Art Japan Reviews

Serenity on Paper

In addition to the art gallery at Tenri Cultural Institute (which I’ve written about on several occasions), TCI hosts various other cultural events and classes.

I recently participated in a three day Shodo calligraphy course at TCI taught by Tomoko Furukawa. It was a particularly great opportunity to attend as it was Paris based Furukawa’s first class in the US.



Having never tried calligraphy before in any form it was  fascinating and enriching experience. Furukawa explained learning calligraphy is a hands on endeavor and all three classes were structured in a practice based manner, with her demonstrating the day’s techniques to open, creating guideline pages for us all to reference, and then offering guidance and suggestions as needed as we attempted what she showed us.


My final attempt from class 1.


During the three two hour sessions we experimented with three different aspects of calligraphy. On the first day we practiced what is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when calligraphy is discussed: stylized kanji. Furukawa demonstrated a line of four kanji (“flower,” “bird,” “wind,” and “moon”) in three different styles, then focused on one style for us to attempt ourselves throughout the session. One of the most interesting things was seeing the ways in which everyone’s results were individual and unique even with working off the same examples and writing the same kanji.



In the second class we learned about making Japanese Ryoshi paper, a technique of lightly decorating paper to be used for calligraphy. The concepts of using small amounts of color to accent etherial and similarly faint metallics really appeals to me, as does the idea of negative space. I had to leave this class a bit early so didn’t get to do as much of it as the other techniques, and would really like to revisit it in the future.


One of my completed papers from class 2.

On the final day we tried creating patterns evocative of bamboo. This was perhaps the most difficult to get a handle on, between trying to capture the essence of bamboo in minimal representation while making the brush and ink do what you want them to.



Everything was “trial and error” to some degree, and of course nothing looks the way you want it to the first time.  In all three cases, even over the course of two short hours, I could see improvements in my (of course still rudimentary) efforts. It was quite satisfying, and the process itself relaxing and fun overall.



Furukawa provided a wonderful primer on several different nuances of calligraphy in the limited time we had. In addition to the basics of the techniques we were focusing on each class, she had us use different types of paper to see the ways in which different techniques are needed and the ink, brushes, etc all react differently and produce lines with different qualities.

She also touched on the importance of how each work is approached mentally, visualizing what you wish to create,  and the importance of negative space in the compositions. The breath of knowledge she shared and variety of topics covered while still spending the majority of class time letting us practice was quite impressive.


My final bamboo attempt from class 3.


While I found some things difficult (as of course expected when beginning any new art), I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into Shodo and greatly appreciate the time Furukawa spent teaching us. Thanks to both her and TCI for such a rewarding class.

3 replies on “Serenity on Paper”

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