Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Roll Up!

Regular visitors here can't have helped noticing I have a liking for the so-called "portrait" orientation, even when – gasp! – photographing the landscape (is that even allowed?). I think it's a taste I acquired back in my medium-format film days using a Fuji GS645S, for which the default orientation is "portrait", because that's the only way to get 15 rectangular frames out of a roll intended for 12 square frames, and still be able to advance the film horizontally. I imagine the same applied to the original Olympus Pen "half-frame" cameras. Whatever, I came to like it, and still do.

So much so, that I've been playing around with the aesthetic of the Japanese hanging scroll, or kakejiku. Basically, these long, narrow scrolls are a way of mounting an image – often, but not necessarily, a Zen painting or calligraphy on paper – so that it can easily be hung, replaced, and rolled up and stored in its own airtight wooden box when not on display. Which, when you think about it, is a very neat idea, compared to our western tendency to encapsulate a picture within an inconvenient, hard to store, rigidly flat sandwich of glass, cardboard and wood.

However, being Japanese, the process has acquired a fairly inflexible set of rules and procedures which, taken together, give a particular look and feel to the end product. If you want an insight into this, this YouTube video shows how to handle them, and this one is about a guy who runs a family business making them. I'm not terribly interested in the protocol or the process, as such, but I do like the way the best of them hang together, so to speak, and have been appropriating the elements of this "look" for my own purposes.

However, having produced a composite picture like this, actually to frame it might seem rather to go against the spirit of the thing. Expensive, too. Then it struck me that, rather than printing them in the usual way, it might be fun to have them made by good old Vistaprint as vinyl banners – they had just emailed the latest of their special offers – the sort of thing you see at trade shows, or lashed to a wall. It could be a very cheap way of making something large (the "small" size is 90cm x 50cm) that wouldn't need framing (washable!), and which could indeed be rolled up in a tube. So I've ordered one as a trial. It may be awful, it may be brilliant, but there's only one way to find out, and it will be a tenner well spent.

Obviously, any wannabe artist of the floating world needs a signature stamp, or hanko, and this is mine:

I rather like it – a sort of hybrid between the Japanese stamp and the traditional western signet ring, and it's certainly more elegant than my actual scrawled signature. Who knows, I might even get a real one made as a rubber stamp, and use it to authenticate my paper prints.


Omer said...

Very nice, Mike.

Anonymous said...


seems like you have a sweet spot for Japanese art! The idea to have the scrolls printed like described in your post sounds promising. Did you consider inkjet printing on rice paper? I didn't try it myself, but remember that I read about this some time ago.

Signing prints with a rubber stamp works in my experience only verso (tried with Canson papers). All attempts to stamp recto with archival inkpads failed because the rubber stuck to the paper, damaging the print.

My stamp was designed by a Japanese-German artist, Mrs. Horinouchi-Podzimek. She offers rubber stamp designs on order (40€ for a TIF-file and the stamp). Mine is a transliteration of my name into Japanese (didn't verify this, I just assume that it actually isn't something like "choking hazard - not suitable for children under 3 years").

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...


I have tried printing on rice and bamboo papers, but even with an inkjet coating the colours get quite pale and the overall density and contrast is affected. With a bit of work you could probably get itright, but they're too expensive to experiment with in a controlled way! With the right image, though, it can be a pleasing effect, rather like platinum printing.

As with the "haiku vs. Ted Hughes" comment previously, though, I think a non-Japanese medium -- especially a "vulgar" one like vinyl -- might add an extra dimension that is probably needed to underline that these are appropriations, not tributes or simple imitations.

thanks for the warning re. stamps!