Thursday, December 20, 2018

Pen and Ink: Inspired to Draw with Sticks

Four sticks have been prepared for drawing with Pelikan ink.
Prepping sticks for drawing requires minimal effort

The mark of a clever art book is that it inspires readers to make some marks of their own. 


James Hobbs's book, Pen and Ink: Contemporary Artists, Timeless Techniques (affiliate link), inspired me to make a few marks.

Specifically, I was inspired to learn more about drawing with sticks, just plain ol' dirty sticks, of which I have an abundance.

Drawing with Twigs: Ch'ng Kiah Kiean

The image from the book that truly inspired me was an ink drawing of Ng Fook Thonk Temple by Ch'ng Kiah Kiean, and there are additional twig drawings in the book by the same artist. The fine lines and detail of the drawings belie the artist's humble tools, dried twigs. Yet there's personality and interest in the drawings that would not be there had Kiah Kiean used commercial pens, which create a more consistent line.

Preparing Sticks for Drawing

Googling "drawing with sticks" provided me with two videos that both showed how to draw with sticks, one that demonstrated how to whittle a tip and another that showed almost the same results with an unchanged tip. It seemed easy enough after that, almost "anything goes." I chose a variety of sticks from my yard; some oak, some cedar, and even some trumpet vine, and I pulled out my woodworking tools. In this instance, I used pruning shears, a fine sanding block, and a box cutter.

A variety of sticks can create a variety of line thicknesses and qualities
I used the pruning shears to clean up the tips of the twigs and the box cutter to make sharper points and flat tips. I used the sanding block to create more consistent surfaces.

An Experiment in Drawing with Sticks

To test my twigs I used a watercolor paper and a royal blue Pelican ink. I did try watering the ink a bit, but it created a bleed I did not really like, especially when using the trumpet vine. Using the trumpet vine created quite a "blobby" line, but it worked well as a "brush." On the other hand, the cedar, especially the small cedar twig, worked beautifully, as did the oak twig with the sanded tip.  As expected, the cedar twig I split created a lovely double line. Using the cedar and oak sticks made my handwriting extra lovely, and as an added bonus, I don't have to clean my pens at the end of my session.

With materials at hand, including a brand new "art supply" from my yard, I was able to follow up on an inspiring inclusion in Hobbs's book. The experiment was a complete success, and I look forward to hearing about your endeavors in the comments.

Want to read more about no fuss art projects and supplies?  Try
Adult Coloring Books
How to use Beautiful Buttons
Point of View and Emotion

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Comparison Essay: On Kaiseki and Haiku

Seasonal Kaiseki image by Nishimuraya Kinosaki used with
Creative Commons License 4.0.

Haute cuisine, much like poetry, has both internal and external form. In addition to how a dish looks, its ingredients and components, it's expected to be more than the sum of its parts: A fine dining experience of the highest caliber contains within it the chef's narrative and an essence of unity.  The same is true for poetry.


Japanese seasonal kaiseki is a lot like Japanese haiku, for example.

The Importance of Haiku's Internal Form: Kigo and Kireji

A haiku's external form is immediately recognizable.  Most readers of poetry can identify a haiku by its three lines of a set number of sounds per line: In Japanese, the lines are divided into 5-7-5 sounds, and in English some poets have adapted that structure into 5-7-5 syllables per line. However, the poem's internal form is much more intricate and contextual than its external form. A haiku's excellence and importance is judged by its use of seasonal words and cutting words, known as kigo and kireji, respectively.

A poet's seasonal words, or kigo, come from lists of words known to evoke particular seasons or even to draw upon the cultural context of famous poems that use the same seasonal words. These lists of kigo are called saijiki.

An excellent explanation of how to use cutting words, or kireji, comes from Michael Dylan Welch:

In Japanese, traditional haiku include words that function like a spoken sort of punctuation. More importantly, they cut the poem into two parts, creating a sort of juxtaposition, not only grammatically but also imagistically. The point is to carefully pair two images together in such a way that a shift or disjunction occurs between them. The art of haiku lies in creating the right amount of distance between the two parts, so the leap is neither too far (and thus obscure) or too close (and thus too obvious). By focusing on concrete images rather than judgment or analysis, the two juxtaposed parts of a haiku allow the reader to feel what the poet felt, without the poet telling the reader what to feel.

Just as the simplicity of haiku's external form tricks us and pleasantly surprises us as we dig into its images and meaning, a chef's internal form, narrative, or unity, can surprise and delight the palates of diners. An excellent haiku poet's use of kigo and kireji sets them apart as masters of the form just as a chef's knowledge of technique and ingredients creates renown.

Seasonal Kaiseki 

Lines of haiku are not the only inspiration that comes in threes. Appreciating a balance of three has been instilled in artists across all art forms, and cooking is included in that long list. According to an article by Elaine Yu and Amanda Sealy from 2006, kaiseki is an "evolving tradition," but initially, "a set consisted of meshi (steamed rice), shiru (soup) and mukozuke." In the traditional, diners started with rice and soup to "warm up the stomach," then would move on to sake and sashimi. Like haiku, the flavors and textures progress in an order determined by the maker, the poet, the chef. The meal is punctuated with a form of culinary kireji.

Traditional kaiseki has more in common with haiku than its Japanese origins, punctuated progression and lines of three, however. Kaiseki is based on seasonal ingredients. A hassun is a seasonal platter that sets the tone of the meal based on its ingredients, those available fresh in any given season. Just as the kigo sets the season of a haiku, the ingredients found fresh in a given season may become part of the hassun course. A yakimono is a course of grilled, seasonal fish. A ko no mono is a course of seasonal vegetables, prepared and pickled.  Being seasonal is part of the language of kaiseki, just as seasonal words are part of the language of haiku.

Culinary expression and poetic expression may seem miles apart as art forms and as experiences, yet haiku and kaiseki speak to one another and through one another. A haiku is a meal of seasonal words, punctuated and progressing toward a feeling of satisfaction in the images. Kaiseki is an edible poem, and those who appreciate it savor its available ingredients, its kigo, just as much as they savor the separation and pauses between courses.

Want to read more about poetry? Try

How to Identify a Sonnet
Denotative and Connotative Meaning in the Poetry of Denise Levertov
Diagramming Mina Loy's "Letters of the Unliving"




Works Cited


Welch, Michael Dylan. "Why 'No 5-7-5'?" NaHaiWriMo. http://www.nahaiwrimo.com/home/why-no-5-7-5

Yu, Elaine & Amanda Sealy. "A Beginners Guide to Kaiselki, the World's Finest Meal." CNN. Nov. 8, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/guide-to-kaiseki-cuisine/index.html 

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.