parting with anything!). I have often thought about offering some suiseki for sale on the web, but have always stopped short.
It seems like it would be very difficult for a buyer to really evaluate a suiseki and determine if they want it based simply on a web photo – no matter how good our photos eventually become. (Taking good photos of stones is HARD!) But perhaps there are ways around that.
So – I will probably do this sometime, maybe soon. Any thoughts on this from a buyer’s perspective are welcome! Either post a comment here or email me.
Dear Mas and Janet,
I second the request by Morten.
Dear Mas and Janet,
I am missing something when I look at your site. I like art and I collect art. When will Mas part with some of his traditional suiseki – or the more modern, Sueseki Art? Will the ever be a page titled “A few for sale”?
I know how time-consuming and occasionally treacherous it sometimes is to find stones with the right possibility and quality for your artistic vision. I do not have the skills for that. That is why I hope that there will one day be a new page on your blog-site. Morten
Dear Mas, I recently came across your website by accident when searching for walnut slabs. Your work is very beautiful.I was not famiilar with suiseki before finding your website (very nice job by the way) and now I am very happy to have found it. I have been a cabinetmaker for many years but my style has been mainly western with some asian influences. In the past few years I have been struggling with my work and my need to express myself creatively .Although some may find my work creative ,this type of “art form”is limiting. I have been toying with the idea of using walnut to sculpt with,but find it very expensive. Is the place in santa rosa still there and open to public? Eichi