Suiseki Program in October

July 21, 2010

As part of the Golden State Bonsai Federation convention this year, Bay Area suiseki enthusiasts are organizing a suiseki program, including a seminar, exhibit, and collecting trip. 

The convention runs from Thursday, October 28 – Sunday, October 31 at the Santa Clara Marriott.  Full information about the many activities and how to register for the convention can be found on their website: http://www.gsbfconvention.com/

The suiseki seminar is a panel discussion on Saturday Oct 30, 8:30 am – noon.  The panel members include some of the best-known suiseki teachers in California; they will discuss their views about how to find and recognize a good suiseki, how to finish or present it, and how to display the suiseki for others.  We expect this to be an interesting, informative, and provocative discussion.  

The stone-collecting trip, on Wednesday Oct. 27 – Thursday Oct. 28, will be a two-day trip to famous Eel River collecting sites where fine quality suiseki can be found. The trip is 1 1/2 days of stone collecting (all day Wednesday, and Thursday morning) with guidance from a team of experienced suiseki collectors.  The trip includes 2 picnic lunches and a dinner program.

Both the panel discussion and the collecting trip are paid convention events.  You can register for them through the convention website.

The bonsai and suiseki exhibit is open to the public free of charge.  It will be open from Friday, Oct 29 at 1:30 pm until Sunday, Oct 31 at 11:00 am.  Detailed open and close times can be found in the convention schedule. 

We are very much looking forward to seeing old friends, and making new ones, so please join us this fall.


Suiseki Daiza – Cut stones

September 16, 2008

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.

Traditional 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.

Contemporary Daiza

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.

Creative Daiza

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.

Books

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 .

Web Resources

Suiseki force et beauté (in French)
Michael Hach
International Stone Appreciation Society
Bonsaimania (in Spanish)

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Old Friends, New Faces III

August 16, 2008

Mas will be sowing his latest suiseki art sculpture and two paintings in the next show at Triangle Gallery, Old Friends, New Faces III.

Old Friends, New Faces III
August 26, 2008 – September 27, 2008
Reception September 6, 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Triangle Gallery
47 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
Tel. 415.392.1686

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.


Painting: “Winter Blue”;2008;48″ x 24″;Oil paint on wood board
Sculpture: “Great Land” (大地 Daichi), 2008; W 45″ x D 16″ x H 9″; Stone and paint on wood board (deodar cedar)

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Found Object

June 26, 2008

Found Object, June 2008; W 21″ x D 12″ x H 5″; Stone, Walnut with stain

This is a stone we found by searching through a big bin in the yard of a rock shop near Eureka.   We found several tamari (water pool stones) with good color and shape. Mas originally planned to finish this stone in a very simple suiseki style with a wooden daiza.  One side shows beautiful color, and he chose it as the front.  About a year ago he made a rough model for the base, but had not completed the woodwork.


Original Front

Original Back

Then, a few weeks ago, a friend told us about a mill up in Santa Rosa that sells pieces of hardwood as scrap.  When we went there we discovered a mountain of solid walnut slabs. Searching through the pile was like stone-collecting on the river – from among the thousands of pieces we selected a few.

After we got home Mas was looking at the smallest slab and thought it was so interesting.  While he had it up on the table to study he remembered this stone, and thought that maybe they might fit together.

Mas tried different orientations and locations for the stone, looking for the best combination.  He tried turning the stone around and using the less colorful back as the new front, and found that the rough, subdued, appearance of the stone harmonized with the wabi-sabi feeling of the wood.  In this orientation, the movement and lines of the stone and slab echo each other, creating a unified composition.   I find it quite remarkable – a rock found in a bin and a piece of wood found on a scrap heap seem to fit together as if intended.

Mas did very little work on the wood.  He made a shallow seat for the stone, just deep enough to hold it upright, removed the bark at the front and slightly carved the edge of the slab.  He finished the piece by applying a light stain and flat varnish to bring out and preserve the natural wood color.  In this way, Mas tried to show the simplicity and purity of the wood and stone.

Stone is the beauty of the earth and wood represents life and death.  Combined they create endless possibilities for art.  – Mas Nakajima


Walnut Mountain, May 2008

Click on this photo for pictures of the development of this piece.

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Goshiki Numa

June 12, 2008

“Goshiki numa ” (五式沼 Five color pond) – 2007; W 5″ x D 4″ x H 3 1/2″; stone and black walnut

One day on the way home from a Klamath River stone-collecting trip we stopped near Eureka to poke around in a rock shop. Out in the yard they had a bin of these rocks for sale by the pound. They aren’t typical suiseki – being rather colorful and decorative – but they were so interesting and also inexpensive.  We spent quite a bit of time searching through the pile and selected a few to bring home. The bright colors in this one calmed down after a few months outdoors, so Mas made a simple base and we brought it inside to enjoy.

Last October we visited Yamagata, Japan. We had never thought to go there – it’s not a major tourist destination – but when we mentioned  to our friend Hideko Metaxas that we were going to Tōhoku (the northern part of the main island) she insisted that we visit her sister’s family in her home town of Yamagata.  As everyone knows, it is often exciting to get off of the major tourist route, and this trip turned out to be no exception. The visit to Yamagata was one of of the highlights of our Japan trip, and we are so grateful to Hideko-san and the Iwata family for making these arrangements.

