JAPAN

It’s not really come as a surprise to me as I have heard so many people’s stories of how  Japan is marvellous.

So I am really pleased to report that I totally concur, in fact there is so much I like about Japan, I’m not sure where to start.

I was there for just  two weeks and every moment of every day was a joy, from the most mundane things right through to the most important and significant are just so good.

In corner shops you can withdraw money, buy socks, or a white shirt, delicious tangy sweets, or chocolate coated macadamia nuts.  Half a bottle of white wine in a bottle-shaped can for £1.95! All manner of snacks, treats and drinks all new and wonderfully surprising.

I am glad to have experienced the calm meditative space of a Buddhist temple prayer led by a monk, whilst sitting on tatami mats. Even for non-believers it’s a deeply moving experience, a chance to meditate and understand how lucky we are.

Japan  – for a visitor, is an incredible safe place, I have wandered the streets at night with my camera, taking photos and not once felt in the slightest bit anxious or out of place.

I have travelled here with a group of amateur photographers, guided by two tutors who are ready and willing and expert at advising on settings and opportunities. As well as leading us to the most amazing places, organising transport, tickets, hotels, everything.

We visited a tiny family run Sake factory to taste their wares and see the extraordinary equipment dating from more than 50 years ago. And we’ve been to the tech area of Tokyo to buy the latest gadgets. We’ve had hot baths in the open, with expansive views, eaten banquets whilst seated cross legged on tatami mats and sipped cocktails in a bar on the 34th floor overlooking Tokyo.

The food is extraordinary and of such incredibly good quality and freshness, lots of raw fish and pickled plums and rare beef, bean curd, edible flowers, all sorts of new flavours. And plenty of Japanese beer and Sake.

So much more to tell but here are some photos to suggest some of the wonder of Japan.

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Makers marks in the huge stones of the ramparts in the Imperial Palace Garden
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A screen in a first floor dining room in Kyoto, bamboo mesh with a delicate carved wood surround
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Noren were originally used to protect a house from wind, dust, and rain, as well as to keep a house warm on cold days and to provide shade on hot summer days.They can also be used for decorative purposes or for dividing a room into two separate spaces.
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Ancient pine woods in the mountains near Hakone
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Dining rooms in Kyoto are often protected by wood and paper screens. So tempting to peek in!
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Bamboo woods outside the perimeter of an elaborate garden full of bonsai, streams, raked gravel and perfect traditional wooden houses.
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A great exanmple of a wood panel on an old house in the Edo district of Tokyo, the wood would have been flamed to remove the softer less waterproof areas, leaving a long lasting weatherproof finish. Traditionally called Shou-sugi-ban
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I came across a carpenter working on some large trunks of wood, I asked him what he was makig, he took some spare wood and a red felt-tipped pen and drew this, its a traditional temple gateway.
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Exterior walls of traditional houses are often covered with split bamboo panelling as a way of weatherproofing.Take a large diameter bamboo pole and split it in many sections along its length, flatten it out and nail it to a wall, so simple but probably requires great skill.
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The inclined roadway outside our hotel in Shibuya district in Tokyo, I think it is concrete poured in situ and moulded with these indented circles to afford grip in icy or wet weather.
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Bamboo fencing around an ornamental garden
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Narrow lengths of bamboo latticed together to form a screen within a restaurant.
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The oldest temple in Kyoto dates back to the Chinese influenced style. This wooden handrail has been worn away by the people coming to pray.
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Everyone lights a length of incense to leave in the sand tray outside the main entrance to the temple.
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We visited a great many stations in transit during our time in Tokyo, so I can’t recall which one this is but it perfectly captures the speed of commuters and great design so often seen in the vast transport network.

Low Relief Construction

A whole series of my work has been inspired by a drawing of my father’s from 30 years ago. His original was based on visually extracting shapes from a classic Tumbling Blocks schema used in drawing, painting, patchwork and many other formats.

This is his drawing on paper in ink and two thicknesses of line.

I have made a number of drawn versions of my own.

A sketched and cut version in heavy water-colour paper.
A sketched drawing in white crayon on water-coloured paper.
After many other versions in drawing, painting and cutting I have now embarked on a low relief version in painted plywood. The pieces were cut out usung a tiny reciprocating jig-saw that my mother owned from the mid ’80s.

Here are some of the stages I have passed through. Hopefully tomorrow it will be finished.

Drawn out with pencil and set square, then cut out with the jigsaw
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The complete design incised into the backboard
Laying out the pieces and deciding how far away from the surface they should sit.
Some of the pieces with spacers glued to the back
Painted and ready for assembly

Roquebrun, Tarn, France

I was lucky to pay a fleeting visit to this green and rocky place last week, the weather was surprisingly warm, perhaps too hot for a 3 hour trek up the Gorge D’Heric but the scenery was certainly photogenic.

Bridge over the Orb
Sunday swimming in the Orb, below the bridge in Roquebrun. I think maybe something was being cooked up on a barbecue too.
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The little hill town of Roquebrun with its protecting castle which has views both up and down the river Orb
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The fertile flat land that floods in winter is well used and tended, growing everything from cabbages to mulberry trees, pinks to leeks
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The river Orb flows between the rows of trees in the distance.
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Messing about in the river
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Gorges d’Heric. – I just happened to be passing when this guy was trying to impress his girlfriend by throwing a big boulder into the river. She honestly couldn’t have cared less!
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Afternoon sunlight just hitting the edges of the trees on our way down from the top.
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Trying to catch the splash as my friend throws stones into the pool.
Grey rock
most of the fallen rocks were yellow brown but this enormous one was blue grey, been there a long time judging by the smoothed contours.
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Back down by the river Orb, perfect afternoon sunlight picking up the green of the leaves.

 

Figures of Eight Sides – after more cutting into the block

I have printed from this block in a few different colour variations but I think this dark blue/black is my favourite so far. I am going to try a dull brickish red too I think. And I might do some more cutting.

I have in mind to cut some more of the shapes out, deeply enough to fit in a shape made from copper sheet. Copper is beautiful when it’s highly polished but it ages really well too, gaining depth and variation ofcolour. In fact if you heat it, the surface develops amazing tones where a flame has licked it. Details to come . . .