Back in February of this year, my friend Sean tripped and barked his shin. My friend Earl, his brother, commemorated the event with an Internet meme illustrating Sean's cat witnessing the injury with a maximum of feline dispassion. As cat memes go, I thought it was funny.
At the time I was playing with perspective in artwork, using lines to angle towards a visual vanishing point to make drawn elements appear to be three-dimensional. I made an Asian-style building as practice. Then I started thinking of adapting the building into a Sean-barking-his-shin cat artwork.
Yup, that's a stretch, but I figured why not spend months working on a piece that's a joke only a couple of people will appreciate? If it's the chance to emulate seventeenth-century Japanese woodcuts, then I was ready to do it! In the drawing that's Sean, Sean's cat, Sean's television, and Sean's popcorn, all transported to the village of Oshino Hakkai four hundred years ago. I guess if the time travel were sudden enough, this would cause Sean for certain to bark his shin.
It took a while to work up this drawing. It's modeled after the artist Hokusai, who was in feudal Japan famous for ukiyo-e, which is a form of painted woodcut art print. So: an art history lesson. The printing press was responsible for bringing the written word and artwork into the hands of the regular man and woman. Without printing, duplicating books and art was done by hand, which meant that only the wealthy could afford copies of art pieces, and only the super-wealthy could afford originals.
The Japanese did not have the printing press at the same time as Europe, instead, they developed methods of woodcut printing which preserved the character of both line art and Japanese writing, since Far Eastern drawing and calligraphy are nearly the same thing and require the same skill set to be mastered. Woodcuts could not make as many prints as a press, but the method of production was cheaper, faster, and more adaptable. Hokusai is said to have made 30,000 or more drawings, many of which would have made it to print through his workshop. These prints were extremely popular with the Japanese merchant class. Most pieces provide concise, romantic, beautifully composed scenes of Japanese nature and civilization at the time. Hokusai's own daughter pioneered erotic woodcuts, which created the first international boom in the business of pornography. Other artists depicted historical scenes, some of the fantastic samurai battles serving as source material and storyboards for today's spectacular motion pictures.
Hokusai's definitive line work and colour schemes provided inspiration to European artists during the Impressionist period, Matisse and Degas in particular were champions of the Japanese art movement. Hokusai continues to be an influence today, whether through stylized manga comic book art, or else through the visualization of clean-lined printmaking in modern art styles like art nouveau.
The next step for me is to colour this piece. I've done a couple of preliminary watercolour tests, and this artwork will really pop when I am done. I'm going to try to emulate Hokusai's colour washes and gradients as best as I can, which will mean a lot of hand-rendered painting. Seeing as the next JSVB post will be the Number 1,400 Spectacular, this is what I will work towards and so JSVB 1400 will be this drawing in full colour. Be sure to watch out for it soon!