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Jim Kelso

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Everything posted by Jim Kelso

  1. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    When I last went to Japan('97), one of my topics to ask sensei Toshimasa(Masaichi Sakai) about was nanako. (see his work attached). He said he would be glad to show me, but I might be better off visiting a specialist, Yoshikazu Koyama in Gifu. My eye could not see the difference in their work-I think Toshimasa was trying to get me out of his hair. Anyway, I did spend the afternoon with Koyama-sensei and he showed me all I cared to ask about. One of the things was whether the nanako was done one at a time or otherwise, as I had heard various things about this. He showed me a tool as in the photo above, but said he didn't like using it for two reasons: 1)the multiple tool is hard to make & 2) if you get off a bit, it shows more than if using a single punch. Unfortunately my photos of his work are not where I thought they were, but I will post one soon hopefully. I enjoyed watching him work immensely. I'm not sure he was so pleased. He uses a padded chest rest to steady himself and holds his breath while striking. As you can imagine, it's all about practice, concentration and guts. At that time(six years ago) these two masters had no really promising students and I have no reason to believe much has changed. Toshimasa is near 80 and slowing down. Koyama is about 50, I think. I hope I can somehow get back there soon.
  2. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Oh, I forgot: Thanks R.H.
  3. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Well, ok, here's a contrast in style to the Natsuo pieces I posted earlier: http://www.ncjsc.org/item_shoami_katsuyoshi_mk1.htm Shoami Katsuyoshi was a contemporary of Natsuo and as you can see often worked in a very sumptuous style. This type of work is often dismissed as overdone and decorative, "made for export", etc. To me, when I see this sort of thing, I am so blown away thinking about the maker and what he went through to achieve this that I never think to dis it. It really is a matter af taste as I think there is an incredible amount of artistry in these pieces, it is just a different flavor. Naturally, there is a Japanese word for this taste, but it is escaping me. Anyway, a different look. The workmanship is beyond belief. You don't get smaller, better nanako(fish-roe background) than that.(each one punched one at a time).
  4. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Well, I feel like I'm hogging cyberspace here, but as long as I posted the iron tsuba(side by side image) I better say a few words about it. To me, it's drop-dead art. Taking iron and chiseling an ethereal peony image that floats in space. Again, total mastery of design with use of empty space. Natsuo liked this design so much that he made four variations. The fully mounted koshirae in the Boston MFA has one of them.
  5. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    ####, I added the wrong image. This is another legendary tsuba by Natsuo in iron and gold. I'm going to try to find the tiger now.
  6. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    John, i'm glad you found that encouraging.I can see how it could work the other way. "I gotta spend 20 years to get anywhere?" I guess if you're fully involved in whatever the task of the moment is, the future will take care of itself. I certainly never had a grand plan to end up where I am now. It was always a matter of step by step decision making. I do find that when I make what I want, it is marketable. (well almost always). The let down for me after a major project is very real, but doesn't usually last too long. I never have been one to work really long hours. I tend to refresh often and regularly, but show schedules don't always offer the freedom to do that. The shows for me, as hard as they are, offer a change of pace, as long as they are not too close together. I'm doing less these days. I'm gonna post the reverse side of the Natsuo tsuba which I think is on page three, showing Kanzan & Jitoku. The reverse(here) shows a tiger which is a reference to a story about them with another eccentric monk, Bukan Zenshi, and his pet tiger.The four of them are known as the Four Sleepers as they apparently spent a lot of time asleep in a cave. This alludes to the concept that enlightenment should be a low-stress condition. The tiger looks pretty relaxed. The tiger is carved in a technique called katakiri bori.This is line engraving where the cuts can vary greatly in width giving the effect of ink stroke painting. To me it is the ultimate type of engraving because of it's simplicity. You can see that Natsuo was a master and able to impart so much expression with just a few lines. Talk about empty space.
