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John’s Art – Pick of the Week: Japanese Warrior Prints
While I was in Japan in the mid ’70′s, I was assistant to Kunio Ekiguchi, author of many books on traditional paper arts. It was fun working for him because he always had a wide variety of projects going on at any given time and they all required research which entailed leafing through old books for ideas. I was in seventh heaven!
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During that time I developed a fondness for a style of Japanese cartooning that was popular in the mid-1800′s and earlier. These were rather cheap block prints printed in black ink, and sometimes with a few minor colors washed in afterward. Presented here are a few samples of warriors I have dyed in this style.
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To start with, I drew a sketch of the warrior I wanted to portray. Then cut a stencil from hand-made mulberry paper that had been lacquered with persimmon tannin and smoked.
This stencil was then used to apply a rice paste resist made of rice bran (小紋糠) and powdered sweet rice (餅粉).

Notice how the pasted areas correspond to the holes in the stencil. The paste will prevent the areas they cover from being dyed until later.
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Lacquered Warrior Stencil
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I prepared a blue dye using what is called indigo bloom (藍花), is made from the bubbles on top of an indigo vat. To this I added some ivy berry juice and stained the cloth by applying the colors with a brush.
Rice Paste Applied to Silk
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Over this I applied a very concentrated version of the indigo bloom to the outlines of the figure. And over that some concentrated soot mixed with soymilk.
Indigo and Ivy Applied with Brush
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The dyes need to cure, so I set the fabric aside for about two months and then washed off the paste to reveal the design.
Indigo and Soot Applied to Outlines
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Now that the paste is gone, I can go back in and dye the face, clothing, and weapons. I used a very thin wash of soot, another of indigo, and some of rust to give the piece a little life.
Silk with Pate Removed
Finished Piece with Touch of Gold Added
One of the qualities of the rustic block prints that I liked so much was the way in which the colors look as though they have been applied casually or spontaneously–often reaching well beyond the borders of the item being colored. I tried to emulate this effect with my dyes and brushes.

In the end, I decided to put two tiny dots of gold on the hand guards to bring out some of the colors.

To view a wider range of these designs, click on any of the warrior figures above, and you’ll be taken to my sales gallery.

Carving stencils, making the paste, and dyeing work such as you see above are all covered in any of my katazome classes. Check out my Calendar of Events on my web page by clicking on this text, or take a look a the classes I’ll be offering in my studio this summer in Covelo, CA.
This is the haori that found its way to me after so many years.
When it finally arrived in my studio I wasted no time placing the treasured stencil over the dyed image and…it was a perfect fit! It must have been dyed using my stencil, or one that was carved at the same time by the same artist. I was ecstatic!


This is how my life seems to go – in series of recurrences, on going reminders of kindnesses received.