The Iwata family’s hospitality is a memory we will cherish. During our two days they took us sightseeing all around the area. Spending the night at their house was like being at a first-class ryokan.  The sight-seeing tour included the Yamagata castle with its 400 year old cherry trees, the ancient Mountain Temple (Yamadera), the 350-year old Maple Garden and Tea House a short walk from their house, and the impressive Mount Zao, which is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes.

Okama, the crater lake near the top of Mt. Zao, is also known as the Five Color Pond (Goshiki numa 五色沼) because of the way it changes color from day to day.  When we returned home Mas noticed how our colorful little rock-shop stone evokes this image.  Whenever we look at this suiseki we remember our wonderful visit to Yamagata and our deep appreciation to the Iwata family.


Autumn in Yamagata
click to view gallery
2008 06 10 006-smart fix edited cropped
Suiseki display – Goshiki Numa
click to view gallery

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The Cave

June 5, 2008

“The Cave” – 2008; W 18″ x D 10 ” x H 8 1/2″; Eel River stone and ash wood with stain

Mas collected this is stone from the Eel River.  The finished suiseki gives the image of a beautiful snow-covered distant peak with a deep, mysterious, cave underneath.

Mas spent a lot of time studying this stone to learn how to appreciate it as a suiseki, and in this article I want to share his  artistic process.  The main problem with the stone is the heavy left-hand side, which makes the stone very unbalanced.

Clicking on this picture will take you to a photo gallery that goes with this article.  I’ve put some detailed information in the captions for each photo.

The first set of pictures (1-7) show various possibilities for how to position the stone.  One solution is to cut the stone (picture 6).  This solves the imbalance by removing the left side, and would make a rather nice, simple toyama ishi (遠山石 or distant mountain stone).

As readers know, Mas sometimes will cut a stone when he feels it is artistically necessary, but in this case he did not want to. This meant that he had to find a way to handle the left side imbalance.  Mas said: “I know I am crazy and it doesn’t make sense, but I love this part as much as the beautiful snow mountain. The huge unbalance is so unique! Because of that reason, I would rather take a chance and try to create the art.

One option was to finish this as “suiseki art” similar to Looking Forward.  But the combination of the snow mountain overhanging the wide board didn’t seem to harmonize.

Alternatively, he could just simply make a daiza by filling up the space under the stone.  But this would result in a big wood wall in the front – sort of repeating the problem I discussed in The Struggle.

He wanted to change what seems like a negative into a positive. It is not unlike human life – we all have weaknesses of various kinds that aren’t going to go away.  We have to live with and work with these aspects of ourselves and others.

Once he has decided on his approach, he makes some sketches of the design, and then renders this design into a plaster model (Pictures 8 and 9).  Once he is satisfied with the design, Mas completes and refines the daiza in wood (Pictures 10 and 11).

The finished piece is shown from different angles in pictures 12-15. In this suiseki Mas tried to balance the weight of the stone with the emptiness of the cave.  He said “Dark, empty, space creates a mysterious feeling and allows people to use their own free imagination.

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The Struggle

May 2, 2008

Forest - 2007; W 17 1/2

Forest – 2007; W 17 1/2″ x D 8 1/2″ x H 9″; Klamath river stone and poplar

Mas made this suiseki last autumn. At the time he had such a feeling of accomplishment, finishing such a difficult daiza. He brought it into the dining room and we enjoyed looking at it every day. But after a few days the excitement kind of disappeared. It just couldn’t stand up next to the fine traditional suiseki in the room.

Mas been struggling with this stone for a long time. It’s a beautiful piece of material from the Klamath River, but the feeling from the stone doesn’t transfer to the finished suiseki. The peak is small and indistinct relative to the vertical and horizontal expanse and there are many features spread out over the surface. It feels like a big wall, too busy and with no focal point.

A suiseki friend was visiting a while ago, and he suggested that Mas cut the stone and make a simple base. Of course this he had considered this possibility. It would solve the vertical wall problem, and would also help give the stone better proportions – a distinct peak and good kamae (good seat or posture). But cutting is a last resort, and Mas always wants to explore all the other possibilities. He feels that it is an incredible stone, even though it does not follow the traditional suiseki style. So what to do? He really wants to “take care” of the stone – and show the deep meaning of stone appreciation.

The other night Mas showed me a picture of his first attempt to finish this stone from several years ago.

Wave (after Hokusai) - 2000; W 24

Wave – 2000; W 24″ x D 12″ x H 11″; Stone, Douglas Fir with paint

This was one of his very early experiments with using a board for his “suiseki art”. The stone evokes the image of a great wave, and that reminded him of this print by Hokusai, so he carved and painted Great Wave off Kanagawathe board in a deliberate reference to the print. The result was not satisfying to him. The board is too busy, competing with the stone, and the carving does not harmonize with the form of the stone.

Nevertheless, I was kind of excited by the picture. The stone, presented in this way, seems really powerful to me. It gives me the image of a strong and ancient rock slowly being eroded away by the power of the sea. Mas now feels encouraged to try again, and I look forward to someday being able to finish this story.  He says that if he simply concentrates how to create a “Wave”, without any preconceived concepts, then all the rest will follow.

As Hemingway once put it:

“No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in,” says Hemingway. “That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better.” He opens two bottles of beer and continues: “I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true.”

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