  7. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    The wings of the moth are shibuichi(60/40%-copper/silver). The wings are carved from a sheet(.090" thick). The spots are made of shakudo(4%gold/copper), 22kgold and copper. The spots are sawn, pressed and soldered and go all the way through the wing thickness. I had to do this because of the considerable variation in wing thickness because of the carved ridges. When soldering the spots in place, I forgot that shibuichi melts at a lower temperature than say Sterling silver, and I actually started to melt the wings in the thin area around the hole where the body is. Yikes!! Fortunately I was watching pretty close and noticed the puddling. All of the main carving was done at that point and I was lucky to catch it early so I only had to recarve the area just around the gold body. The head and body are 22k gold and are formed from sheet and engraved and chased. It was patinated using the traditional Japanese rokusho. The shibuichi is darker than it appears in the photo because of reflection.
  8. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    I've made stuff since I was a kid. Back then it was plastic models and model railroad stuff. I started woodworking when I was about 20(1970). Got into building banjos and a guitar. The banjos got me interested in engraving about 1975. From there I discovered custom knives. Met Don about 1981 and he told me to check out the Japanese swords at the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum in Springfield MA. If you"re near there, they have a great collection of swords, netsuke, lacquer and other Japanese work.
  9. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Thanks Don. Can't really remember how the dark moon developed. I think I wanted to have more going on than just the moth, but not anything too literal. A dark moon may seem odd, but it worked visually, and that's what counts. I really enjoy contrasting textures. The wood is "flat-sawn"rather than quarter-sawn to show the grain to the best advantage. The use of "empty space" is another jump I've made in the last few years. So important in creating atmosphere and feeling.
  10. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    I think in the last five years I've been able to be less concerned about aquiring new technique. I'm comfortable with my chops even though there is always room for refinement. This has allowed me to say, "Ok, I can do this, what do I really want to do." Also, early on in the discovery period, I spent a lot of time copying specific styles of work, which was great for learning. I also studied nature through the lens of other artists, rather than looking directly. Both of thes approaches, I think were invaluable,and in fact indispensable, but there comes a time when gradually the need for, and ability to exert, self expression has emerged. Like you say, it's taken a long time. Metalwork doesn't happen over night, nor aesthetic competence. It's a lifetime gig. A lot of things have gone my way that have been helpful.
  11. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    There is an order to most of what I do, with variations. The general process starts with the marriage of an overall form and artistic theme(the specific plant, creature or scene I want to show). This is the hardest part for me. Often I know I want to use this form or that subject, but getting the two together happens in different ways, and at it's own pace. Sometime it flows like riding downhill on a bike and sometimes it takes literally years for a germ of something to manifest. I always have several concepts rolling around and two or three projects in progress. Often, the resolution comes out of the blue. It rarely comes when I am exerting at "designing". I do have to put the time in drawing on most pieces. I don't want to imply that it doesn't take effort, sometimes painfully so. I spend gobs of time looking while I'm cruising the woods. I used to do this in a more intentional way, but now it's sort of automatic. Photography is very helpful when I see something I want to remember. You can see so many miracles every time and in the most ordinary places. A pet peeve of mine is art works made out of natural things in the wild(I won't mention any names). I find this stuff, no matter how well done, trite and shallow in the face of the true natural beauty. Anyway,(sorry for the rant) when doing a design, your eye knows when it's right. Jean has helped me immensely in this way. I would have a design that was fine, but something I knew was not quite right. Maybe she would not know either what it was exactly, but would urge me(strongly!) not to just go ahead. It always pays off to be open to intuition at this point. Like you said, "When it is right, it sings".
  12. Jim Kelso

