British Museum

Netsuke - Sitting Dog with Paw Raised

This little dog is from a sketch I made of a netsuke at The British Museum in London (Four views of Sitting Dog with Paw Raised). This week I transferred the sketch to woodblock to make a carving using Kento registration.


Carving Dog

I transfer one of the views onto a new woodblock. I sit with my carving tool and begin cutting into the wood. I start by carving the outline with the knife (Hangitō) and then continue inside the ears and paws and round the tail. There are fewer lines in this sketch so I will need to cut away more wood for this block. I use the small round gouge tool (Komasuki) to clear the larger areas inside the dog. The V tool (Sankakutō) to carve fine lines in the paws. I use the bigger Komasuki to clear the outside and edges finish off with the small flat chisel (Kentōnomi, also used for Kento registration) to smooth the background area.


Retail Therapy & Woodcarving Totem Poles

I take a break and pop out to the Beatroot Cafe for a piece of cake. On my way back I make detour into Bloom & Curll second hand bookshop where I happen to bump into illustrator and wood carver, Dan Bendel. He is currently running a workshop with Avon Cub Scouts who are in the process of designing and carving a totem pole to be put in the Centenary Wood near Bristol. Dan also makes ink drawings influenced by comic books and animation. Here's a link to his humorous study "My Children are Musicians".

I head back to the studio with cake in hand to finish carving the dog.


Dogs on the Green & Rainbows

I clean up the block, leave the woodblock to dry and head into the city centre. My dog radar is heightened and I am more aware of the many different species walking the streets of Bristol. I make my way to College Green for a vigil to commemorate those who died in the shootings in Orlando last week. People are gathered together showing support for peace and unity. Police are wearing rainbow stripes on their shoulders. The new Mayor makes a heart warming speech. The Sing Out Bristol choir sing in beautiful harmonies as balloons drift across the sky. An over zealous Border Collie is standing on its hind legs putting its paws up on the nearest available human. A white Bichon Frise and a Chihuahua are snuggled in the arms of burly men. A red setter bounds across the green. All these dogs gathered on this colourful green, ignite conversations between strangers, friends and lovers. I can't help but be in awe of their beautiful nature. They shower us with their joyful spirits.

Woodblock Print of Sitting Dog with Paw Raised

Original netsuke 'Sitting Dog with Paw Raised' from the British Museum. Made by Yamaguchi Okatomo - Japan. Acquisition date1978-1984.

Original netsuke 'Sitting Dog with Paw Raised' from the British Museum. Made by Yamaguchi Okatomo - Japan. Acquisition date1978-1984.

Netsuke - Monkey Wearing Short Gown


New Year

A few months ago I visited Bristol Museum to draw netsuke. One of the netsuke I chose was Monkey Wearing Short Gown. I am carving and printing this netsuke to reflect the forthcoming Chinese New Year (Year of the Monkey) and Japanese Buddhist and Shintō Lore.

By the time Buddhism reached Japan (mid 6th century AD), the monkey and monkey lore were already common elements in Buddhist legend, art, and iconography. Thereafter, monkey worship in Japan grew greatly in popularity, especially among practitioners of Taoist Kōshin rites introduced from China and among followers of Tendai Shintō-Buddhism.
— Copyright Mark Shumacher

Dampening Hosho paper

I have seen a few different methods for dampening hosho paper and I notice I do it differently each time. I still haven’t worked out which is the best method but today I lay a sheet of dampened newsprint on the top front of the hosho paper. Then a sheet of dry newsprint on top of the damp newsprint. Then the hosho, then the dampened newsprint, the dry newsprint and so on. The recommended time to leave the paper in the newsprint is 2 hours minimum. Today I leave mine for only an hour before printing but after making a test print I am happy with the results. I’m aware the temperature of the room can affect the dampness of the paper too and it is warm in my studio but it’s working so far so I’m going with my own intuition today rather than follow the technical gurus.


Carving Monkey

As I carve Monkey I am thinking about a quote from a book I am currently reading which resonates with my desire to keep these prints as simple as possible.

No matter how magnificent these objects were, I found the fewer I placed in the house, the more beautiful it became. I removed more and more, eventually leaving the thirty-six square meters of polished floorboards in the main room completely bare. With nothing except the ‘black glistening’ of the open floor, the house took on the majesty of a Noh stage.
— Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

Carved Block Washed and Ready to Ink

I wash the block, removing the gampi paper and ink from the printer, leaving just the bare wood ready to ink up. I make a test print and soon realise the uncarved surface surrounding the carved monkey is obstructing the baren from producing an even pressure on the monkey. Once the rest of the wood is removed my fingers are numb from the intense gouging. This tool is only 6mm wide. It is time to invest in the right tool for the job!


Another test print and the outline of the monkey is ragged. I clean up the edges with a combination of the 3mm and 6mm gouge tool and make another test print. I haven’t made registration marks for any of the blocks so far as the blocks are so small. All my printing is done by eye which is fine for now as I want to keep these as single colour prints. To print using more colours I will need work on bigger blocks to allow space for the registration marks without obstructing the baren.

Carved Block Inked and Ready to Print

I dampen the block and add a little nori paste to the Japanese carbon ink. As I brush the ink across the wood the ‘black glistening floor’ from Alex Kerr’s house in ‘Lost Japan’ stretches before me. This 'Monkey Wearing Short Gown’ appears to be quietly sitting still in the centre of this woodblock but its spirit is leaping onto the black glistening stage.

Monkey worship in Japan peaked in the Edo Era, but has declined significantly since then. Even so, the legacy of monkey faith is easily spotted in modern Japan. One can still find old stone statues with monkey motifs in many Japanese localities — statues that are weathering away, unprotected from the elements. – Certain Japanese shrines (Hie Jinja locations nationwide) and temples (Shitennō-ji in Osaka) continue even today to perform the Kōshin rites for those who still believe (most are elderly Japanese), and lucky charms featuring the monkey are still easily found at Japanese temples, shrines, and trinket shops. The color RED is often associated with the monkey, for it signifies the dual role of the monkey as protector against disease as well as patron of fertility.
— Copyright Mark Shumacher

Original netsuke 'Monkey Wearing Short Gown' from Bristol Museum. Unsigned.


Mark Shumacher

Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

Netsuke horses at the British Museum

I'm walking back along Drury lane passing the shops and cafes, the road bursting with vans, cars and cyclists and a dustbin lorry pushes up next to me. I pull myself away from the chaos and pause for a moment to look at a curtain of pink ballet shoes suspended from a shop window - then quickly along Museum Street, into Great Russell street and I arrive at the British Museum. This time I'm early and I wait in the room of Chinese ceramics. I'm making sure I don't miss out on the full two hour time slot. It will be busy in the study room today. There are also viewings for Japanese woodblock prints and a painted hanging scroll of a roaring tiger.

The Study Room

Lucy is looking after the study room today and has already put the box of netsuke on the table for when I arrive. Each one is carefully laid in tissue paper. She brings me a pair of blue plastic gloves, allowing me to handle the netsuke. I carefully pick out one of the standing horses which is curled round in the shape of a horseshoe. Head curved towards its front hooves, back arched with tail between its legs and front and back hooves touching making a natural hole for a toggle. I am able to see the netsuke from all angles and when I turn it upside down, delicately carved heels of the horses hooves are revealed. This standing horse is not made for standing but for hanging so I lay it down to draw. Lucy informs me that they have ways to stand the netsuke securely for photo shoots. This enables the photographer to get a good close up of a standing horse standing!

Horse Tales

It's only by drawing that I spend more time looking and become more present and these impossible postures remind me that these objects are the carver's interpretation. Was this netsuke carved from observing a real horse or from a collection of sketches or paintings or from memory? My drawing is an interpretation of the object and my carving will be another step removed like a visual game of Chinese Whispers until the final print will be something quite different to the original.

I put the standing horse back in its tissue paper and gently take 5 Horses into the palm of my hand. This netsuke of 5 Horses huddled together is less than 4cm in length and I'm not sure how to begin the drawing. There is so much detail in such a tiny space and when I turn the netsuke upside down, a jigsaw puzzle of tiny hooves surround the inscription of the carver's signature.


Time ticks quickly so I make two small sketches of the 5 Horses and move on to the Seated Horse with its head curled into its hooves. Sitting on its hind legs and back curved over onto its front legs reminds me more of how a dog would sit. It also reveals how little I know about the anatomy of a horse and I ponder for a moment - how does a horse sit?


I sketch the seated horse and then another standing horse with a bulbous muzzle and tail whipped around the side of its body pressing into its ribs. It's like a caricature of a horse and my drawing exaggerates this even more.


Finally I take the last netsuke from the box and make a drawing in the short amount of time I have left. If I was to view this netsuke only from underneath, the cluster of delicately carved hooves may give a clue that this is a protective mother Goat sheltering its Kid.

Netsuke - British Museum Asia

ery pleased this morning to receive an email back from the Asia department at the British Museum. They have asked me to choose from their online gallery which netsuke I would like view. I have sent an email requesting to view the following netsuke:

The Foxes

The Rat & Kirin

The Goldfish

The Kirin

The Dog

The Shishi or 'lion dog

The Okimono of Turtles

Netsuke explored so far

Edmund De Waal's netsuke collection

The Hare with the Amber Eyes

Pie Bald Rat Gnawing on its Tail

Ape Clutching a Gourd

Galloping Horse

An Ama Suckling an Octopus

Recumbent Goat - Small and Large

Amelie and Melanie Japanese Antiques

Japanese Man with a Fan

V & A collection

Tiger signed Tomatada

Tiger signed Okatori

Ox by Tomotada