    Favorite quotes

    "If it looks right, it is" my boat building instructor
  13. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    That's incredible. What is it?
  14. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    It's a wonderful thing to be involved in "the way of beauty", where the job requires opening to the beauty and mystery of the natural world. I find the "stepping back" aspect as important as any other part of the work. It's a scary thing sometimes with the demands of making a living, but I find the rewards are always there.
  15. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Well, I was afraid you'd ask. I guess if you use those terms, you better be able to talk the talk to some extent. As you say, there are books written, but I try to keep it simple, as simplicity is pretty well embedded in all those terms. There is an intersection as you suggest in the concepts of rustic beauty, simple elegance and restraint. My take on each of the terms would be, simply put: wabi - earthy, un-selfconscious beauty sabi - rustic, textural beauty(Literal translation is rust) shibui - restrained, quiet elegance iki - contained, unforced nobility Iki is perhaps the most difficult to pin down and seems to have more to do with what we might call "character" than visual qualities. All these terms seem to have layers of meaning though, with emotional components as well. Relating to the Natsuo tsuba, to me, he has captured these qualities both through the use of materials and in his depiction of the two figures. It even becomes difficult to say what is "beautiful" about it. You can say the chiseling is masterful. Did you ever see such a beautiful, homely figure? And that broom-is that something?! There aren't a lot of Western parallels. Rembrandt with his use of empty space and somber colors comes the closest for me. Anyway, I could ramble on for a while, but it's getting late.
  16. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Thought I'd post an image of one of my favorite tsuba. By legendary Kano Natsuo(1828-1898). Shibuichi, perhaps 35-40% silver with very small amount of gold inlay. The subjects are Kanzan & Jitoku, two "crazy-wisdom" monks adopted by the Japanese from Chinese legend. There are many stories about these guys, mostly, I think, having to do with poking fun at convention. Search on Google for more images and info. Natsuo is widely regarded as the pre-eminent kinko sakka(soft metal worker) of his time and many would say of all time. The Museum Of Fine Arts in Boston has several pieces by Natsuo and one of the very few fully mounted katana koshirae in iron, shibuichi and gold. He was technically unsurpassed, but often chose a very dry, restrained artistic approach with subdued use of color. His work, to me, shows the ultimate expression of those qualities of wabi, sabi, shibui and iki.
  17. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    The only wooden tsuba I've seen were lacquered so the wood was just a core. These were by top lacquer artists and were a way to show how they could imitate metal in lacquer. Also, there were bokuto(hope that's spelled right) or so-called "doctors swords". I don't know a lot about these, but they were all wood(including blade). I think they were carried by non-samurai. I'm not sure if they were for protection or status.I bet if you did a search you would find out more.
  18. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Hi John, I'll look forward to that moth. Haven't seen the usual quota of big ones this year. Oppi's info is interesting about saws. A couple of tsuba notes. The bits that are added to the nakago-hitsu(tang hole) to adjust the tsuba fit on the tang are called seki-gane or seme-gane.(I don't know the difference between the two) My guess is that the nakago-hitsu is chiseled with some undercut notches and the seki-gane are punched into place, then finished by chiseling, filing and polishing. Don mentioned the Peabody catalogue of tsuba which is wonderful. My favorite book of tsuba is the Baur Collection-Japanese Sword Fittings(ISBN 2-88031-003-2) The pieces represent the best of many,many schools and the photography is stunning, although only about a dozen pages are in color. Even in B&W the quality is unbelievable. It is expensive($295.) and out of print. I've had mine for nearly 20 years and see new things every time I look at it. These things are invaluable to me. It also has text on the different schools with artist trees, and photos of signatures if you're into that.
  19. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Hi Don and all. This is my first post so hope it works. A couple ideas on pierced tsuba: These days it's done with a jeweler's saw and files as you would suspect. When these tools became available is a question I've wondered about. I can check with a couple of people about this and maybe find out. As far as sawpiercing techniques goes, there are a couple of tips that may help with blade life and general ease. Try to get your body positioned so that you are not hunkering over the work. I have the bench pin or saw platform about 2" below my chin. This keeps your back straight so you can relax your upper body. You also want to use a light touch holding the saw. Let the blade do the work. It will actually work well holding it with thumb and two fingers, but this will probably feel too strange. Obviously, the thicker the material the more difficult to keep the blade perpendicular, but this comes with experience. I've enjoyd seeing everyones' work. Keep it up! [ylsuper]
  20. Jim Kelso

    Tsuba creation

    Hi Don and all. This is my first post so hope it works. A couple ideas on pierced tsuba: These days it's done with a jeweler's saw and files as you would suspect. When these tools became available is a question I've wondered about. I can check with a couple of people about this and maybe find out.
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